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Indonesia 30 December 2003

Journalist held hostage for six months killed in a clash at Aceh

Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières) deplores the death of journalist Ersa Siregar, held hostage by rebels for six months before being killed in a clash between his captors and soldiers in Aceh Province, in the north of Sumatra island on 29 December.

Siregar, a reporter for the private television channel Rajawali Citra Televisi (RCTI), was found dead after an exchange of fire in the east of the province between the Indonesian military and rebels of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM). The separatists had held the journalist and two members of his crew hostage since June.

Journalists have been paying a high price for covering the conflict in Aceh after the province was subjected to martial law on 19 May. Reporters Without Borders called on the combatants to take steps to ensure the safety and freedom of movement of journalists in the region. The international press freedom said it strongly regretted the fact that the government had not listened to the recommendations of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the Jakarta-based Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) which had negotiated with GAM for the release of Siregar and his crew.

The 52-year-old journalist had worked for RCTI television since 1993. He was taken hostage on 29 June, with his cameraman Fery Santoro and their driver in the Peureulak district of Aceh, by rebels who accused them of "spying". Since then a number of Indonesian journalists and human rights organisations had attempted to bring the hostage crisis to an end. On 4 November, around 100 journalists demonstrated in front of the political affairs and security ministry in Jakarta demanding that everything possible be done to obtain their release.

In December, the IFJ and the AJI called on the Indonesian government to allow a delegation of journalists and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to travel to Aceh to finalise the release of the RCTI crew. According to the IFJ, the rebels had agreed in principle to free them. At the beginning of December the driver managed to escape but there has been no further news of Santoro.

Siregar is the second journalist to die in the conflict since the imposition of martial law in Aceh province. In June, Mohamad Jamaluddin, cameraman for public television channel TVRI, was killed in the provincial capital of Banda Aceh for reasons that are still unknown.

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