Font Size: Decrease Increase Print Page: Print Stephen Fitzpatrick, Jakarta correspondent | January 28, 2008
THE body of Indonesia’s former president Suharto was lowered into a grave near the city of Solo today.
In a state funeral with military honours, the late ex-dictator’s coffin was lowered following a short speech by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, and covered with rose and jasmin petals by close family members.
Former prime minister Paul Keating and Attorney-General Robert McClelland are representing Australia at the funeral.
The body of Suharto was buried in the Javan city of Solo after being flown from Jakarta today.
Hundreds of people gathered outside the airport in Solo to watch the arrival of the military plane carrying Suharto’s casket, which was to be driven to the family mausoleum outside of the Central Java city.
Suharto’s plane was the last to land in a procession of aircraft carrying relatives and officials from Jakarta, television pictures showed.
Suharto, who died yesterday aged 86 three weeks after going into hospital with heart, lung and kidney complaints, ruled Indonesia for 32 years until he was forced to step down in 1998.
His body lay at a family residence in a leafy district of Jakarta overnight before being taken through the streets in a motorcade to a military airport watched by a waving crowd of tens of thousands.
The air force Hercules transport carrying Suharto’s body was greeted in Solo by an honour guard of about 100 military soldiers and police.
His body was loaded into a hearse by eight soldiers and left in a slow convoy to the Astana Giribangun mausoleum in the small town of Matesih about 35km away.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is expected to lead the funeral.
Former Australian prime minister Paul Keating and current Attorney-General Robert McClelland are representing Australia at the funeral.
Hundreds of people gathered outside the airport, which was temporarily closed to other flights, to watch the procession pass.
Heads of state and representatives from Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand arrived by planes at the airport earlier today.
East Timorese Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao is expected to arrive later in the day for the funeral along with the tiny nation’s justice minister and armed forces commander, officials in Dili said.
Suharto invaded East Timor in 1975 but Indonesia relinquished its sovereignty there following a UN-held referendum in 1999.
Indonesia was looking to a new future after the death of the controversial strongman whose 32-year authoritarian rule ended in pro-democracy student protests and deadly riots in 1998.
The former president’s death ended weeks of debate about whether abandoned criminal charges for corruption and human rights abuses could be reopened. Suharto’s eldest daughter, Siti Hadijanti Rukmana, begged the forgiveness of those he had wronged.
“We ask that if he had any faults,please forgive them … may he be absolved of all his mistakes,” she said.
Discussions were also reportedly held between the Jakarta administration and members of Suharto’s family over an out-of-court settlement to claims that he was responsible for looting Indonesia’s wealth.
Suharto was accused by groups, including the world body Transparency International, of amassing up to $35 billion in state funds during his time at the country’s helm.
He had been vigorously fighting the various claims of corruption made against him, including winning a 1 trillion rupiah payout (about $120million) from Time magazine last year for claims it made in 1999that the family had stashed a fortune abroad.
Kevin Rudd marked the passing of Suharto by noting criticism of his approach to human rights as well as his long and influential role in the region as the leader of the world’s largest Islamic nation.
“On behalf of the Government and people of Australia, I extend to the President and people of the Republic of Indonesia our condolences on the passing of former Indonesian president Suharto,” the Prime Minister said.
“Former president Suharto was one of the longest-serving heads of government of the last century and an influential figure in Australia’s region and beyond … The former president was also a controversial figure in respect of human rights and East Timor and many have disagreed with his approach.”
Former Australian foreign minister Alexander Downer said Suharto had a “less than desirable” human rights record but he understood how important Australia was to his country.
After announcing yesterday morning that Suharto had reached his lowest point, doctors conceded privately he was in a coma and shortly afterwards declared him dead.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his deputy, Yusuf Kalla, immediately went into a crisis meeting to discuss the next steps.
Dr Yudhoyono said soon afterwards: “Let us give the highest honour to our nation’s greatest son, for the service he has provided. I also would like to call on the people of Indonesia to show the highest respect to one of the nation’s best sons, a great leader of the nation who has contributed so much service and dedication to the nation and thestate.”
The flag at the presidential palace was lowered to half-mast, and Cabinet Secretary Sudi Silalahi announced a seven-day mourning period.
Given the lingering nature of Suharto’s demise, preparations had already long been under way at the mausoleum in Solo, central Java, where he is to be buried alongside his late wife, Siti Hartinah.
Streets in central Jakarta linking the hospital where he died and the unassuming bungalow where Suharto saw out his post-leadership years were quickly closed to traffic yesterday afternoon, to allow his body to betransported home for washing.
Indonesian flags at the residence were quickly lowered and thousands of supporters converged on foot outside the house on Jalan Cendana – or Sandalwood Street – to welcome home their former leader’s body.
Suharto’s six children – all of whom are accused of having profited from their father’s capitalist rule – were at his bedside during his final hours.
The question of whether to pardon Suharto for transgressions of which he had not yet been found guilty – he escaped the criminal charges by pleading ill health after having a stroke, although since then he was occasionally seen at family gatherings – has engaged Indonesia deeply in his final days.
Though he was widely regarded as one of the 20th century’s most brutal and corrupt leaders, peers and admirers such as former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad and Singaporean founder Lee Kuan Yew expressed dismay in recent weeks that his legacy was being ignored.
The general’s own successors had each come to power promising to tackle Indonesia’s vast corruption problems, although success has been patchy.
Coincidentally, the country will this week host a UN conference on addressing the problem worldwide, including discussing stolen funds such as the billions attributed to Suharto’s rule.
Various groups inside Indonesia have made increasingly strident calls in recent days for his prosecution and for efforts to be stepped up to recover what remains of misappropriated money.
However, the web of cash involved may prove difficult to unravel, with Suharto’s leadership style having involved a vast network of kickbacks and payoffs for major development projects.
Although he presided over consistent growth of more than 6per cent during his rule, critics say the figure could have been much higher were it not for its reliance on this crony system.
Others say it is this system itself that has prevented any significant prosecutions: the involvement of too many other prominent Indonesians would be exposed, leading the country’s elite to accept that in Suharto’s case, bygones ought to be bygones.
Youngest son Hutomo Mandala Putra, known as Tommy, was released from jail in 2006 after serving just four years of a 15-year sentence for ordering the murder of a Supreme Court judge who had found him guilty of corruption; critics said it was Suharto’s lingering influence that had allowed such a short sentence.
On the human rights front, critics say Suharto should have been charged over the deaths of at least 500,000 alleged communist sympathisers in the months after he took control of the country from founding president Sukarno in 1965.
They also point to the hundreds of thousands who died during Indonesia’s brutal 24-year occupation of former Portuguese colony East Timor from 1975, as well as Jakarta’s suppression of independence desires in Aceh and Papua.