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Army Suspected of Gang Rapes, Ethnic Attacks During Riots

by Andreas Harsono

Descriptions consistent with out of uniform soldiers
(AR) JAKARTA -- Gruesome tales of brutal sexual and racist violence in Indonesia have slowly begun to emerge here as social workers and human rights advocates learn more of an organized campaign of assaults, gang rapes and killings of ethnic Chinese women during three days of rioting in Jakarta last month.

Indonesian media only reported the violence -- initially only rumored on the Internet and among the small Chinese community in Jakarta -- after scores of social workers, feminists and Chinese figures had announced the setting up of a crisis center to help the victims.

"Tell me, what kind of human beings are evil enough to rape a 12-year-old girl in front of her helpless parents?" asked Ita F. Nadia, the chairwoman of Kalyanamitra, a women's group which opened a telephone hotline for the victims.

"They're incredibly cruel and brutal," said Nadia.

The establishment of the center, named the Solidarity of the Nation State, was announced in a meeting on June 5 in Jakarta, during which Catholic priest Sandyawan Sumardi estimated that dozens of Chinese women had died or committed suicide because of the violence on May 14-16.

Sandyawan, who is known because of his work among Jakarta's underclass and has organized an investigation into the attack, said that the anti-Chinese attack had shown a pattern of similarities and usually involved "well-built men with [a] crew-cut hairstyle."

The unidentified men generally began the violence by coming to a street in a truck or a bus and attacking only one house on the street. They encouraged other people in the area to join them in attacking the other Chinese-owned houses in the vicinity and then looting their contents.

About 100 Chinese women raped during the riots
Although Sandyawan did not pinpoint any group, his statement is widely intrepretated here to refer to military men. Rumors circulated widely here that some high-ranking army officers were involved in the riots which targeted the Chinese -- Indonesia's equivalent of Jews in Hitler's Germany.

"They always threatened their victims not to talk to the media. They said they could easily recognize those who speak up as they only attack one house on every street," said Sandyawan, adding that the provocateurs also gang-raped Chinese women before leaving the street.

Rita Serena Kolibonso of the Mitra Perempuan women's group estimated that around 100 Chinese women had been raped during the riots.

"We don't know how many have been molested or forced to strip naked. They obviously want to terrorize the Chinese and especially the women," she said.

Both Kolibonso and Nadia, who give legal and psychological counseling to the victims, refused to provide their names to the media, saying that the victims are extremely traumatized and that publication of their names might endanger their lives.

The sudden resignation of Indonesian strongman Suharto on May 21 apparently overshadowed coverage of the brutal violence, as did the student movement which helped forced Suharto to step down.

But rumors about the gang rapes started to emerge on the Net after the riots, which saw more than 100 supermalls and thousands of shops and houses burned to the ground. Jakarta hospitals recorded more than 1,100 deaths during the riots, mostly of looters or residents trapped in burning buildings and homes. The riots are widely thought to be the worst in Jakarta's modern history.

Slowly and painfully, Kolibonso, Nadia and Sandyawan have compiled accounts like the following from interviews with victims and witnesses:

  • A female Chinese student was abducted at a bus stop, taken to a swamp near the airport and raped by four men in a car. There was a green uniform in the car and she asked her abductors if they were officers. "If you are police, you have to save me," she told them. One of them answered, "No, I have to give you a lesson. You are a woman and you are beautiful and you are part of the Chinese."

  • One young woman had a lucky escape after her taxi was stopped by a mob in the middle of the night on May 14. She was forced out of her taxi and forcibly stripped in front of the crowd. "Then a man pushed through the crowd, pulled me out and gave me a Muslim clothes to wear," the woman recalled.

  • In the midst of the riot, a group of men stopped a city bus and forced out all the non-Chinese women. "Then they chose the beautiful women among the Chinese and raped them inside the bus," Sandyawan said. "The victims of that incident are really depressive. They are in the hospital with their families. They are trying to hide themselves from the public."

  • A 10-year-old girl returning from school discovered that the shop and house where her family lived and worked had been burned. As she went in search of her parents, she was seized by two men and raped in front of her neighbors.

  • A man told the Indonesian Human Rights Commission about how his wife's attackers had mutilated her genitals with a razor blade after first raping her. He also said about a friend's wife drank pesticide and committed suicide a few days after being raped.

  • One woman, a bank officer, told the Kompas newspaper that she was seized from the back of a motorcycle in the middle of rioters and thrown to the ground by a group of men. The mob beat her boyfriend, who could only asked for mercy. The Chinese girl was so hysterical and so panicked that she does not remember what happened. When she regained her consciousness, she said, she saw many bruises on her body, especially on her legs.

  • In an incident of public humiliation, a group of about 15 men entered a bank where 10 ethnic Chinese employees were taking refuge from the riot. The men locked the door, made the women take off their clothes and ordered them to dance.

  • In another incident of harassment during the riot in Jakarta, a number of ethnic Chinese women were reportedly stripped and made to swim in a filthy pond.

Nadia told of an ethnic Chinese woman who hid in her house with her two younger sisters as the rioters approached. About 10 men came into the house and found the sisters on the third floor. They made the two younger women take off their clothes and told the older sister to stand in a corner, "because you are too old for us."

Meanwhile, arsonists entered the lower floors and set fire to the building. "After they had raped her two sisters, the two men said to her, 'We are finished and we are satisfied and because you are too old and ugly we weren't interested in you.' So they took her two sisters and pushed them to the ground floor where there was already fire, and they were killed.

"When her mother heard the news, she had a heart attack and died," Nadia said. "So now this woman is in a psychiatric hospital. Sometimes she cries when she tells the story and sometimes she is normal again. That is one of the stories we have confirmed."

In an effort to respond to the horror of these stories, which have shocked many Indonesians, President B.J. Habibie on June 11 ordered the armed forces to investigate "organized crimes" that helped provoke the riots.

Indonesian police have asked victims to report such cases. But so far, not a single victim has done so, apparently fearing that to do so will do more harm than good. A police spokesman said police cannot do much without a report to investigate.

In another case, the English-language Jakarta Post newspaper reported that Chinese in the Ciledug area in southern Jakarta had cleaned up a painted 'BMC' sign left by a unidentified person on one home's front fence.

"I don't know anything about the sign but my neighbors told me to quickly remove it because the letters stand for Basmi Milik Cina (Destroy the Chinese Property)," said a Chinese man.

Data from the Coordinating Body for National Unity, a government-controlled Chinese association, reveals that 1,286 Chinese-Indonesians have reported to the organization that they were victims of the riots.

Chairwoman Rosita Noor, saying some of the helpless victims were raped and molested by the mobs, asked the Indonesian military to give security guarantees to Chinese Indonesians.

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Albion Monitor June 19, 1998 (

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