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Government approves recruitment of 40,000 militia

Associated Press - December 23, 1998 (abridged)

Jakarta – The government has approved a military plan to recruit civilians to help police fight crime in Indonesia, an official said Wednesday. Minister of Information Yunus Yosfiah said 40,000 civilians would be recruited in January and would be trained in all military training centers across the country.

He said Armed Forces chief General Wiranto has reported the plan to a meeting of Cabinet ministers dealing with security and political affairs. "The government has given its approval to the plan," Yosfiah said after the Cabinet meeting, presided over by President B.J. Habibie.

Yosfiah said the recruits would undergo four-month training until April. "Their task is to help the Indonesian police in safeguarding the people's environment, especially during the meetings of the People's Assembly,' Yosfiah said. He reasserted that the civilian militias would only help police instead of "defending the state."

Military chief Gen. Wiranto had suggested the controversial plan following near-daily protests in Jakarta and other cities mainly by students pressing for swifter democratic reform. Under the plan, as many 200,000 young, unemployed people might eventually be recruited for the group, dubbed "Ratih," an acronym for "Rakyat Terlatih," or trained people. They would be equipped with sticks, riot shields and handcuffs and will have powers of arrest.

Government critics and human rights activists have criticized the plan to establish a militia, arguing that the deployment of thousands of young men in the streets would only exacerbate unrest. There are fears of more unrest as newly formed political parties jostle for influence ahead of general elections scheduled for June.

Justice Minister Muladi has said that the government has drafted a law, to be submitted to Parliament next month, that would allow their formation.