除了志工團，印尼境內的媒體報導也著重在軍隊的參與程度。雅加達新聞雜誌Tajuk在1998年就刊出聳動的報導，直接點名當時的印尼陸軍戰略後備部總司令普拉伯沃．蘇比安托中將（Prabowo Subianto）和他親近的盟友，也是雅加達區域指揮官的夏弗里．山蘇丁少將（Sjafrie Sjamsoeddin）為幕後主謀。Tajuk的報導指出他們煽動暴力，企圖製造混亂，好在關鍵時刻「挺身而出平定暴動」，藉此躋身更高的位置。
經過了20年，專家和學者的研究都傾向認為暴動是經過預謀策劃的，而且和印尼軍隊有關。John Sidel教授在他的著作《暴動、屠殺和聖戰：印尼的宗教暴力》（Riots, Pogroms, Jihad: Religious Violence in Indonesia）中舉雅加達的羅摩衍那百貨公司（Ramayana Department Store）為例。這間商場比雅加達其他連鎖零售店受到更多損害。這指向一種熟悉的模式，與軍隊動員和策劃有關：幾乎所有百貨公司都位於付費道路、主要幹道和繁忙的交叉路口，這有便於軍方在同一時間利用這些交通要道，快速部署軍隊或其他軍隊支持的組織到雅加達各個地方。除此之外，許多受到影響的商家都位於軍事設施附近，譬如軍事總部或軍營。
與其嘗試用一個「可以解釋一切」的「大框架」，學者使用了多元的角度與動態的框架解釋1998年爆發的暴力事件。傑瑪．帕爾迪（Jemma Purdey）撰寫了第一本以98暴動為題的英文著作《1996-1999印尼排華暴動》（Anti-Chinese Violence in Indonesia, 1996-1999），其中將1998年5月發生的一連串暴力事件定位為1996年以來，一系列針對印尼各地華裔暴力事件的高峰。而這些暴力事件在1998年後持續發生。
 Ariel Heryanto, "Rape, Race and Reporting" in Reformasi; Crisis and Change in Indonesia edited by AriefBudiman et al., 1999.
 Siew-Min Sai, "Eventing the May 1998 Affair: Problematic Representations of Violence in Contemporary Indonesia" in Chinese Coppel ed., Violent Conflicts in Indonesia: Analysis, Representation and Resolution, 2006.
 Ariel Heryanto, "Rape, Race and Reporting" in Reformasi; Crisis and Change in Indonesia edited by AriefBudiman et al., 1999.
The Impossibility of Collective Memory: Some Reflections on the May 1998 Violence in Indonesia (I)
by Sai Siew-Min (Independent Scholar)
Amongst Chinese Indonesians living in and outside Indonesia, there are many personal stories about the violence targeting the Chinese during those fateful days in May 1998. What happened in May 1998 brought down then-President Suharto, and the New Order regime once thought unassailable. Despite the momentous nature of regime change, it has proven extremely difficult to commemorate May 1998. There are stories like these that are now Google-able, giving readers a palpable sense of the scene at that time:
"Eight-year-old Hindra Martono was watching an afternoon news segment on the riots erupting in Jakarta when the mob came. Amid the din of fists banging on the door, Martono's father rushed his family into the attic to hide. What if the crowd decided to burn down the house? Martono's mother told him to pray to God, so he fingered the maid's Islamic prayer beads. His sister broke down in tears. Then the looters scaled his house and shattered the window. They swarmed inside, grabbing food, money, electronics, furniture — everything. Martono recognized his father's employees, who had often played with him. "I really hated them at that time," he said. "I felt like I was betrayed."
When I was teaching at the National University of Singapore, I encountered students of Chinese descent from Indonesia whose families chose to immigrate to Singapore because of what happened in Indonesia in May 1998. During our conversations, we will invariably talk about their experiences of those days. Some were too young to remember anything. G was one of my students. She was about nine years old when her parents decided to move their family of four to Singapore after May 1998, in the process exhausting their savings. When I asked G what she went through in May 1998, she could recall details such as receiving instructions from her school about not wearing the distinctive school uniform that would identify them as students from a school with a predominant Chinese Indonesian population; hearing news about a school building burnt down by an unidentified mob; and she could recall waiting in the dark in their family home with her backpack containing vital documents and belongings, ready to flee via a prepared escape route should the mob attack the house. Thankfully, the attack did not materialize. But about a year later, G found herself in Singapore, struggling with English language instruction in school and often alone in their small government flat, stripped of her liberty to roam a more expansive residential compound in Jakarta and denied the companionship of her numerous cousins. It was a miserable first year for a nine-year-old in an alien land. G's story is striking to me because it alerts me to the impossibility of knowing how the effects of a significant event continue to impact individuals in so many minute and intricate ways, well after the proverbial dust has settled.
These personal stories remain fractured and are not articulated through collective narratives that not only empower "victims" but also serve as texts enabling reflexive thought and discussion about living in a collective entity called "Indonesia." In fact, the events of May 1998 are in danger of being forgotten, and these personal stories confront the same fate. Human rights groups such as the National Commission on Violence against Women (Komnas Perempuan) are worried that people are slowly forgetting what had happened in 1998 and are doing their best to prevent collective amnesia. The fate of 113 un-named graves laying in a cemetery in an East Jakartan suburb is a case in point. Containing the remains of unidentified victims who died in the May violence but whose precise time of death could not be ascertained, the graves bear the plain inscription in Indonesian and English "Korban Mei 13-14 1998 (Victims of 13-14 May 1998)." They are largely unknown and ignored by the Jakartan public while organizations like Komnas Perempuan, together with the victims' families make it a point to clean up the graves and hold a commemoration ceremony every year.
What makes public commemoration of May 1998 so difficult? One can search in multiple directions for some answers. From the very beginning, the events of May 1998 raised fundamental questions of comprehension and interpretation which made generating a collective narrative daunting. Initial accounts and early reports were almost always Jakarta-centric and focused on rioting and attacks targeting Chinese Indonesians. On 12 May 1998, snipers shot dead four student protesters at the prestigious Trisakti University in the capital city. Thousands of students had been occupying the campus demanding that Suharto step down and political and economic reforms implemented. News of the students' deaths provoked public anger, triggering acts of looting and burning of shopping complexes, departmental stores, shops and homes in multiple locations all over Jakarta between 13th and 15th May. Those owned by Chinese Indonesians were singled out, and "Chinese-looking" persons were verbally insulted, spat on and beaten. Chinese Indonesians, as well as foreign expatriates, fled the country. The domestic, regional and international new-media covered the outburst of rioting, violence and mass exodus extensively, framing these incidents as "anti-Chinese" in nature.
In a matter of days, Jakartans, Indonesians, and the world were shell-shocked by reports, first circulating online and later in the print media that large numbers of women, the majority of whom were Chinese, had been subjected to sexual abuse and torture. , and they were reportedly raped or gang-raped in the presence of family members, loved ones or a cheering crowd. The horrific nature of the sexual abuse went well beyond any understanding of "anti-Chinese violence" in the country. Scholars were quick to point out that the occurrence of spectacles of violence surrounding exaggerated sexual abuses of female bodies was widely-reported on in Indonesia but only for conflict situations such as in Aceh and then East Timor. Jakartans would not expect these sexualized violent spectacles in their backyard. Neither would they associate these spectacles with "anti-Chinese violence." (Ariel Heryanto, "Rape, Race and Reporting" in Reformasi; Crisis and Change in Indonesia edited by Arief Budiman et al., 1999) It was, in a word, abnormal.
As Indonesians struggled to comprehend the magnitude of what happened, public attention and debates on "what really happened" came to center on a series of reports generated by local NGOs that had been actively collecting and collating data and information on the violence. They formed a loosely-organized group known as the "Volunteers for Humanity." The Volunteers' alarming reports calculated that a total of 168 cases of rape had occurred all over the country and to victims who were mostly Chinese, ranging from ages 10 to 50. The majority of these cases (132) happened in the Greater Jakarta area. In addition, more than 4,000 shops and malls had been destroyed and several thousand more houses and vehicles had been burnt. Their reports also stated that the total death toll in the country was 2,244. Significantly, the majority of those who died were not Chinese. The Volunteers described those who died as mostly the urban poor who had been lured into the malls to loot and plunder by unidentified provocateurs who then locked the looters in the buildings before setting the buildings on fire.
Clearly, the large numbers of non-Chinese Indonesians who also perished in the May violence strained popular framing of the violence as "anti-Chinese." Unlike the reported cases of extreme sexualized violence, the deaths of the urban poor failed to attract public attention either at home or abroad which highlights the tendency to neglect the class factor in how May 1998 was understood. This neglect suggests that the Jakarta-centric account of the May violence as racially-motivated did succeed in deactivating public concern and perhaps even sympathy for Jakarta's poorest. Set against fantastic accounts of racially-charged violence, the position of those who died in deliberate acts of arson — between "plausible accomplices" and "inadvertent victims"— became awkward and they were quickly rendered incidental to the "real anti-Chinese story."
The Volunteers was one of the first groups in Indonesia to argue against understanding the May violence as spontaneous outbursts of anti-Chinese violence perpetrated by angry mobs of urban poor. According to the Volunteers who paid careful attention to the forms of violence, their timing and place of occurrence, what happened in May was pre-meditated and carefully orchestrated to occur at multiple locations in Jakarta at approximately the same time. Eye-witnesses describe the presence of "agent provocateurs" who were usually young men not known to locals. The men were described in various ways: tanned, muscular, wearing crew-cuts, dressed in high school uniforms with some sporting tattoos. Working in groups, these agent provocateurs would begin to loot shops or destroy buildings, shouting brazen anti-Chinese slogans while abetting or commanding the crowds to join them. The Volunteers' reports implicated Indonesia's security forces as well as "thugs," known locally and infamously as "preman," who were linked to the military. In many instances where rioting broke out, police and security forces stood by and did nothing. Calls for assistance went unanswered.
The Volunteers observed the same pattern of pre-meditation and simultaneous occurrence of incidents of sexual abuse. Witnesses testified that just before the violence occurred, in some areas in Jakarta, strangers tried to recruit young men from poor neighborhoods, promising them not only material goods but sexual gratification with Chinese Indonesian women. In an interview with a local magazine in 1998, Father Sandyawan Sumardi, a Jesuit priest who spoke on behalf of the Volunteers, commented that what was popularly conceived of as "spontaneous rioting" was, in fact, a "massacre." (Siew-Min Sai, "‘Eventing' the May 1998 Affair: Problematic Representations of Violence in Contemporary Indonesia" in Chinese Coppel ed., Violent Conflicts in Indonesia: Analysis, Representation and Resolution, 2006)
Reports in the domestic news media also speculated heavily on the involvement of the military. One sensational report in 1998 by Tajuk, a Jakartan newsmagazine named then Commander of the Army Strategic Reserve Command (Komando Cadangan Strategis Angkatan Darat) or KOSTRAD, Lieutenant General Prabowo Subianto and his close ally Major General Sjafrie Sjamsoeddin, Jakarta's regional Commander. Tajuk's report provided details of how the two generals plotted behind the scenes to instigate the violence. Its report suggested that their incitement of rioting and violence was part and parcel of a larger plot to jostle for top military and political positions at a critical moment.
Pressured by the adverse reporting in the domestic and international media, the newly sworn-in President Habibie appointed a Joint Fact-Finding Team (Joint Team) on 23rd July 1998 to investigate the May violence. One of the Joint Team's most significant findings was its indictment of the military which was chastised for failing to anticipate and contain the violence swiftly. In some instances, the Joint Team discovered that the security forces stood by and did nothing to prevent looting and burning of property. Chinese Indonesians frequently point to the absence of protection during a time when they needed it most desperately as particularly frightening and traumatic. While the Joint Team could not find evidence that would connect Lieutenant General Prabowo and Major General Sjafrie directly to what had happened on the ground, it recommended further investigation into their suspected involvement in orchestrating the violence. This recommendation was, unfortunately, not followed through.
Over the years, further research conducted by experts and scholars gave credence to arguments suggesting the involvement of personnel and groups from the Indonesian military. Professor John Sidel in his book, Riots, Pogroms, Jihad: Religious Violence in Indonesia gave the example of the Ramayana department stores in Jakarta. The Ramayana department stores suffered more losses and damage than any other retail chain in the city, and the specificities of this case pointed to familiar patterns of military mobilization and orchestration. Almost all of the department stores were located close to toll roads, main roads and busy intersections which facilitated the speedy deployment of troops and other military-sponsored groups to multiple places at about same time using these major arteries. Moreover, many of the affected stores were located close to military installations, including army headquarters and barracks.
What About “Anti-Chinese” Violence?
While there is expert consensus that highly-ranked army officials, soldiers, and army-linked gangs were responsible for the May 1998 violence, scholars caution against simplistic "conspiracy" theories. In an article written in 1999, Ariel Heryanto argues that the evidence collected during this early stage pointed to the handiwork of the military but questioned whether the ensuing violence was simply the result of a tightly-orchestrated successful military conspiracy. Instead, Heryanto suggests that there were "several distinguishable but interacting genres of violence in May 1998 (economically motivated, politically-driven, festivity-making, racial hatred and so on," each with their histories and practices which were evident from the different profiles of perpetrators, victims, as well as perpetrators-turned-victims. (Ariel Heryanto, "Rape, Race and Reporting" in Reformasi; Crisis and Change in Indonesia edited by Arief Budiman et al., 1999, p.310)
Instead of trying to discover a "meta-framework" that would "explain everything," scholars have adopted dynamic frameworks to understand the outbreak of violence in May 1998. In the first English-language book-length study of May 1998 entitled Anti-Chinese Violence in Indonesia, 1996-1999, Jemma Purdey situates the violent episodes of May 1998 as the climax of a series of events implicating Chinese Indonesians in different parts of Indonesia from 1996 onwards with consequences for this ethnic minority persisting well after. Between 1996 and 1999, Purdey counts 47 cases of violence against Chinese Indonesians. Purdey adopts a longer time-frame and more extensive geographical framework beyond Jakarta. This approach allows her to demonstrate exactly how local antipathies against Chinese Indonesians, which assumed socio-economic, racial and religious forms in different places in Indonesia, interacted with worsening economic inequalities, crony capitalism, Suharto's gradual loss of control and intra-elite infighting from 1996 onward. The government failed to adequately address existing socio-economic problems caused by Indonesia's rapid economic development and these problems deteriorated with the outbreak of the Asian Financial Crisis in mid-1997, creating runaway inflation, food shortages, and rising unemployment.
As Indonesia's economic problems took a turn for the worse, military, government officials as well as Suharto himself, resorted to innuendos, allusions, and even blatant accusations that "Chinese domination of the economy" was the main reason why Indonesia was reeling from socioeconomic inequalities, food shortages, hoarding, and capital flight. These attempts in "scape-goating" Chinese Indonesians became overt and audacious after the financial crisis hit the country. As Purdey notes, given the uncertain and tense atmosphere looming over the country in early 1998, it would not be difficult to instigate violent episodes against this ethnic minority on a national scale.