Wiranto defends use of vigilantes


The villagers who have been helping to provide security for the special MPR session are only exercising their rights as citizens, he says

INDONESIAN armed forces chief General Wiranto yesterday defended the use of civilian volunteers to provide security against “forces of anarchy” out to disrupt the special session of the People’s Consultative Assembly.

Brushing aside criticism from several quarters here, he said that the 125,000 volunteers, many of them villagers from out of Jakarta, were only exercising their rights as citizens.

“What? They want to keep things safe and and you say they should not be allowed to do that,” he told reporters on the sidelines of the MPR meeting.

He warned that if there was no security at all, the four-day session which will pass new political laws ahead of a general election next year, could fail and embarrass Indonesia internationally.

Gen Wiranto, who is also Defence Minister, described anti-government supporters as “forces of anarchy” and vowed that the volunteers will not be using bamboo poles and other forms of weapons anymore.

Jakarta police chief Nugroho went a step further yesterday by declaring that the frontline volunteer forces would be pulled out from the Parliament area.

“We will take them out because they could endanger the safety of other civilians,” he said, adding that that they would be assigned to protect shopping centres and offices.

He said that he had also ordered the police to strip the vigilantes of all their weapons “because the law forbids them to bring objects that could endanger other people”.

He was referring to some 125,000 civilian volunteers deployed by the security authorities to back up some 16,000 soldiers and police mobilised in Jakarta to ensure order during the special session of the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR).

But the deployment of the young, unruly stick-wielding volunteers has come under increasing criticism.

Critics include opposition politicians such as Mr Amien Rais and the ruling Golkar party who have hit out against the use of villagers as they appeared to be causing greater problems.

Student protesters have already clashed with them in several locations.

On Tuesday, about 2,000 civilians transported in 14 trucks and armed with spears and machetes confronted students in the city, chasing the latter to the national monument.

The volunteers, who went around the city in trucks, were armed with bamboo staves, some of them sharpened at the end.

They were seen yelling insults at and throwing rocks at student protesters and on several occasions hitting civilians.

In another area, students and locals joined forces to fight the volunteers, injuring some in the process.

Security in the capital appeared to be under control yesterday except for a tense faceoff between pro-government supporters and about 3,000 students in central Jakarta.

Abri spokesman Major-General Syamsul Muarif, told The Straits Times that there were groups out to disrupt the special session.

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