New York, December 29, 2003—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) called for a full investigation into the death of Ersa Siregar, a senior reporter for the private Indonesian channel Rajawali Citra Televisi (RCTI), who was shot and killed today during a gun battle between Indonesian military forces and separatist rebels in the war-torn Aceh Province, according to RCTI chief editor Derek Manangka.

Indonesian military officials contacted Manangka this afternoon to inform him of Siregar’s death. Aceh military spokesman Lt. Col. Firdaus Komarno told Agence France-Presse that the firefight broke out today when Indonesian soldiers came across a group of rebels in the area. Siregar’s body and the body of a rebel fighter were found later.

Siregar was kidnapped on June 29 by rebels from the Free Aceh Movement, known by its Indonesian acronym GAM, along with cameraman Ferry Santoro and two Indonesian officers’ wives in northern Aceh while driving to the town of Lhokseumawe. The RCTI crew had been reporting on the military offensive in Aceh, which was launched on May 19 to crush the long-running rebel insurgency. On July 3, a spokesman for the rebels announced that the group was being held on suspicion of working for the Indonesian military (TNI).

GAM later dropped that accusation, but various attempts to secure the release the hostages during the last six months have failed. On July 6, TNI Commander Gen. Endriartono Sutarto set a deadline of July 8 for GAM to release the hostages or else face military attack. That same day, Imam Wahyudi, an editor at RCTI, and nine other journalists were allowed to meet with Siregar and reported that both Siregar and Santoro were in good health. After GAM failed to meet the July 8 deadline, military officials questioned Wahyudi and the other journalists who had met with Siregar about how they were able to contact GAM and locate their base.

Further negotiations between the military and the rebels stalled over the rebels’ demands for a seven-day ceasefire and that the military not be involved in the transfer of the hostages. TNI rejected the demands and proposed instead the creation of a battle-free zone where the hostages could be transferred from GAM control. Meanwhile, on October 4, the Jakarta Post reported that Siregar was suffering from deteriorating health, including coughing up blood.

On November 5, Indonesian security minister Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono ordered the military to start an operation to locate the hostages, accusing GAM of being “a terror group which takes reporters and innocent civilians hostage.”

RCTI cameraman Ferry Santoro is still missing.

“We mourn the loss of our colleague Ersa Siregar, and call on the military to fully investigate the circumstances behind this tragic incident and make the findings public,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “We remain deeply concerned about Ferry Santoro, and the others currently held hostage, and urge both parties in this conflict to negotiate their safe release immediately.”