Presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto reportedly revealed that former president Soeharto ordered him to kidnap pro-democracy activists in May 1998, which saw him dismissed from the Indonesian Military ( TNI ), according to Veterans Association ( Pepabri ) chairman Gen. ( ret ) Agum Gumelar.
'Prabowo told me when he visited Pepabri recently, that he was ordered by former president Soeharto to kidnap the activists. I was quite shocked, because he didn't say anything about that when the [TNI] Officers Honorary Council [DKP] questioned him,' he said in a live TV interview on Tuesday.
Agum acknowledged he was skeptical about the statement as he knew Soeharto would not have ordered something so controversial during a chaotic time, even though Prabowo was then Soeharto's son-in-law.
Agum attended the live TV interview to answer questions regarding the reasons behind Prabowo's
dismissal from the TNI ' a topic that emerged during Monday evening's live presidential candidate debate when rival vice presidential candidate Jusuf Kalla asked the question.
In his response, Prabowo answered: 'I am a former soldier who did his duty as best as I could. Aside from that, it's up to the judgment of my superiors.'
'I am the toughest human-rights defender in the republic,' he added.
His tone rose noticeably when Kalla pushed him to elaborate on incidents surrounding the fall of Soeharto in May 1998.
However, a leaked document circulated on the Internet recently detailing the reasons behind the dismissal of Prabowo from military service on Aug. 21, 1998. It cast doubt on the former general's suitability to serve as president, if elected on July 9.
The document ' which was a scanned copy of the official letter signed by members of the DKP tasked with hearing the case of Prabowo's complicity in the kidnapping of pro-democracy activists in 1998 ' revealed that the former Army's Special Forces ( Kopassus ) commander was also fired from his position due to insubordination.
The signatories in the document were DKP chairman Gen. Subagyo Hadi Siswoyo, who was also the Army chief of staff; secretary Lt. Gen. Djamari Chaniago; Lt. Gen. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, now the incumbent President; Lt. Gen. Fachrul Razi; Lt. Gen. Yusuf Kartanegara; Lt. Gen. Arie J. Kumaat; and Lt. Gen. Agum Gumelar.
Agum said the leaked document, including the other violations Prabowo was said to have committed, was valid.
He acknowledged Prabowo was an undisciplined soldier during the time, citing the activists' kidnapping as one of his violations where he ignored orders from his superiors.
The issues surrounding Prabowo's controversial past have recently emerged due to public pressure, which forced the General Elections Commission ( KPU ) to agree to the demand to include human rights in the broad topic of democracy and legal certainty in the first presidential candidate debate.
Prabowo's supporters deem accusations regarding the presidential candidate's track record as part of a smear campaign to dent his popularity.
On Aug. 25, 1998, The Jakarta Post reported that the Armed Forces ( ABRI, as the TNI was then known ) honorably discharged then Lt. Gen. Prabowo Subianto and removed two senior Kopassus officers from active duty as punishment for their role in the abduction and torture of political activists.
The ABRI also announced Prabowo was entitled to his pension, but said he could face a military tribunal in the future if more damning evidence of his involvement in the kidnappings was discovered.
In front of local and foreign journalists at the Armed Forces' Merdeka Barat headquarters in Central Jakarta, then minister of defense and security and ABRI commander Gen. Wiranto announced the decision, which was issued on the recommendation of the DKP that had investigated the abductions.
'My decision regarding Lt. Gen. Prabowo is to end his active service with the Armed Forces. Prabowo is no longer included in any ABRI structure. He is a civilian now,' Wiranto said at the time. ( gda )