Indonesia's man in the middle

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

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.

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.

He served Golkar, the party of fallen ruler Suharto, for 23 years. But when Suharto named him to lead the nation's first human rights commission, rights activists viewed him as a credible choice.

When Suharto's protg and former president B.J. Habibie fought to stay in power last year, Marzuki led the Golkar faction that turned its back on the Suharto legacy and helped make Mr. Wahid Indonesia's first democratically elected leader in more than 40 years. He's now seen as a possible president of the future - if he can get results in his present job.

Nevertheless, the lack of fast results has begun to cost him allies.

"We understand Marzuki has a very difficult job," says Rosita Noer, secretary of the government's commission into military abuses in Aceh. "But if you can't overcome the opposition from within the government, then you're maintaining the tradition of empty promises."

Rights activists accuse the military of continuing to run death squads in the restive province, which has an armed independence movement.

To be sure, Marzuki says now is the time when all of his efforts will shift into high gear. He blames much of the slow progress to date on General Wiranto - the former coordinating security minister and personal adjutant of Suharto's, and who a government human rights team says is culpable for rights abuses by the military in East Timor.

Mr. Wiranto was suspended from the Cabinet in February, and Marzuki feels he now has a much freer hand.

"We're only just getting started," Marzuki says. "The original Cabinet lineup was in the way."

Recently, he's begun to deliver. On March 30, Suharto is due for questioning over a series of foundations he controls that, Marzuki says, hold about $600 million in assets.

On March 28, Marzuki succeeded in arresting one of Suharto's oldest friends and business partners, former trade minister Mohammad "Bob" Hasan. Mr. Hasan, a timber tycoon, amassed a huge fortune under Suharto, and enjoyed a monopoly over one of the most lucrative businesses in Indonesia.

It was quite a coup for Marzuki, because Hasan, and a number of other Suharto associates, had been viewed as untouchable until now.

"We need to put a stop to this myth that Suharto and his associates are above the law," Marzuki says.

Next week, he's scheduled to throw himself into his toughest battle yet. On April 5, 23 soldiers are scheduled to go on trial in Aceh's provincial capital for the suspected massacre of a Muslim teacher and 61 of his followers in July of last year.

Successful prosecutions are seen by Marzuki and others as the crucial step in winning back the hearts of the Acehnese, who have suffered at the hands of the military for more than two decades.

Though the military has not been cooperative - Marzuki says it appears to be hiding an officer, Lt. Col. Sudjono, who could provide the link between the actions of the soldiers and the orders of their superiors - he says he's optimistic about the prosecution.

Others aren't sure. Noer of the Aceh commission says she expects the trial will be postponed once more.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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