Abri may shoot looters on sight to restore order


The Indonesian military warns of tougher action against looters in riot-torn Jakarta, but Gen Wiranto is also calling for restraint and unity

INDONESIA’S armed forces (Abri), foreshadowing a tougher line against rioters, indicated yesterday that a shoot-on-sight order would be put into effect to restore order in the capital, but said they would distinguish between looters and students protesting for political reform.

“It is clear that the rioters and looters are engaging in criminal activity unlike the students who are voicing their aspirations in peaceful demonstrations,” Abri chief General Wiranto told a press conference here.

A senior military source told The Straits Times that at a meeting yesterday, commanders discussed and agreed on a shoot-on-sight policy as an option to crack down on criminal elements who have been burning and looting stores and torching cars over the last three days.

“The situation is serious because sporadic violence is breaking out everywhere. We hope to bring this under control soon by using force. Otherwise it might deteriorate even further,” the source said.

But when asked specifically if Abri would use such a policy, Gen Wiranto said “shooting really depends on the situation in the field”.

He added that Abri had not taken a decision yet on whether to impose a curfew in the capital but appealed for calm and the support of students and the public.

More than 15,000 troops have been deployed in Jakarta to quell rioting in various parts of the capital, he said.

“Abri will continue its duty, whatever the risks, to maintain the security of the capital which is the national barometer of the country,” he said, adding that soldiers had been under considerable stress for several months.

“For months the armed forces members have been working in the heat with limited supplies, enduring stones thrown and curses from people. Everyone would predict that clashes will happen on a scale that none of us wants. And that has already happened,” he said.

Four military personnel have been killed in the violence – three in Jakarta yesterday in the Cengkareng area, which was hit by a wave of looting, and a fourth in Bogor last Saturday.

More than 20 armoured vehicles, some with machine guns at the ready, have been deployed in central Jakarta streets in what is being seen as the clearest sign yet of an impending crackdown.

There were 16 of them outside the military headquarters on the road which leads to the presidential palace.

Three armoured vehicles were also stationed near the Atma Jaya University in central Jakarta where troops earlier fired tear gas to break up a mob of 10,000 people.

Others have been deployed in west Jakarta which has seen some of the worst violence so far.

Gen Wiranto said the military would do whatever was necessary to restore order but made a call for unity from all strata of society.

“We will recover from this crisis if we are all one in this together.”

He urged students to stay on campus and resist joining forces with non-students who were responsible for most of the looting.

Asked why the military appears not to be taking any action against looters, he said that the military often arrived late at the scene as the disturbances were too sporadic.

He said the military was capable of controlling the situation but reiterated that it needed the help of the community.

Turning to the deaths of six students from Trisakti University on Tuesday, he said the military had set up a fact-finding team to investigate the incident and vowed to punish any soldier found guilty of deviating from orders.

“As chief of the armed forces, I offer my deepest apologies to the victims’ families and everyone in the academic community for this unfortunate incident,” he said.

“Abri will comprehensively investigate every violation that took place.

“If violations took place or there was a lack of discipline, or a mistake in the process, I will issue firm and adequate sanctions,” he said.

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