Subject: IHT: Indonesia's Benefactors Should Require It to Disarm the Militias
Date: Sat, 15 May 1999 11:12:32 -0400
From: "John M. Miller" <>

International Herald Tribune (Neuilly-sur-Seine, France) May 7, 1999, Friday

Indonesia's Benefactors Should Require It to Disarm the Militias
By Sidney Jones; International Herald Tribune


The agreement on East Timor signed this Wednesday in New York by Indonesia, Portugal and the United Nations is a major milestone in international diplomacy. It provides for a ballot on Aug. 8 that will let all those born in East Timor, or those of East Timorese descent, decide whether they want to accept autonomy under Indonesian sovereignty or opt for independence.

The agreement could be the key to ending the conflict between the Indonesian army and East Timorese pro-independence groups, both armed and unarmed, that has gone on for 23 years and cost at least 200,000 lives.

But despite the New York accord, East Timor is closer to civil war today than it has been at any time since Indonesia invaded in 1975. The reason is the emergence of civilian militias backed and armed by the Indonesian army.

The organized assaults by the militias on supporters of independence threaten to jeopardize the peace process and derail the Aug. 8 vote. Unless that vote takes place in an atmosphere free of violence and intimidation, it will not fairly reflect the wishes of the East Timorese.

The United States, Australia, Japan, the European Union and others providing aid and loans to Indonesia have called for the militias to be disarmed.

But a dangerous element is creeping into some discussions. It is the idea that the militias and the East Timorese guerrilla army, Falintil, that has been fighting for independence since the Indondesian invasion should be disarmed simultaneously. This would be bad politics and bad for human rights.

The counterpart of Falintil in international law is the Indonesian army. The army and the guerrillas are the two long-standing parties to the East Timor conflict.

Most of the district-level militias, by contrast, were created and armed in the last four months to support East Timor's integration with Indonesia. They should be disarmed before, and separately from, any decommissioning of the principal belligerents.

These are not community-based self-defense forces, despite the claims of some militia leaders. They are a shadow force of the Indonesian military, with whom militia leaders have long-established ties.

Many of the militias are old paramilitary groupings with new names. To treat them as distinct from the Indonesian army is to let the army off the hook and obscure its accountability for militia abuses. Treating the militias on a par with Falintil would reward lawlessness.

This is not to suggest that Falintil is beyond criticism. When they kill suspected civilian collaborators and execute captured army personnel, as they have periodically done, East Timorese guerrillas have been responsible for human rights violations.

In early 1999, pro-independence youths, not necessarily linked to Falintil, were involved in attacks on Indonesian migrants and others suspected of supporting the Indonesian government.

In both cases, the Indonesian government has the right, indeed the responsibility, to arrest and prosecute those involved.What the government does not have the right to do is encourage the formation of armed groups who operate above and beyond the law and with the full backing of local army units. It must acknowledge that the militias are responsible for criminal assaults and mass killings, for example in Dili and Liquica last month. Giving these groups any official status separate from the Indonesian military, as would be implied by a parallel militia-Falintil disarmament, would be an endorsement of state-backed thuggery.

The question now is how to ensure that the militias are disarmed, well before the Aug. 8 vote. It is not enough for the Indonesian military commander, General Wiranto, to go to Dili, as he did recently, broker a peace pact and piously hope for voluntary disarmament. The militia leaders will not turn over their guns unless their army patrons force them to do so.

The international community has been unusually united and vocal in its condemnation of the militias, but it should go further. Member countries of the consortium that provides aid to Indonesia, including the European Union, the United States, Australia and Japan, should exert real pressure on the Indonesian government to undertake the systematic collection of firearms, prosecute militia leaders responsible for recent human rights abuses, and withdraw logistical support of any kind for the militias.

The aid consortium should seek a deadline of weeks for the accomplishment of all of the above, and make clear that further disbursements of international loans to Indonesia will be halted if nothing happens.

The writer, Asia director of Human Rights Watch, contributed this comment to the International Herald Tribune.

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