Embedded journalists to cover military operations

Learning from the U.S.-led coalition in the Iraq war, the Indonesian Military (TNI) has called on 60 local journalists who will be "embedded" with its troops during their operation in restive Aceh. 

For the purpose, the journalists, who come from various print and electronic media, will undergo four days of training provided by the TNI at the Sangga Buana training camp belonging to the Army's Strategic Reserve Command in the West Java town of Karawang. 

During the training, which takes place from Sunday through Wednesday, thereporters will learn basic military capabilities on the battle field, including the art of survival, technical basics of sea-landings and air drops and how to be alert for bombs and bullets. 

The training is mandatory, according to TNI spokesman Maj. Gen. Sjafrie Sjamsoeddin, for journalists who want to cover the day-to-day operations from the front line. Each journalist will receive a "licence" at the end of the training. 

The exercise is closed to journalists of any nationality from the foreign media. 

"I don't know whether there are any political considerations from the Foreign Ministry (to exclude journalists working for foreign media), but forme it is clear that we (the TNI) do not want any disturbance during theoperation," Sjafrie told a press briefing on Friday, referring to foreign journalists who could cause problems. 

Like soldiers, the journalists will also wear bullet-proof vests and helmets when they cover a raid on Free Aceh Movement (GAM) camps. Sjafrie said the presence of the media would ensure that soldiers would not violate human rights. 

To provide the flow of information on the ongoing operations, TNI has set upmedia centers at its headquarters in Cilangkap, East Jakarta and the operation's central command in Lhokseumawe, some 230 kilometers east of the Aceh capital of Banda Aceh. 

The media center in Aceh will be equipped with satellite communications to help the journalists send stories or broadcast news across the country. 

Sjafrie said that the training would be necessary for journalists to know the dos and don'ts during operations. 

"Of course the journalists won't get enough sleep or may eat a little bitlate, but those are the conditions that must be accepted," Sjafrie said.

Media observers and practitioners have warned that the objectivity and independence of media coverage in Aceh could be threatened should journalists be embedded with the troops.