Tue, 24 Jun 2003

Aceh military tells foreign journalists to leave the province

Berni K. Moestafa, The Jakarta Post, Lhokseumawe, Aceh

The Indonesian Military (TNI) has asked foreign and Indonesian journalists working for foreign media to temporarily leave Aceh, following a recent presidential decree that restricts foreign news coverage of the ongoing operation to crush separatists.

Aceh military operation spokesman Lt. Col. Achmad Yani Basuki said on Monday that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had ordered the eviction of all foreign media workers.

While the martial law administration in Aceh may control how the media cover the war, Yani said that the "foreign media are regulated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs."

Unlike at the start of the war, only a few foreign journalists remain in Aceh in the fifth week of the military operation, which began on May 19.

Among the most recent to leave was Jeong Moon-tae from the South Korean weekly news magazine The Hankyoreh21. He left for the North Sumatra capital Medan on Monday, a day earlier than he had planned although it was not immediately clear whether he had been asked to leave Aceh as well.

Two Indonesians working for foreign media have also stopped working in Aceh. Tarmizy Harva, the Aceh photo correspondent for Reuters, said he was told to leave his home soil on Sunday.

"What confuses me is that it's not clear what administrative requirements I must complete," said Tarmizy adding that he would go to Medan, North Sumatra, and plan to return as soon as possible.

Also unclear is the fate of the local correspondents who participated in the four-day TNI training program to cover the war in Aceh.

Yani said that the details on the implementation of the presidential decree were being drafted.

"We will elaborate the policy in the near future," he said.

The decree further restricts exposure of the war to the international community after Indonesia denied access to foreign rights groups and aid organizations into the province.

According to Presidential Decree No. 43/2003, which was issued last week, all foreign journalists covering events in Aceh should obtain permits from the Indonesian foreign ministry.

The ministry's director for media relations, Wahid Supriyadi, said on Monday that the decree authorized his directorate to issue permits to "selected" foreign journalists.

"The decree also stipulates that foreign journalists must be responsible for their own safety during their coverage of Aceh," Wahid told The Jakarta Post.

He said, however, that the decree did not stipulate that the foreign journalists already in Aceh must leave the province temporarily.

"The previous permit from us mentioned the length of stay for the journalists, so they only have to leave once the permit is out of date," the official said.

Wahid also disclosed that after the issuance of the presidential decree, his directorate would limit the length of stay of each accredited foreign journalist in Aceh to one month.

"The procedure is that they have to submit the application, assignment letter from their office and their stay permit in Indonesia to our directorate," he said.

The decree was issued as the TNI was urging American freelance journalist William Nessen, who was covering the war from the side of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM), to leave the rebels.

Nessen, however, has not appeared, although he said he wanted to leave GAM but feared for his safety if the TNI got hold of him. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ryamizard Ryacudu has suggested the American journalist was engaged in espionage.