Thu, 03 Jul 2003

Fate of `RCTI' crew missing in Aceh remains unclear

Tiarma Siboro and Nani Farida, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta/Banda Aceh

The fate of private television station RCTI journalist Erza Siregar and cameraman Ferry Santoro remained unclear on Wednesday with both the Indonesian Military (TNI) and separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM) denying responsibility for their disappearance.

Dicky Martiaz of RCTI Jakarta office said his office had tried to contact some GAM leaders to ask if they knew of the journalists' whereabouts, but were told that "they (GAM leaders) too are looking for the missing crew."

Erza and Ferry went missing on the way back to Lhokseumawe after visiting Langsa in North Aceh on Sunday afternoon.

RCTI Jakarta office had sent letters to security authorities in Jakarta and Aceh asking for help to search for the journalists.

"Up until now we have no information about our two crew members. We have tried to make contact with GAM leaders to ascertain whether they were aware of the presence of Erza and Ferry, but they told us that they were also trying to find the two," Dicky told The Jakarta Post, adding that the effort to contact GAM rebels was due to rumors that Erza and Ferry had been kidnapped by the rebels.

"We've been informed by fellow journalists in Aceh that soldiers stationed in East Aceh have also traced the route where the RCTI van was believed to have passed before they went missing," Dicky added.

The Jakarta office sent letters to security authorities on Wednesday, including the office of Coordinating Minister for Political and Security Affairs, the TNI Headquarters, the National Police Headquarters, as well as military authorities in Aceh, requesting help to find the crew members.

Erza, Ferry, their driver, and two local guides left Lhokseumawe on Sunday morning in a Kijang minivan. Late in the afternoon, Erza contacted other RCTI journalists informing them that his team was leaving Langsa and hoped to arrive in Lhokseumawe by around 8 p.m.

But the team never showed up. They are believed to have disappeared in the Peureulak district in East Aceh regency.

"We have informed Erza's wife, as well as Ferry's parents, telling them not to worry. We are all hoping for the best for Erza and Ferry," Dicky said.

Responding to the disappearance of the RCTI crew, the martial law administrator Maj. Gen. Endang Suwarya urged journalists covering the war in Aceh to coordinate with security officers to avoid any untoward incidents.

"We are urged to give freedom to the press covering the military operation here, but for their own security, we (security officers) also require journalists to maintain coordination with us," Endang said.

Endang further urged journalists to make daily reports to the security officers on the location and type of events they wished to cover.

TNI chief Gen. Endriartono Sutarto also expressed a similar view, asking journalists covering the war in Aceh "to stick to the TNI".

"It will be difficult for us to protect journalists if they do not join the TNI embedded program," Endriartono said as quoted by Antara.