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Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 November, 2003, 01:19 GMT
Aceh reporters 'intimidated'

By Rachel Harvey
BBC correspondent in Jakarta

Journalists covering the conflict in the Indonesian province of Aceh are being intimidated by both government troops and separatist rebels, according to a new report from the New York-based group Human Rights Watch.

Earlier this month, the Indonesian Government extended martial law in the province for another six months.

US journalist William Nissen
US journalist William Nissen was detained while working in Aceh
The government launched a military campaign in May to try to crush the rebels after the collapse of an internationally-backed ceasefire.

After widespread reports of abuses by the military in Aceh, access to the province has been heavily restricted.

Human Rights Watch accuses the Indonesian security forces in Aceh of intimidating journalists both verbally and physically.

The group says correspondents in the field have been arbitrarily detained, and in one case, a local radio reporter was beaten by soldiers from Indonesia's special forces.

Separatist rebels have also targeted the media. Two local journalists captured by rebels in June are still being held hostage, and clearly marked press vehicles have come under fire.

Human Rights Watch says allowing free access to the media in Aceh is crucial to provide some accountability for violations committed by both sides.

But with martial law in the province now extended for a further six months, it doesn't look as though media restrictions are going to be lifted any time soon.

Pressure on the Indonesian media has resulted in widespread self-censorship.

International diplomats, humanitarian agencies and the United Nations are all barred from working in Aceh and only foreign journalists based full-time in Jakarta are even allowed to apply for permission to visit the province.

If successful, they then have to promise not to contact the rebels.

Impartial, accurate information about what's happening in Aceh is increasingly hard to come by.

What's certain is that the casualty figures are rising on an almost daily basis.

What is not clear is precisely who's being killed and in what circumstances. Preventing journalists from covering the conflict properly merely heightens the suspicion that there's something to hide.




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