The Indonesian government has quietly imposed a ban on foreign journalists traveling to provinces it fears could be at risk of breaking away, as well as to several other areas that have been conflict zones in the past, officials said.
The new policy, never announced, was agreed upon on Sept. 23 by a committee of police, military, intelligence, immigration and other officials because of "unstable" security conditions, said Irzani Ratni, a Foreign Ministry official on the panel.
The restrictions apply to Papua and Aceh, two far-flung provinces that are home to separatist rebels, Foreign Ministry officials said. Also subject to restrictions are the provinces of Maluku and North Maluku and the towns of Sampit, Poso and Palu.
The policy apparently conflicts with a pledge of openness by the newly inaugurated president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. On Sept. 20, Yudhoyono won the country's first direct presidential election and promised to pursue democratic reforms.
The restrictions were imposed during the transition between administrations, and Yudhoyono and other senior officials, including the government security minister, apparently were unaware of the change, officials said. Irzani said the restrictions were temporary but could not say when they would be lifted.
No foreign reporters have been given access to the banned areas since September, officials said.
Irzani said officials were concerned about the "possible infiltration of foreigners" into conflict zones. "Sometimes journalists come disguised as humanitarian workers, but in fact they talk to activists who would not hesitate to sell out their own country," she said.
-- Ellen Nakashima and Noor Huda Ismail