APSN Banner

Wiranto plan for 'bamboo militia' frozen

Reuters - December 19, 1998

Jakarta – The military, stung by fierce criticism, yesterday put on hold plans for a 40,000-member "bamboo militia" many fear would be nothing more than state-sanctioned thugs.

Armed forces chief General Wiranto would delay raising the civilian force, armed with bamboo shields and sticks, because of the public outcry and questions about its legality, forces spokesman Colonel Panggih said.

Despite problems with previous civil forces, General Wiranto wanted the militia to support the over-stretched police force during what is expected to be a bloody campaign for the June 7 national elections in the world's fourth most populous country.

"General Wiranto delayed the recruitment in order to avoid controversy in the community," Colonel Panggih said. "He wanted to ease public concern and ensure the legality of the force before implementing the scheme."

Human rights and other groups criticised the militia idea, which followed the widely decried use of non-military personnel last month to protect a special session of the country's top legislative body. And Justice Minister Muladi warned earlier this week that the militia would be unconstitutional until a special regulation was passed to allow its creation.

General Wiranto and senior officials argue that the 200,000- strong police force lacked the resources to maintain law and order in this nation of 200 million people during the election campaign. "Wiranto has a point – the police are just too thin on the ground to be able to maintain control without some help," a Western diplomat said.

"This could work. They need to do something. But the danger is that they won't be able to control the militia; they'll just become a bunch of thugs who are seen to have the Government's backing." The diplomat and others also point out that the military has trouble controlling its own ranks.

More than 170 soldiers have been disciplined for their actions in recent clashes with student protesters that left many dead. The military also was embarrassed after hiring civilians, many armed with sharpened bamboo sticks, to help its defence of November's special session of the People's Consultative Assembly in Jakarta, the focus of mass protests.

Many of the civilians, brought in from outside the capital, ended up accosting passers-by and were generally seen as little more than thugs who posed their own threat to law and order.

Indonesia's national human rights body and the Catholic church have bowed out of a state security council announced last week by President Bacharuddin Habibie, saying they thought their membership was inappropriate, reports said yesterday.