Subject: RT: Indonesia says it arms and trains militias
Date: Sat, 06 Mar 1999 08:46:20 -0500
From: "John M. Miller" <fbp@igc.apc.org>

Albright checks out Indonesia reforms, polls 11:31 a.m. Mar 04, 1999 Eastern

By Jonathan Wright

JAKARTA, March 4 (Reuters) - Indonesia told the United States on Thursday it was arming and training local militias but had no interest in inciting conflict in East Timor between supporters and opponents of independence.

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright raised the subject at a meeting with Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas after reports that Indonesia's armed forces were giving weapons to East Timorese who want to stay Indonesian.

``I did raise the issue because we are concerned,'' Albright said shortly after her arrival in Jakarta.

Albright is visiting Indonesia to see how the government is handling its financial crisis and to check on preparations for its first post-Suharto elections in June, polls which Washington hopes will help restore political and economic stability to the battered country.

President Suharto, a longstanding U.S. ally, resigned last May amid the worst economic crisis in decades, riots and anti-government protests. But change at the top has not yet stabilised Indonesia, which has seen outbreaks of communal and other violence, most recently on several outlying islands.

Indonesian President B.J. Habibie in January offered East Timor either autonomy or independence, possibly breaking the long deadlock over the future of the former Portuguese colony, which Indonesia annexed in 1976.

But some critics of the Indonesian government have questioned its sincerity, citing the arming of pro-Indonesian militias and the government's reluctance to call a referendum.

Fighting between pro-independence and pro-Indonesian groups of Timorese has increased since Habibie's announcement, with fears of outright civil war if Indonesian forces pull out.

Alatas told a joint news conference with Albright that the armed forces were not arming pro-Indonesian groups. He went on to explain that across the country the government was reviving a militia force known as the People's Guard.

``One of the things we had to battle with was a shortage of police to deal with incidents of violence. So we have reactivated the People's Guard, selectively training them and selectively arming them, sometimes with wooden sticks,'' he said.

Some militiamen have rifles but must leave them in their barracks, the minister said.

The government was doing its best to stop clashes between pro-independence and pro-integration groups in East Timor, he said.

``Some of these groups turn out to have firearms but these are definitely not firearms supplied by our armed forces. We have an interest in East Timor remaining quiet,'' he added.

Indonesia did not fear losing East Timor, he said.

Albright said the minister had an explanation for the reports but she did not indicate whether she accepted it.

Alatas said a referendum in East Timor would take too long, would be too complicated and could lead to violence.

The Indonesians have not said exactly how they will assess the wishes of the East Timorese but are consulting on this with the United Nations, the Portuguese and East Timorese leaders.

Albright is expected to meet on Friday with East Timorese rebel leader Xanana Gusmao, whom the Indonesian authorities have moved from jail to house arrest. Alatas said Indonesia would have no problem setting Gusmao free.

She will also meet Habibie and Defence Minister Wiranto.

Albright said the United States was encouraged by the progress Indonesia has made in preparing for democratic elections, possibly the first in more than 40 years.

``We support the process, which we hope will be peaceful, free and fair... This is the pivotal moment in the history of one of the world's great nations,'' she added.

A senior State Department official travelling with Albright said successful elections were Washington's highest short-term priority for Indonesia.

``They constitute a necessary if not sufficient condition for the restoration of political stability and economic recovery in Indonesia,'' he added.

Albright arrived in Jakarta from Bangkok, where she expressed support for the Thai government's economic reform efforts and urged it to push through the next steps, including bank recapitalisation and restructuring corporate debt.

But Thailand and the United States disagreed on whether Khmer Rouge leaders should face an international criminal tribunal. Albright said this was essential to reconciliation in Cambodia but Thai Foreign Minister Surin Pitsuwan said it was up to the Cambodian government to decide on a mechanism.

Albright is scheduled to leave Jakarta late on Friday.

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