Indonesia's Habibie: Military United As "Never Before"
January 5, 1998

Dow Jones Newswires

Kate Linebaugh

JAKARTA -- Indonesian President B.J. Habibie said the Indonesia armed forces are united "as never before," amid a reshuffle of the command structure that is expected to consolidate the control of military commander Wiranto.

"ABRI (the Indonesian acronym for the military) is united today as never before," Habibie said in an interview with CNBC Asia to be broadcast Tuesday at 1300GMT.

Wiranto has launched a reshuffle of his command structure that involves 100 officers, local media reported Tuesday. Officials said Wiranto's latest reshuffle was a routine change in tours of duty in the military, but those promoted are closely associated with the military commander.

The military's reputation has been tarnished by a series of human rights abuses amid the recent nationwide unrest.

For example, former Lieutenant General Prabowo, a son-in-law of former President Suharto, was considered a rival to Wiranto but was dismissed from the military after he was implicated in the kidnappings of pro-democracy activists in early 1998. He hasn't been charged and is now in Jordan.

Habibie said that Prabowo must be brought to justice.

Many critics allege that Prabowo played a role in masterminding the violent unrest that rocked the capital in last May, which eventually led to Suharto's resignation.

The unrest largely targeted ethnic-Chinese businesses and communities, but Habibie stressed that Indonesia's Chinese community shouldn't feel unwelcome.

"We have many ethnic groups and religious groups here," the president said, adding that he saw no reason ethnic Chinese citizens of Indonesia shouldn't feel at home.

New economic policies pursued by the Habibie administration, including the redistribution of assets taken over by the government from troubled banks, have fueled concerns that government policies don't support Chinese interests.

Critics claim that Cooperatives Minister Adi Sasono is pursuing a policy to expropriate the wealth held by the Chinese conglomerates into the hands of ethnic-Indonesians.

Habibie denied these allegations, and stressed that it won't happen.

"There is no redistribution of assets done by him (Sasono) because the redistribution of assets that will have to be done, then it will be done by me," Habibie said. "And I will not instruct the minister of cooperative to do that."

Habibie also denied talk that Sasono was leveling a challenge against him for the presidency, saying they were part of the same team. The president also said Sasono could make a suitable leader.

"Adi Sasono is a fairly potential leader of this country. and he belongs to my team because I have asked him to be in my team," Habibie said.

CNBC Asia is owned 50% by General Electric Co.'s NBC television network and 50% by Dow Jones & Co. (DJ), the publisher of this and other newswires, the Wall Street Journal and its international and interactive editions, as well as Barron's, the Far Eastern Economic Review and other magazines.