Campus deaths ‘were a mistake’


Troops at Trisakti University last Tuesday were given rubber bullets. But live ones killed the student protesters, says Abri’s Gen Wiranto.

THE Indonesian military has admitted making a procedural error by using live rounds against protesters last week, resulting in six students’ deaths.

“The bullets that caused the death of the students were live ammunition and not rubber-coated bullets and this means there was a procedural mistake,” the chief of the armed forces (Abri), General Wiranto, told reporters after a parliamentary commission hearing on the matter.

He also disclosed during the three-hour hearing on Friday night that the shooters were well-trained and had shot some of the students within the grounds of the Trisakti University campus in west Jakarta during demonstrations last Tuesday.

Major-General Syamsul Jalal, heading the Abri team investigating the shootings, told the hearing that troops deployed during the protest were not given live bullets.

“They were only provided with rubber-coated bullets,” the national Antara news agency quoted him as saying.

Senior Abri sources here told The Sunday Times that Gen Wiranto, who is also Defence Minister, was not consulted about the decision to shoot the students.

“This is the work of a paramilitary unit operating independently of the official chain of command,” said a senior military officer.

Another high-ranking official said that there had been a concerted attempt over the last three months to discredit Gen Wiranto and his efforts to resolve the demands of student demonstrators.

“The kidnapping of student activists, the killings at Trisakti and widespread rioting are all part of a calculated attempt to destroy his credibility as military chief,” said the source.

“The ultimate aim is to force a resignation out of him for failing to control the situation.”

Indeed, pressure has been mounting on the 50-year-old Yogyakarta-born Muslim to accept responsibility for the killings.

The independent Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation, for example, called on him and other senior officers to quit if there were procedural violations.

Maj-Gen Jalal said that security forces deployed at the university protest area included soldiers and police and that the probe team had questioned each commander of the respective units.

Gen Wiranto said that it was difficult at this point to trace which military units the shooters were from.

“I will explain as soon as possible who is responsible in this shooting case,” he said.

He also maintained that four students were killed and not six as others, including the Trisakti University chancellor, have said.

The student killings triggered an orgy of violence in Jakarta, leading to nearly 500 deaths and more than a 1,000 buildings being destroyed and burnt down as rioters went on the rampage.

Gen Wiranto has so far deployed 15,000 troops to restore order in the capital and disclosed that more could be drawn in from other parts of the country if the situation worsened.

Military analysts speculate that the four-star general, whose rise up the ranks has been meteoric after serving as President Suharto’s adjutant, will play a crucial role in these uncertain times for Indonesia.

He represents a younger generation of better-educated, often foreign-trained officers, pushing for greater professionalism in the military.

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