Thu, 10 Jul 2003

GAM warns against rescue operation

Tiarma Siboro and A'an Suryana, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta/Lhokseumawe

The Free Aceh Movement (GAM) warned the military on Wednesday against using force to free five people -- including two journalists -- being held hostage by the rebels, saying any rescue operation would put the lives of the hostages at risk.

And in Lhokseumawe, Aceh, military operation spokesman Lt. Col. Achmad Yani Basuki said on Wednesday the separatist movement was holding another 39 hostages, including local village and district heads.

The GAM spokesman for the East Aceh regency, Tengku Mansur, told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday the release of the five hostages had been postponed indefinitely because "we learned the military has embarked on an offensive to rescue them".

"We had initially decided to release the captives, but had to postpone it due to a rescue operation being carried out by the military.

"One thing that they (the military) must understand is that we cannot guarantee the safety of these people should they continue the military offensive to free the hostages," Mansur said.

The military deadline for GAM to release the hostages lapsed on Tuesday at 6 p.m., without RCTI journalist Ersa Siregar and cameraman Ferry Santoro, driver Rachmansyah and two female companions being released by the rebels.

Mansur said the hostages had been moved to "another, safer place in Pidie regency".

Yani said the TNI had found the location where the hostages were being held, and that soldiers were just waiting for the right time to launch a rescue operation.

"We are waiting for the right moment, so that when we launch the attack there will be no civilian victims," Yani said.

A local GAM commander in East Aceh, Ishak Daud, confirmed on Wednesday that GAM was holding numerous other people beside Ersa and his four companions.

He said GAM fighters under his command were detaining 38 people in all, not 44 as suggested by the military.

"They are the three from RCTI, two wives of TNI officers, 32 village heads and one district chief," Ishak said via telephone.

Army chief Gen. Ryamizard Ryacudu, speaking in Jakarta, said the TNI was still responsible for the safety of the five civilians.

"But Ersa should take the initiative to contact the security authorities in Aceh, to let the soldiers know of their whereabouts and to enable them to launch a rescue operation," he said.

He promised the troops would do everything within their power to avoid civilian casualties in any rescue operation.

RCTI journalist Ersa, cameraman Fery Santoro and their three Acehnese companions have been in the hands of the rebels since they went missing on June 29.

Separately, Adj. Sr. Com. Eko Daniyanto, chief of the North Aceh Police, said journalists who met with Ersa last Sunday had been questioned about what they know of GAM's whereabouts.