Cooperation, tough anti-terrorist stand foil hijackers in Bangkok
Singapore — The successful storming of a hijacked Indonesian airplane by a squad of Indonesian commandos at Bangkok airport March 30 illustrated the two necessary factors for resistance rather than capitulation to hijackers.
One is conviction by the blackmailed party (in this case Indonesia's President Suharto) that resistance to blackmail is imperative, and politically desirable.
The second is close cooperation between airport authorities (in this case Thailand's General Prem Tinsulanonda) and the blackmailed party.
These two factors together made it possible for 39 Indonesian commandos specially flown to Thailand to overwhelm the hijackers with the backing of some 50 Thai sharpshooters. Some 50 hostages were freed.
For President Suharto resistance to the five Muslim extremists seemed imperative. Periodic charges of corruption and mismanagement make him extremely reluctant to lose prestige, as capitulation would surely have meant. Observers have noted how important prestige is to him.
Given this attitude, President Suharto would have been extremely reluctant to damage his authority by meeting the hijackers' demands. These included $1.5 million in ransom, release of 80-plus persons identified as political prisoners, and punishment of Vice-President Adam Malik for alleged corruption. Expulsion of any Jews living in Indonesia was also demanded, which was puzzling, since the number of Jews in Indonesia is so small.
The second factor was close cooperation between Thailand, and Indonesia, both members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Indeed, just a few days before the hijacked Garuda airlines DC-9 was commandeered to Bangkok, Thailand's Prime Minister Prem had been meeting with President Suharto in Bangkok to discuss Indochina and other matters.
Thailand eventually allowed the Indonesian commandos to land and provided them with backup for the March 31 assault in which at least four, and possibly all five, hijackers were reported killed. [United Press International reported that the leader of the commandos and the pilot of the plane had both been shot and critically wounded. A four-year-old boy, at one point reported dead, later was reported to have escaped with only a few bruises.]
The whole operation contrasted significantly with the recent hijacking of a Pakistani airliner flown first to Kabul, Afghanistan, and then to Damascus, Syria.
In that case Pakistan's President Zia could soften the loss of prestige from his capitulation by indiscriminately tarring opposition elements with blame for the criminal act. Thus the hijacking, though embarrassing, gave him some gains against followers of executed former President Bhutto.
Moreover, President zia had little choice. The Afghan authorities, unlike the Thais, were absolutely uncooperative and may even have helped arm the hijackers with sophisticated automatic weapons. By most accounts Syrian authorities were only a little more helpful.
The Indonesian plane was hijacked March 28 on a flight from jakarta, on the island of Java, to Medan, on the island of Sumatra. Earlier at Bangkok airport a crew member and a passenger were shot, and one English passenger sprinted to safety.
Although Indonesia is nominally largely Muslim, violent militant Islamic groups are relatively weak. Still, during the 1950s, Muslim leaders led an abortive breakaway movement in the archipelago's outer islands. That has left a legacy of concern.
A more immediate danger, from the government's point of view, is that Muslim protest parties could become a vehicle of discontent over complaints of curruption and what appears to be incre asing disparities between the rich and poor.