Subject: FEER: Attempts to Dismantle Timorese Militias Are Going Nowhere

Far Eastern Economic Review Issue cover-dated October 19, 2000

Up in Arms

Attempts to dismantle Timorese militias are going nowhere, as are Jakarta's excuses

By John McBeth/JAKARTA

INTERNATIONAL DONORS are likely to have harsh words for Indonesia when they meet in Tokyo on October 17-18, if a promise to disarm and dismantle pro-Indonesian militias in West Timor isn't kept. The signs are not good. It has been five weeks since militia members hacked to death three United Nations workers in the border town of Atambua. Since then, Indonesian security forces have gathered only 70 military-grade weapons among over 1,000 guns.

Critics say the government isn't acting fast enough in response to a United Nations Security Council resolution calling for the disarmament and disbandment of the 2,000-strong militias. They also say Jakarta isn't fully aware of just how seriously the Atambua incident has eroded its international credibility. Of $4.8 billion pledged by donors, $1.8 billion of project financing is at risk.

The Indonesian army insists the militias held only 100-200 military weapons in the first place. But Western military officials and UN staff claim they have up to 1,000 automatic and bolt-action rifles and significant quantities of South Korean hand grenades of the kind lobbed at two outposts of Australian peacekeepers in East Timor some months ago.

It may be a moot point. The three aid workers were killed with machetes, not guns. And militiamen still control the two largest refugee camps, Betun and Haikesak. The UN says Indonesia has yet to conform with the September 8 Security Council resolution.

UN refugee officials acknowledge that military and police pressure is having some effect. Since early September, 500 refugees have returned to East Timor--a significant rise in the rate of returns and evidence, officials say, that the militias' hold over settlements outside the two main camps is loosening. But 120,000 refugees remain.

Coordinating Minister for Political and Security Affairs Bambang Yudhoyono insists the Indonesian government is committed to resolving the problem "once and for all" and says previous "uncertainty" over the military's attitude toward the militias has been cleared away. But Yudhoyono suggests Indonesia cannot be held solely responsible for preventing further violence. "The government will increase the degree of protection, but of course we can't guarantee there is no threat towards humanitarian workers because of the situation in East and West Timor," he says.

Yudhoyono also acknowledges that some military officers still feel kinship with the militias. "To be frank there was a close liaison between the military and the militia in East Timor and because of that there has been a difference of opinion in the military over how we should deal with the militia," he says. "The dispute to a certain degree exists now."

Some in the military feel the militias have been treated dishonourably by the same senior officers who won promotions for leading them in East Timor. "They fought for us for 25 years and we should have taken care of them by providing pensions, plots of land, jobs, maybe even bringing them into the armed forces," says a retired general who helped form the original militia units in the early 1980s.

How else to explain why it took until October 4 to arrest East Timorese militia leader Eurico Guterres--and then only, according to police, on allegations of interfering in the arms-collection process. Guterres has been accused by the attorney-general's office of inciting the murder of 12 people in April last year, but has not been formally charged. Several other people remain at large despite evidence of their culpability in at least three massacres.

The 27-year-old Guterres may be vilified as one of the main perpetrators of the violence in East Timor last year, but some Indonesians see him as an almost heroic figure who fought to keep the former Portuguese colony in Indonesian hands. Speaking to the REVIEW the day before his arrest, Guterres described himself as an Indonesian and a full-time politician with Vice-President Megawati Sukarnoputri's PDI-P party.

Indeed, he sees himself in a future peace summit with independence leader Xanana Gusmao: "What needs to be done is for me to sit down with Xanana and find a way out of the problem." It isn't clear what there would be to discuss.


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