Fri, 04 Jul 2003

GAM confirms guerrillas holding `RCTI' crew hostage

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The Free Aceh Movement (GAM) revealed on Thursday that it had taken an RCTI journalist and cameraman who have been missing for four days and spelled out that their release along with three other Acehnese would depend on the development of the military offensive in the restive province.

GAM spokesman in East Aceh Tengku Mansur told The Jakarta Post by telephone on Thursday that Erza Siregar, a senior journalist of the private TV station and its cameraman Ferry Santoro were "healthy and unharmed".

"Yes, both Erza and his team are currently with us. Thank God that they are healthy and unharmed. We are now holding five people, besides the RCTI journalist and cameraman, there are also a driver and two other local guides.

"We arrested them when they were on their way from Langsa (in East Aceh) to (the provincial capital of) Banda Aceh. Now they are with us here in our camp in the Peureulak area," said Mansur.

GAM rebels intercepted RCTI's Kijang minivan because "the local military and police frequently used press attributes (logos) in their intelligence operation," Mansur said without elaborating.

Mansur also said that they had received confirmation that the two local guides were wives of two Air Force soldiers in East Aceh, but guaranteed that "we are not going to harm them either".

Asked to comment on rumors that GAM had already demanded a high ransom for the captives release, Mansur said: "No, it's not true. We have never asked for compensation for the release of the TV crew members and the three others. But we have not decided whether or not to release them... Their release will depend on developments in the military operation here."

Meanwhile, spokesman for the Aceh military operation Lt. Col. A. Yani Basuki said that the military operation headquarters in Lhokseumawe, North Aceh, had not received information that the two local guides were the wives of Air Force personnel.

He said the intelligence unit at the headquarters was still seeking information on the abduction and on the two local guides.

"Up to now, we do not know whether GAM's claim about the two local guides is true or not. We are still seeking information," he told the Post.

Yani denied GAM's allegation that intelligence officers have been using press vehicles in their intelligence work.

Yani also said that the military was also waiting to see whether Erza and his team had the courage to inform them of their current position so that "we can help release them".

"Just like the case of (William) Nessen who finally informed us of his position, Erza and his team may be freed if they inform us of their position," he said.

Nessen, an American journalist who was stranded in a GAM stronghold in Nissam, North Aceh, was picked up by the military after he finally made contact with the local military.

The Aceh martial law administration is pressing charges against Nessen for visa violations.

On Thursday afternoon, Imam Wahjudi, a senior journalist with RCTI, said that he made telephone contact with Erza for three minutes.

Iman said, as was broadcasted by RCTI on Thursday, that Erza admitted he was fine and in good health.

Imam quoted Erza as saying that he was summoned by GAM and he and his cameraman were detained because they were traveling with two local women.

Mansur asserted that the two guides were suspected of spying for the military.

In the sixth week of the military operation, seven rebels and one soldier were killed in two separate gunfights in North Aceh early on Thursday.

The first gun contact occurred in Alue Mudik village, Sawang district, North Aceh on Thursday, killing five rebels and one Army soldier and injuring another Army personnel. The second gunfight happened in Nissam district where two rebels were shot dead and several rifles were confiscated from the rebels.

Another gunfight also occurred in Pulo Loh village in Pidie regency, killing a rebel who was a personal adjutant to GAM spokesman Sofyan Dawood.

In East Aceh, 21 more rebels surrendered voluntarily to the military. They will undergo intensive interrogation before being released.