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Timor's Guterres forms Papua militia

South China Morning Post - December 2, 2003

Marianne Kearney, Jakarta – A notorious East Timorese militia leader has formed a militia group in the mining town of Timika, a Papuan rights group reported yesterday.

Feared militia leader Eurico Guterres was sentenced to 10 years' jail in November last year for instigating attacks on pro-independence leaders during East Timor's bloody referendum in August 1999. He was released pending an appeal – which could take years – and formed the Laskar Merah Putih, or Red and White Warriors militia, last month, the Papuan rights group Elsham said.

"He has 200 members and they consist of refugees from Maluku, Timor and Sulawesi," said Elsham's head, Aloysius Renwarin.

"The Papuan community is afraid this group will be used to create a conflict," she added.

The 29-year-old militia leader was continuing to sign up members and had asked the local government in Timika to provide the group with an office, Ms Renwarin said.

The report came as a national police spokesman in Jakarta said yesterday that a former Indonesian head of police in East Timor, who has been acquitted of charges of gross rights violations, would head the force in the troubled province of Papua.

Inspector-General Timbul Silaen would replace Inspector-General Budi Utomo, who was taking the top police slot in East Kalimantan province, deputy police spokesman Sunarko Danu Ardanto said.

Inspector-General Silaen, 55, headed the Indonesian police in East Timor from June 1998 until September 1999, when unrest broke out after the pro-independence results of a UN-held poll were announced. He was acquitted of all charges of gross human rights violations and crimes against humanity in East Timor in 1999 by an ad-hoc Indonesian human rights court in August last year.

Guterres was given the harshest sentence ever handed out by the court for leading at least two violent attacks on pro-independence Timorese supporters in 1999.

The Red and White Warriors militia group, reportedly now led by Guterres, was formed by joining forces with Muslim militia groups, which consisted mainly of non-Papuan migrants who live in Papua, said Ms Renwarin.

Reports of Guterres' move to Papua and his training of militia had appeared in the Timika Post newspaper, according to Elsham. The organisation said it suspected Guterres might have the support of either the central government in Jakarta or local militias to intimidate Papuans who oppose their province being split into two or three.

"Most Papuans oppose the division of the province, so maybe he [Guterres] can influence the Papuan community not to oppose the division," said Ms Renwarin, who pointed out that Guterres had strong ties to President Megawati Sukarnoputri's Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, and was appointed head of one of her civilian security groups in 2000.

Jakarta has supported the division of the province because it is seen as a way of diluting the Papuan independence movement, analysts say. "People with a security-minded approach are very concerned about separatism and believe, mistakenly, that this is a way to combat it," said political analyst Kevin O'Rourke.

Papuans yesterday marked the 42nd anniversary of their failed declaration of independence. Since 1961, the armed Free Papua Movement has fought a sporadic guerilla war against the Indonesian military, which annexed Papua in 1962.

[Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse.]