Operation Bevel Incline
In 1997, Indonesia was afflicted with a severe El Nino-induced drought, a plummeting exchange rate, and near paralysis of the banking sector. By early 1998, Indonesia was experiencing rising inflation, growing unemployment, revelations of foreign commercial indebtedness, and declining GDP growth. In late October 1997, the Soeharto government concluded an agreement with the IMF, which underwent regular modifications. By early January 1998 rising prices and fears of shortages led to panic buying of food.
Indonesia's authoritarian political system came under sustained challenge during 1998, resulting in President Soeharto's departure from office on 21 May 1998, and opening an opportunity for meaningful political and economic reforms. Two months after his reelection to a seventh 5-year term in March, popular pressure forced Soeharto to resign in favor of his hand-picked Vice President, B.J. Habibie. The new President immediately announced a series of steps to address domestic and international human rights concerns. With many citizens questioning his legitimacy because of his close association with Soeharto, President Habibie formed a cabinet that drew heavily on holdovers from the last Soeharto Cabinet.
In the period prior to the 11 March 1998 reselection of President Soeharto, security forces intervened to stop many meetings and peaceful demonstrations of dissidents and reform advocates. In February Jakarta police warned that political protests would not be tolerated and that political demonstrators would be charged under an emergency decree from 1963 related to illegal political activity.
On 04 April 1998 the Indonesia Government announced fuel price hikes. Riots ensued, particularly in North Sumatra. The fuel price hikes were quickly rolled back. During May 13-15 1998 rioting, arson, looting, and rape rocked Jakarta and other Indonesian cities. The US State Department ordered the departure of all USG dependents and non- essential personnel and recommended that all US citizens depart Indonesia either via commercial means or on USG-organized evacuation flights.
During these massive riots in mid-May 1998, mobs targeted the ethnic Chinese community, which was not protected by the authorities. Violent unrest erupted in Jakarta and other cities. It included massive looting and burning, especially of commercial areas, and the ethnic Chinese community was a particular target of the violence. Following the riots, allegations of mass rape of ethnic Chinese women were made, forcing the Government to establish a fact-finding team to investigate the riots and rapes. The team found that elements of the military had been involved in the riots, some of which were deliberately provoked. It also verified 66 rapes of women, the majority of whom were Sino-Indonesian, as well as numerous other acts of violence against women.
Soeharto resigned from office on 21 May under pressure from student activists and the parliamentary leadership.
In the Western Pacific, naval forces participated in OPERATION BEVEL INCLINE following rioting throughout Indonesia in 1998. An Amphibious Ready Group assumed a 12-hour alert posture in anticipation of a possible evacuation of American citizens from Jakarta.
In April of 1997, HMM-262 assumed the role of the ACE of the 31st MEU. Over the next 18 months the Flying Tigers, deployed aboard the USS Belleau Wood at various times, participated in exercises Cobra Gold 97, Foal Eagle 97, Valiant Usher 98 and Cobra Gold 98, as well as contingency Operation Bevel Incline and three Special Operations Capable Certifications. During this period HMM-262(REIN) continued operating throughout the region in Thailand, Korea, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Australia, and Singapore.
Operation BEVEL INCLINE, a potential NEO driven by internal strife in Indonesia, provides an excellent demonstration of our ability to rapidly respond to events in the region with forward-deployed forces. III MEF forces deploying to participate in Exercise COBRA GOLD in Thailand were ready and prepared to respond.
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