Permesta was a rebel movement in Indonesia, its name based on Piagam Perjuangan Semesta (Universal Struggle Charter).[1] It was declared by civil and military leaders in East Indonesia on 2 March 1957. The center of the movement was in Manado in Sulawesi, and the movement was led by Colonel Ventje Sumual. Alexander Evert Kawilarang resigned his position as Indonesian military attache in the USA to become a general in the Permesta army. On 17 February 1958 the Permesta rebels joined forces with the PRRI rebels based in Sumatra who had declared a revolutionary government two days earlier.[2] Following successful Central Government attacks on the PRRI based in Sumatra, the conflict swung to the east where the Permesta rebels were based. Central Government forces succeeded in capturing the Permesta capital of Manado at the end of June 1958. However, the Permesta rebels continued their resistance, fighting a guerrilla campaign against central government troops until the last remnants surrendered and were given an amnesty in 1961.

Piagam Perjuangan Semesta
LeadersAlexander Evert Kawilarang
Ventje Sumual
Area of operationsEastern Indonesia
Allies United States
Opponent(s) Indonesia
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The PRRI rebellion in the west and Permesta rebellion in the east arose for a combination of reasons. Foremost was that certain ethnic groups in Sulawesi and central Sumatra felt that government policies from Jakarta were stagnating their local economies, which in turn limited any opportunities for regional development.[3] Also there was some animosity towards the Javanese ethnic group, who were the most numerous and influential in the newly created unitary state of Indonesia.[4] In effect this conflict was less about any thoughts of secession from the Indonesian state, and more about a fair division of economic and political power in Indonesia.[5]

Foreign involvement

During 1957 the United States became increasingly concerned that Indonesia was becoming vulnerable to Communism due to the rising influence of the Indonesian Communist Party. In January 1958 the CIA began developing covert support networks to the PRRI and Permesta rebels. CIA support of the Permesta rebels came in the form of 15 B-26 bombers and some P-51 Mustang fighters which formed the insurgent airforce AUREV (Angkatan Udara Revolusioner) based on Manado airfield, large amounts of weapons and equipment, significant funds, plus an international cast of CIA agents and mercenaries from Taiwan, Poland, the Philippines and the USA.[6] Emboldened by CIA aid, the rebels began a series of airstrikes against cities in Sulawesi and Maluku held by central government. The cities bombed by CIA-piloted insurgent planes included Balikpapan, Makassar, and Ambon. On 15 May 1958, insurgent planes bombed the marketplace of Ambon, killing large numbers of civilians attending Ascension Sunday services.

Responding to rebel and insurgent attacks, President Sukarno ordered the Indonesian military to crush the PRRI-Permesta rebellion. A series of air raids by the Indonesian Air Force (AURI) on Manado destroyed most of the rebel B-26 planes. Meanwhile, a rebel B-26 bomber was shot down on 18 May 1958 by Indonesian pilot Ignatius Dewanto over Ambon. The B-26 pilot, the American CIA agent Allen Pope, was captured alive, exposing the CIA's deep involvement in the rebellion. Consequently, the CIA began to withdraw its support of the rebellion. Pope was eventually tried, convicted and sentenced to death in Jakarta, before being released at a later date.

After annihilating the insurgent air force AUREV, central government troops launched an amphibious and airborne assault on the rebel capital Manado called Operasi Merdeka (Operation Independence). Indonesian troops quickly expelled the rebels from Manado, after which they maintained guerrilla resistance around the Lake Tondano area. However, the central government started a successful campaign offering amnesties to induce surrenders. Rebels who had many familial and amicable relationships with many of the central government soldiers began to surrender. The last Permesta rebels surrendered and swore an oath of loyalty to the central government in 1961.


  1. Ricklefs 2008, p. 243.
  2. M.C. Ricklefs, A history of modern Indonesia since c.1200, p. 299.
  3. Lundstrom-Burghoorn, W (1981). Minahasa Civilization: A Tradition of Change. Göteborg: ACTA Universitatis Gothoburgensis. p. 43.
  4. Schouten, M.J.C. (1998). Leadership and Social Mobility in a Southeast Asian society: Minahasa 1677–1983. Leiden: KITLV Press. p. 215.
  5. Jacobson, M (2002). Cross border triangles and deterritorialising identities. Assessing the diaspora triangle: Migrant-Host-Home. SEARC Working Papers Series. 19. Hong Kong: South East Asia Research Series Publications. pp. 2–3.
  6. Hellstrom, Leif (July–August 1999). "Air War in Paradise: the CIA and Indonesia 1958". Air Enthusiast (82): 24–38.


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