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Military forges ahead with militia

Agence France Presse - December 13, 1998

Jakarta – The Indonesian military is forging ahead with a plan to set up civilian militia to help police maintain law and order, armed forces chief General Wiranto said Sunday.

An initial 40,000 civilians would be recruited under the "Rakyat terlatih" (trained civilian) scheme "to be assigned in security disturbance-prone areas," he added.

The militia, to be known by its acronym Ratih, would "have a legal legitimacy, will be authorized to arrest (people), handcuff them and report them" to the authorities, Wiranto said at a press conference here.

It would also be authorized to take information from suspects, an authority so far held by the police detective unit. "It will assist in police matters ... it will reinforce national security and the upholding of law," Wiranto said.

However, he sought to reassure the public, saying the force "will not be armed with weapons" but would be equiped with shields and batons. "There is no ground for worries," he said, referring to concerns aired by many the militia might only be used for certain political interests.

"It is also not true that the Ratih will be used to fight against the people itself and it is not true that its orientation will be to assist certain political forces, but its orientation is to help create safety and a sense of safety amid the population."

Critics of the scheme have also expressed concern an armed militia would only heighten tension and violence in the country, which has been wracked by rioting, clashes and protests in recent months. Many have also accused the security authorities of reacting too late to incidents of violence and of not being able to curb the spread of rioting when it happens.

The capital, where a large concentration of security forces are based, has since last month seen deadly clashes between soldiers and students, looting, violent brawls between neighbourhoods and an anti-Christian rampage which left scores dead and several buildings, including 22 churches, burned or damaged.

Wiranto did not say when the establishment of the force would begin, adding "the process will soon be enforced with recruitment, selections and training." He said it was hoped the militia would be "effective" in January. Military sources said the force will be trained for two weeks, to be followed by a yet undetermined on-site training period. Wiranto added the formation of the civilian militia was in line with the constitution and a 1982 law on citizens' defence duties.

"There is nothing wrong with involving society in the defence of the country," he said. "The negative excesses can be neutralized by regulations ... people will also be able to give inputs," he added.

In most countries the ratio of police personnel to the total population stood at one to 300, Wiranto added. But in Indonesia there were 200,000 police against a population of more than 200 million, a ratio of one to 1,000.

Wiranto said the civilian militia could be trained at a rate of 40,000 new members a year. He added the establishment of the militia would also alleviate Indonesia's chronic unemployment problem, with many thrown out of work by a crippling economic crisis. Labour experts have said the number of unemployed in Indonesia will reach about 20 million this year, or close to 20 percent of the workforce.

Armed Forces spokesman Brigadier General Syamsul Ma'rief said Friday the Ratih was needed "to help assure security, especially during the upcoming elections, as the number of our police force is very limited." Ma'rief said civilians had been used to help maintain security in previous elections.

The army came under strong criticism from human rights groups here and abroad last month when it used 125,000 civilians, many of them from groups with reputations for violence and thuggery, to bost security at a legislative assembly session in Jakarta last month. Many of the volunteers cruised the city in convoys of buses, threatening civilians with sharpened bamboo stakes and knives.

In central Java, village vigilante groups set up with the approval of local security authorities to counteract a wave of mysterious killings this year have lynched, burned and beheaded strangers.