Indonesia fails to disarm militias by deadline

Any crackdown on the armed gangs, which have largely failed to hand over weapons voluntarily, will wait until after Jakarta gives orders to do so.

Indonesia yesterday failed to meet its deadline to disarm Timorese militias, despite increasing international pressure on Jakarta to rein in the army gangs.

Police sources in the border town of Atambua said that security forces were still carrying out shack-to-shack searches for weapons using metal detectors.

“We have not recovered all the weapons,” a police officer there, who declined to be named, told The Straits Times. “So far it is voluntary. We will continue searching for the arms but we won’t apply force unless the government asks us to do so.”

The military indicated earlier that it would arrest the militiamen and confiscate their weapons from yesterday if they ignored Wednesday’s deadline for a voluntary handover.

Reports suggested that military and police personnel were already beginning to crack down on the militiamen. But sources in Atambua said this would not happen until today after the local military command received its orders from Jakarta.

Several ministers yesterday met chief Security Minister Bambang Yudhoyono to discuss the problem.

The first phase of the disarmament drive, during which the militiamen were ordered to surrender their arms voluntarily, ended on Wednesday.

The head of the United Nations mission in East Timor, Mr Sergio Vieira de Mello, described the first phase as “pathetic”. Meanwhile, the Atambua police source said that security personnel had not experienced any problems seizing the weapons from the militiamen.

“We would prefer if they handed in the guns themselves,” he added.

Militia leader Joao Tavares, who oversaw the handover of six guns in Atambua, told reporters: “We do not have any more weapons.

“If people do not believe this, just search the refugee camps.

“By all means, frisk us. They can start with me.”

The authorities say the militias have handed in more than 1,000 guns, but they are mostly crude, handmade weapons. Sources said the military search had yet to recover more modern makes, such as AK-47s, which are reportedly used by the notorious Aitarak militia that is responsible for much of the violence in the area.

General Bambang warned that the militias faced “strong action” if they did not relinquish their weapons. “If there are any who refuse to abide by the government’s request to give up their arms, the police will carry out their legal duties,” he said.

He did not define what type of action would be taken, but observers said he was referring to a threat to use force.

Yet it is hard to envisage the military using force against pro-Jakarta militias which they backed for years.

Several analysts believe that the threat of force, which is being echoed by the police and military commanders down the line, is more for show than anything else.

And even if Jakarta were to seize several weapons now, it is likely that militiamen would still receive arms supplies through another military channel that is willing to back them secretly.

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