The political economy of violence in Maluku

March 15, 2000

By George J. Aditjondro

Since the forced withdrawal of the Indonesian armed forces (TNI) from East Timor, and with the TNI's "dual function" (its integration into Indonesia's political structures) being more openly challenged, old methods of instigating so-called "horizontal conflicts" have been revived by the forces opposed to Abdurrahman Wahid and Megawati Sukarnoputri's leadership.

For more than a year, the people of the Maluku islands have been embroiled in a "civil war" between Muslims and Christians. Fatalities have been in the thousands, a high percentage for the islands' population of 2 million.

The chain of sectarian conflict in Maluku, which has spread to Sulawesi, Kalimantan, West Nusa Tenggara and Java, has been triggered and fed by provocateurs paid by the former president Suharto's family and several of his cronies, according to allegations by Thamrin Amal Tomagola, a Moluccan sociologist at the University of Indonesia's Faculty of Social and Political Sciences, two human rights organisations, Kontras (Commission for Missing People and Victims of Violent Acts) and Komnas HAM (Indonesian Human Rights Commission), and various reports published by members of the Indonesian Independent Journalists Association (AJI).

Two names most often mentioned are Yorris Raweyai and Brigadier General Kivlan Zein. Yorris Raweyai is the deputy chair of the Pancasila Youth and is close to Bambang Trihatmodjo, the second son of Suharto. Brigadier General Kivlan Zein has allegedly taken over the role of ex-general Prabowo Subianto, Suharto's son-in-law, in directing a group of vigilantes — drop-outs from the Indonesian Military Academy and martial art practitioners from West Java — recruited by the Indonesian army's special forces, Kopassus, when it was commanded by Prabowo. Because the military academy is located near Mount Tidar, Central Java, these "private soldiers'" of the Suharto family are called the "Tidar Boys".

Civilian links

Yorris Raweyai, reportedly in collaboration with Yapto Suryosumarno, chair of the Pancasila Youth and a relative of the Suharto family, has been involved in inciting ethnic conflicts in other provinces. In West Kalimantan, Malay and Dayak ethnic groups, who last year were comrades in arms against Madurese migrants, are beginning to wage a bloody conflict against each other.

In Ambon, the provocateurs incited local Christian and Muslim gangs of young delinquents to spark conflict. The Christian gang is named Cowok Keren (the "Handsome Boys"), shortened to Coker, and is based in the Kudamati neighbourhood. They are connected to two Christian Moluccan youths, Milton Matuanakota and Ongky Pieters, in Jakarta. This Jakarta gang of Christian Moluccan youths dominate the shopping centre, parking area and gambling dens in West Jakarta. After the Ketapang incidents in Jakarta in November, 1998, in which four of Ambon's young men died, hundreds of Milton and Ongky's followers moved to Ambon.

In Jakarta, the antagonists of the Milton and Ongky group are represented by Ongen Sangaji, a Pancasila Youth activist and coordinator of a Moluccan Muslim university student organisation. Many members of this group were recruited into the PAM Swakarsa (civilian security troops) used by then armed forces chief, General Wiranto, to cordon off the parliament building from university students protesting at the extraordinary session of the People's Consultative Assembly in November l998.

Ongen is reported to have close ties to Bambang Trihatmodjo, while Milton is said to be closer to Suharto's daughter, Siti Hardiyanti Rukmana, aka Tutut. Other reports state that Ongen received funds from Tutut and a retired general close to the Suharto family, Abdul Gafur, who hails from North Maluku. Unfortunately for them, four of Ongen's Moluccan youth died in the battle between the students and the vigilantes.

Tutut and Gafur's foundation, Yayasan Kesejahteraan Masyarakat Indonesia (Yakmi), mobilised 10,000 PAM Swakarsa troops armed with sharp bamboo spears to fight against the unarmed students near the Semanggi bridge near Senayan. Those vigilantes were first trained in military discipline and skills at the Jakarta military headquarters, Rindam Jaya, and by the Tidar Boys. Ten Yakmi vigilantes who hailed from Cianjur, West Java, were allegedly arrested in Ambon for involvement in the unrest.

Military links

The bloody conflict in Maluku also involves active military personnel, who can be traced back to generals closely linked to former minister of defence and TNI chief General Wiranto. He was recently sacked from his cabinet post by President Wahid.

On January 15, three members of the armed forces were apprehended in a raid in Ambon. One of them was a member of Kopassus, and two were police. They were not the only "armed forces elements" involved in the Maluku unrest.

In early December, after President Wahid and vice-president Sukarnoputri's visit to Ambon, the military commander sent 500 troops to the area. Only some 200 troops reached the barracks, while 300 sent on the same ship disappeared with their weapons into the civilian population. Not long after, the "massacres" erupted. The same type of weapons as those carried by the missing troops were found in the hands of civilians.

During the first months of the conflict, army troops from the Wirabuana command in Makassar, Sulawesi, and Kostrad (Army Strategic Command) troops sent from Java, openly sided with Moluccan Muslims. They simply watched when the symbolic old Silo church in Ambon was attacked and burned.

The Wirabuana commander at that time, General Suaidi Marasabessy, as well as the Kostrad commander General Djadja Suparman were supporters of Wiranto. Both have since been removed.

On the other hand, the police special forces, Brimob, who are mostly Christian Moluccans, have sided with the Christians.

Whenever there was a temporary peace, snipers continued to create victims on both sides to reignite the conflict.

The military have benefited from the conflict. It has helped those in the top military hierarchy who want to maintain the military's territorial system. Using the conflict as an excuse, the Pattimura command in Ambon, which had been abolished during the Suharto era, has now been revived. About 17,000 troops are currently stationed in Maluku.

Funding the conflict

Apart from the Suharto family, which funds the Tidar Boys and the Yakmi vigilantes, the "Maluku operation" is allegedly also being funded by two Suharto cronies with business interests in Maluku, Eka Tjipta Widjaja and Prajogo Pangestu.

The Eka Tjipta Widjaja family is the owner of the Sinar Mas group of companies, which includes PT Sinar Mas Agro Resources and Technology (SMART). SMART is chaired by General Yoga Sugama, a relative and business partner of the Suharto family and former head of the Indonesian intelligence agency, BAKIN. A SMART subsidiary, PT Global Agronusa Indonesia, runs a banana plantation in Halmahera, in a joint venture with US fruit giant Del Monte.

Prajogo Pangestu owns the Barito Pacific group, in which two Suharto children, Tutut and Bambang, Suharto's son-in-law Indra Rukmana and two younger brothers (Ibnu Hartomo and Bernard Ibnu Hardoyo) of Tien Suharto, Suharto's late wife, have shares and/or management positions. Barito Pacific owns the largest number of forest licenses in Indonesia (52 areas) with a total of more than 5 million hectares.

Prajogo is also one of the largest contributors to the Suharto clique. In l990, Indoverbank NV in the Netherlands received US$225 million in the name of three foundations chaired by Suharto — Supersemar, Dharmais, Dakab — transferred from Prajogo's account at the Singapore branch of Citibank and BDN, Jakarta.

Prajogo's "treasury" in Maluku is enormous. Barito Pacific controls 10 timber concessions covering nearly one million hectares of forest in Maluku which feed the group's several plywood factories. Some of these companies are joint ventures with charities owned by the armed forces, as well as with the Poleko group, owned by A.A. Baramuli, a crony of former president B.J. Habibie.

The Suharto clique and the generals who are against the reforms of President Wahid have another source of funds in Maluku. Tommy Winata, the boss of the Artha Graha group and close friend of Yorris Raweyai, is a shareholder in the PT Ting Sheen Bandasejahtera. This fishing company has invested US$200 million to catch 2.5 million tonnes of fish per year in the Banda Sea. It is a joint venture with Bambang Trihatmodjo and a Taiwanese company.

The conflict in Maluku is an extension of the political struggles in Jakarta. Disgruntled generals feel that the army's powers have been curtailed with the appointment of the new commander in chief from the navy, Admiral Widodo Adi Sujipto. They are trying to show that the new chief is incapable of controlling the situation in Maluku.

This group of generals, who have the most at stake in maintaining the armed forces "dual function", are trying to demonstrate that the army is still needed as the "peace-maker" in a civil society prone to conflict.

In addition, certain Muslim groups which feel they have not been given an appropriate share in the Wahid-Megawati government and that Wahid has given too many concessions to the Chinese and Christian minorities in Indonesia, are using the Maluku unrest to call for a holy war (jihad) to bring down the administration headed by the liberal cleric and the secular nationalist.

Behind all this, the one who stands to gain the most is Suharto, his family and his cronies. The political troubles hinder serious efforts to bring them to court to account for their political and economic crimes. They benefit from disturbances that serve to perpetuate the armed forces' "dual function".

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