Subject: Reuters MEDIAWATCH: Forgiving Suharto?

< >MEDIAWATCH: Forgiving Suharto?

Reuters 31 Jan 2008 11:13:00 GMT31 Jan 2008 11:13:00 GMT

Written by: Joanne Tomkinson

Former Indonesian President Suharto announces his resignation at the the presidential palace in Jakarta May 20,1998 , after 32 years in power. REUTERS/Enny Nuraheni

The death of former Indonesian president Suharto has ignited a vigorous debate about the legacy of his period of bloody rule. Over half a million people are thought to have died while Suharto was in power, yet many commentators still talk of the positives aspects of this period.

A.M. Hendropriyono a commentator for < >The Jakarta Post sees Suharto's "flaws" as inevitable given the difficulties associated with running a country as diverse and sprawling as Indonesia.

"After all, if you strip away the corruption, nepotism, and human rights issues from Soeharto's reign, what do you have? The thankless task of running an often dysfunctional archipelago that revels - and is mired - in diversity," the commentator says.

"The United States of America, after all, faced serious hurdles during its first decades, though it was able to resolve these without its leaders being scrutinized on CNN and You Tube."

The paper also says that many regional leaders such as Singaporean Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew and Malaysian leader Mahathir Mohamad have praised Suharto's achievements.

Suharto governed Indonesia from 1966 to 1998. He is accused of corruption, repression and causing between 500,000 and a million deaths.

Hundreds of thousands of suspected communists were killed as Suharto rose to power in the 1960s. A further 200,000 people are thought to have died during Indonesia's occupation of East Timor.

Though Britain's < >Economist magazine notes his "exceptional brutality", it is still keen to point out the positive side of Suharto's regime.

"Economic growth accelerated, roads and factories were built, foreign investment flowed. A hugely disparate archipelago of tens of thousands of islands, which had seemed at risk of shattering, was united."

The <>Inter Press Service (IPS), a civil society news agency says that "The truth is, Suharto still reigns in the heart of people in the villages, despite the fanfare of democracy brought by the new governments."

The service quotes Warid, a farmer from West Java, as saying "To me, Suharto is the best. When he was in power, fertiliser was abundant and affordable, irrigation worked well. So farming, which is my inherited and only skill, was a reliable business for living."

Mohammad Ainun Najib, a popular columnist in Indonesia, explains this respect in the following way, according to the IPS:

"The incapability of the new government makes the people yearn for the Suharto era, when prices of basic necessities were affordable, streets were safe from rallies and anarchism, and jobs were easy to find."

Economic gains don't make everyone so forgiving though.

"What about the millions of people, alleged members of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), who were murdered without trial? How about those who were kidnapped and are still missing? We respect Suharto, definitely. But we also respect those victims of his oppressive rule. All men are equal before the law," said Fajrun, an activist in Jakarta, speaking to the IPS.

This perspective is reinforced by < >The East Timor and Indonesia Action Network , a U.S.-based lobbying organisation for East Timor rights, which says that Suharto is "one of the worst mass murderers of the 20th century".

The site says that Suharto's allies must be brought to justice for the shocking deaths and corruption which took place.

"To overcome Suharto's legacy and to uphold basic international human rights and legal principles, those who executed, aided and abetted, and benefited from his criminal orders must be held accountable."

The < >Christian Science Monitor writes that it is now time for Indonesians to decide "how history will judge the complex legacy of the man who ruled them for 32 years".

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