Stop those bombs or else, warns Abri

THE Indonesian armed forces yesterday warned that the use of fire-bombs by demonstrating students against riot police recently in the North Sumatran capital of Medan was “out of line and inviting retaliation”.

These last few days have seen the confrontation between students and soldiers jump to a dramatic new level of violence, with protesters hurling Molotov cocktails and troops responding with riot-breaking rubber bullets.

Military sources told The Straits Times that Abri would get tough with students if they continued breaking laws and using violence to press their demands for political and economic reform and that President Suharto step down.

One senior officer, a two-star general, said: “We believe that the best way to resolve this problem is through dialogue and we have started this process.

“We have been very patient with them and will listen to what they have to say. But if they use violence, we will have to take the appropriate measures to defend national interest.”

Another senior officer said force was “not the preferred option” and its use would “depend entirely on the situation in the field”.

Other Abri sources said there were plans to charge students in court if they resorted to violence.

The military’s response takes place against a backdrop of growing student protests in Indonesia which began in mid-February amid the country’s worst economic crisis in 30 years.

Violent clashes occurred in three cities over the weekend as police used rubber bullets and tear gas to quell rallies.

Indonesia’s leading national daily Kompas yesterday said some 1,500 students from Jambi University in Sumatra clashed with security forces as they marched to the local parliament.

Police fired rubber bullets. One student fainted in the stampede and another suffered a bullet wound.

In Mataram, in West Nusa Tenggara, a similar clash broke out. At least eight people were injured. The most violent clash occurred in Medan. For a second day running on Saturday, students used Molotov cocktails and police responded with tear gas and rubber bullets.

Five students were later taken away by plainclothed security officials, and a number of students were hurt.

In the first incident on Friday, one student suffered a gunshot wound in the shoulder.

President Suharto has said the military can use “repressive measures” to ensure order. Publicly, however, senior officials have said Abri will not open fire with real, not rubber, bullets.

The Abri source said the students wanted to “test the patience and emotions” of soldiers outside campuses. “They want us to beat them up in public so that they can get the sympathy of society and the foreign press.”

He said their attempt to win grassroots support had backfired now. “Who would want to support students who go around throwing petrol bombs,” he said.

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