Subject: AFP: E. Timorese Militias, a Thorn for Indon Or a Tool for Some?

East Timorese militias, a thorn for Indonesia or a tool for some?

JAKARTA, Sept 11 (AFP) - Created and nutured by Indonesia, the East Timorese militias are running out of control, thrusting the government into the international spotlight with the savage killings of UN relief workers in West Timor.

In an ugly show of violence hundreds of machete-wielding militias attacked an office of the UN High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR) in West Timor's border town of Atambua on Wednesday, killing three UN staff there.

Many of the assailants may have also been among the hordes of militiamen who took part in a two-week campaign of murder, terror and destruction that followed the announcement that the East Timorese had voted overwhelmingly for independence from Indonesia in a UN-held ballot last year.

The Atambua incident drew an international outcry, with the UN Security Council and several foreign leaders calling on Indonesia to clamp down and disarm the militias, that many have said continue an unchecked reign of terror and intimidation in the profusion of camps in West Timor filled with East Timorese refugees from last year's violence.

Indonesian police chief General Rusdiharjo on Monday pledged the government will disarm the militias and said preparations had been made and troop reinforcements dispatched to Atambua.

But scepticism remained high.

Despite repeated past involvements in violent armed incidents, the militias have remained untouched by the law, free to roam with their weapons in public in most of West Timor.

"As far as I remember, this is the fifth time since November that the Indonesian authorities are promising to disarm the militias. Do you see any change?" said Munir (Eds: one name) a former member of the Probe Commission on Human Rights Violation in East Timor (KPPHam).

He said the first promise was made when the commission visited the camps in Atambua in November, the second after the commission issued recommendations that included the disarming of the militias.

The two other promises, also made by both the military and police chiefs, followed two incidents of violence -- clashes between locals and refugees in Noelbaki camp and a militia attack on UN forces in East Timor.

"As long as the Indonesian military, or factions within it, still have an interest in keeping control of the militias for their own purpose and protection...they (the militias) will remain a thorn for Indonesia," he said.

He said the Indonesian political elite also had no interest in the matter, fearing repercussions from certain factions in the military.

"The difficulties lie in the lack of seriousness of the Indonesians to honestly seek a settlement," Munir said.

"The militias? They are like the enticing forbidden fruit. You eat the left half, your father dies, you eat the other half, your mother dies," said political analyst Afan Gaffar from the Gajah Mada state university in Yogyakarta, Central Java.

He said the militias were the creation of the Indonesian military and had performed services for the Indonesian cause in East Timor following Jakarta's brutal invasion of the former Portuguese territory in 1975.

Therefore "it is an enormous psychological problem for the military to act against the militia."

But if the military do disarm them and start prosecuting them for crimes committed in West Timor, the militias may feel betrayed and may resort to violence or seek to harm Indonesia with information they possessed from the time East Timor was still Indonesian territory.

Hendardi, who chairs the Indonesian Association for Legal Aid and Human Rights, said there seemed to be two main reasons why certain factions in the Indonesian military want to retain the militias.

"The militias can be used to threaten or remind the world that the separation of East Timor from Indonesia did not proceed smoothly, that there are still East Timorese oppposing the breaking away of East Timor,"he said.

"But they can also be used to threaten the government of President Abdurrahman Wahid by undermining public and international confidence in the country," he added.

Many have pointed out that the Atambua incident took place as Wahid was attending the Millennium Summit at the United Nations in New York. The summit opened to a solemn minute's silence for the dead called for by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

Former foreign minister Ali Alatas was quoted by the Suara Karya daily as saying that never before had a UN secretary general asked for a minute of silence from a gathering of world leaders to mark a tragedy, while the head of state of the country where the incident took place was present.

September 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 V3.5.8, is a Native 32-bit Voice Telephony software application integrated with fax and data communications... and it's free of charge! Download from