Students commemorate victims of military violence


By Chris Latham

JAKARTA — Despite torrential rain, thousands of students participated in protests here to commemorate the first anniversary on November 13 of the Semangi tragedy, named after the Semangi bridge where six students were shot dead by the military during the mass protests against the special session of the People's Consultative Assembly.

The demands of the protest included an end to military violence, an end to both the dual function of the military and its territorial structure, stations members of the armed forces at every level of society, from the village to the capital.

The students also called for an investigation and bringing to trial of those responsible for the death of students in protests, including the four students from Trisakti University shot dead in May 1998 and the students killed in the protests against the state security bill during September 1999.

The protest, which finished at Atmajaya University, site of last year's clashes, was the culmination of three days of activities in Jakarta around the theme of ending military violence and opposition to militarism.

Students from the action committees affiliated to the National Student League for Democracy conducted a 20 km march from the University of Indonesia that took them past a large number of urban poor neighbourhoods. Such long marches are a tactic used by the radical student movement to reach out and interact with the urban poor and other oppressed sectors.

The anniversary action was important because it was the first major attempt to mobilise students since the election of Abdurrahman Wahid as president on October 20.

Many Indonesians consider the new government as a democratic break from Suharto's New Order regime. The action provided an opportunity both to test the extent to which this sentiment would affect the ability of students to mobilise against the government and to highlight the fact that there are still many unresolved democratic issues, such as the prosecution of human rights violators within the military, that the new government is unwilling to address.