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Aceh Rebels Take Hostages; Deny Government in Control - 2003-07-03

Separatist rebels in Indonesia's northern province of Aceh say they are holding five people, including two television journalists. The separatists, known as GAM, deny government reports that the Indonesian military controls the province.

A spokesman for the Aceh rebels says they are holding two journalists, their driver and two other civilians they did not name.

The rebel spokesman also denied government reports that troops now control the whole of the mountainous and heavily forested province.

The spokesman, Tengku Mansoor, says the two journalists, who work for the privately owned local station RCTI, are being questioned. He says GAM suspects the Indonesian army is using members of the media to spy on the separatists.

The Indonesian authorities have forbidden travel to Aceh by journalists from the international media. And it is becoming increasingly difficult for the local media to report on the government's six-week campaign to suppress the rebel movement.

Military authorities have forbidden contact between journalists and GAM spokesmen, and both sides say that they cannot guarantee the safety of members of the media.

The news about the captured civilians came out because a number of journalists have defied the ban, staying in contact with GAM spokespeople by satellite telephone.

The government has been using varying degrees of military force to try to crush the rebel movement in Aceh for more than 25 years. Human rights organizations say more than 10,000 people have died in the conflict, and fear that the latest campaign will release a new wave of bloodshed.