Mon, 07 Jul 2003

GAM ignores ultimatum on hostages

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Despite an Indonesian Military (TNI) ultimatum, the separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM) says it will not release a television news crew and two women they had detained.

TNI chief Gen. Endriartono Sutarto said in Lhokseumawe, North Aceh, on Sunday that GAM had until Tuesday 6 p.m. to release the five people or face attack.

GAM spokesman for Aceh Timur regency Ishak Daud told The Jakarta Post by phone that they were still questioning the group and had no plans to release them in the near future.

Senior RCTI reporter Ersa Siregar, cameraman Ferry Santoro, a driver and two women, said to be the wives of military officials, were captured by GAM on June 29.

Ishak said the five were healthy and unharmed.

"Actually, RCTI people had just met them, and we assured them that the crew will remain unharmed with us."

The Post could not contact RCTI deputy chief editor Imam Wahyudi, who went to Aceh to secure the release of the hostages.

The military found the minivan used by the RCTI crew at a palm oil plantation in the Peurelak Regency on Saturday, the same day military authorities issued an ultimatum for the journalists to leave GAM's hideout.

The Indonesian Press Council and the Indonesian Television Journalist Association (IJTI) criticized the ultimatum, saying it made no sense as the RCTI crew were hostages.

Indonesian Press Council chairman Atmakusumah Astraatmadja said it was impossible for the journalists to comply.

IJTI secretary general Syaerrahman Al-Banjary told RCTI that the ultimatum should be directed at GAM.

IJTI also urged the military to continue pursuing peaceful solutions to the crisis.

Ishak said the television crew were suspected of having close relations with the military as they were traveling with the wives of two TNI officers.

"We will let our commanders decide on the fate of these hostages," Ishak said.