Death on campus as police open fire

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The Independent Online
IT WAS more than an hour since the ambulance had driven away, but nobody at the university knew what had happened to Wawan. When the soldiers lurched into action, he was out at the front of the Atma Jaya campus with the other students, and when they started firing into the air, he ran like the others into the shelter of the university.

"That's when I saw him fall," said a weeping young woman. "I thought: `He's OK, they're only firing blanks, it's just the tear gas.'" But the soldiers were firing rubber-coated bullets and they fired one of them straight into Wawan's chest.

Even as his anxious friends were talking, in the chaos of the campus's main hall, the news filtered through - he had died during the journey to the hospital. He was 22.

Atma Jaya is a private Catholic university, one of Jakarta's smartest, but within the space of a few hours yesterday it became a battleground between two tragically mismatched armies.

On one side were the protesters - ordinary Jakartans as well as students, at least four of whom were dead by the end of the day. On the other were Indonesian soldiers whose brutality yesterday destroyed what little remained of their credibility. "There are two kinds of people in Indonesia now," shouted one man last night, over the reports from automatic rifles and tear gas guns. "Civilians and animals."

The afternoon had begun like the previous day, with huge processions of student protesters, who began at two different spots in Jakarta and marched towards the national parliament. There, new laws were being drafted by the People's Consultative Assembly, a body dominated by appointed representatives of the former president, General Suharto.

In May he was driven from power by demonstrating students and, since the assembly convened on Monday, the students have angrily denounced the half-hearted measures which it has debated.

All week, there have been fights between the demonstrators and the soldiers. On Wednesday, one policeman and one student were reported to have been killed, and the chief of the armed forces, General Wiranto, apologised for the excesses of his troops. Yesterday afternoon, as one group of marchers made their preparations, their leaders painted wooden signs bearing the words, "No violence."

When they began their journey there were 200 of them; an hour later they had been joined by thousands of ordinary Indonesians. Close to the parliament building, at Atma Jaya University, the students spilled on to the street which runs through Jakarta's business district. The day before, the soldiers had been content to form a line and block the march. At 3.30pm yesterday, supported by water cannon and armoured cars, they charged.

The mass of the crowd fled down the street, and hundreds of others took shelter in the university. If the aim had simply been to restore order and reopen the road, the operation would have ended there. But these were not traffic police - they were members of Kostrad, Indonesia's Strategic Reserve, the elite unit better known for atrocities in East Timor than crowd control.

They fired volley after volley into the campus, the clatter of their Swiss-made Steyr rifles interspersed with the deafening boom of tear gas launchers. If these had been live rounds, hundreds would have died. But a narrow calibre rubber round fired at close range at the heart, throat or eyes is deadly.

Half an hour later the firing ceased and twenty people lay groaning on the floor with rubber bullet wounds. In the corner, covered with sheets, lay the corpse of one boy who didn't even make it to the ambulance. The students reappeared at dusk and there was more shooting. By the time it was dark, shock had given way to rage, and Molotov cocktails flew out of the campus as the soldiers continued to fire back in.

The last time Indonesian students were shot dead by their own army, on 12 May, the consequences were devastating: two days of rioting and arson, 1,200 deaths and, within a fortnight the resignation of President Suharto. Whether such drama will repeat itself is unclear, for a simple reason.

Six months ago, Indonesians were shocked to see their own army killing them. By now it is almost to be expected. "From the beginning they saw us as something to be got rid of," said Wawan's crying friend. "We just wanted to express what all the people are trying to say, but they don't listen. However hard we scream, however hard we yell, they don't listen."