Subject: SMH: Balibo officers called off the case

Sydney Morning Herald

Balibo officers called off the case By HAMISH McDONALD DILI Monday 16 October 2000

United Nations officials here are suspicious of a Canberra decision to recall two senior Australian police officers from an investigation into the 1975 Balibo killings just as they seem near to compiling enough evidence to bring murder charges against former Indonesian soldiers.

The two Australians, John Skeffington and his deputy case officer Tom Hanlon, are the case officers for the Balibo incident. Both are serving with the civilian police arm of the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor.

They are just three weeks away from ending their six-month contract with the Australian Federal Police contingent in East Timor.

Because their highly sensitive case was showing promise of resolving the 25-year-old case of the murders of five Australian-based TV newsmen at Balibo, the UN had strongly supported their recent application for a three-month extension of their contract.

The UNTAET chief, Sergio Vieira de Mello, had written personally to AFP Commissioner Mick Palmer in support of the extension, while the UN civilian police commissioner here, Jose Luis da Costa e Sousa, had also backed the extension with UN headquarters in New York.

But Mr Skeffington and Mr Hanlon were told by telephone late on Friday that Mr Palmer had rejected the extension. No reason was given.

The two officers have been working on the Balibo case for the past two months since a new witness came forward to UN peacekeepers here. They are understood to have found further evidence that would enable a magistrate to bring charges against a number of Indonesian special forces soldiers involved in the Balibo attack.

But the two policemen have little time now to complete the mass of documentation that would give a magistrate confidence to lay charges in such a political case.

Many of the Indonesians at Balibo, part of a covert invasion of East Timor that began exactly 25 years ago today, now occupy senior civilian and military positions in the Indonesian Government.

Mr Skeffington is one of Australia's most experienced police officers, having recently retired from the Western Australian Police as acting commander for metropolitan operations in Perth before volunteering for his Timor assignment.


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