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MAY RIOTS THAT KILLED SOME 1,200 HAD A MASTERMIND, PRIEST´S TEAM SUSPECTS

Updated: June 04, 1998 05:00 PM GMT
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The bloody riots of May 12-18 in Jakarta and Tangerang town in West Java, whose death toll is now some 1,200, were masterminded, suspect members of a priestĀ“s relief team that ministers to victims of riots.

"At first glance it seems that the riots were spontaneous actions by angry people who could no longer bear their suffering. However, based on similarities in chronology and process, we find a common pattern," reported Jesuit Father Ignatius Sandyawan Sumardi on May 24.

Father Sumardi, secretary of Tim Relawan untuk Kemanusiaan (volunteers team for humanity), said that his relief workers have found "ample evidence" that the recent riots in Jakarta and neighboring Tangerang were well organized.

He disclosed that by May 12, the rioters, who first attacked security officers after four Trisakti University students were gunned down, were directed to target their actions on the ethnic Chinese.

Witnesses told the volunteers team that groups of provocateurs attracted mobsters to certain places by burning tires or wood on the street.

When the mobsters swelled in number, the provocateurs shouted anti-Chinese slogans and began stoning Chinese-owned stores. Once the mobsters entered the stores to loot and torch them, the inciters moved on to other places.

According to Father Sumardi, the provocateurs could be classified into three groups: crew-cut men wearing combat boots, goons, and youngsters wearing university jackets or high school uniforms.

Besides shouting anti-Chinese slogans, the inciters, including those in university jackets, called students who did not take to the streets cowards.

The Volunteers Team for Humanity urged the government to probe the incident and expose "the mastermind" of the riots, "so that small people and reformists are not used as scapegoats."

The team also called on all parties to regard the riot victims as GodsĀ“ creatures, and to build a moral solidarity against "violent political games."

Meanwhile, it has assessed that the riots in Jakarta and its surrounding areas on May 12-14 and other sporadic ones until May 18 left 1,198 dead, 30 missing and 80 injured.

Of the fatalities, 10 died of gunshot wounds and the rest from being engulfed in flames in burning shops or from torture by mobsters. Those burned alive in stores are believed to have been looters trapped in the fires.

The riots contributed to mounting pressure from reformist students, who occupied the National Assembly Hall, that forced then president Soeharto to tender his resignation on May 21.

The multifaith volunteers team is supported by the Jesuit-run Jakarta Social Institute, of which Father Sumardi is director, and by Nahdlatul Ulama (awakening of Islamic scholars), a 32-million-strong Muslim organization.

It has some 15 relief unit posts in Jakarta and Tangerang.

END

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