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Death of Balibo Five was premeditated war crime by Indonesian armymen

The agony of it: Shirley Shackleton, widow of one of the five journalists killed in Balibo, East Timor, in 1975, talks to the media in Sydney in this April 26, 2000 file photo. A coroner on November 16, 2007 urged the Australian government to seek war crimes charges against former Indonesian military officers over the 1975 killing of five newsmen during Indonesia's invasion of East Timor. Photo: Reuters/David Gray

An inquest report has established with great detail that the Indonesian army was responsible for the death of five British, Australian and New Zealander journalists in East Timor in 1975. The report clearly shows they were eliminated because they too much about Indonesia’s invasion of East Timor, which was just getting under way.

“The detailed and courageous inquest conducted by Dorelle Pinch shows that Indonesian army officers, including former special forces captain Yunus Yosfiah, are war criminals,” Reporters sans Frontières (RSF) said. “It is deplorable that the Indonesian government immediately dismissed the findings of the Australian inquest.”

RSF said, “We call on the next Australian prime minister to do everything possible to ensure that those who carried out these killings and those who gave them their orders are brought to trial on Australia. Although more than 30 years have gone by, this inquest shed light on every aspect of this multiple murder. It is vital that justice should now be done.”

The report issued Friday detailed the findings of a six-week inquest into the death of British cameraman Brian Peters on October 16, 1975 in the East Timor town of Balibo. Four other journalists were killed with him - Australian reporter Greg Shacketon, Australian soundman Tony Stewart, New Zealander cameraman Gary Cunningham, and British reporter Malcolm Rennie.

New South Wales coroner Dorelle Pinch has urged the Australian government to bring war crimes charges against those who killed them.

British cameraman Brian Peters poses in Balibo, East Timor in this video grab made from file footage. A coroner on November 16, 2007 urged the Australian government to seek war crimes charges against former Indonesian military officers over the 1975 killing of five newsmen during Indonesia's invasion of East Timor. (Reuters/Network Seven).

The Indonesian army has always refused to punish those responsible for their deaths and the deaths of other foreign journalists killed around the same time in Timor including Australian Roger East and New Zealander Sander Thoenes.

According to Pinch’s report, the five journalists killed in Balibo, known as the “Balibo Five,” were arrested after filming the start of the Indonesian invasion and then executed. “The journalists were not incidental casualties in the fighting, they were captured, then deliberately killed despite protesting their status,” Pinch wrote in her report.

The inquest established that they were executed by Yosfia and Christoforus da Silva, another member of the Indonesian special forces, on the orders of their commander, Maj Gen Benny Murdani. The report also describes how the Australian, British and New Zealand governments helped cover up these murders by accepting the Indonesian version and by refusing to disclose relevant information they had obtained.

An Indonesian foreign ministry spokesman said the Pinch’s findings would not change his country’s position. “This court has a very limited jurisdiction and its decision will not change our stance about what happened,” he said. Jakarta maintains that the five died in crossfire between Indonesian invaders and East Timor's Fretilin defenders.

THE BALIBO FIVE: The journalists — clockwise from top left, Greg Shackleton, Tony Stewart, Greg Cunningham, Malcolm Rennie and Brian Peters — were killed by special forces.

Relatives of the journalists today welcomed Pinch’s report. “I never thought I would see this moment arrive,” Peters’ sister, Maureen Tolfree said. Several relatives voiced support for Pinch’s proposal that the Australian and Indonesian government should work together to have the remains of the journalists identified and returned home for burial.

The dozens of witnesses who gave evidence at the inquest included former government ministers, ambassadors and intelligence officers. They also included former Australian prime minister Gough Whitlam. But former Indonesian military officers such as Yosfiah refused to testify to the inquest.

East Timorese President Jose Ramos Horta has called on Indonesia to accept responsibility for the deaths of the Balibo Five. Horta said he was in Balibo around the time of the murders and he has never believed Jakarta's account that the deaths were caused by crossfire.

Date posted: November 17, 2007 Date modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 11324