Thu, 03 Jul 2003

Mega criticized over her comments on armed militias

Tiarma Siboro, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Experts criticized President Soekarnoputri on Wednesday for supporting the establishment of citizens' defense groups, saying that such moves would only heighten fanaticism and the culture of violence in society.

Sociologist Iman B. Prasodjo from the University of Indonesia said the establishment of armed civilian groups had triggered violence in society as such groups tended to repress the people, rather than protect them.

"I suggest the President proposes the establishment of boy scout units rather than vigilante groups because the former promote humanism," Iman told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday.

Imam expressed worries that the establishment of militias would create fertile ground for gangsters and thugs, who throughout Indonesian history have often ended up controlling such groups.

He further warned that the formation of such groups could lead to the disintegration of the country should they be based on religion, race or geographical territory.

On Thursday, Megawati defended the existence of armed civilian groups, arguing that they helped protect the people from lawlessness, especially in conflict-torn areas.

Many believe that the military is backing the existence of militias in several conflict areas in the country, such as Aceh. Critics have said that these armed civilian groups have only led to worsening security in the areas where they operate.

Megawati claimed the presence of civilian armed groups was mandated by Article 30 of the newly amended 1945 Constitution. This article says the country applies a defense system that is based on popular participation.

She made it clear that the existence of these civilian defense groups or militias would allow the police to focus on other, more pressing problems.

Her remarks contradicted the recent white paper on defense strategy, which called for the dissolution of all militias, especially armed groups.

The presence of armed civilian groups, according to the white paper, will only destroy order in the country.

The white paper was authored by the Ministry of Defense, and was published in April this year.

Criminologist Purnianti voiced a similar view, saying that the allocation of security duties among the military, police and the militias would only create public distrust and threaten the country's national defense.

"Public participation does not mean that the government has the authority to mobilize people to take over security duties," Purnianti told the Post.

Minister of Defense Matori Abdul Djalil and the Indonesian Military (TNI) chief Gen. Endriartono Sutarto had previously called for the dissolution of armed civilian groups, including those associated with political parties, saying that their presence provided no benefit to the country.