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Broader Coverage On Aceh Demanded

Broader Coverage On Aceh Demanded

By Tony Hotland

JAKARTA (Jakarta Post Online/Pacific Media Watch): The Indonesian government's restrictions on press coverage of Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam may lead to international intervention in the province on suspicions of human rights abuses, which could subsequently result in its seceding from Indonesia, a Press Council member warns.

Speaking at a discussion here on Thursday, Sabam Leo Batubara said a scenario similar to the breaking away of East Timor from Indonesia in 1999 could also occur in Aceh if the country and its press overlooked the war-torn province.

"What happened with East Timor and Bosnia are good examples showing that the issue of human rights abuse can no longer be kept within one's country, and has become a global issue.

"If the international community or the United Nations suspects human rights abuses, they can halt the aid we're depending on and make inquiries into a referendum. Then, we may lose Aceh," said Leo.

Indonesia lost East Timor when more than 75 percent of East Timorese voted against the special autonomy offered by Jakarta in a UN-sponsored referendum. The referendum was held to end the prolonged conflict and alleged human rights abuses by pro-Indonesia forces in the region.

Non-governmental organization Aceh News Watch recently reported on the diminishing press coverage on the continuing military operation in Aceh, and international human rights groups have branded the conflict in Aceh "a secret war" due to prevailing suspicions of unchecked gross human rights violations and the lack of access to information on the situation in the province.

TransTV news producer Satrio Arismunandar confirmed that the press restrictions for Aceh had contributed to the overall decrease in press coverage of the conflict there.

"It dissuades journalists from reporting news about the situation in Aceh. Financial concerns also play big role in this, as well as the emergence of other national issues like the general elections and the dengue fever outbreak.

"For most media, sending crews there is very costly, while our audience is getting bored of news on Aceh. It requires a commitment from all media shareholders to reconstruct the ideals of the press to deal with this issue," he said.

Satrio predicted news on Aceh would possibly make headlines again in May, when the military operation is slated to end a year after its imposition.

Leo demanded that the government revoke the draconian Law No. 23/1959 on emergency, which provided the legal basis for limiting the movement of press in Aceh.

The government should enforce Press Law No. 40/1999 and the newly amended Constitution favoring freedom of the press, instead of relinquishing from journalists their task to disseminate balanced news, he said.

"The (emergency) law was enacted under a regime that did not recognize freedom of speech. Besides, it's against the Constitution and the Press Law," he said.

He also suggested that the Indonesian Military focus on winning the hearts and minds of the Acehnese to prevent disintegration, in the event that a referendum was arranged.

President Megawati Soekarnoputri declared martial law in Aceh on May 19, 2003 to allow for a major offensive, dubbed the integrated operation, against Free Aceh Movement (GAM) separatists.

International donors have expressed concern over the conflict and have encouraged the warring parties to return to the negotiating table.



PACIFIC MEDIA WATCH is an independent, non-profit, non-government organisation comprising journalists, lawyers, editors and other media workers, dedicated to examining issues of ethics, accountability, censorship, media freedom and media ownership in the Pacific region. Launched in October 1996, it has links with the Journalism Program at the University of the South Pacific, Bushfire Media based in Sydney, Journalism Studies at the University of PNG (UPNG), the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism (ACIJ), Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand, and Community Communications Online (c2o).

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