Ron Moreau

Stories by Ron Moreau

  • Burma's Terror Twins

    Boxed in and mercilessly outgunned, the remnants of "God's Army" battled to the end for their impossible cause. The Christian fundamentalist guerrillas' mystical leaders--the cheroot-chomping preteen twin brothers Johnny and Luther Htoo--had vanished. Kamaplaw, their base on a jungle hillock at the Thai-Burmese border, was crumbling under a furious assault by the armed forces of both countries' governments. The shelling only intensified after 10 desperate guerrillas broke away from the fight on Monday, seized a hospital in Thailand and took more than 100 patients and staff members as hostages. A day later Thai security forces stormed the hospital and dumped the fighters' 10 corpses on the front steps. Through it all, many of the twins' disciples claimed to be unshakably certain that Johnny and his less talkative brother, Luther, had supernatural powers. But late last week God's Army seemed beyond help, even from miracles.The Htoo twins' saga is at once tragic and scarcely plausible....
  • Terror Twins

    Boxed in and mercilessly outgunned, the remnants of "God's Army" battled to the end for their impossible cause. The Christian fundamentalist guerrillas' mystical leaders--cheroot-chomping preteen twin brothers Johnny and Luther Htoo--had vanished. Kamaplaw, their base on a jungle hillock at the Thai-Burmese border, was crumbling under a furious assault by both countries' armed forces. The shelling only intensified after 10 desperate guerrillas broke away from the fight on Monday, seized a hospital in Thailand and took more than 100 hostages. A day later Thai security forces stormed the hospital and dumped the fighters' 10 corpses on the front steps. Through it all, many of the twins' disciples claimed to be unshakably certain that Johnny and his less talkative brother, Luther, had supernatural powers. But late last week God's Army seemed beyond help, even from miracles.The Htoo twins' saga is at once tragic and scarcely plausible. Can these two waifs really command an adult...
  • Shadow Of A Coup

    To get a sense of just how dicey things are in Indonesia these days, get a load of Jakarta's reaction to some blunt American lecturing. It came as sectarian violence in the outlying Maluku Islands spread to the tourist haven of Lombok. Indonesia's top brass and the reformist President Abdurrahman Wahid had been locked in an exchange of threats. Suddenly, the hard-charging U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Richard Holbrooke stepped into the mess, warning against "military adventurism" which "would do Indonesia immense, perhaps irreparable damage." The proud Indonesians didn't bristle at the American meddling. Wahid said he "appreciated" Holbrooke's statement. The president's allies said the warning was a godsend. "It had an enormous impact," Attorney General Marzuki Darusman told NEWSWEEK. "This may make the military think twice."Before doing what, exactly? Did the Americans get wind of a coup plot? Wahid played down Holbrooke's statement, saying, "I don't think there will be a...
  • First-Person Global

    An election upset, war in the Balkans, violent demonstrations, a lost spacecraft--our correspondents witnessed it all. Four look back on some of the turning points of 1999. ...
  • Periscope

    It was one of the oddest news stories of the year. Last January, Johnny and Luther Htoo, 12-year-old Burmese twins believed to possess magical powers, launched a botched raid on a Thai hospital that left 10 of their followers dead. Unable to forget the erie photo of cherub-faced Johnny and cigar-smoking Luther, PERI asked: where are they now?The Htoo's guerrilla group, God's Army, collapsed in disarray shortly after the raid, and the twins fled into the jungle with a dozen followers, pursued by Thai and Burmese soldiers. Tipped off by some of the twins' conventional dodging tactics (they changed out of their military uniforms and Luther shaved his head) followers began to suspect they had lost their alleged powers to turn invisible and evade bullets. In October, Johnny and Luther joined the Karen Natinal Union, and are now based some 35 kilometers inside Burma, opposite Thailand's Kanchanaburi province. Johnny and Luther, say visitors, still enjoy sliding down hills on cardboard...
  • The Promise Of Trouble

    Hamamah last saw her husband alive as he walked off into the rice fields last August. A neighbor rushed to tell her that Indonesian Army troops were sweeping her village, Merasah Mesjid, for separatists. Soon afterward, bursts of automatic gunfire tore through the silence. Panicked, Hamamah, 22, grabbed her three young sons and fled with 800 other villagers to the safety of a mosque 50 kilometers away. The radio reported that the military had dropped off nine dead guerrillas belonging to the Free Aceh Movement, or GAM, at the local hospital. Her husband, Said Ramli, 28, was among the dead. "My husband was a farmer, not a fighter," says Hamamah, weeping, in the mosque compound. "We will never have justice under Indonesia. Independence is the only way."It's easy to see why Hamamah would feel that way. When Indonesia's new president, Abdurrahman Wahid, offered to let Aceh hold a referendum on independence, he didn't expect an explosion. The Muslim scholar, a holy man and peacemaker...
  • Indonesia's Magic Man

    Meeting Abdurrahman Wahid at his modest South Jakarta house is like visiting a respected village elder. You always find a line of people waiting to see him: slick-suited businessmen, social activists, poor East Javanese farmers all come to unload their troubles and receive his blessing. They sit or stand on the front porch, the nearly blind and stroke-hobbled Muslim scholar they know as Gus Dur (meaning "older brother") visible inside through a wide-open door. Usually, he's sitting on a lumpy couch, dressed in loose-fitting clothes, talking to his guests over a cup of tea. As the leader of a 40-million-strong religious organization, you might expect him to put on airs. But he loves to joke and has a knack for making people feel comfortable. It is these attributes, Indonesians now hope, that will help their newly elected president restore their country's battered reputation. "If it weren't for Gus Dur's message of tolerance and reconciliation, Indonesia would have gone up in flames...
  • The Saint And The Housewife

    Hardly anyone took Abdurrahman Wahid's presidential bid seriously--until the votes were counted. The ailing, nearly blind Muslim scholar, 59, easily ranks as Indonesia's most admired and beloved individual. Many Indonesians venerate him as a living saint. All the same, it's hard to envision a more unlikely politician than this otherworldly, unpredictable holy man. Throughout his campaign, people kept asking him incredulously if he was really running. They were still asking him only hours before the formal vote began in Indonesia's electoral college, the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR). The candidate hardly even seemed to want the job. As the 691 ballots were counted aloud, one by one, in the cavernous assembly hall, Wahid's supporters roared approval each time his name was pronounced. Meanwhile, in the front row, their champion stared silently into space.No one laughed at Megawati Sukarnoputri. The housewife opposition leader, 52, daughter of the country's first president,...
  • Duel Of The Shadow Puppets

    One thing is clear enough: if Indonesia's students were voting, President B. J. Habibie would be out in a flash. Thousands of them hit Jakarta's streets last week, tossing Molotov cocktails and clashing with riot troops, as Habibie delivered an "accountability speech," his justification of his 17-month-old administration. Some 170 protesters were hurt. If it were up to them, Indonesia's next president would be Megawati Sukarnoputri, the taciturn housewife who sparked the struggle against fallen former president Suharto. The students carried red flags and banners covered with her supporters' signatures, some allegedly scrawled in blood. no way other than mega, the signs vowed. But the students aren't voting, and this week's presidential election looks murkier than ever. "If [Megawati] doesn't get elected, there will be an upheaval," says Nezar Patria, a journalist and former student leader.Megawati would have no one to blame but herself. When her party, the Indonesian Democratic...
  • 'You Can't Run, You Can't Hide'

    The people of East Timor couldn't help but feel twinges of optimism. As Australian-led peacekeeping troops rolled in and started arresting armed thugs who had been terrorizing the territory, young men came pouring down from the hills where they had been hiding. "I am not afraid anymore," said Martino Pinto, 26, who had left his wife and four children in the hills to search for food and see if it were safe to take them home. Thousands of other hopeful men flocked into the burned out East Timorese capital of Dili, where Indonesian-backed militias and soldiers had been on a wild killing and looting spree. Two weeks after 80 percent of the East Timorese voted for independence from Indonesia, they were hoping to rebuild their lives. "This is a great blessing," said Pinto's friend Maria de Fatima, whose small medical clinic was trashed by Indonesian soldiers.East Timor's salvation is still a long way off. Days after the peacekeepers arrived, the streets of Dili remained deathtraps....
  • One Thug, One Vote

    The most defiant act of their lives started like a stealth operation. Before dawn on the day of East Timor's referendum on independence from Indonesia, a schoolteacher named Armindo Florindo trekked into the deforested hills to round up hundreds of frightened villagers. They were hiding from pro-Indonesian militiamen, bands of heavily armed, murderous thugs who were threatening to kill anyone who voted for independence. Florindo, a former pro-independence guerrilla who spent nearly a decade in jail, led the villagers into his dilapidated schoolhouse in a poor neighborhood outside Dili, East Timor's capital. Still others, casting their fears aside, were already celebrating the scent of future freedom. More than 1,500 villagers, many dressed in their Sunday best, crowded into the schoolyard. As the sun rose over the hills, Florindo cast the first vote for independence. "This is East Timor's best day ever," Florindo said. "Even better," interrupted voter Januario Lourdes Freites, "this...
  • The Winds Of Rage

    On a wall among the ruins, someone has painted an epitaph of sorts: place of ethnic cleansing. A stately house once stood on this site in Bili Aron, a village in Indonesia's westernmost province, Aceh, on the northwestern tip of Sumatra. The building was an outpost in the Indonesian government's merciless 10-year war against the separatist Free Aceh Movement, known by the initials GAM. The armed forces used the house as an interrogation center.Neighbors recall incessant screams and gunshots from inside, and the sight of prisoners being hanged by their thumbs from a tree in the garden. "I saw and heard the terrible things that were happening, but I didn't have the power to do anything," says Rukiah, 38, who lives next door. "I prayed." (Like many Indonesians, he uses a single name.) Syahkubat, a 45-year-old neighbor, tells of being imprisoned and tortured in the house for three months in 1997. He was leading his buffalo out to graze when troops seized him on suspicion of aiding the...
  • Thailand Plays By The Rules

    Aids is the no. 1 cause of death in Thailand. More than 300,000 people have died already, and most people who have the virus are too poor to pay for any sort of treatment. But rather than challenge the drug companies for cheaper access to medication, as South Africa is doing, Thailand is playing by the West's rules.Last year, under pressure from Washington, the Thai government brought its intellectual-property laws in line with those of the developed world. Bangkok can no longer issue compulsory licenses for patented medicines or allow parallel imports to bring in cheap drugs. Most important, the new laws got rid of Thailand's Pharmaceutical Patent Review Board, the agency that forced drug companies to divulge sensitive cost data.The changes have angered local AIDS activists, who've begun lobbying their case to U.S. and U.N. officials. They've even helped persuade the World Health Organization to monitor the public-health implications of global-trade policies. Meanwhile, as U.S....
  • Mad About Mega

    Megawati Sukarnoputri is living proof that gut impressions aren't always right. Only three years ago, former president Suharto thought he had banished the opposition leader into political oblivion. Using his signature strong-arm tactics, he removed her as the Indonesian Democratic Party's chairwoman, banned her from politics and sent in his security goons to take over her party's Jakarta headquarters. After all, practically anybody who had met her said the 52-year-old former housewife and mother of three grown children was a political lightweight--an inarticulate and shy woman who seemed too timid to become a real threat. But last week, as much as the modest housewife tried to hide it, you could see sweet revenge written all over her face. Having won about 35 percent of the vote in last week's elections, Megawati knows she may soon be president of Indonesia. "With discipline and pride," she told NEWSWEEK, beaming with confidence, "we have become winners." ...
  • Put Away The Yellow Shirts

    During Indonesia's past six election campaigns, members of the Golkar party wore bright yellow with pride. After all, as the color of former president Suharto's powerful political machine, yellow meant only one thing: victory. Decked out in bright yellow vests, T shirts and jackets, Golkar supporters would attend massive campaign rallies featuring the country's top music, TV and film stars. Just for showing up, they received free food, souvenirs and a fistful of rupiah, the national currency. ...
  • A New Kind Of Hell

    I'm free," reads some of the graffiti in a poor neighborhood in Dili, East Timor's capital. Not yet. Early this month progovernment militiamen showed up with AK-47s to silence all calls for the province's independence from Indonesia. When Elizia dos Reis, a 17-year-old high-school student, rushed out to help a wounded friend, he took a round in the back and another in the chest--and finally a knife in the back of the head. The next day Elizia's body lay on a table in his parents' concrete-block house, his face streaked with dried blood, a rosary draped around his crossed hands. As his mother and sisters wailed, neighbors took turns digging his grave in the rocky soil of his own front yard. Elizia's family would have preferred the Roman Catholic cemetery--but they were too afraid of ambushes to take him there.Just about everybody in East Timor lives in such fear. Late last year more than a dozen militia groups sprang up to defend the status quo in the former Portuguese colony...
  • Running Through A Minefield

    Amid the brass bands, the wildly costumed marchers and the unfurled flags of 48 competing political parties, there was a persistent sense of dread. Indonesia's 16-day official parliamentary campaign began last week. If all goes well, the June 7 vote will easily rank as the freest, fairest national election that most Indonesians have ever seen. But things are threatening to go horribly wrong. Campaign-related violence has already killed at least 10 people, including three on the usually tranquil island of Bali--and those deaths came before the race's official start last week.This campaign season, the street fights aren't only between protesters and soldiers, or between ruling-party loyalists and their foes. Rival opposition parties have been attacking each other. On the eve of the formal campaign, more than a dozen houses went up in flames during a brawl between members of two rival Islamic parties in the Javanese coastal town of Pekalongan. Most Indonesians are convinced the unrest...
  • The Politics Of Terror

    Wahdi, a 70-year-old cowherd, was one of 60 villagers who attended a voter-registration meeting in the West Javan village of Selasari on a rainy evening in late March. As the meeting broke up, he was attacked by several masked men and a crowd of strangers who accused him of being a dukun santet, or evil witch doctor. They wrapped a rope around his neck, slowly choking him to death. Then they disemboweled him with a machete and ordered terrified villagers to bury him on the spot. Wahdi was not a dukun of any sort, insists his sobbing 45-year-old widow, Kayah, as other villagers nod in agreement. "He was simply a poor man and a good Muslim."The new politics of Indonesia is growing uglier by the day. Though the campaign for June parliamentary elections formally begins May 19, the opening skirmishes suggest that the tactics will include terrorism. Wahdi is one of some 150 Indonesians who have died brutally or have mysteriously disappeared in the populous West Javan regency of Ciamis so...
  • Of Peace And Poison

    Roughly a quarter century after the Vietnam War, the vestiges of the Ho Chi Minh Trail run through a nightmare landscape. Vast swaths of blighted countryside, once dense forest, now support almost no vegetation but the coarse weed known locally as American grass, useless for feeding humans, livestock or most wildlife. The afflicted region's inhabitants, about 5 million all told, get much of their dietary protein from fish raised in decades-old bomb craters. But the real horror is in the people's eyes. For more than a generation, practically every family in this stretch of central Vietnam has endured a medical hell of repeated miscarriages, crippling birth defects, chronic illnesses and untimely deaths.This is the heart of Agent Orange country. From 1961 to 1971, U.S. warplanes deluged strategic sectors of southern Vietnam from Quang Tri province to the Mekong Delta with more than 20 million gallons of chemical herbicide, of which 60 percent was Agent Orange. The Hanoi government...
  • Suharto's Siege

    The retired dictator greets each day with a tranquil routine. At his tree-shaded villa in central Jakarta's diplomatic quarter, the 77-year-old Suharto rises at dawn and bows toward Mecca in prayer. He takes a breakfast of rice porridge, fresh orange juice and tea, followed by a country-style shower, dousing himself with pots of water from a big concrete tank. He spends a few minutes looking after his pet birds. One of them has learned to whistle the national anthem. Then the old man begins his day's work: a relentless succession of personal conferences with his lawyers, family members and longtime business associates. The leafy street outside is empty--blocked by barbed-wire barricades and soldiers carrying automatic weapons.The daily meetings have an urgent agenda. Government graft investigators are scrutinizing the finances of Suharto's inner circle. His friends and family may be stripped of the billions of dollars they are said to have amassed during his 32 years in power. His...
  • Cambodian Land Rush: Homesteading In Hell

    The land rush began in January, as soon as the dry season made the jungle roads barely passable. Merciless war has kept northwestern Cambodia's Samlot district practically uninhabited for most of the last 30 years. Now the return of peace is bringing thousands of former guerrillas and refugees scrambling from their camps on the Thai border to claim the first plots of land many of them will ever own. Almost all the newcomers were men who had left their wives and children in the safety of the camps. The new settlers are risking their lives with practically every step. "Samlot and neighboring districts are some of the most heavily mined pieces of real estate on earth," says Archie Law, director of Cambodian operations for the Mines Advisory Group, a London-based nongovernmental organization.Amputees are a routine sight on the road to Samlot--and all over Cambodia. Private relief groups estimate that since 1979, when Hanoi's invading Army toppled the genocidal Pol Pot from power, land...
  • The Back Beat Of Hard Times

    Tin Pan Alley has come to Jakarta. Each day, a ragged army of troubadours fans out across Indonesia's capital, singing out their bitterness at the collapsed economy and the politicians they blame for their woes. Husky-voiced transvestites, ukulele players, drummers banging the bottoms of large water bottles and children playing tambourines made out of bottle caps, they are a motley chorus, overflowing sidewalks and surrounding motorists at traffic lights. At the high end, accomplished musicians pass the hat on crowded public buses and sing songs that echo the protests of student demonstrators on the streets outside: the dictator Suharto is gone, but the misery remains. "The people get injustice, Suharto gets diamonds and houses," sings Agus, a guitar man on a downtown bus. "Where's the money?" croons his companion, Edy. "Common criminals go to jail, real criminals like Suharto go free."The street musicians are the vanguard of a recession-era renaissance in Indonesia. When the...
  • The Prisoner Of Hope

    JUST OVER TWO YEARS AGO, INDONESIA'S then president Suharto found himself in a corner. During a visit to Jakarta, South Africa's President Nelson Mandela asked to meet the jailed resistance leader from East Timor, Xanana Gusmao. Suharto reluctantly agreed. After the meeting Mandela gave Suharto some trenchant advice: release Gusmao, who had fought to reverse Indonesia's 1975 occupation of the former Portuguese colony. In freedom, Mandela argued, Gusmao could help lead Jakarta and Lisbon toward a solution for East Timor, ending a long and bloody conflict. ...
  • Flames Of Faith

    NESTLED AMONG THE QUIET homes of central Jakarta, the Al-Munawara mosque is a refuge of the spirit. Ahmad Sumargono, deputy leader of Indonesia's new Crescent Moon and Star Party, spent the Muslim holy month of Ramadan there, contemplating his soul and the political storms outside. After a month of praying and reading the Koran, Sumargono's thoughts were crystal clear. He agreed to share them with a NEWSWEEK correspondent last week--as long as the visitor came unaccompanied by a woman. Indonesia, he said, has now ""changed, and is very conducive to Islamic people. Islam should be a complete way of life for Indonesians, not just a religion.'' The country's turbulence, he added, was the work of a Christian minority, largely ethnic Chinese, attempting to regain lost privileges. ""We can live together with Christians,'' Sumargono said, ""but I see a cloudy future.'' ...
  • Free--After 32 Lost Years

    CHIA THYE POH IS STILL LEARNing to savor his newly restored freedom. A former member of the Singapore Parliament and leader of the Socialist Front, a small opposition party, he was arrested in 1966 under Singapore's Internal Security Act, which provides for detention without charges or trial. Chia had attempted to organize a protest rally against the Vietnam War, timed to coincide with a visit to Singapore by the then President Lyndon B. Johnson. He had also resigned his seat in Parliament two weeks earlier in protest over the way in which -- as Chia saw it -- the then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew had been keeping the legislative body in almost permanent recess. In 1989 Chia was finally released from prison, but was sentenced to internal exile on a small island in the Singapore Strait. In 1992 the authorities allowed him to return home to Singapore, but under restrictions prohibiting him from joining any organization, making any public statements or contacting any of his fellow...
  • The Yugoslav Model

    THE YOUNG SOLDIERS WERE LAST seen alive on a public bus, traveling away from their base in Indonesia's remote province of Aceh. Dressed in civilian clothes and headed home for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, they were ill prepared to face an angry mob. About 200 machete-wielding villagers stopped the bus, apparently seeking retribution against the Indonesian Army. They demanded papers, and seized any man who could produce only military identification. Of 18 soldiers on the bus that December day, the mob took seven; their mutilated bodies were found scattered about the scene of the abduction, with bound hands and feet and signs that they had been tortured. ...
  • The Devil's Due

    THEY ARE THE ACCIDENTAL ART OF THE Khmer Rouge, a regime that thought it had abolished art: thousands of photographs of its own citizens, left behind in the notorious Tuol Sleng prison when it was abandoned in 1979. Collected and cataloged by researchers from the Cambodian Genocide Program at Yale, they were reproduced in a glossy art book, and last month 22 prints, carefully restored and mounted, went on display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In one photograph, a woman seems to ignore the hand of an unseen child reaching up to clutch her sleeve; in another, a boy of perhaps 12 stands up straight despite the weight of a thick chain around his neck. The subjects look straight into the camera, their dark eyes open wide, expressions opaque but for a glimmer of fear. Or perhaps the fear is in the eyes of the viewers, who have seen the other famous artifact of the Khmer Rouge: the great heaps of skulls that were what became of the people in the photographs. ...
  • Binding Up Old Wounds

    Imagine if the government of Vietnam believed that one of its estimated 300,000 missing in action (MIAs) had been mistakenly buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Would the United States allow the Vietnamese to go into Arlington in the middle of the night and dig up old bones? Be serious. Yet Vietnamese officials have allowed American officials to do the equivalent. A joint team of Americans and Vietnamese have dug up Vietnamese military cemeteries as part of a pursuit of the impossible- a full accounting of the 2,204 American MIAs in Indochina. While they found no GIs in the cemeteries, the overall level of cooperation by the Vietnamese is now extraordinarily high.Those wanting continued cooperation on the MIA issue should want the United States to normalize diplomatic relations with Vietnam. Last year Bill Clinton lifted a 19-year trade embargo. Since then the record has been clear: warmer contacts mean that Americans get more information about MIAs. One year of friendly...
  • Cambodia: Father Knows Best

    In his 70 years, Prince Norodom Sihanouk has experienced most of the highs and lows that life has to offer. His career in Cambodian politics has taken him from god-king to prime minister to homeless exile, from guerrilla leader to political prisoner and eventually back to head of state. For most of the years since 1941, when the French put him on his throne, the state-such as it was-was he. Glib, charming and quick to change sides, Sihanouk went through more metamorphoses than a whole dynasty of butterflies, raising inconsistency to an art form. But when a prince's own heir won't play along with his grand designs, what's a father to do? ...
  • Giving Peace A Chance

    When the Khmer Rouge ruled Cambodia in the late 1970s, Cheung Ek was one of their most notorious killing fields. Pol Pot's Marxist guerrillas executed hundreds, perhaps thousands, of their "enemies" in the tiny village 12 miles south of Phnom Penh, the capital. Last week Cheung Ek came to exemplify the best in Cambodia. Within sight of a memorial containing the skulls and bones of victims, hundreds of eager peasants lined up outside a United Nations-polling station, jostling for the right to be among the first voters. "This turnout is beyond our wildest expectations," said Deborah Hopper, an American working as a U.N. election official. Despite threats of violence from the Khmer Rouge, who are still fighting a bitter civil war, nearly 90 percent of the country's registered voters turned out during six days of polling, the first free and fair election in Cambodian history. Results are expected this week, but clearly the big winner was peace itself. ...