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Armed civilian militia plan comes under fire

Jakarta Post - December 12, 1998

Jakarta – A resounding "no" was voiced on Friday by public figures and scholars responding to the Armed. Forces (ABRI) plan to establish an armed civilian militia. Former defense minister Gen. (ret) Edi Sudradjat, former ambassador to the United States Hasnan Habib, and the rector of Purwokerto's Jenderal Soedirman University Rubiyanto Misman all said the proposed move was unnecessary. Yogyakarta Governor Sri Sultan Hamengkubuwono X also rejected the idea and said that even the timing of the move was wrong.

"The planned establishment of an armed civilian militia is not necessary," Edi told reporters after addressing a seminar on the threat of national disintegration. He said that existing security personnel were capable of maintaining law and order.

An armed militia would only create conflict among the people, he said, citing the bloody consequences of deploying vigilantes on the streets of Jakarta during last month's Special Session of the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR).

Hasnan Habib said: "Employing armed civilians would mean that the situation is really critical. Is our country really in such a bad state that it's (considered) necessary to pit civilians against civilians?" The three-star retired general said that the government should provide the public with complete details of the plan.

Rubiyanto said the government was "overacting", adding that the move would only lead to trouble. "Rather than improving security, it is more likely to make many people feel more insecure," he said on Friday.

Hamengkubuwono conceded there were legal grounds for the plan, but still disagreed with it. "This nation is currently embroiled in a number of conflicts and now is not the correct time to implement the plan," he told reporters in Yogyakarta on Friday.

Responding to the criticism, Governor of the National Resilience Institute (Lemhanas) Lt. Gen. Agum Gumelar said separately that the plan was still in a state of infancy. "It is still in a conceptual phase and the Armed Forces headquarters has not yet actually begun to recruit people," he told reporters at his office on Friday

The plan to establish a civilian militia was confirmed by Minister of Defense and Security/Armed Forces Commander Gen. Wiranto in a meeting with the chairman of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) Islamic organization Abdurrahman Wahid on Wednesday.

Wiranto said the establishment of a civilian militia was in accordance with Law No. 20/1982 on Security and Defense. Coordinating Minister for Political Affairs and Security Feisal Tanjung then hinted on Thursday the civilian militia might be armed.

This was contradicted on Friday by Maj. Gen. Sudi Silalahi, who is the Assistant for Sociopolitical Affairs to the Armed Forces Chief of Territorial Affairs. He said: "Who said they are going to be armed?" When told that it was Feisal, he retorted, 'Well, you ask him then."

Silalahi also dismissed the suggestion that establishing a militia would provoke clashes and deepen the conflicts gripping society. "Physical clashes will only result if the laws and regulations are violated," he said as quoted by Antara in Surabaya on Friday.

Former Jakarta Military commander Lt. Gen. A.M. Hendropriyono supported the plan. He said that other countries had civilian militias, pointing to the National Guard in the United States as an example.

Hendropriyono, who is now minister of transmigration, said the militia could be armed and given their own uniforms and ranks, but would still fall under the supervision of the Armed Forces headquarters.

He also said that the militia would have been established before the current social and political problems emerged had there been enough money in the budget. "Security is important and security can only be guaranteed if people protect their own property and uphold democracy," he told reporters after a meeting of several former Jakarta military commanders at Lemhanas here on Friday.

"The civilian militia would be a multi-purpose organization because it could be used to handle anarchic situations and unrest," he said, adding that companies of the militia would be stationed throughout the country, including at transmigration settlements.

Meanwhile, deputy chairman of the Crescent and Star Party (PBB) Hartono Mardjono said he wholeheartedly supported the establishment of a civilian militia. "It's the people who play both security and sociopolitical roles ... and they need to be trained to defend their country in abnormal situations."