Protesters offered peace talks

April 3, 1998

WEEKS of demonstrations have forced the Indonesian government to offer a national-level dialogue with student representatives.

General Wiranto, defence and security minister, and armed forces commander-in-chief, invited 34 student representatives (two from each university) to meet him tomorrow. His invitation coincided with a visit to Jakarta of International Monetary Fund officials negotiating a way for Indonesia out of its financial crisis.

Police have frequently intervened violently, using tear gas and beating students with batons. International human rights organisations have expressed their concern, and the Indonesian government is concerned that the demonstrations and the police reprisals, could put the financial rescue operation at risk.

Economic reform, including the lowering of prices of essential foods and commodities, is one of the protesters' main demands, together with an end to high-level political corruption. But they are also calling for more fundamental, democratic reforms.

The authorities now seem willing to tolerate limited student protests, providing that they take place on campus. Education minister Wiranto Ansmunandar commented that students are "politically inexperienced", and, as intellectuals, "convey their ideas in a refined manner". The authorities insist that protest fasts such as those at Tadalako University in Palu and Lampung University last month must stop. Student demonstrations must be directed solely at "settling the monetary crisis" - in other words, political demands are ruled out.

Major General Suadi Atman, of the Sriwijaya Second Military Region Command, offered a face-saving solution for the students. The most violent protests, he suggested, have been taken over by "non-students", claiming that during a particularly violent police attack, which included the use of tear gas at Lampung University on March 19, five "non-students" were arrested. This, Major General Atman warned, must serve as a strong warning to the rector and the dean for student affairs not to allow the demonstrations to be exploited by third parties.

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