Ersa Siregar

Beats Covered:
Local or Foreign:

Siregar, a senior reporter with private Indonesian channel Rajawali Citra Televisi (RCTI), was shot and killed during a gun battle between Indonesian military forces and separatist rebels in the war-torn Aceh Province, according to RCTI chief editor Derek Manangka. Aceh military spokesman Lt. Col. Firdaus Komarno told Agence France-Presse that the firefight broke out 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.

According to news reports, the rebels accused the military of executing Siregar. In response, the military has claimed that the rebels were using the journalist as a human shield.

Siregar, 52, was kidnapped on June 29 by rebels from the Free Aceh Movement, known by its Indonesian acronym GAM, along with cameraman Fery Santoro, their driver, and two Indonesian officers’ wives who were sharing a ride with the journalists to the town of Lhokseumawe in northern Aceh. 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 of the hostages failed. On July 6, TNI Cmdr. 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 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.”

On December 19, the driver was released unharmed.The two wives were released in February 2004. On May 16, Santoro was released and handed over to representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross.