Sat, 21 Jun 2003

Military limits media coverage in Aceh

Tiarma Siboro, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The martial law administration in Aceh has moved to tighten control over media reporting on the current military operation in the troubled province with defiant journalists facing the threat of expulsion from the area.

In new regulations on press coverage issued on Friday, authorities in Aceh banned the press from publishing the names of places where government troops were positioned, military maps or sketches, and the names of aircraft and ships used during offensive operations.

The military also required field reporters to record all interviews with soldiers in the field, including interviews with Air Force pilots, and marines, and "journalists can only publish or broadcast excerpts of the interviews after the missions in question have been carried out."

Aceh Military Operation spokesman Lt. Col. A. Yani Basuki stressed on Friday that the military authorities had the right to expel journalists violating the regulations.

"The new regulations are aimed at saving the lives of soldiers and journalists covering the war in Aceh. Should journalists violate the regulations, they will be expelled from the province," Yani told reporters in Lhokseumawe.

The new regulations come after a TVRI cameraman, Jamaluddin, was found dead on Tuesday, almost one month after he went missing.

Military authorities are also trying to persuade American freelance journalist William Nessen to leave the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) rebel group, ostensibly to avoid him being hit during military operations. Nessen, a 46-year-old New York City native, said he was in Aceh to report on the latest military offensive to crush the Free Aceh Movement. More than 200 people have died in the fighting since the operation began on May 19.

Nessen said he was there to gather information for a book and a documentary on Aceh. He added that he had not published stories or photographs on the conflict for some time because he had lost his laptop and other possessions.

The new guidelines also ban the press from disseminating military codewords and require TV cameramen to turn off their lighting equipment during night operations, unless the commander of the military unit allows them to keep it on.

At the beginning of the operation, the military leadership appealed to the press to take the national interest into account when reporting on the military campaign in Aceh, where GAM rebels have been fighting for independence for the resource-rich province since 1976. Over 10,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed since then.

TNI headquarters recently said that it would change its strategy so as to intensify night operations in Aceh in an attempt, so the military says, to curb the number of civilian casualties.

The military has been criticized for using sophisticated F-16 jet fighters to drop bombs and rockets on rebel positions.

Strong criticism also came from the British after the military used British-made Hawks to drop subsonic bombs that exploded over civilian-populated areas.

"The press is also prohibited from disclosing intelligence information on the military's technical activities and tactics, internal procedures, latest operations, and enemy propaganda," Yani said, referring to the Free Aceh Movement.

Despite severe restrictions, journalists may report rough approximations of the military's strength and the identities of the military units involved in individual operations "if this does not jeopardize the operations."

"Journalists also are allowed to disclose the existence of enemy camps that have been targeted by the military," Yani said, as quoted by Antara. Protest -- Page 3