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Soeharto trial venue rocked JAKARTA - The South Jakarta District Court is due to begin the long- awaited trial of former president Soeharto on Thursday amid more uncertainty following an explosion adjacent to the trial venue late on Wednesday night. A parked yellow Koantas Bima city bus was left mangled by the explosion. No casualties were reported and there was also little damage to surrounding buildings. The bus was parked in front of the Mitra Karya auto repair shop on Jl. Taman Marga Satwa, South Jakarta, about 300 meters across the street from the Ministry of Agriculture compound, where the trial will be held.

Witnesses said they heard the explosion at about 10:00 p.m., describing it as a "great thundering sound" which alarmed residents and brought them into the hitherto quiet street. Jakarta Police chief of detectives Snr. Supt. Harry Montolalu said he believed an explosive device planted under one of the seats on the left side of the front of the bus caused the explosion.

"We believe it was a large amount of firecrackers wrapped in newspaper, but its (explosive power) was still below TNT level," he said adding that the bus was empty when the explosion occurred. The blast blew a hole in the roof and floor of the vehicle, and shattered all the windows. Tiny pieces of newspaper were sprinkled about the bus. According to Harry, the bus driver, Bafri, had parked and left the bus, which serves the Kampung Rambutan-Lebak Bulus route, just before 10:00 p.m. to get something to eat, after which he planned to go home. Approximately 10 to 15 minutes later, the explosion occurred.

Both Bafri and Leman, the owner of the auto repair shop, were being questioned by the South Jakarta Police. Abdul Muis, a high school student who lives in the area, said the bus was often parked in the vicinity at that time. Wilman Sembiring, 42, a mechanic based next to the Mitra Karya repair shop said he was working underneath a car when the explosion occurred.

Wilman, who was about a dozen meters away, said the explosion was loud but the ground did not shake. Harry acknowledged that the attack was part of an act of terror, but stressed that it might be going too far to connect it with the impending Soeharto trial. Just after midnight, the bus had been taken away by police for further forensics tests. By 1 a.m. on Thursday morning, no information was immediately available on whether the trial would be affected by the explosion.


This latest incident adds further uncertainty to a trial some doubt will even see the presence of the defendant, Soeharto. "I doubt Pak Harto will attend Thursday's hearing ... he's not capable at all," Juan Felix Tampubolon, one of Soeharto's defense attorneys, said on Wednesday. "I have personally tried explaining to him the substance of the trial. I can see that he is trying very hard to understand what I am saying ... but he just cannot comprehend. He can't put even his own thoughts into words," Juan said. Sources close to the investigation said there would be a meeting on Wednesday evening at Soeharto's residence in Menteng, Central Jakarta, to discuss the matter. Juan said that the medical team would arrive at the residence of the ailing 79-year-old defendant at 7 a.m. on Thursday morning to conduct an examination. "After examining him, the medical team will declare whether my client is fit to attend the hearing or not," he said.

Juan added that the hearing would not proceed if Soeharto was not there in person to hear the charges read. "The charges cannot be read in the absence of the defendant. The idea is that even if he is present, but is not mentally fit to be examined by the court, then his presence becomes useless," he said, referring to the Criminal Code Procedures (KUHAP). Juan and Soeharto's other lawyers: Muhammad Assegaf, Otto Cornelius Kaligis, Indriyanto Seno Adji, Denny Kailimang, Victor Siregar and Syamsu Hadi came on Wednesday to inspect the chosen venue for the hearing at the auditorium of the Ministry of Agriculture in South Jakarta. Soeharto is alleged to have misused some Rp 1.4 trillion and some US$416 million of public funds in the seven charitable foundations he chaired. He faces charges of stealing state money by funneling it from tax-free charity foundations he ran into the businesses of family and friends.

At least 100 police officers are guarding the venue around the clock and a truck mounted water cannon and an armored car are on standby. City Police said earlier that at least 400 men would be deployed in and around the venue. City Police chief Insp. Gen. Nurfaizi, who inspected the venue on Wednesday, said maximum security would be provided for spectators. As of Wednesday, South Jakarta District Court workers were still preparing the venue, while police officers had already installed metal detectors at the main entrance. Despite promises made by South Jakarta District Court chief Lalu Mariyun, TV screens have yet to be installed in certain spots around the ministry for spectators not accommodated in the courtroom.

Inside the auditorium, district court workers have completed installing a raised platform on which the bench is set, while the prosecutors' desk and dozens of wooden benches for the public have been put in place. Meanwhile, Coordinating Minister for Political, Social and Security Affairs Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said on Wednesday that negotiations for the return of some of former president Soeharto's wealth had been temporarily halted. "The negotiation is halted to give way to the legal process," Susilo told reporters after attending a plenary session at the House of Representatives. He said the negotiation was part of the nation's effort to overcome the economic crisis although it would not neglect the legal process against the former president. Susilo admitted to having met Soeharto's family twice for the negotiation. Separately, law experts called on the state prosecutors to be tough and able to produce evidence to support the corruption charges, while the judges hearing the case must maintain their integrity.

Pontang Moerad, a criminal law expert at Padjadjaran University in Bandung, said on Wednesday the prosecutors must be well prepared. "They must have sufficient evidence and appropriate witnesses." He said both the prosecutors and the panel of judges must be strong enough to stand up to political and public pressure. Artidjo Alkostar from Yogyakarta's Islamic University of Indonesia said the judges must be able to maintain their integrity and respect the principle of law. He warned that Soeharto's trial would become the yardstick by which the country's law enforcement and judiciary would be measured.

Artidjo, a candidate to become the chief justice of the Supreme Court, said the panel of judges would receive political pressure and also would likely be offered bribes. "They must have the courage to reject any bribery offers. On the other hand, the judges can not favor the government's interests or bow to public pressure," he said. All the experts said one of the main problems in the trial was that Soeharto already was seen as guilty in many circles. Both the prosecutors and the judges must have the courage to say "guilty" if the defendant is guilty, and to exonerate him if he is innocent, they said.

Posted in General @ 31 August 2000 16:59 CET by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink

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