Indonesian parents wait for justice 20 years after Suharto's fall

The violence linked to the collapse of the Suharto government is another dark chapter which Indonesia has yet to address in any meaningful way. (AFP)
Updated 20 May 2018
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Indonesian parents wait for justice 20 years after Suharto's fall

  • More than 1,000 people are estimated to have been killed in riots and protests shortly before and in the months after Suharto’s autocratic regime collapsed
  • Hundreds of Chinese-owned homes and businesses were looted and razed during the unrest, which unfolded under the noses of the security forces

JAKARTA: Almost every week Asih Widodo attends a vigil outside Indonesia’s presidential palace, seeking justice for his son who died in an orgy of violence after the fall of dictator Suharto.
Monday marks the 20th anniversary of the former general’s 1998 resignation at the height of the Asian economic crisis as Indonesia was paralyzed by riots, food shortages, a plunging rupiah currency and mass unemployment.
More than 1,000 people are estimated to have been killed in riots and protests shortly before and in the months after Suharto’s autocratic regime collapsed.
Widodo’s son, engineering student Sigit Prasetyo, died in a hail of army gunfire aimed at protesters.
“I was at work when I got a phone call that my son was in a hospital — I knew immediately in my heart he was gone,” Widodo told AFP at a recent vigil alongside other bereaved parents demanding answers over the death of protesting students.
“My son was murdered by the army.”
In the past two decades the country of 260 million has undergone what many see as a remarkable transition to democracy but Southeast Asia’s biggest economy still grapples with rampant corruption and inequality.
Suharto — who grabbed power in 1967 following the massacre in 1965-6 of hundreds of thousands of alleged communist sympathizers and ethnic Chinese — died in 2008.
He was never held to account for the suspected looting of billions of dollars from state coffers or rights abuses during his three-decade rule, which became a byword for corruption and cronyism.
And the violence linked to his government’s collapse is another dark chapter which Indonesia has yet to address in any meaningful way.
Ethnic Chinese Indonesians bore the brunt of the bloodshed in the last days of Suharto, with women cowering in their homes for days as rape squads — purportedly led by army thugs — roamed Jakarta’s streets.
Many died trapped in burning buildings as angry mobs — resentful of their relative financial success — ransacked Chinese-owned stores, smashed windows and set fire to cars as the government teetered on the verge of collapse.
Ayu Puspita was 30 when crowds stormed through the capital targeting Chinese-owned shops.
“It was so chaotic. Cars were being burned, motorcycles were toppled over — it was just so scary,” said Puspita at her restaurant in Glodok, known as Jakarta’s Chinatown.
Subianto, a 67-year-old parking attendant who has worked in Chinatown for some five decades, said he watched in shock as parts of the city went up in flames.
“There were no police, no soldiers. People were looting everywhere. Trucks were coming to steal things,” he said.
Hundreds of Chinese-owned homes and businesses were looted and razed during the unrest, which unfolded under the noses of the security forces. Their failure to intervene has fueled suspicions of military involvement ever since.
Some buildings in Jakarta’s Chinatown remain damaged even decades later.
“The sound of sirens scare me. I’m terrified every time I see a large group of people approaching,” Puspita said.
“I didn’t choose where I was born or what my ethnicity is.”
Efforts to hold members of the then-government and military accountable for the death of ethnic Chinese and others have gone nowhere.
But Widodo, who rides a motorbike emblazoned with the words “My son was murdered by the army,” will keep demanding answers.
“This country does not care, but I do,” the 67-year-old said.
“I’ll keep fighting as long as I am still alive.”


Sri Lanka expands visa-free scheme halted after bombings

Updated 49 min 45 sec ago
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Sri Lanka expands visa-free scheme halted after bombings

  • Sri Lanka initially projected a 30 percent dip in the number of foreign holidaymakers after the attacks
  • Sri Lanka welcomed a record 2.33 million tourists in 2018

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka has re-introduced and expanded a visa-free entry scheme for visitors in a bid to revive its flagging tourism sector after the deadly Easter bombings, officials said Wednesday.
The concession for tourists from 39 nations was suspended after militants bombed three churches and three luxury hotels in Colombo on April 21 killing 258 people, including 45 foreigners.
“As the security situation has improved, the cabinet of ministers decided to revive the visa-free scheme and also extended it to seven more countries,” the government said in a statement.
A tourism official said foreign governments have relaxed travel advisories for Sri Lanka since the attacks.
There has also been a lift in the number of arrivals, which nosedived soon after the bombings blamed on a home-grown militant group, the official said.
The new countries added to the expanded scheme — which already allows travelers from the European Union, Australia and the United States to enter Sri Lanka without a visa — include China and India.
Visitors still have to obtain a visa on arrival, but the government has waived the $35 fee from August 1.
Sri Lanka initially projected a 30 percent dip in the number of foreign holidaymakers after the attacks.
The following month the number of tourists plunged to 37,800, down from 166,975 in April, according to official figures.
But they improved last month with some 63,000 visitors, although numbers are still down from 146,828 in June 2018.
Sri Lanka welcomed a record 2.33 million tourists in 2018, and was named the world’s top travel destination for 2019 by the Lonely Planet travel guide.