Gen. Benny dies, laid to rest

A true intelligence officer to the end, L.B. Moerdani left this world discreetly in the wee hours of Sunday morning, and a few hours later, one of the most feared and respected generals was buried at the Kalibata Heroes Cemetery in South Jakarta.

Gen. (ret) Leonardus Benyamin "Benny" Moerdani, former Armed Forces (ABRI) chief, passed away at 1:15 a.m. Sunday and was buried at the cemetery in South Jakarta in a military ceremony led by Indonesian Military (TNI) chief Gen. Endriartono Sutarto early Sunday afternoon.

Many of his former colleagues, including former state oil company Pertamina's president director Maj. Gen. (ret) A.M. Ramly and former battalion doctor and East Nusa Tenggara governor Maj. Gen (ret) Ben Mboy, also attended the ceremony. Benny, 71, is survived by his wife, one daughter and five grandchildren.

Benny was admitted to the Army's Gatot Subroto hospital in July due to lung problems after a stroke. His health deteriorated last week and he went into a coma.

Early Sunday morning, Benny's body was taken to his residence on Jl. Hang Lekir, South Jakarta, where a religious ceremony was held.

Former president Soeharto visited the family home to pay his respects to Benny, who gained the trust of the president's inner circle's because of the his ability in intelligence-gathering.

Benny's body was later taken to the Army's headquarters in Central Jakarta, where Army leaders paid tribute in a modest ceremony led by Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ryamizard Ryacudu.

President Megawati Soekarnoputri and her husband Taufik Kiemas also went to the Army headquarters to express condolences.

Former president Abdurrahman "Gus Dur" Wahid and his wife Sinta Nuriyah also attended along with several senior Army officers including Gen. (ret) Wiranto. Soeharto's daughter Siti "Titiek" Hediyanti Hariyadi paid her last respects as well.

A number of government officials, including head of the National Development Planning Board (Bappenas) Kwik Kian Gie, Minister of Foreign Affairs Hassan Wirayuda and Jakarta Governor Sutiyoso, were also present at the ceremony.

Born in Cepu, Central Java on Oct. 2, 1932, Benny joined the military soon after the war against the Dutch from 1945 to 1949.

Most of his military career was spent in combat and intelligence roles, making him the most influential figure among soldiers of the Army's Special Force (Kopassus). He was involved in a major operation for the control of West Irian Jaya (now known as Papua) in the early 1960s.

He also gained notoriety after he led a military operation to free hostages of a hijacked Garuda Indonesia aircraft in Bangkok in 1981.

Benny held ABRI's top post from 1983 to 1988 and it was under his tenure that the Army streamlined its military command at the provincial level from 13 to only nine. He also came up with idea to set the mandatory retirement age of soldiers at 55 in a bid to boost regeneration among soldiers.

"Indonesia has lost a great man, a patriot who worked beyond the call of duty," Harry Tjan Silalahi, a senior researcher at the Centre of Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and a close friend, recalled.

Another confidante, Des Alwi, shared another memory when the two were assigned by Soeharto to hold diplomatic negotiations with the Malaysian administration to restore ties between the two countries, which had been severed following the confrontation policy of former president Sukarno in 1960s.

"At that time, Benny was an intelligence officer whose rank was only a major while I was a liaison officer at the Indonesian Embassy in Malaysia. But since he had to meet with Malaysian prime
minister Tun Abdul Razak, the Armed Forces headquarters appointed him as a Colonel," he recalled.

Benny, however, will not likely be held up as hero by human rights activists, who claim that he had a hand in a series of bloody episodes, from the invasion of East Timor in 1975 to the Tanjung Priok shooting in 1984.

*Published by The Jakarta Post, August 30, 2004