A rash of fires, bombings and other violent incidents has raised concerns in the administration of President Suharto about the growth of antigovernment sentiment among Moslem fundamentalists, according to Indonesian and western diplomatic sources.
The incidents also have aroused fears among dissidents that in responding to the violence, the government may be clamping down on moderate political opponents.
While there is no suggestion of any serious threat to Suharto's 20-year-old rule, diplomats said, the disturbances have coincided with an economic slowdown linked to a continuing glut in the world market for Indonesia's main export, oil.
Diplomats and Indonesian sources generally trace the current unrest among the fundamentalist minority in this predominantly Moslem country of 160 million to Suharto's zealous promotion of his pancasila, or five points, philosophy.
Last August, the Moslem political coalition, the United Development Party, bowed to government pressure and formally adopted pancasila as the basis of the party, replacing Islam. The five vaguely defined principles of pancasila, which Suharto sees as vital to unifying this diverse archipelago, include belief in God, humanitarianism, national unity, democracy based on consensus, and social justice.
Since the ideology does not specify belief in Islam, many Moslems, particularly proponents of an Islamic state here, regard pancasila as secular and have opposed it and the government on religious grounds.
In September the ferment suddenly erupted in violence in Jakarta's economically depressed port district of Tanjung Priok when Moslem rioters clashed with security forces.
Angered by the alleged "desecration" of a mosque by police and seeking the release of four arrested youths, the mob marched on a police station. Moslem dissidents said the incident was triggered when a policeman went into a local mosque without removing his boots and used sewer water to try to remove antigovernment posters.
The armed forces commander, Gen. L.B. (Benny) Murdani, said afterward that 18 persons had been killed and 53 injured when the mob, armed with sticks and knives, failed to heed warning shots. Other reports put the death toll as high as 30, and a trial of 28 persons among 36 arrested for the rioting has produced contradictory testimony. One Army officer testified that police fired at the crowd for 30 minutes during the Sept. 12 incident, and a police captain said he had seen no weapons among about 30 injured persons at the scene.
Three weeks after the incident, three bombs exploded in Jakarta's commercial center, damaging a Chinese-owned department store and two branches of the Bank Central Asia. The bank is owned by Liem Sioe Liong, a close friend and longtime business associate of President Suharto and his family.
The bombings were seen here as retaliation for the Tanjung Priok shootings, but also apparently showed latent anger over the economic dominance of Indonesia's Chinese minority, diplomats said.
"It's probably fair to say the incidents reflect resentment of the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a few and frustration with the government's pancasila policy," said an Asian diplomat. However, he added, the anti-Chinese factor was probably secondary.
"You don't bomb the Bank Central Asia to get at the Chinese," he said. "You bomb it to get at the president. Everyone in Indonesia knows that."
Following the bombings, authorities arrested several persons in connection with the case, including three leading dissidents who allegedly participated in an "illegal meeting" Sept. 18 at which antigovernment actions were discussed. One of them, Sanusi Harjadinata, a minister of light industries under former president Sukarno, is on trial on charges of having financed the bombings. Five others charged with planning and carrying out the actions are being tried separately.
Gen. Dharsono, a former secretary general of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and Fatwa, an Islamic leader, also have been arrested and are expected to be tried. Dharsono, Fatwa and Sanusi are members of a dissident group called the Petition of 50, which was formed in 1980 to press for development of political institutions and reduction of the military's dominant role in the country.
The government also has responded by courting moderate Moslem political groups. In December, Suharto attended a Moslem political party congress, and senior officials' speeches now stress that pancasila is not aimed at Islam.
On Christmas Eve, bombs exploded in a Roman Catholic church and a Christian seminary in East Java Province. Then in late January a series of bombs went off in the 9th century Borobudur Buddhist temple in Central Java Province, wrecking nine of its bell-shaped shrines and two Buddha statues.
A week later, a major fire caused extensive damage to the Kraton Susuhunan, a palace complex built in Solo in the mid-18th century and revered as a symbol of traditional, pre-Islamic Javanese culture.
Following the Oct. 4 bombings in Jakarta, a series of mysterious explosions or fires damaged a noodle factory, two department stores, a restaurant and entertainment complex and a military munitions depot. While diplomats believe the latter to have been an accident, the others are suspected to be the work of antigovernment arsonists.