Retas Sejarah

Joseph Daves // Petrus Murder Squads

The Indonesian Army and its precursor, the Dutch Colonial Army, had a long history of cooperation with shadowy criminal underworld gangs. The New Order regime, its intelligence organizations, the Army, political parties, and business owners all patronized petty criminals who functioned as their informants, protectors and enforcers, when needed. Soeharto’s master political strategist, Ali Moertopo, and his autonomous Opsus intelligence unit maintained an extensive network of informers and thugs. Moertopo’s bully boys provoked the January 1974 Malari riots to discredit rival Kopkamtib Commander Soemitro and engaged in arm twisting tactics to ensure Golkar victories in the 1971, 1977 and 1982 general elections. They intimidated opposition parties and frightened the public with threats of anarchy – a repeat of the 1965-1966 terror – if voters failed to fall in line behind Golkar.

Indonesia suffered an economic downturn during the early-1980s, to a large extent reflecting the global recession and low oil prices. Its domestic manifestations included uncontrolled migration into the cities, growth of squatter settlements, high unemployment, labor unrest, anti-Chinese violence and rising crime rates. Following cuts to fuel and food subsidies, and a 27.6 percent devaluation of the rupiah in 1982, petty crime proliferated. Thieves brazenly plundered gold shops and robbed bank customers. The crime wave attracted adverse media and public attention. Government officials attributed the sharp increase in crime to the galigali (gabungan anak-anak liar, literally “gangs of wild or savage children”), tattooed gang members led by traditional jago strongmen, and more broadly anyone involved in organized crime.

Since the early-1960s, Jakarta had been populated by an abundance of colorfully-named ethnic and community-based youth gangs – the Bearland Boys, the Siliwangi Boys Club, the Radio Dalam Club, the Nudge Rocker Boys, the Ams (Ambonese), the Pamors (Padang-Manado Organization), and Sartana (a predominantly Manadonese gang based in the Sarinah-Tanah Abang business district). The children of officers and soldiers often led or belonged to those groups. The gali gangs had enthusiastically joined in the 1966-1967 anti-Sukarno protests with the Kami and Kappi action fronts. The government had difficulty demobilizing the delinquents after establishing the New Order, even though Kopkamtib, Bakin and the regional commands organized vocational training and youth clubs to set gang members back on the right track.[1]

Many gang members refused to be rehabilitated, preferring life as professional thugs and hardened criminals. By the early-1980s, the gali gangs had branched out into quasi-legitimate “security services” as body guards, hired security men and debt collectors. Some entered into partnerships with military and police officials, who provided an umbrella of protection in exchange for a share of the loot from their robbery, burglary and extortion activities. Government officials worried the loosely-structured gangs were evolving into organized mafia groups similar to the Japanese Yakuza.[2]

In conjunction with the government crackdown on Komando Jihad and other militant Muslim groups, Kopkamtib Chief of Staff Admiral Sudomo had launched Operation Tertib (Order) in mid-1977 targeting petty corruption, primarily against low-level thievery and illegal transportation levies. The campaign was mostly for appearances and did nothing to stem systemic corruption at higher government levels. Perfunctory efforts to crack down on petty crime continued throughout the late-1970s. Sudomo launched a larger operation, Sapu Jagad (Clean Sweep), during 1981 to collect illegal weapons and crack down on street crime before the 1982 elections.

The public did not trust in the hopelessly corrupt police force or courts. Accompanying the economic downturn, high unemployment levels and, perhaps, overzealous gangsters employed during the 1982 election campaign, Jakarta and other cities were plagued by a crime wave, in particular armed robbery on public buses. The press coverage embarrassed the government. From Soeharto’s perspective, the criminal activities disturbed social harmony and the stability essential for economic development, and discouraged tourism. In 1982, Kopkamtib and the Jakarta Command under Major General Try Sutrisno organized ominously-nicknamed “killer squads” to combat robberies on public buses. During January 1983, they mounted another operation, Clurit (Sickle), to confiscate illegal weapons.[3]

Soeharto installed General Benny Moerdani as ABRI and Kopkamtib Commander in March 1983, about the same time bodies of criminal figures started to turn up in Yogyakarta. The newly assigned Yogyakarta District (Kodim 734) Commander, a tough ethnic Acehnese lieutenant colonel named Mohammad Hasbi, had launched Operation Pemberantasan Kejahatan (Eliminate Crime) in late-March to “tidy up” the city before an expected tourist influx to witness a total solar eclipse on June 11. Police intelligence provided Hasbi with a “black list” of known criminals and ex-convicts. Hasbi issued an ultimatum for all criminals to surrender immediately to local military headquarters. Several hundred did and were required to provide detailed personal histories, sign statements swearing to refrain from criminal activities, and agreed to report to the garrison on a regular basis. Hasbi formed special military and police teams to track down those on his black list who did not register. The death squads had killed about 600 criminals in Yogyakarta by mid-year.[4]

Hasbi freely admitted his role. During May, he candidly explained why the shootings were necessary. “Why shoot? Basically we want to work in a humane way. But there are those who want to fight back. They want to show off their self-identity [ίdentitas dirinya].”[5]Lieutenant Colonel Hasbi’s Yogyakarta operation marked the start of a two-year government-sanctioned nationwide death squad campaign against petty criminals. In April, on General Moerdani’s orders, newly assigned Java and Madura Territorial Defense (Kowilhan II) Commander Lieutenant General Yogie Suwardi Memet extended Hasbi’s Operation Pemberantasan Kejahatan to other cities on Java and Madura.


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