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1984 indonesia massacre trials { November 3 2003 }

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Indonesian Massacre of 1984 Recounted at Trials
In Atmosphere of Threats, Survivors of Military Assault Testify for First Time

By Alan Sipress
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, November 3, 2003; Page A11

JAKARTA, Indonesia -- Husen Sape was leading the protest, demanding that the military release four Muslims detained a few days earlier, when soldiers abruptly opened fire from yards away. He felt a searing pain in his right ankle and crumpled to the ground, felled by one of the first bullets, he recalled. Within an instant, gunfire had killed a man to his right and three more to his left.

"There was no warning," he said, moving his fists back and forth as if raking the crowd with rifle fire, as he recounted the incident from 19 years ago.

Soldiers listened for moans, turning their guns on the survivors, he said. Sape played dead. When the shooting subsided, he was heaved into an army truck with at least a dozen corpses. He begged for help only when the bodies were delivered to a hospital.

"I still remember everything so well," Sape, 54, said in an interview, his eyes reddening. "It feels like it just happened yesterday."

Sape is among the survivors giving testimony for the first time about the Sept. 12, 1984, massacre at the impoverished Jakarta port of Tanjung Priok.

The opportunity for Indonesians to explore this bloody chapter emerged only after President Suharto was ousted in 1998 and a law was enacted in 2001 that allowed a court to hear allegations of atrocities by the security forces.

The Tanjung Priok tribunal is the second special human rights court empaneled by the government under the new law. In August, the first such court finished trying 18 defendants, mainly Indonesian military and police officers, for their role in the wave of killings, lootings and rapes in East Timor following its vote four years ago for independence from Jakarta. Six were found guilty and given light sentences. Foreign governments and human rights monitors called the proceedings deeply flawed.

At least 24 people were killed during the violence in Tanjung Priok, according to an investigation by Indonesia's official human rights commission. Families of the victims put the death toll at almost 400.

During the past two months, prosecutors have brought 14 active-duty and retired soldiers before the special tribunal on charges of crimes against humanity, most notably the current commander of the Indonesian army's special forces, Maj. Gen. Sriyanto Muntrasam. He went on trial two weeks ago, facing allegations that as a young captain he failed to stop his men from firing on several thousand Muslim marchers.

Sriyanto has denied the accusations. His attorneys have questioned the authority of the tribunal to hear the case so long after the event.

No verdicts have been reached yet in the Tanjung Priok cases. In addition to Sriyanto's trial, there are separate proceedings involving two retired major generals and a combined case against a captain and his 10 subordinates at the time.

Col. Nachrowi, a military spokesman, criticized what he called the retroactive application of the human rights laws and warned that some people may try to manipulate the proceedings to undermine Indonesia's unity. "To build the nation, it's very important for us to share the spirit of togetherness and there's no need for revenge," he said.

During the latest session of Sriyanto's trial on Thursday, scores of uniformed soldiers wearing the red berets of the Kopassus special forces crowded into the third-floor courtroom of the Central Jakarta courthouse to demonstrate support for their commander. Scores more arrived from other army units. The soldiers, many transported to the courthouse in military trucks and vehicles triple-parked out front, packed the aisles, overflowing through the French doors into the hallway. Some were barely old enough to recall the 1984 massacre.

Witnesses to the Tanjung Priok killings and human rights activists have called this intimidation. Moreover, they say they have been threatened with death or kidnapping if they appear in court.

Sape said he received an anonymous telephone call at 3:30 a.m. last week asking whether he would give testimony against the military and warning him to be careful. Sape said he hung up, scared. "If they keep threatening me, I might not give my testimony at all. It'd be better for my safety," said Sape, who has already provided evidence in several other cases and is scheduled to give more.

The witnesses and human rights activists complained last week to both the regular and military police, asking for protection. An Indonesian police spokesman said the department had received a report about the threats but would not comment on what steps would be taken.

After the hearing Thursday, Sriyanto told reporters that soldiers had a right like anyone else to attend the trial, adding that he did not understand why their presence was perceived as intimidation.

But Yusron Zainuri, 39, another massacre survivor, said that in the face of continuing threats, he would "feel afraid to tell the truth about what I experienced and what I still feel inside."

Like Sape, Zainuri said he had joined the ill-fated march after attending an evening Koran reading session at a neighborhood mosque. Led by Muslim activists, several thousand sympathizers tried to march to the local military headquarters to demand the release of four Muslims. Some accounts say the four had been arrested because they were suspected of political subversion for opposing Suharto's government.

An activist handed Sape a green banner emblazoned with an Islamic slogan and told him to lead the way. As they advanced through the darkened streets, the protesters were met by a phalanx of soldiers with bayonets drawn, and halted, according to Sape, Zainuri and other witnesses.

When the soldiers unexpectedly opened fire, many of the marchers dropped to the pavement, cowering, the witnesses said. But one man next to Zainuri jumped back up to run and drew fire. Zainuri said he suddenly noticed he was covered with blood. He realized he had been hit in the chest and right arm.

More troops arrived, he recounted, and began to move up the street hunting survivors. One soldier stood over Zainuri. "He shouted, 'This one's still alive!' He tried to shoot me once more. The bullet came very close to my head but missed," he said.

The soldiers dragged his limp body by the arm and hurled him into the open bed of an army truck. The corpses were four deep, Zainuri said.

"It was impossible for me to count the number of bodies," he recalled, "because of the conditions and the fear and the pain."

2003 The Washington Post Company

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