Indonesian presidential hopeful hit by abuse revelations

Human rights abuse allegations that have dogged Indonesian presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto intensified Thursday when a former military chief confirmed the ex-general unilaterally ordered the abduction of student activists.

The comments were made by Wiranto, who was armed forces chief 16 years ago when Subianto was dismissed from the military and whose small Hanura party is now part of the coalition led by Subianto's only rival, Joko Widodo.

Subianto has admitted to ordering the abduction of activists involved in a student movement that eventually toppled the three-decade Suharto dictatorship in May 1998, during the Asian financial crisis, but has maintained he was acting on orders from above.

He was sacked from the military as strategic army reserve commander months later, but denied he ordered the activists' torture or had any connection to 13 who went missing and one found dead. Twenty-three were abducted in total.

A four-page document of investigation findings by a military ad-hoc team was leaked online earlier this month recommending his dismissal. It stated Subianto had ignored the military's hierarchy and ordered a team to kidnap the activists.

Wiranto did not confirm the document's authenticity, but corroborated its general contents.

He said he had a discussion with Subianto after the kidnappings and asked why he ordered them.

"Then I was convinced that it was done on his own initiative, based on his analysis of the situation at the time," Wiranto, who like many Indonesians goes by one name, told reporters.

Subianto emotionally defended himself in a recent televised debate with Widodo, saying he acted to protect the safety of the Indonesian people.

"My conscience is clean, I'm the strongest human rights defender in this republic," he said.

Wiranto denied Thursday any order was given by him or his predecessor during the time of the kidnappings, which took place between December 1997 and March 1998.

Subianto was once a distant second to the hugely popular Widodo but he has become a serious contender as the July 9 poll approaches and the popularity gap between the candidates narrows.

The kidnappings have become a sore point for him and he has been known to snap at journalists who ask him about human rights abuses and often refuses to answer.

An investigation in 2006 by Indonesia's human rights commission included victims' accounts of beatings and torture at the hands of Subianto's unit. The report was handed to the attorney general's office, where the case has stalled for eight years.