Breaking News

Kolonel Simbolon

Indonesia's civil war has so far appeared more comic opera than tragedy. Yet it is closely watched by men in the U.S. State Department and in other chancelleries, East and West. Many in the free world! who would breathe easier if President Sukarno's Red-propped government tumbled, were examining the Central Sumatran revolution for the two prime requisites of successful revolutions: 1) united, vigorous leadership, and 2) the will to fight. So far, Indonesia's dissidents have shown a disheartening lack of both.

The very sight of government airborne troops seems to be an unnerving thing for rebel commanders. When 200 paratroopers fluttered down into the Central Sumatran oil center of Pakanbaru, an 800-man rebel garrison took to the hills (TIME, March 24). Last week the hard-working paratroopers were shifted to Medan, the North Sumatran rubber metropolis of 520,000 people that had just been seized by some 1,500 rebels under Major Boyk Nangolan. As the grimy paratroopers in their red berets moved in, Major Nangolan hastily moved out, first scooping up 18 million rupiahs from a local bank and taking all the arms and gasoline he could carry. The only report of damage in the recapture of Medan came from a Sikh businessman who declared that someone had shot a hole clean through his refrigerator.

Monsoon Rains. Rebel sources blamed Nangolan's tame surrender of Medan on the failure of reinforcements to arrive from North and Central Sumatra. Colonel Simbolon, the rebel Foreign Minister, had set out for Medan from the rebel capital of Bukittinggi, but his 100-truck column was bogged down by monsoon rains that caused landslides and washed away bridges. Another rebel column from Tapanuli was stopped dead by a government regiment that was supposed to switch over to the rebels but did not. Djakarta gleefully announced that the remnants of Nangolan's command were cornered on the eastern shore of Lake Toba.

In Djakarta, a fleet of ten Russian freighters and tankers arrived from Vladivostok and was turned over to Sukarno under the terms of a recent $100 million
Soviet loan. Russia's Ambassador Dmitry Zhukov placidly announced that the Soviet crews would stay on board to help Indonesians navigate and maintain the ships. In Bukittinggi, rebel Premier Sjaf-ruddin charged that the Russian fleet was loaded with arms, and cried: "If Sukarno can have Russian crews, why can't we have American pilots?"

Over the Horizon. At week's end the government advances continued with the seizure of the Rengat-Lirik area, headquarters of the big, U.S.-owned Standard Vacuum Oil Co. and the last major oil installation remaining in rebel hands. Colonel Simbolon had finally pushed through to the vital road junction of Pematang-siantar, joining up with Nangolan's battered forces from Lake Toba and the rebel column from Tapanuli. but he appeared more concerned with defense than with another attack on Medan.

The rebel radio stridently claimed that the rebels had somewhere found a two-plane air force that had bombed Bandung, and a "navy" that was maneuvering in the Strait of Malacca. But Bandung was reported unbombed and the navy unsighted. In Singapore a U.S. squadron consisting of the cruiser Bremerton and two destroyers stood by, ready to evacuate U.S. civilians from the rubber plantations and oilfields if the war really hotted up.

If anything, the rebel colonels seemed to be practicing the venerable Indonesian tactic of sabar: the quality of biding time, to let the opponent make the mistakes. Unfortunately, in Western eyes, sabar is sometimes indistinguishable from paralysis. Sukarno was making mistakes, by leaning increasingly on the Communists and by straining his already weak economic position (last week the rupiah shot to an alltime high of 61 to the U.S. dollar— v. 11.4 for the official rate—on the free market). But it seemed clear that it would take more than sabar to bring him down.