1998 NCC News Archives

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Good Friday Strengthens Indonesian Student Leader's Resolve

NEW YORK, May 13, 1998 -- It was Good Friday, and Pius Lustrilanang of Indonesia, leader of a prominent student group opposed to President Suharto, had just been released from his two-month nightmare of abduction at gunpoint, torture and imprisonment by Indonesian security forces.

When his captors let him go, they threatened him and his family with death unless he remained silent forever. But as he sat in church and meditated on the Cross, his resolve was strengthened to continue working for political and economic reform. "Jesus sacrificed Himself," he reflected. "I can give some of myself." His family supported his decision.

Mr. Lustrilanang, 30, a Roman Catholic, fled Indonesia in late April, arrived in the United States last week and immediately embarked on a cross-country itinerary of meetings with U.S. government officials, media appearances and speaking engagements. He told his story in New York today (May 13) at a briefing sponsored by the National Council of Churches.

"There will be no political or economic reform in Indonesia without bringing Suharto down," Mr. Lustrilanang said. "Anyone who says there is no leader to replace Suharto is wrong. Foreign investors, who want stability, need to realize that by supporting Suharto it means there will be no stability. The events of the last two months make this clear."

One of Mr. Lustrilanang’s first appointments in the United States was at the U.S. State Department, where he asked them to press Suharto "not to use violence against the students. We want a peaceful dialogue to solve the problem, and we want to choose our own leaders freely. I also asked the State Department to plan for the post-Suharto era. And I asked the U.S. government not to give any more unconditional aid to the Suharto regime."

"Demand political reform and improvement in human rights," he said. "If the U.S. gives aid through the IMF (International Monetary Fund) without conditions it means the U.S. supports the regime and is against democracy and human rights."

U.S. churches should "prepare to support the Indonesian people in a humanitarian manner," Mr. Lustrilanang said. "In the near future there will be a lack of food and other basics as a result of the unstable political situation." (There already is a serious food shortage in Indonesia, and Church World Service, the NCC’s humanitarian response ministry, has initiated a large food relief program in Sulawesi.) He further asked U.S. churches to encourage their Indonesian counterparts to open their doors to the students. "They need protection," he said.

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