Sun, 02 Feb 2003

27 soldiers desert after being denied Ambon job

Yemris Fointuna The Jakarta Post Kupang, East Nusa Tenggara

At least 27 soldiers were detained for desertion from the Naibonat Military Headquarters in East Nusa Tenggara province, a local military officer said on Thursday.

The runaway troops, all Ambonese, fled the headquarters on Jan. 26 after being told they would not join a deployment of soldiers to their war-torn homeland of Maluku.

Captain Longginus Lelo, spokesman for the Kupang Wirasakti Military Command in East Nusa Tenggara, said the 27 soldiers were found at the home of an Ambonese man who resides in Kupang.

The deserting soldiers had been members of Maluku's Pattimura Military Command, but were assigned to the Udayana Military Command overseeing East Nusa Tenggara and Bali when the religious conflict first erupted in the Maluku islands in 1999, Longginus said.

"Based on our investigation, the 27 soldiers left the Naibonat headquarters because of their disappointment over their commander's decision to exclude them from assignments in Maluku and North Maluku," Longginus told The Jakarta Post.

He said that under the military regulations, troops from conflict-torn regions were not allowed to serve in their hometowns, which is meant to ensure the impartiality of the military in these areas.

Longginus said local military authorities would decide on the punishment for the 27 soldiers.

"Because they committed a disciplinary offense, the sanction will be to hold them for 20 days," he said.

Meanwhile, Longginus said three senior Army officers, led by former Udayana Military Command chief Maj. Gen. Adam Damiri, visited the Wirasakti Military Headquarters in Kupang on Thursday to inspect and brief the more than 300 soldiers who will be deployed to Maluku.

The troops have undergone special training for their assignment in the province, where some 6,000 people have been killed in three years of fighting between Muslims and Christians, Longginus said.

A peace deal was signed in February 2002 to end the violence. While the deal has significantly reduced the conflict, violent attacks continue to take place sporadically.

Over the course of the conflict there have been accusations of the security forces taking sides in the violence and worsening the situation.