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Indonesia: Suharto's death squads.

Death squads of soldiers have killed an estimated 3,000 to 5,000 people in Indonesia since 1982--the exact figure is difficult to verify. The squads were formed that year by the military government of President Suharto to wage a war on hardened criminals. For a time no attempt was made to conceal their official status, and the controlled press even published daily kill totals. All the victims had criminal records, and the police cited the decline in the number of violent crimes as an indication that the death squads were a success.

But in June 1983, under pressure from Dutch diplomats, the government banned all references in the press to the military link with death squad activity. Thereafter the killings were described as the work of "mysterious" groups or rival street gangs.

Now there is evidence that the death squads may have expanded their targets to include political dissidents. A year ago, Mochtar Sukidi, a journalist with the weekly Inti Jaya who was investigating police bribe-taking, was kidnapped outside a police station in central Java. He has not been heard from since. About the same time, the editors of East Java's Suara Indonesia received a gruesome package: a severed head wrapped in a plastic bag. Peter Rohi, the newspaper's investigative reporter who had been writing about land frauds, went into hiding.

Last summer a popular student leader at a technical institute in Jakarta was gunned down by what appeared to be one of the death squads. No one has been arrested for the shooting. The press is not allowed to report these murders, and the government keeps the lid on tight. Last year, three major weekly papers were shut down--one of them for running a series of articles titled "Indonesia's One Hundred Billionaires."

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Author:Bird, Kai; Holland, Max
Publication:The Nation
Date:Dec 8, 1984
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