The Suharto regime and the Burmese military junta

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The Suharto regime and the Burmese military junta

By George J. Aditjondro

In July, Burma, Laos, and Cambodia will be admitted into the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN).

As an Indonesian dissident in exile, I wish to focus on the relation between the Suharto regime and Burma's military junta, the so-called State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC). Why is it that the Suharto regime has so strongly supported an early admission of Burma into ASEAN?

Firstly, the admission of another and more brutal military regime into this regional bloc helps to cover up Suharto's own reputation in violating the rights of East Timorese, West Papuan, Dayak, Acehnese and other peoples. Suharto can use ASEAN more effectively as his "shield" in international political forums.

Secondly, an early entry of Burma, Laos and Cambodia provides Suharto-linked businesses with more time to prepare for the ASEAN Free Trade Area in the year 2003.

In the last seven years, Suharto-linked businesses have made substantial inroads into Burma. They now cover a wide variety of sectors and commodities, from consumer goods to extractive industries.

In August 1991, an Indonesian-based company, PT Indomiwon Citra Inti, first exported 70 tonnes of monosodium glutamate to Burma, Vietnam and Hong Kong. This company is a 50-50 joint venture between PT Sambada Widyacita and Miwon from Korea.

PT Sambada Widyacita itself is a joint venture between Bambang Trihatmojo, President Suharto's second son, and Anthony Salim, chief executive officer of the Salim Group, Indonesia's largest business conglomerate, in which two of Bambang's siblings — Siti Hariyanti Rukmana (also known as Tutut) and Sigit Harjojudanto — are shareholders.

Two years later, another Suharto-related company, PT Prima Comexindo Trading, began bartering Indonesian-made medicines for Burmese products.

This company is owned by Hashim Djojohadikusumo, whose elder brother, Major General Prabowo Subianto, is married to Suharto's second daughter, Siti Hediyati Hariyadi, also known as Titiek Prabowo.

Titiek is a shareholder in several of Hashim's companies. Hashim's Tirtamas Group and Titiek Prabowo's Maharani Group control numerous overlapping companies, including cement factories and a coal mine.

When Hashim began bartering with the SLORC, Suharto's youngest son, Hutomo Mandalaputra Suharto, also known as Tommy Suharto, began to export oil drilling explosives to Burma. This was carried out by PT Bina Reksa Perdana, in which Tommy owns 55% of the shares.

Where do the explosives come from? The president's son formed a consortium with the state's explosive factory, PT Dahana, controlled by Suharto's research and technology minister, Dr B.J. Habibie. Another member of the consortium is Chartered Oiltech Services Ltd of Singapore.

In the spirit of competition and sibling rivalry, Tommy's elder brother Bambang also began to expand his business activities in Burma — via Bangkok. Four years ago, one of Bambang's companies, PT Elektrindo Nusantara, became a supplier for the Royal Thai Air Force and the Thai Department of Interior.

Those businesses are peanuts compared to Indonesia's car exports to Burma, handled by another Suharto-related company, PT Astra International. This company is currently directed by a Suharto crony, Mohammad "Bob" Hasan, on behalf of PT Nusamba, which is 80% owned by three charities headed by Suharto himself.

Other Suharto-related companies are shareholders of Astra, the largest automotive producer and assembler in Indonesia, whose main products are Toyota cars.

After Astra's success in marketing Toyota Kijang cars abroad, the company became the importer and sole distributor of BMW and Land Rover in Burma.

Tommy's Sempati Air has since 1991 provided direct flights from Jakarta to Rangoon. Sempati Air has become an ASEAN airline, since a Sabah-based company, ASEAN Aviation, has bought 40% of the shares of Sempati, which was originally fully owned by an Indonesian army company.

Six years ago, Tommy took over the company by buying 25% of the shares, bringing in PT Nusamba as another (35%) shareholder. Tommy's shares will be reduced even further when Singapore Airlines' plans to buy a stake in Sempati materialise.

These trading links quickly led to lucrative investment plans. The first Suharto-linked company to invest in Burma was PT Rante Mario, one of the many companies under Tommy's Humpuss Group.

Through a joint venture with a Burmese state company, Myanmar Timber Enterprise, PT Rante Mario plans to build a wood processing industry with an investment of US$75 million.

Meanwhile, brother Bambang also began to invest in Burma. His electronics company, PT Elektrindo Nusantara, has built small telephone central units for 256 subscribers in Rangoon, as a pilot project for a much bigger deal with the SLORC.

This company is 51% owned by Bambang, and is one of the main money makers of his Bimantara Group. Indra Rukmana, who is married to Tutut Suharto, is a fellow Bimantara shareholder.

Simultaneously with the Elektrindo Nusantara deal, another Bimantara company, PT Japfa Comfeed, planned to invest in an animal feed company in Burma.

The third member of Suharto's extended family to invest in Burma is Hashim Djojohadikusumo, who owns three cement factories in Indonesia. Last year he signed a memorandum of understanding with a Burmese state company, the Union of Myanmar Economic Holding Limited, to build a 1 million ton per year cement factory.

The US$210 million joint venture is expected to go into full production in 2000, and will be 70% owned by Hashim's Tirtamas Group.

Hashim's cement factory may become a boon for other Suharto-related projects in Burma, especially toll roads. During his recent two-day visit to Burma, President Suharto and the SLORC chairman, General Than Swee, witnessed the signing of a memorandum of understanding between a Burmese state company and an Indonesian "private" company.

The Indonesian company concerned was PT Citra Lamtoro Gung Persada, headed by Tutut. Travelling as part of her father's official entourage, Tutut signed a memorandum of understanding with Union of Myanmar Holding Ltd.

Although the contents of the memorandum were not disclosed, journalists guessed that it covers the construction of toll roads, since that is Tutut's specialty in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and China.

PT Astra International has begun oil exploration in Burma and Vietnam. Meanwhile, another Suharto-related company, Meta Epsi Duta from the Medco Group, also plans to sign an oil exploration agreement in Burma in the near future. The latter company was partly owned by Tutut's father-in-law, the late Eddy Kowara.

It might not be long before Bambang invests in Burma's oil and mineral wealth as well. He is already involved, with Indonesian, Canadian and Malaysian partners, in gold mining in Indonesia and Khazakstan.

His Sydney-based Canadian partner, Robert Friedland, is currently developing a copper mine near Monywa in central Burma and is exploring for gold and copper in six other areas in Burma. Overseeing those activities is a 50-50 joint venture between Friedland's company, Ivanhoe Myanmar Holdings, and a mining enterprise owned by the SLORC. It is not unlikely that Bambang is a "silent partner" in Ivanhoe Myanmar Holdings as well.

More and more Indonesian businesses are flocking to Burma. Through his Singapore-based Transmarco company, Putera Sampurna, the Sampurna kretek tycoon, plans to develop tobacco and other businesses in Burma, while overseeing Astra's Burma operations as well, since he is also a shareholder in Astra with Bob Hasan.

There are strong reasons to believe that the Suharto regime is also involved in supplying the needs of the Tatmadaw, the Burmese armed forces.

It could be that some of the aircraft used by the Tatmadaw's air force, such as the CASA C-212 Aviocar transport planes, were not ordered directly from Spain, but from Indonesia. When General Than Swe visited Jakarta in June 1995, he signed an agreement to buy airplanes produced by the Indonesian aircraft industry, Industri Pesawat Terbang Nusantara.

It is not impossible that more SLORC arms and ammunition have come or will come indirectly via Indonesia. First of all, it is well known that IPTN is a licence holder for the Spanish aircraft factory, CASA, the German aircraft industry, MBB, and the French aircraft factory, Aerospatiale.

Other strategic industries under Habibie's control have their own

licence or contract arrangements with other European arms manufacturers.

The Suharto regime has, through all the interlocking businesses between the first family and their cronies, become the second richest Asian head of state, with an estimated wealth of US$6.3 billion. Meanwhile, to cover up for its human rights violations, this regime has consistently abused the rhetoric of "ASEAN solidarity" to repress any serious debate about its political and human rights crimes in all the ASEAN countries.

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