Presidential hopeful washes hands of 1998 crimes

Indonesian general was 'following orders' in abduction of activists
Presidential hopeful washes hands of 1998 crimes

Indonesian presidential hopeful Prabowo Subianto has angered families of disappeared activists (AFP photo/Adek Berry)

The head of Indonesia’s feared Kopassus special forces, and a presidential hopeful, has angered families of activists who were disappeared in the 1997-98 protests by claiming he was only following orders. 

Prabowo Subianto, former commander of the Army Special Forces Command, known as Kopassus, said in an interview with Tempo magazine that he had done the right thing.

“I was just a military official at that time. Sometimes in a state structure we become government tools to execute a good mission,” he told the magazine, which has a reputation for exposing injustices.

The comments are seen as controversial for someone hoping to take the top seat in Indonesia next year, and are unlikely to win him greater support. As head of the group, Prabowo is considered responsible for the abduction and forced disappearance of 22 activists during protests to topple former President Suharto. Nine were freed but 13 remain missing.

In a statement, the Disappeared and Victims of Violence (KontraS) group said that the result of an investigation conducted by the pro-justice team of the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) showed Prabowo’s involvement in abductions and enforced disappearances. 

“Prabowo’s statements really hurt me. He washes his hands of this human tragedy so that he can run for president [in the next year’s presidential election],” said Paian Siahaan, the father of missing activist Ucok Munandar Siahaan, at a press conference on Thursday in Jakarta.

He recalled that his son, who was studying at Jakarta’s Perbanas Economic Science Institute, told him days before went missing in May 1998 that someone had been monitoring his activities.

Ruyati Darwin, the mother of Eten Karyana, a student at the Jakarta-based University of Indonesia who was also kidnapped during the May 1998 riots, also believed that Prabowo ordered the abductions.

“[Prabowo] is the mastermind,” she said. “His statements hurt me.”

Besides abduction and enforced disappearances, the riots also resulted in the killing of 293 people and widespread damage to property.

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