'I thought they were only firing blanks - then he fell'

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The Independent Online
MORE THAN an hour had passed since the ambulance drove 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. He died, it became clear later, during the journey to the hospital. He was 20.

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.

The afternoon had started like the previous day, with huge processions of student protesters, who marched towards the national parliament. There, new laws were being drafted by the People's Consultative Assembly, dominated by appointees of the former president, General Suharto, and denounced by the students.

All week, there have been fights between demonstrators and 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 his troops. Yesterday afternoon, protest leaders painted wooden signs bearing the words, "No violence".

When they began, there were 200 of them; an hour later they had been joined by thousands of ordinary Indonesians. Close to the parliament building, at the University, the students spilled on to the street that runs through Jakarta's business district. The day before, the soldiers had blocked the march. 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 reopen the road, the operation would have ended there. But these were not traffic police - they were members of Kostrad, Indonesia's Strategic Reserve, better known for atrocities in East Timor.

They fired volley after volley into the campus, the clatter of their Swiss-made rifles interspersed with the 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 20 people lay groaning with wounds. In the corner 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.

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 tearful friend. "We just wanted to express what all the people are trying to say, but they don't listen."