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Habibie defends civilian militia

Agence France Presse - January 5, 1999

Jakarta – Indonesian President B.J. Habibie Tuesday defended a much-criticized government plan to raise a 40,000-strong civilian militia saying it was urgently needed to uphold law and security.

He also said the 40,000 fell far short of what the country really needed. "Considering the urgency of the need to uphold the law and create a feeling of security in the society, there is a need to involve the concrete participation of the people ... in efforts to defend the nation," Habibie said.

In a wide-ranging draft budget speech, Habibie told parliament the militia, known as the People's Security (Kamra), would bolster the over-stretched police force.

"The setting up of the Kamra, using a strict selection criteria, will also provide temporary employment for job-seekers whose numbers have been on the rise because of layoffs," Habibie said.

"There is a (growing) tendency for the weakening of the respect of legal principles and an increase in violations of the law by people, especially as a result of the economic crisis," Habibie said.

"Law enforcement officials should take a clear and firm stand ... and the people should also step up awareness of their rights and responsibilities in upholding the law."

Habibie said a 40,000 militia was urgently needed, but a 70,000- strong militia within two years would be better, bringing the ratio of police to the population from 1:1,100 to 1:750. The ideal ratio, if compared to developed countries, was around 1:300, he added.

Finance Minister Bambang Subianto, in a budget briefing Monday, said the government was setting aside 300 billion rupiah (40 million dollars) to train the civilian militia but gave no further details.

The militia scheme was first aired by military chief General Wiranto in December but received stiff opposition with critics who said that far from relieving social tensions it would worsen them. A draft bill allowing the army to form the military will be submitted to parliament this month, Justice Minister Muladi has said.

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 boost security at a legislative assembly session in Jakarta.

Many of the volunteers cruised the city in convoys of buses, threatening civilians with sharpened bamboo stakes and knives, sparking clashes with students and civilians during which at least four of the militiamen were killed.