Fri, 27 Jun 2003

Aceh off-limits to foreigners

Nani Farida, The Jakarta Post, Banda Aceh

The Aceh military authorities will curb the activities of foreigners in the province under a new decree announced on Thursday that bars the entrance of foreign tourists and restricts and controls the movements of foreign journalists and aid groups.

Aceh military administrator Maj. Gen. Endang Suwarya said the decree was aimed at ensuring the safety of foreigners in Aceh.

"All foreign nationals, foreign non-governmental organizations and correspondents of foreign media should heed the decree," he told reporters. "Those who violate it will face stiff penalties in line with the law," he added.

Endang said the decree was a follow up to last week's Presidential Decree No. 26 which also restricted war coverage by local journalists and the work of local aid groups.

The new decree, the sixth issued so far since Aceh came under martial law on May 19, further isolates the province from the rest of the world.

Its issuance will further heighten concern over the lack of transparency the military operation has been shrouded in since local journalists were barred from reporting GAM statements during the first weeks of the war.

The martial law administration has lambasted reports of rights abuses by the government-sanctioned National Commission of Human Rights (Komnas HAM), demanding it verify its reports with the military before making them public.

The sixth decree now bars the entrance of foreign tourists for as long as martial law remains effective, explained Endang.

Foreigners who are already in Aceh must report to the martial law administration and show a current work permit from the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights and their passports.

Their movements are restricted to the provincial capital Banda Aceh and the province's 15 regency capitals.

Endang said that foreigners holding work permits in Aceh must exit or reenter Aceh through Iskandar Muda Airport in Banda Aceh.

The decree also bans foreigners from providing any form of assistance to the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) separatists, against which Jakarta is waging war. It said foreigners must not spy, engage in political activities, communicate or provide aid to members of GAM or their supporters.

Foreigners must not speak to the press without a permit from the military administration.

Expatriates in the oil and gas industry are asked to report to the martial law administration. They must show their IDs, passports and their work contracts.

The natural-resource rich province is home to American based oil and gas company PT ExxonMobil Indonesia Inc., among others, which is developing the Arun gas fields for export and domestic use. Exxon's expatriates as with all foreigners in the oil and gas industry work under a contract with state owned oil and gas company Pertamina.

Meanwhile, foreign aid workers or organizations are banned from issuing any public statements without the consent of the martial law administration.

The decree also prohibits them from representing Indonesian aid groups in Aceh and bans any form of assistance for GAM.

As for bilateral or multilateral aid, the decree requires such assistance to comply with the government-sponsored humanitarian program.

Meanwhile, foreign journalists and correspondents for foreign media must report to the military if they change their residence in Aceh. They must report their move to the military post at the place they plan to leave and at their new residence.

The decree also suggested that the foreign journalists and correspondents travel accompanied by the police or the military.

Endang warned that foreigners who violate the decree must leave Aceh within 24 hours unless they have also broken the law, which means they would face legal charges here.

The new restrictions followed a string of incidents involving foreigners in Aceh.

American journalist William Nessen angered the Indonesian Military (TNI) as he had been covering the war from the rebels' perspective. He left GAM on Tuesday, and TNI has since been seeking charges to indict him.

Early on in the military operation, soldiers accidentally shot dead a German tourist and wounded his wife as they were camped on a beach at night.