Poverty, Lack Of Change Fueling Indonesian Strife
January 24, 1999

Yahoo! News

Amy Chew

JAKARTA, Indonesia (Reuters) - Indonesia's crippling economic crisis and stifled demands for political and economic reform will fuel more violence in the country in coming months, with fresh protests set to hit Jakarta soon, analysts said Sunday.

While Jakarta was largely peaceful during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which ended last week, sporadic bloodshed has continued unabated around the vast archipelago.

At least 50 people died in fighting between Muslims and Christians on the spice island of Ambon in recent days, the bloodiest upheaval since riots in May killed 1,200 in Jakarta and helped topple autocratic President Suharto.

Now, students are vowing to resume their anti-government protests in the capital, raising the potential for more clashes with troops on the streets of Jakarta.

``We will return to the streets after the Muslim holidays but we have not set an exact date,'' student activist Eli Salomo told Reuters.

The meltdown that began in mid-1997 is the worst economic crisis in three decades, crippling businesses and throwing almost half the country's 200 million people into abject poverty.

``We are heading for a very bad situation,'' said Airlangga University lecturer Daniel Sparingga.

``Now you don't need any political or ideological reason to make the people angry and turn destructive. The people are suffering from the economic crisis and they feel there is no light at the end of the tunnel.''

The chain of more than 17,000 islands stretching 5,000 km (3,000 miles) along the equator has been wracked with unrest and violence for much of the past year as long-running ethnic, religious and social tensions erupt.

After Suharto's 32 year, army-backed rule ended in May, his hand-picked successor, B.J. Habibie, pledged a new national election in 1999 and sweeping economic and political reforms.

But this failed to satisfy most of his critics. Student-led protests clogged the streets of Jakarta almost daily and led to occasional bloody clashes with troops and police.

Critics want faster democratic reform, an end to the military's political power and the trial of Suharto on charges of corruption and human rights abuses during his harsh reign.

Munir, a human rights campaigner from the Legal Aid Institute warned civil unrest would escalate unless something was done to ease the pain being felt by ordinary people.

``The people's suffering will make them side with the students to fight for change,'' he told Reuters.

Said Sparingga: ``The violence in part reflects the people's broken hopes that the reform era will change their situation, but their demands have not been met.''

Bickering among politicians trying to advance their own cause had left the people feeling frustrated and neglected.

``They (politicians) operate in an atmosphere of hostility and distrust, jockeying for power among themselves,'' he said.

Indonesia's once feared and powerful armed forces, which include the police, have come under strong criticism for failing to stem the violence and a general increase in lawlessness.

``Frankly speaking, I don't think they know what to do,'' said one analyst who asked not to be identified.

Police spokesman Brigadier-General Togar Sianipar said the unrest could not be ended by the security forces alone.

``It is an economic, social and political problem and needs to be solved as such,'' he told Reuters.