Subject: ST: Timor militiamen slow to sell arms back to military

also: The military-militia link in East Timor

The Straits Times April 27, 2001

Timor militiamen slow to sell arms back to military

They are unwilling to give up their guns under the buy-back scheme as the weapons come in handy to extort and bully East Timor refugees


ATAMBUA (West Timor) - Weapons are valued treasures in this border town that has 63,000 East Timorese refugees, and there is always an interested buyer - the Indonesian military.

The reluctant sellers are former pro-Jakarta militiamen, who have been using their guns to intimidate fellow East Timorese from returning home and to make a living by robbing locals.

Last September, as part of its approach to disarming militia groups all over West Timor, the TNI, or the Indonesian military, started the weapon 'buy-back' scheme, whereby militiamen are encouraged to surrender their weapons for some financial incentive.

A grenade fetches about 500,000 rupiah (S$80). Rifles get varying amounts - up to 2 million rupiah for an M-16.

'We are not really buying from them. We just compensate them for something like maintenance cost,' said West Timor military commander Colonel Budi Heryanto.

Despite the attractive financial rewards, the buy-back scheme is yet to yield great results.

It accounts for only 10 per cent of the 492 militia weapons seized by the TNI in West Timor since September.

Most militiamen are loathe to give up their guns.

Said TNI spokesman Air Rear Marshall Graito Usodo: 'Weapons are the pro-integration fighters' bargaining position. If they give them up, they become nobody.'

However, the real reason may be financial.

Weapons are perfect tools to intimidate East Timorese at campsites into staying on.

It is in the militias' interests to sustain the number of refugees, because humanitarian aid to their sites are channeled through them as camp leaders.

Others use the weapons for criminal activities, like robbing and extorting the people.

Locals tell stories of how these men would flaunt their rifles and have grenades slung over their necks to bully shopkeepers and walk out of stores with free goods.

The Belu regency police jail is now overcrowded with refugees arrested for committing various crimes, and the local police are having a hard time trying to keep the militias in check.

Police chief Nender Yani had to ship his family back to Java after receiving a series of threats for arresting the militiamen.

Many of them are also reluctant to give up their weapons because they have little hope of returning to their homeland, where they are unlikely to be welcomed.

Said former militiaman Eigidio Sarmento from Baucau, East Timor: 'I miss home, but I don't know what security situation will await me there, so I'd rather stay here.'

His hopelessness and frustration are shared by many of the East Timorese refugees.

Said Mr Filomeno de Jesus Hornay, the secretary-general of East Timorese refugee organisation, Untas: 'They feel that the concern of Indonesia now is only how to get them out of West Timor.'

The Straits Times April 27, 2001

The military-militia link in East Timor

UP UNTIL seven months ago, when the disarmament programme began, locals in Atambua watched in horror as gun-totting militiamen turned their sleepy town into Cowboyville.

Last September, a mob of militiamen lynched three staff of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and drove away the rest of the foreign humanitarian workers.

Jakarta is now left to take care of the 142,000 refugees in the province.

Largely blamed for massive destruction and exodus in East Timor following the 1999 UN-sponsored self-determination ballot, the militiamen were first established and cultivated by the military in Indonesia's former province to counter the pro- independence armed movement, the Falintil.

Because of the perceived emotional attachment, the military has been criticised for failing to rein in the militias, whom they call pro-integration fighters.

Colonel Budi said: 'Of course there is a special relationship between the TNI and militias. We've been fighting alongside them in East Timor.'

Still, the military said it had tried its best to seize the weapons, and even order those who refused to turn in the weapons to be shot, although no such incident had occured so far.

Border security task force commander Colonel Irwan Kusnadi, who commands more than 1,500 troops in the border areas, said: 'The problem is we don't know how many weapons are actually still out there.'--Devi Asmarani

April Menu
World Leaders Contact List
Human Rights Violations in East Timor
Main Postings Menu

Note: For those who would like to fax "the powers that be" - CallCenter is a Native 32-bit Voice Telephony software application integrated with fax and data communications... and it's free of charge! Download from