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Indonesian General, Military Hero Leonardus Benyamin Murdani Dies

By Slobodan Lekic
Associated Press
Monday, August 30, 2004; Page B06

JAKARTA, Indonesia -- Gen. Leonardus Benyamin Murdani, an Indonesian military hero who led the invasions of West Papua and East Timor and forged close ties with the U.S. military, died Aug. 29. He was 74.

The retired four-star general died at Jakarta's Gatot Subroto military hospital from complications following a stroke, hospital staff said.

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Gen. Murdani, a Roman Catholic from the central Javanese town of Solo, entered the military soon after Indonesia's 1945-49 war of independence against the Dutch.

He joined the army's elite parachute battalion and retained a close association with the special forces unit for the rest of his life. The red-bereted commandos -- known by their acronym as Kopassus -- have been blamed for numerous human rights atrocities throughout Indonesia.

He then spent a year in the 1950s training in the United States.

In what has become part of national folklore, Gen. Murdani, by then a major, parachuted with 120 men into the Dutch colony of West Papua in 1962 during Indonesia's effort to occupy the region. Although his unit was devastated by Dutch marines, the brief conflict ended with the United Nations handing the vast territory to Indonesia.

Most Papuans opposed the move, and a small rebellion continues there. Human rights groups say about 100,000 Papuans have perished in counterinsurgency operations since the 1960s.

Gen. Murdani emerged as a hero and received the country's highest medal from then-President Sukarno. He was dispatched to Thailand to organize covert intelligence operations against Malaysia, which Sukarno attempted to subvert until his overthrow by Gen. Suharto in 1966.

Gen. Murdani was not directly involved in the massacres that followed the military takeover. As many as 800,000 leftists were murdered in the bloodshed that followed the U.S.-backed coup. Hundreds of thousands of others were jailed and exiled to distant penal colonies.

Gen. Murdani became a trusted member of Suharto's inner circle.

In 1975, Gen. Murdani planned and oversaw the invasion of the former Portuguese colony of East Timor. The occupation was sanctioned by then-President Gerald R. Ford and Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger, who visited Jakarta a day before the attack.

The occupation triggered a 24-year war of liberation in which 200,000 civilians and 10,000 Indonesian soldiers perished.

Critics accused Gen. Murdani of establishing a military monopoly that ran East Timor's coffee exports during Indonesian rule, which ended after a U.N.-sponsored independence referendum in 1999.

In 1983, Gen. Murdani -- by then a four-star general -- was named commander in chief of the armed forces. But as a Christian who despised political Islam, Gen. Murdani was resented by the largely Muslim officer corps.

In the late 1980s, Gen. Murdani broke with Suharto after arguments with the dictator over his family's growing corruption. He was removed as military chief in 1988, but he retained his post as minister of defense and security. Gen. Murdani held on to the powerless position until 1993.

During the past decade, Gen. Murdani grew close to Megawati Sukarnoputri, Sukarno's daughter, who became president after Suharto's ouster and Indonesia's first free elections in 1999.

Despite his failing health, he helped Megawati defuse fears among the top brass that she would implement such sweeping reforms as placing the military under civilian control.

Suharto paid a final visit to Gen. Murdani in the military hospital the day before he died, media reports said. The army said Gen. Murdani will be buried at Kalibata military cemetery.


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