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Bid to curb news of unrest

South China Morning Post - February 19, 1997

Joe Leahy, Jakarta – The Government has sought to suppress details of the disturbances in West Kalimantan with a clampdown on foreign media and apparent self-censorship by the Indonesian press.

Jakarta censured Japanese media for coverage of recent unrest and foreign journalists who attempted to visit the site of the Kalimantan violence were ordered to return to their hotel in the provincial capital, Pontianak.

"The Japanese mass media has not stopped reporting the riots and surrounding events in Indonesia," the Department of Information said in a letter dated February 14 to Japanese correspondents.

"We are extremely concerned that these media are being taken advantage of by certain groups who are opposed to the development of Indonesia."

The letter appealed to correspondents to help maintain good relations between the two countries.

The letter included a clipping from a local newspaper, describing an interview by Indonesia's official Antara news agency with the deputy president of the Japan-Indonesia Friendship Organisation, Shizuo Miyamoto.

The article, headlined "Japanese media dramatise riots", quoted Mr Miyamoto as alleging agents of the Japanese Communist Party were behind the negative reports on Indonesia.

Japanese journalists were unavailable for comment yesterday but reportedly responded to the allegations at a meeting with the Department of Information.

Five Western journalists are returning from Pontianak where they were held in what one described as "hotel arrest" for several days.

They said military authorities ordered them to stay in the city for "their own safety".

Foreign journalists in Indonesia normally face travel restrictions in only three provinces - East Timor, Irian Jaya and Aceh, North Sumatra

Despite disturbances since December, the outside world has only recently discovered the scope of the bloodshed. Malaysia's border closure signalled the situation was getting out of control.