Subject: SCMP: Suharto’s legacy lives on through the military



Suharto's legacy lives on through the military

Ben Terrall

In the last days of his life, the former Indonesian dictator Suharto, who died at the weekend, was visited in his private Jakarta hospital room by a parade of notables including top Indonesian politicians and ostensible opposition figures. They came to pay homage because Suharto's family and the military he built up with the help of the US and other western governments are still forces to reckon with in Indonesia.

Though he was driven from office after mass uprisings in 1998, Suharto's past crimes and his family's vast empire have not been seriously challenged since the transition to a relatively more democratic government.

According to the Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative, a new UN/ World Bank effort to track global embezzlement of public funds, Suharto is the 20th century's most profitable kleptocrat.

Transparency International, a Berlin-based non-governmental organisation, concluded that Suharto made off with between US$15 billion and US$35 billion. A spokesman for the group said: "All this has been possible under the eyes of the west, which supported Suharto for 30 years." It provided more than US$130 billion in foreign investment between 1988 and 1996.

Suharto and his cronies worked with western oil, mining and other companies to extract huge profits from Indonesia's natural resources. They profited further from cheap labour kept in line by military repression. For years, Suharto's unregulated hypercapitalism produced what mainstream commentators called an economic miracle. The gains from this were mostly enjoyed by a few, however.

One of those imprisoned in Suharto's US-backed seizure of power in 1965 was Indonesia's greatest novelist, Pramoedya Ananta Toer. Pramoedya, who died in 2006, reflected on his 14 years of brutal imprisonment under Suharto in a 1999 interview. He said Suharto's fall was only formal; his power is still running. What is going on now is a repetition of what we experienced fighting colonialism. Indonesia is the world's largest maritime nation, yet an army runs it".

Indonesia has made democratic progress in the decade since Suharto was forced from power. But his military remains a major block to reform. Efforts to have the armed forces give up their businesses and bring the military fully under civilian control have stalled. Human rights tribunals and investigations have largely collapsed or led to acquittals.

John Miller, of the East Timor and Indonesia Action Network, a US-based group, said: "If Indonesia is ever to fully overcome Suharto's legacy, those who carried out his orders, conspired with him, stole on his behalf, and aided and abetted his crimes must be brought to justice."

A complete accounting for the US role in backing the dictator must take place, Mr Miller says. The US should back an international tribunal to prosecute human rights abuses and war crimes in East Timor from 1975 to 1999, and military aid should be withheld until the armed forces are fully under civilian control and respect international human rights standards.

...................................................... Ben Terrall is a San Francisco-based writer

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