Subject: Indon defence minister defends slow disarmament in W. Timor

Indonesian defence minister defends slow disarmament in West Timor

JAKARTA, Oct 4 (AFP) - Indonesia's defence minister on Wednesday blamed the slow pace of disarming the militias in West Timor on poor equipment, psychological issues and possible sabotage attempts by "outside" elements.

"There are psychological problems, among the people, political problems, sociological problems, a variety of factors," Mohammad Mahfud told a press conference at the defence ministry in Jakarta.

"They (the militias) themselves, perhaps the weaknesses of our equipment, possibly also outside elements who want to stir up trouble, that's possible," Mahfud said.

But he insisted the Indonesian government was confronting all the difficulties, and appealed to the international community to "let Indonesia deal with these problems with its own methods first."

"It's not as simple as foreigners (think) when they say 'you must do this' for example," Mahfud added.

Indonesia has begun disarming pro-Jakarta East Timorese militia groups in West Timor to comply with a United Nations Security Council resolution issued after the murders of three UN staff by militia mobs in the border town of Atambua on September 6.

But the efforts so far have been dubbed by at least one UN official, East Timor administrator Sergio Vieira de Mello, as "pathetic."

The United States has said Indonesia risks diplomatic isolation and jeopardising economic aid if it fails to disarm the militiamen, and the World Bank has warned that donor nations may hesitate on promised aid.

Since disarmament efforts began 12 days ago Indonesia has twice extended its schedule, pushing the deadline back to October 17, the eve of a key meeting of Indonesia's donors in Tokyo.

The initial persuasive phase netted 880 weapons over six days, according to Indonesia's ambassador to the UN, but only 34 of them were automatic weapons.

On the first day of the subsequent phase of raids and searches, local police said they seized 27 firearms, 890 homemade weapons and six grenades.

"Where resolution and a certain degree of ruthlessness would seem to be required, we are witnessing hesitation and prevarication," de Mello told the Security Council last Friday.

But Mahfud said Wednesday Indonesia was sifting through the multitude of problems it faced in disarming the militias.

"There are many problems which must be considered, identified first, then sorted out one by one, and resolved according to our ways, while of course upholding law and justice," he said.

The Indonesian military raised and trained the militias in East Timor during its 24-year occupation of the former Portuguese territory, whose people voted overwhelmingly for independence in a UN-conducted ballot last year.

In the weeks after the vote, the military-backed militias engaged in an orgy of burning, looting and murder before fleeing into Indonesian-controlled West Timor in the face of international troops.

The murdered staff from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) had been working among the refugees in West Timor.

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