Subject: AP: Moves to clear Suharto's name spark outrage among former political prisoner

Moves to clear Suharto's name spark outrage among former political prisoners

05/13/2006 05:04:51 AM EDT AP WorldStream English (all)

JAKARTA, Indonesia_For 14 years, Murad Aidit lived in a penal colony on the jungle-covered Indonesian island of Buru with 12,000 other suspected communist sympathizers.

Sent into exile under the orders of long-ruling dictator Suharto, he was never tried for any crimes, never knew if he would leave the island alive.

He was finally freed in 1979. But now, he fears his last chance for justice may be slipping away.

Indonesia's government announced Friday it was dropping corruption charges and is reportedly considering an official campaign to "rehabilitate" the name of the ailing Suharto, who was ousted from power in 1998 after a brutal 32-year rule.

Recuperating from colon surgery and stricken by a series of strokes, Suharto's deteriorating health was cited by prosecutors as the reason for dropping charges that he embezzled a staggering US$600 million (euro470 million) from the country's coffers before being forced out of office by nationwide riots and student protests.

Doctors said Suharto had regained full consciousness Saturday. He remained in a Jakarta hospital, where he has been treated for the last week and a half.

Critics allege Suharto, 84, is feigning illness and should be brought to trial, or tried in absentia.

"Suharto is the architect of my suffering," said Aidit, 85, who was released from Buru only after the United States pressured Suharto to close down the penal colony.

"To drop the charges against him really hurt us," he said. "But he will be tried by history."

Suharto's opponents say embezzlement is not the worst of the former strongman's crimes.

They say Suharto, one of the world's longest-ruling dictators, should be charged in connection with at least 500,000 political killings, mostly of communists and left-wing government opponents. Some put the figure closer to 1 million.

Hundreds of thousands of others are said to have been thrown into prison without trial.

"Suharto was the mastermind of massacres that left an estimated 1 million people dead across Indonesia and East Timor," said Carmel Budiardjo, a former political prisoner who now runs the London-based Indonesian human rights group TAPOL.

"He must not be allowed to go unpunished because millions of his victims still endure continued discrimination and suffering," she said, referring to former prisoners, exiles and their families.

Justice, opponents say, is taking a backseat to political expediency.

Suharto, who has kept a low profile since his ouster, continues to carry substantial political clout. Many government leaders served _ and profited _ under him, and powerful members of the bureaucracy and military want to see his name cleared.

It was not immediately clear how that might be achieved, though a presidential declaration was seen as a possible start.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who was a general in the army under Suharto, was expected to make some sort of announcement on the rehabilitation issue after he returns from a summit of developing Muslim nations being held this weekend on the resort island of Bali.

But while senior officials have expressed support for clearing Suharto's name, Yudhoyono has expressed concern that any move to do so would be highly divisive.

"The waves of opposing and supporting voices are getting higher and this could lead to conflict," he told a news conference before leaving for Bali on Friday.

The moves to clear Suharto's name also come almost eight years to the day after the killing of six students when police fired on thousands of protesters in the riots that led to Suharto's downfall. Indonesian television showed videos of those riots throughout the day Saturday.

Some of Suharto's critics have called for him to apologize to the country, or return money he allegedly stole, in exchange for the case being dropped.

A day after the charges were dropped, public reaction remained subdued. A small group of demonstrators gathered outside Suharto's residence soon after the announcement, some carrying posters reading "Bring Him To Trial," but no incidents were reported.

No significant protests were held Saturday, a national holiday.


Associated Press writer Ninik Karmini contributed to this report.

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