Thu, 26 Jun 2003

Govt to restrict foreign activists in war-torn Aceh

Tiarma Siboro The Jakarta Post Jakarta

The Ministry of Justice and Human Rights is drafting tough regulations to limit the presence of foreign non-governmental organization (NGO) activists in Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam, further closing the province to independent scrutiny.

The regulations, which only allow activists to stay in the war-torn province for 14 days and a maximum extension of 30 days depending on the approval of the martial law administration, follow a presidential decree restricting foreigners' activities.

Ministry director general Iman Santoso said foreign activists could only enter the province through the capital of Banda Aceh and must immediately report themselves to the local immigration office as well as to the police.

"The Ministry will issue permits to foreign activists to visit Aceh province by examining their organizations and their terms of stay.

"During their presence there, we, along with the military authorities, will also monitor their activities to determine whether they violate the conditions stipulated in the permit or not.

"They also have to inform the Ministry on the amount of funds to be donated to local people," Iman said after chairing a meeting on Aceh issues at the Office of the Coordinating Minister for Political and Security Affairs on Wednesday.

The government will likely only allow foreign NGOs dealing with humanitarian issues to visit Aceh, while others have reportedly been involved in "sponsoring secessionist movements in Aceh as well as the country's other regions, including Papua."

Iman, however, said the government had yet to reregister foreign NGOs concerned with Aceh issues.

Present at the meeting were officials from related ministries, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and National Police.

Last week, President Megawati Soekarnoputri issued a decree that restricts foreigners from traveling to Aceh during implementation of martial law to "prevent foreigners from becoming victims in the Aceh conflict."

The decree also stipulates that the government will supervise the presence of foreign activists and journalists to promote "transparency" during the ongoing military operation.

Foreigners must secure a permit from the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights should they insist on traveling to the restive province.

NGO activists must obtain a permit from the Office of the Coordinating Minister for People's Welfare while journalists, including locals working as correspondents for foreign media, need to obtain a permit from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The restrictions come after two German tourists were shot, one of them fatally, two weeks after Jakarta imposed martial law in Aceh on May 19. On Tuesday, American freelance journalist William Nessen gave up to Indonesian authorities after embedding himself with the rebel's without obtaining government permission.

Three journalists working for foreign media have been expelled from the province by the military.

"The regulation will come into effect soon after the Minister signs the decree," Iman said, referring to Yusril Ihza Mahendra.