Tue, 22 Aug 2000

131 fleeing Brimob members in Maluku named deserters

AMBON, Maluku (JP): Maluku Police chief Brig. Gen. Firman Gani declared on Monday that 131 officers of the elite Police Mobile Brigade (Brimob) were now deemed to be deserters for fleeing ravaged Ambon to Bali late in June.

"They left (Maluku) without giving any notice to me as their superior. Therefore I have declared them deserters," Firman said on the sidelines of a reconciliation meeting with youths of the Protestant Maranatha Church here on Monday afternoon.

According to Firman, who is also a former commander of Brimob, the deserters were serving in the Maluku Police stationed in Ambon. All of them are Balinese.

"Their duty is right here handling the conflict. They never reported their status to me and I only learned from the media that these troops were in Bali," Firman said.

Firman said stern measures will be taken against the police officers involved.

In line with the declaration of a state of civil emergency in Maluku and North Maluku on June 27, all military and police personnel who have been separated from their respective groupings must report their status to security posts or their units.

The deadline for this expired on July 1.

"They (the 131 Brimob troops) were supposed to be neutral, at least in ethnic and religious terms. I have asked the National Police to supply replacements for the deserters," Firman said.

The Brimob troops fled Ambon following a massive attack launched by heavily armed rioters on the police complex and arsenal in Tantui, Panggan Kasturi district, on June 21 and 22. At least six people, including local Brimob deputy chief Maj. Edi Sutanto, were killed in the assault.

Firman, however, admitted that the Tantui incident has dealt a major blow to police morale in Maluku. "But it doesn't give them the right to give up just like that," he said.


Meanwhile, civil emergency administrator Maluku Governor Saleh Latuconsina revealed on Monday that 39 refugees from the disputed Werinama and Tehoru villages have died in Manusela National Park, southern Seram Island, Central Maluku regency.

"Around 3,000 others are still stranded there. Most of the fatalities were those who were severely wounded in previous disturbances as well as those who have been exposed to extreme climatic conditions or who are suffering from starvation," Latuconsina said after receiving reports from the refugees.

Meanwhile, Antara reported on Monday that port officials in the North Sulawesi town of Bitung were still awaiting the arrival of the Supera I ferry which set sail from Ruba-Ruba village in Loloda district, North Halmahera, on Saturday.

"We fear for the safety of around 60 passengers, among whom are six Brimob personnel, as the ship does not have sufficient communications equipment. It was supposed to arrive in Bitung on Sunday," Udjud Sinen, logistics chief of PT Sindo Utama Ternate, a timber company which chartered the wooden boat, said as quoted by the news agency.

From the Hague, The Jakarta Post's special correspondent in the Netherlands Bob Mantiri reported that the Dutch government has decided to allow Maluku people who entered the country on a tourist visa to stay for longer than six months.

The decision, which concerns around 600 Maluku people who are now in the country, was made after a meeting between officials of the Interior and Justice Ministries in the Hague on Aug. 15.

The Dutch government is now working on a "temporary license" scheme for Maluku refugees.

Spokesman for the South Maluku Republic (RMS) separatist government John Watulete, however, said that the majority of Maluku people wish to go back to their homeland once the situation is back to normal.

"They do not want to stay here (in the Netherlands) permanently," he said. (49/edt)