- The Washington Times - Monday, August 14, 2000

JAKARTA, Indonesia Vigilante mobs have slain more than 100 people on the streets of Jakarta already this year, reflecting a loss of faith in the police since former dictator Suharto stepped down two years ago.

The 200,000-strong police force, known as Polri, "isn't capable of keeping things secure and enforcing the law," said Munarman, coordinator of the human rights watchdog agency Kontras.

"The result is that people see no need to go to the police. They'll just carry it out on their own," said Munarman, who, like many in this archipelago nation of 210 million people, uses only one name.

The breakdown of law and order was evident on a recent afternoon when rival groups of teen-age students battled alongside a nearly deserted highway, throwing rocks and swinging long sticks at one another.

As a Western journalist watched, a police car approached and sped on past without even slowing to check on the disturbance.

In the absence of effective policing, the people themselves have become judge, jury and executioner.

Consider just a few cases reported recently in local newspapers:

• Zulkarnain, 20, was caught trying to steal a motorcycle. A mob stripped him naked and burned him alive on a South Jakarta street.

• Five men were beaten and burned to death near an East Jakarta bus terminal after someone yelled "thief" and accused them of robbing passengers.

• Inung, 20, was dragged into a field and set alight by a crowd in Central Java. He had been accused of stealing a cooking pan, some spoons and forks.

In Jakarta alone, between Jan. 1 and June 20, the bodies of 105 persons murdered by vigilante mobs arrived at Cipto Mangunkusomo Hospital, the city's main forensic morgue.

That compared with 93 cases seen at the hospital in 1999, when the vigilante killings appeared to have started. Earlier, they were almost unheard of, said Dr. Budi Sampurna, a forensic pathologist at the hospital.

The emergence of the vigilante killings followed the fall of former strongman Suharto in May 1998. Analysts cite a number of social and economic causes but say lack of confidence in the police and judicial system is key.

Brig. Gen. Dadang Garnida, chief spokesman for the Indonesian police, said the lack of trust may stem from the force's former role as a branch of the armed forces, which during Suharto's 32-year rule were used to brutally quash dissent.

The police were separated from the armed forces in April 1999 but remained under defense ministry supervision. On July 1 this year, President Abdurrahman Wahid ended defense ministry control and said police would be placed under his direct supervision on Jan. 1.

Police immediately abandoned their military rank system and announced plans to restructure their police academy programs. They say their goal is to become a professional law-enforcement agency that serves the public.

"Police are a part of society," Gen. Garnida said. "All around the world, the police task is based on how to serve and protect."

Despite the talk of change, legal experts and advocates of reform say the police have done little to dispel public perceptions that people with political connections, or the money to bribe officers, get favorable treatment while the poor are locked up, beaten and killed.

The force "still behaves and acts like one of the state's repressive institutions," said Munarman, a lawyer.

Kontras states that Indonesian police killed 112 persons and wounded 286 in the first six months of this year.

Some of the victims include farmers and workers attacked by police assigned to guard commercial farms and manufacturers, which pay for their police protection, Munarman said.

Johanes Sardadi, an instructor in the faculty of law at Atma Jaya Catholic University in Jakarta, said police are simply short-staffed.

"The result is, if the masses run amok the police are late because there aren't enough of them," Mr. Sardadi said.

When police do arrest somebody, there is little faith the case will be professionally investigated in a country where traffic offenses are routinely resolved with a quick cash transaction.

Corruption within the police force is reported to reach the highest levels. Several top Jakarta officers, including the city police chief, were accused earlier this year of receiving a portion of illegal fees charged for processing drivers' licenses.

The government has begun to improve police salaries in order to reduce the incentive to take bribes. Gen. Garnida said he got a raise three months ago that tripled his salary to $335 a month.

There are also plans to confront the personnel shortage by hiring 12,000 officers every six months until 2004, he said.

But real reform can come only after a revamp of Polri's education system to end the military approach, said Patra Zen of the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation. "This is a prerequisite to other reform."

Gen. Garnida conceded that ending the military culture is Polri's biggest challenge. "Modifying the behavior is the most difficult thing. That's cultural," he said.

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