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21 May 1998 Edition

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Indonesia ready to throw off Suharto

By Dara MacNeil

His people turned against him en masse. Former government ministers, in a rare show of dissent, publicly stated that he should go. Even a powerful grouping of retired generals joined the ranks of the `reformers' and demanded an end to the 32 year rule of Indonesia's General Suharto.

And finally, the sense that all was not well in the state of Indonesia communicated itself to the man with more blood on his hands than Pol Pot.

In a blatant attempt to buy time and control the succession race, Suharto announced he will call elections and establish a new body to introduce reforms. The new body will also be empowered to pick his successor.

However, given that exactly half of the members of the proposed body will be handpicked by the dictator, this measure is unlikely to find favour with the protesters. Too little, too late.

After months of social and economic chaos, Suharto was finally persuaded that he faced the final curtain. There is little doubt but that his change of heart stemmed from a realisation that he could no longer depend on the support of the all-powerful Indonesian Defence Forces (ABRI).

In recent weeks, the power of Suharto's supporters in ABRI has waned, particularly that of Lieutenant General Prabowo, who also happens to be the ageing dictator's son-in-law. ABRI is now divided, with the apparent development of a consensus that Suharto has to go.

Bellicose noises directed at the student-led campaign for reform are not an indication of support for the 76 year-old dictator. Indeed, Suharto's top military aide, and the head of the army - General Wiranto - has already made overtures to the student leaders.

Of concern to ABRI is that the burgeoning street protests may take on a momentum of their own and develop into a general, widespread radicalised movement for genuine change.

Having recognised the inevitability of change, ABRI is now anxious that it be in a position to control and dictate both the extent and nature of that change. Should the citizenry get ideas above their station, ABRI could find itself on the wrong end of the momentum for reform.

ABRI - like all who threw in their lot with the ageing mass murderer - prospered under Suharto's rule. The defence forces, for example, have extensive and hugely-profitable business interests in occupied East Timor.

Thus, their reluctance to kick Suharto until they were sure he was well and truly down, stems from the fact that senior personnel were loathe to bite the hand that has fed them so well for over three decades.

And that hand has proved remarkably adept at feeding the extended Suharto family also. After 32 years in power, the Suharto clan have amassed anywhere between $30-$40 billion.

A note of caution - that estimate is almost a decade old.

Meanwhile, the chaos engendered by Suharto's thirty two years of plunder has forced the per capita income of the average Indonesian family back to the level it was when Suharto came to power, in 1966. Back to square one, for some anyway.

Also worth noting is the fact that the IMF rescue package - which came close to saving the bloody dictator - was valued at $35-$40 billion. In other words, the equivalent of the private, looted wealth of the Suharto mob.

The IMF money came courtesy of western taxpayers - without their knowledge or consent, of course.

The staggering wealth amassed by the aged dictator and his obviously thrifty brood - his wife and six children are all in business - appears to match, if not surpass the fortune pilfered by another of history's great thieves, Mobutu Sese Seko, latterly of Zaire.

The Suharto clan ran Indonesia like a private company, the entire nation no less than their own private, sprawling monopoly. To them, the country was nothing more than Indonesia Inc.

Suharto began as a racketeer. As an army commander in the early 1960s, he ensured the awarding of contracts to supply his troops with food, medicine and clothing, to two close friends - in return for `kickbacks'.

Those two friends - Liem Sioe Liong and Bob Hasan - attached themselves to the rising army commander and, today, play pivotal roles in the sprawling Suharto empire. Needless to say, they are among the richest men in Indonesia.

In power, one of Suharto's first acts - after wiping out a million alleged `communists' with US and British support - was to take control of the country's lucrative flour milling business. Competitors of the Bogasari Mills suddenly lost official contracts, while the former grew fat on government deals.

In the 1970s, Suharto began setting up a series of foundations through which his wife and himself could wield more efficient control over their burgeoning business interests.

At last count, Suharto was in control of over 40 such foundations, which control, or own stakes in virtually every aspect of Indonesian economic life: flour milling, cement factories, fertiliser manufacturers, toll roads, timber mills and oil palm plantations.

Many of the enterprises are part-owned by Suharto's friends from the old day, Sioe Liong and Hasan.

The dictator also enjoys close links with multinationals such as Mobil Oil and giant mining conglomerate, Freeport McMoRan. The latter enjoys a 2.6 million hectare concession in occupied West Papua (annexed in 1969) where it mines copper, silver and gold.

The Freeport McMoRan operation is Indonesia's fourth largest contributor of revenue.

Having put a little something aside for the twilight years, Suharto began to set his six children up in business. Official resources and facilities were shamelessly exploited. Thus, one son's efforts to start an airline were aided by the use of Indonesian airforce planes. The airforce logo was simply covered over with the logo of the `new' carrier.

Indeed, in 1975, naval ships transported prize cattle for breeding, from Australia to the Suharto family ranch, in Indonesia. The naval vessels picked up their cargo after dropping an invasion force on the shores of nearby East Timor.

In the 1980s, a daughter who established her own TV station was helped by the fact that she was given full use of the facilities of an existing TV station - without the requirement that she pay rent.

A younger son, also in the airline business, has enjoyed full use of facilities at the newly-built Sukarno Hatta international airport, near Jakarta. Trifling matters such as rental fees, fuel costs and even catering bills were not allowed impinge on this busy young man's consciousness.

Typically, the airline scheme was a joint venture with the Indonesian army.

On a broader scale, major state companies have been forced to enter joint ventures with the Suharto offspring. These include the national oil company, Pertamina, public works construction companies, state telecommunications and satellite companies and state-run pharmaceutical concerns.

One of Suharto's daughters is the Indonesian agent for US telecommunications giant AT&T. Then US president George Bush personally persuaded Suharto to award AT&T the lucrative telecom project, over a Japanese competitor.

In more recent times, the offspring have used their father's regional power to expand massively overseas - perhaps in anticipation of the day it all comes tumbling down. The clan has known concerns as far afield as China, Cambodia, Australia, West Africa, Uzbekistan and Europe.

Currently, at home and abroad, they have interests in: shipping, power plants, oil, mining, banking, timber, construction, agriculture, chemicals, airlines and car manufacturing.

Indonesia Inc. is, above all, a family affair.

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