As Indonesia�s former dictator lay dying on 8 January, a coterie of the country�s great-and-good gathered at his bedside to pay their last respects to a man responsible for more deaths and suffering than any state leader since World War Two with the exception of Pol Pot of Cambodia.

While President Yudhoyono and former President Abdurrahman Wahid, out of respect for an elder statesman, stood at his bedside praying that efforts to restore him to health would be successful, other Indonesians regretted that with his passing, ten years after his fall from power in May 1998,he would never face justice for the countless crimes against humanity perpetrated during his 32-year reign of terror in Indonesia and the death and destruction inflicted on East Timor during the 23-year occupation of that country.

Since being forced to resign by the financial crisis that engulfed Indonesia in 1998, Suharto lived as a recluse in Cendana, the luxurious family home in the Menteng district of Jakarta, basking in the wealth which he, his late wife and his offspring plundered during the years when the military held a tight grip on the country. He even escaped justice for the unparalleled corruption which resulted in his being named the worst head-of-state embezzler in modern times by the Stolen Assets Recovery Initiative, a joint venture of the World Bank and the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime.

Born on 8 June 1921 to a family of peasants in the village of Kemusu Argamulya in Central Java and having nothing more than lower secondary school education, Suharto turned at an early age to the military as his vocation. His rise in the ranks of the Indonesian Army occurred at a time when the country was still under civilian rule, following Indonesia�s one and only democratic election held in 1955.

Suharto�s military career began during the Japanese occupation of Indonesia (1942-1945) when he became a battalion commander in Peta, Defenders of the Fatherland, a Japanese-trained militia. After the Japanese surrender in August 1945, he joined the Indonesian army then known as ABRI but now called Tentara Nasional Indonesia (TNI), on the day it was founded on 5 October 1945. In 1957, he became a district commander in the Diponegoro Division (Central Java) with the rank of colonel.

In parallel with his career in the military, he also engaged in financial activities to fund his subordinates and to provide the wherewithal for patronage. In the mid-1950s, he was implicated in a sugar smuggling scandal and other corrupt practices. This earned him a reprimand and removal in disgrace from his Diponegoro post, followed by a course at the Army Staff and Command School in Bandung,. But this did not stand in the way of his subsequent promotion to brigadier-general in January 1960.

After a stint as commander of the unsuccessful Operation Mandala in 1960, aimed at driving the Dutch from West Papua, he was promoted to major-general and appointed commander of the Diponegoro Division. At the height of Indonesia�s confrontation with the newly-formed state of Malaysia in 1963, Suharto was appointed commander of Kostrad, the army�s elite command, which later enabled him to play a strategic role in the physical annihilation of the Indonesian Communist Party, which by the mid-1960s had become the third largest communist party in the world.

The coup attempt on 30 September 1965 mounted by self-proclaimed pro-communist army officers, when six army generals and a lower-ranking officer were kidnapped and murdered, as part of a conflict within the Indonesian army, provided Suharto with the pretext to unleash nationwide reprisals against the Indonesian Communist Party. As the White Terror spread throughout Central and East Java and then to other parts of Indonesia, hundreds of thousands of communists and alleged communists were killed. An estimated 200,000 people were arrested and held for years without charge. By the mid-1970s, some 70,000 were still in detention, of whom 13,000 men had been banished to the remote island of Buru where they were subject to harsh conditions. Hundreds of women prisoners were banished to a prison camp in Central Java called Plantungan. The remoteness of these camps made family visits and food supplies virtually impossible.

No one has ever been held to account for the killings and atrocities that occurred during Suharto�s New Order which enabled Suharto to rule Indonesia without opposition for more than thirty years. It was not until after the dictator�s downfall that surviving victims were able to speak publicly about the ordeals which they and their families had suffered.

As the anti-communist purge got into full swing in late 1965, Suharto�s leading role in the armed forces was formalise with his appointment by President Sukarno as commander of the army on 16 October 1965. Abusing the powers given to him by Sukarno, Suharto issued an order for all PKI members or suspects to be purged from state positions. His grip on the country became further entrenched with the special powers granted to him on 11 March 1966 which was known as Supersemar. The PKI was banned along with associated mass organisations estimated to have a following of some 15 million people.

Meanwhile, the removal of the popular President Sukarno was handled with consummate skill. Suharto showed himself to be the master of Javanese-style slow-but-sure tactics, described by one biographer as a �protracted Wayang play�. It was not until 12 March 1967 that a heavily purged legislative assembly stripped Sukarno of all his powers and installed Suharto as acting president. Although he had already been in control of the country for three years, it was not until a year later, on 21 March 1968, that Suharto was formally elected to his first five-year term as president. He was re-elected unopposed on six subsequent occasions in 1973, 1978, 1983, 1988, 1993 and 1998. However, it was his election in 1998 that triggered his downfall as mass demonstrations swept the country and called for his dismissal, making his position untenable.

New Order Violence

Under Suharto�s New Order, violence became a regular feature, while the fear of being accused as communists de-politicised all activists as well as the population as a whole, in the interests of security and order. Organisations were set up for each section of the population which were obliged to declare their allegiance to the government and its Pancasila ideology. There were many clampdowns such as the Tanjung Priok affair in West Java in September 1984 when dozens of Muslims outside a mosque were shot dead by the security forces and incidents in Lampung, South Sumatra in 1987 and later on against plantation workers in North Sumatra.

On 28 November 1975, Indonesia invaded East Timor in the wake of Portugal�s withdrawal from the territory. During the 23 years of occupation, military operations against a well-organised resistance movement resulted in tens of thousand of deaths. According to the East Timorese church, an estimated

60,000 Timorese were killed during the first two months of the invasion. A special commission set up by the UN in 2002, the Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation in East Timor, concluded that 18,600 Timorese were murdered or disappeared during the Indonesian occupation and between 84,000 and 183,000 more died as a direct result of Indonesia�s policies.

From 1976, the people of Aceh, the western-most province of Indonesia, experienced the brutality of unrestrained killings when the region was designated a �military operations region� (Daerah Operasi Militer) after the establishment of GAM (Gerakan Aceh Merdeka) in 1976 which sought to create a separate state. While some of the victims were killed during military conflicts, the vast majority of those who were struck down were unarmed civilians.

In 1965, after Indonesia had taken control of West Papua from the Dutch in 1963, crack troops of the military were sent to the region to crush an independence movement known as the OPM (Organisasi Papua Merdeka, Free Papua Organisation). This resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands ofpeople in the following decades, especially after the so-called Act of Free Choice in August 1969 when just over one thousand Papuans took part in thefraudulent Act, sealing the territory�s fate as a province of Indonesia. Here too, the territory was designated as a special military area or DOM,
giving the military free rein to capture, kill or maim people deemed to be in favour of independence.

In 1983, death squads took to the streets in a so-called anti-crime operation. For six months, death squads went on the rampage, killing alleged criminals or bandits. This resulted in the deaths of an estimated three thousand people. The killings occurred in a number of cities and came to be known as petrus or �mysterious killings�. The precise number of victims was never established because the Indonesian media was prohibited from reporting the killings. In September 1983, the Far Eastern Economic Review reported that the killings were �set to continue until the authorities have reached their countrywide target reliably put at 4,000 extra-judicial killings�.

Suharto took personal responsibility for these killings in his autobiography, Suharto: Pikiran, Ucapan dan Tindakan Saya (Suharto: My Thoughts, Sayings and Deeds) in which he wrote: �The newspapers were full of articles about the mysterious deaths of a number of people�. There was nothing mysterious about it at all. Was it right to do nothing? It had to be treated by violence. But this did not mean just going out and shooting people, bang, bang. No. But those who tried to resist, like it or not, had to be shot. Because they resisted, they were shot.�

These killings were a reminder to the population that the authorities continued to have the power and the physical ability to deal with anyone daring to challenge the government.