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Last Updated: Wednesday, 6 August, 2003, 10:15 GMT 11:15 UK
US reporter tells of life in Aceh
American journalist, William Nessen
William Nessen was deported from Aceh after 40 days in jail
The military crackdown in the troubled Indonesian province of Aceh is not going as well as Indonesian officials claim, according to a US journalist recently deported from the province.

"The picture that I have is somewhat different to that on Indonesian TV," William Nessen told the BBC's World Today programme.

"It was almost as if I was in a different place," he said.

Despite reports of rebel casualty figures far outstripping those of the military, Mr Nessen said: "I saw a lot of losses among the Indonesian military, and not that many guerrillas being killed."

The military said on Monday that at least 612 rebels had been killed since the crackdown began on 19 May, with the loss of only 53 troops and police.

I saw great optimism and determination among the guerrillas, and in the villages among ordinary people
William Nessen

Mr Nessen was able to gain rare access to life in Aceh, when he spent three weeks with rebel fighters from the Free Aceh Movement (Gam) - the separatist movement which the government hopes to crush.

His time with Gam came to an end on 24 June, when he was caught by the army, charged with immigration offences, and sentenced to more than a month in an Indonesian jail, before being deported from the country on Monday.

The Indonesian authorities have imposed strict restrictions on media access in Aceh since the military offensive began.

Civilian suffering

Mr Nessen said that the Achenese population were suffering heavily under the military crackdown, with the army resettling hundreds of people into refugee camps in order to keep tighter control on the population.

"The Indonesian strategy now is to occupy every village in Aceh if they can," he said. "People are terrified."

Mr Nessen also said the army was restricting the amount of food available to the civilian population.

"People can't buy even enough food to feed their families, because the Indonesian military is concerned that people will give some of their rice or their cigarettes to the guerrillas," he said.

He also accused the military of restricting the local population's freedom of movement.

"You can't go from village to village without a permit from the head of the village, and every day the head of the village has to give copies of these to the Indonesian military," he said.

The rebels were more hard-pressed than ever before, he said, and many had been pushed higher and higher into the hills.

But he said that they rarely went far from the villages, as it was vital for the guerrillas to stay close to the general population, because that was the way they got information about army movements.

Despite all the restrictions placed upon them, Mr Nessen seemed to indicate that both the rebels and the Achenese were by no means ready to give up.

"I saw great optimism and determination among the guerrillas, and in the villages among ordinary people, that one day they would have their own country," he said.

William Nessen
"People are terrified"


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