Sat, Jul 05, 2003 - Page 5 News List

Indonesia rejects accusations of media crackdown

REUTERS , JAKARTA

Indonesia yesterday rejected accusations it has clamped down on freedom of expression and the foreign media in rebellious Aceh, insisting the province was under more scrutiny than ever.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Marty Natalegawa said restrictions imposed on foreigners in Aceh were intended to protect them during a fresh government offensive to crush rebels of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) that was launched on May 19.

"We don't believe recent developments are symptomatic of Aceh being closed. On the contrary, since the combined operation was launched, Aceh has been under more scrutiny than it has ever been before," Natalegawa told a news conference.

"The Indonesian people expect the very best of conduct on the part of the military and police, and that is the ultimate guarantee that human rights abuses do not happen in Aceh."

International media watchdogs have accused Indonesia of trying to close Aceh off to the foreign media, while local rights activists have said they have been warned by the authorities about speaking out during the offensive.

And the US government has said a five-year jail term given to a leading activist in Aceh this week was harsh and heightened the "apparent intimidation" of those trying to monitor abuses.

Natalegawa chided Washington for criticizing the verdict given to Muhammad Nazar, 30, jailed for spreading hatred against the state for calling for a referendum on self-rule.

He said it was inappropriate for other governments to comment on decisions handed down by an independent judiciary.

"To assume that because of certain high-profile cases that somehow democracy is at threat in Indonesia and that Aceh is closed to monitoring I think is a bit exaggerated," he said.

The military has said more than 350 people have been killed in the offensive, mainly rebels. GAM has given a far higher death toll, with the majority civilians and government forces.

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