When Suharto Came Knocking, Revisiting Indonesia's Darkest Day

Sulemi spent 15 years in jail for his alleged role in the events of 1965.
Sulemi spent 15 years in jail for his alleged role in the events of 1965.
Muhamad Ridlo

Sept. 30, 1965, is a night that changed Indonesia forever.

The events of that night led to Indonesia's first president, Sukarno, being ousted from office, as military General Suharto assumed control of government — Suharto went on to rule the country for 32 years, until 1998.

In Central Java, Indonesia, KBR journalist Muhamad Ridlo spoke with a man who was at the heart of the action that night, and who says a fake version of events has been remembered in Indonesia.

JAVA — The man in front of me is tall and thin. He's 77 years old, with a vivid memory, clear mind and strong spirit. Sulemi is a former soldier, who served with Cakrabirawa, the security forces of Indonesia's first president, Sukarno.

Sulemi was 25 years old in 1965, when his life was turned upside down transformed from an honorable soldier into political prisoner.

Sulemi swears he will be honest with me about what happened on the bloody night, Sept. 30, 1965. But what he tells me is very different from the official version of events that most Indonesians have come to know.

Millions of Indonesian school children were made to watch the terrifying film, Pengkhianatan G30S/PKI (Treachery of the Communist Party), which depicts the events of that day. In the film, Cakrabirawa troops, are shown kidnapping and killing six generals. The army accused the Communist Party, or PKI, of masterminding the kidnappings. And General Suharto used the events to justify his take over as president.

Sulemi admits he was involved in the kidnappings, and he spent the following 15 years in jail for it. "I've told the truth," he says. "But they still punished me, that's the fact."

More than 50 years later, Sulemi still claims he is innocent. He says he was following the orders of his commanders, and was told that he was preventing a coup that six generals were planning. "There was an instruction from the battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel Untung. He said the situation was urgent, there was a coup planned for October 5," he told me.

Sulemi believes General Suharto knew and approved of what they were doing. Three of his commanders met Suharto the night before, and left the meeting glowing. "After they returned to our vehicle, they said all was settled, that Suharto was willing. That's crazy, right? Those are the facts."

On the night of Sept. 30, Sulemi and 35 other Cakrabirawa soldiers went to the home of General Nasution, intending to arrest him. But General Nasution ran, and escaped by jumping over fences. The troops searched the house, and in the chaos, Nasution's 5-year-old daughter, Ade Irma was shot. The film portrays the troops as cruel monsters.

Better to die telling the truth

"It is remarkable to say his daughter, Ade Irma was deliberately shot. That's crazy. Why would we do that?" Sulemi continued. "The child had nothing to do with it. That's unbelievable slander. She was hit by a bullet when we were inside the house, I don't know whose bullet it was."

Sulemi says he later learned the bullet was fired by a solider trying to force open a door. The troops were sent to jail. There, Sulemi was tortured and interrogated twice a week, in the attempt to force a confession. "If I was tortured until I died, that was the risk," he says. "Better to die telling the truth than to live a lie."

Sulemi never confessed to being a communist, or being part of a plot to bring down President Sukarno. "It was impossible for me to confess," he said. "At my age, at that time, why would I want to get involved in ideology and party politics? We were military men, we couldn't be in a party, at least not at the lower levels. I don't know about officers, majors and higher levels, maybe they were involved in politics."

After the events of 1965, the PKI became public enemy number one. In the space of a year, half a million to one million suspected communists and communist sympathizers were killed. After two years in prison, those involved in the events of 1965 faced a court martial. Sulemi was given a death sentence, which was eventually reduced to life imprisonment, and after 15 years in prison, he was granted a pardon.

On the outside, Sulemi lived as an outcast, with neighbors refusing to talk to him and unable to find work. His wife had long ago divorced him.

It's now over 50 years since that night. But it continues to haunt Indonesia. Communism is still feared and hated in the country. For years, people accused of communist sympathies and their children were banned from the army and public service. Public discussions about these events are often shut down, and in September, a peaceful discussion on the topic sparked a riot in Jakarta.

Sulemi has since remarried. But his wife Sri Murni tells me he carries the trauma of torture to this day. "He screams in his sleep," she told me. "We sleep separately."

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In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.

It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park


Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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