Indonesians demonstrate against Gulf War


By Max Lane

Protests in Indonesia against the Gulf War have resulted in demonstration organisers being arrested and beaten. The arrests occurred on February 15 following peaceful protests outside the US, British and Japanese embassies.

Sixty students and youth, members of the Antiwar Action Committee and Indonesian People's Front for the Settlement of the Gulf War, first went to the US embassy carrying posters and three banners opposing the multinational forces and US interference in the crisis.

They also accused the US of manipulating the United Nations. After handing in their statement, they continued to the embassies of Britain and Japan, which the demonstrators said were "directly (militarily) or indirectly (financially)" responsible for the war machine in the Gulf. The demonstrators marched surrounded by approximately 100 members of security forces.

After dispersing, most of the participants crossed Thamrin Street, the main thoroughfare in Jakarta. There, several considered to be key troublemakers by the security agencies were arrested. They were Shanti, Yeni, Tumpak, Rima, Veby, Majid and Iwan, plus two foreign reporters, Claudia and Sarah.

Yeni and Rima were dragged from their taxi. Shanti was roughly dragged from a bus. In another taxi, Tumpak, Iwan and Majid experienced the same violence. Those arrested were taken away in a Military Police van.

They were released the following day, but all reported being beaten. Two students still have to report regularly to the military authorities, including Yeni, who read out one the protests statements.

Anti-US feeling grows

The military campaign against Iraq has strengthened anti-US sentiment in Indonesia. Nationalist and human rights organisations, rather than Muslim groups, have played the leading role in organising protests and demonstrations. The first took place on January 14, when a delegation of activists from the new pro-democracy groups demonstrated outside the US embassy.

The delegation issued a statement condemning the United States' record of interference in Third World affairs since the end of World War II and demanding: (1) withdrawal of the multinational and Iraqi forces from their respective areas of aggression; (2) a referendum in Kuwait; (3) control of the waters of the Gulf to be left in the hands of the peoples of the Gulf.

The statement also demanded referendums in other areas where self-determination has been denied such as Palestine, East Timor, West Papua, South Africa and Northern Ireland. This is the first case of a public demand from an Indonesian grouping for a referendum in East Timor and West Papua.

Another demonstration on January 22 was organised by the Indonesian e. It involved about 50 people and was met by more than 200 police and military as well as helicopters hovering overhead. Following it, the minister of politics and security, ex-Admiral Sudomo, announced that future demonstrations would not be tolerated.

However, the committee defied Sudomo and organised a demonstration on February 4. This time about 500 people were mobilised. The demonstrators gathered before the UN offices in Jakarta and issued a declaration of no confidence in the UN. They called for the Security Council to be disbanded.

These demands were similar to those made a week earlier by Rachmawati Sukarno, the daughter of the late president Sukarno, and a popular nationalist figure in Indonesia. She also called for the removal of UN headquarters from US soil. Another nationalist voice criticising the US has been the daily newspaper Merdeka.

The police ordered the demonstration to disperse but, according to sources in Jakarta, military units then appeared and allowed it to continue. An argument ensued between the police and military commanders, reflecting disagreement within the armed forces (which include the police) on how to deal with political protest.

Protests have also been held in the cities of Bandung and Yogyakarta.

On 21 February student and youth activists organised in the progressive Indonesian Islamic People's Front from Bandung sent a delegation to the capital to try to meet members of parliament to protest against the detention, beating and harassment of the Jakarta protesters. At both the entrance to the parliament compound and later inside the building, scuffles broke out between the protesters and security guards.

Government 'neutral'

The government itself is studiously adhering to a "neutral" stance calling for Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait and for the dispute to be resolved peacefully. It has urged the United States to consider seriously the recent Iraqi peace proposal. The government, normally a more enthusiastic friend of the US, is obviously concerned about unrest over the issue.

Critical reactions have also come from the country's moderate Muslim organisations. Indonesia is the world's largest Muslim country, although organised Islamic political movements have never received more than 30% of the vote in any election.

The two biggest Muslim organisations have both condemned the war. Neither are fundamentalist or extremist religious organisations.