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Indonesia's man in the middle

March 30, the attorney general is due to bring in Suharto himself to face questions on his assets.

By Special to The Christian Science Monitor / March 29, 2000



JAKARTA, INDONESIA

His gunmetal-blue suit is rumpled. The bags under his eyes look like they're filled with sand. Arrayed against him are retired and active-duty generals, a former president, even members of his own staff. Some of his allies have begun to turn on him.

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Yet, with a wry smile spread across his face, Attorney General Marzuki Darusman describes what is probably Indonesia's toughest job.

"There's an incredible sense of engagement - the moment there's slack from us, the public acts out," Mr. Marzuki says. "The satisfaction comes from being able to gauge the country's progress."

Marzuki had better enjoy being Indonesia's man in the middle, because on his desk Indonesia's most explosive issues intersect. And if he fails, hopes for a swift transition to democracy could fail with him.

A sampling of what's on his plate:

*A probe into the vast fortune accumulated by the former President Suharto and his family.

*Allegations that some of the nation's largest businessmen helped defraud the state of roughly $11 billion. The International Monetary Fund says it's counting on him to prosecute the corrupt judges and government officials that have operated free from legal sanctions for more than 30 years.

*Perhaps most crucial are a series of cases he hopes to bring against senior officers on accusations of murder and torture in the northernmost province of Aceh and the now-independent East Timor.

There are five incidents he feels he can make "iron-clad" cases out of, stemming from the military's calculated rampage in East Timor after its August vote for independence. Among them is the murder of former Monitor contributor Sander Thoenes, suspected by investigators of having been carried out by the Army's Battalion 745.

"The East Timor/Aceh human rights trials are vital to the state of our democracy, vital, ultimately, to the survival of this government," Marzuki says in a Monitor interview. "This is the only way to make our government legitimate and to show that our armed forces can reform themselves."

That position is widely held by Marzuki's friends in the government and among average Indonesians, who want the military reined in and the rule of law to reign after the abuses of the Suharto years.

But this support is undercut by the "recalcitrants" in the military and the bureaucracy that Marzuki says opposes him. Since President Abdurrahman Wahid came to office in October 1999, progress has been painfully slow.

"There is continued intransigence from the military, and that puts pressure on us," Marzuki says. "But in the end, it will be a self-defeating attitude for them. The public will see, and the onus will be on the armed forces."

While he goes after the military, he's also expected to purge corruption from the judiciary, considered to be one of the worst in Asia. The Indonesian Corruption Watch said in a March report that it believes only five of the country's 41 supreme court justices cannot be bought.

"The corruption is spread evenly throughout the judiciary, so the odds are stacked against Marzuki," says Dodi Kusdiadi, an official at the organization.

But if anyone can fight these odds, it just might be this soft-spoken son of a diplomat. Marzuki has walked a thin line his entire career and has seemed to pop up whenever Indonesia's key political points have been played.