Subject: Files show Australian govt lied about Timor deaths

Also: Seeking truth on the 'Balibo Five' by Shirley Shackleton

Files show Australian govt lied about Timor deaths By Andrea Hopkins

CANBERRA, Sept 19 (Reuters) - Secret files released on Tuesday show the Australian government lied about its knowledge of the murder of five journalists in East Timor weeks before Indonesia invaded in late 1975, political analyst Des Ball said.

The files show the government was informed that the journalists were dead on Oct 16, the same day they were reported missing, Ball told reporters at a news conference at which 70,000 pages of diplomatic documents were made public.

The government did not confirm the deaths for days and six months later said investigations were still under way. Successive administrations have told parliament and the next of kin they did not know the details of the deaths.

The funerals were delayed for months and only charred bits of bone were ever produced as remains.

The files expose ``the most shameful episode in the history of Australian foreign policy,'' Ball told reporters at the release of the files at Australia's national archives.

Ball, an Australian National University professor who has written a book about the events, was selected by the government to summarise his findings from the secret papers.

Australians Greg Shackleton and Tony Stewart, Britons Malcolm Rennie and Brian Peters and New Zealander Gary Cunningham, aged 21 to 29, were killed in the Timorese town of Balibo several weeks before Indonesia invaded East Timor on December 7, 1975.

The files showed four of them were killed while they hid or were held in a house. Charred bones were found in the home.

A fifth body, also burned, was found nearby, which Ball said confirmed rumours that one journalist had escaped from Indonesian troops before being captured and killed in a way that is ``too horrible to recount.''

Ball said the files show Australia has long known about the journalists' deaths at the hands of Indonesian troops.

They show ``how the Australian government connived with Jakarta over Indonesia's covert it dealt with the killing of the five Australian-based journalists at Balibo...and how it lied to the Australian parliament and public, including next of kin, over the ensuing quarter of a century,'' he said.

The documents showed then prime minister Malcolm Fraser's coalition government kept its officials in the dark, sending a team to investigate the ``presumed deaths'' six months later.

Fraser, now head of CARE Australia, was not immediately available for comment.

Secret memos, cables and letters sent and received by the foreign department from 1974 to 1976 are being released ahead of the usual 30-year wait in a bid to clear the air over one of the most controversial events in Australian history.


Files released last week revealed that Australia knew in advance of the invasion of East Timor and effectively gave Indonesia's then President Suharto tacit approval to annex it.

Indonesia and its Western allies were concerned pro-communist East Timorese would take over the territory.

Having advance notice ``was a major intelligence coup but it does raise the question at what point access to privileged information becomes complicity if you don't make any objections to the substance of what you're receiving?'' Ball said.

Human rights groups said up to 200,000 people died during the invasion and subsequent fighting and famine in East Timor.

Ball praised the release of the papers but said the omission of key intelligence files leaves some questions still unanswered.

Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer has refused to cast judgement on the governments of the time.

East Timor voted for independence last year after 25 years of Indonesian rule. It is under temporary U.N. control after the vote triggered a wave of violence by pro-Jakarta militias.


The Canberra Times September 19, 2000

Seeking truth on the 'Balibo Five' By SHIRLEY SHACKLETON

JOHN SKEFFINGTON, a retired Western Australian policeman working for the United Nations Civilian Police Force in East Timor (CIVPOL), has, for several months now, been conducting a murder investigation into the deaths of the five Australian-based newsmen at Balibo.

The five men, said to have been murdered in Balibo on October 16, 1975, were Gary Cunningham, Tony Stewart, my husband Greg Shackleton, Brian Peters and Malcolm Rennie.

Skeffington, a senior detective of 20 years' standing, headed the Western Australian Major Crime squad and rose to the position of Commander of Metropolitan Operations WA before his retirement five years ago.

When he told me about this initiative early this year, I asked him to extend the brief to include the murder of Roger East, the only journalist who stayed in East Timor at the time of the 1975 Indonesian invasion.

East's death and those of the 'Balibo Five' have never been adequately explained. Even the time and date of the deaths is mere supposition.

Skeffington, who modestly refers to himself as Inspector Plod, knew little about the 25-year-old murders when the Timorese handed him the assignment.

He has found startling new evidence (including three more eye-witnesses) and is now absolutely dedicated to the task.

I was angered last week by Foreign Minister Alexander Downer's last-minute decision to withhold vital papers on the conspiracy over the deaths at Balibo on the grounds that they were 'boring'.

However, I was able to contain my rage because I knew that news of this bona-fide investigation was about to be launched.

FOR 25 years successive Australian governments have tried to head off genuine inquiries by claiming that an unnamed family member of one of the dead men does not seek justice despite the fact that the majority of families are united in their resolve to do so.

The beauty of this inquiry is that the dead journalists are the complainants, not the families, and the investigation is being conducted in the same way that any murder inquiry in Australia is conducted.

The release of a volume of documents entitled Australia and the Indonesian incorporation of Portuguese Timor 1975-1976 seems to have struck the main participants in the tragedy dumb.

It was quite different in 1975.

While alleging that he supported the self-determination for the people of East Timor in 1974-75, Whitlam was in fact advising the Suharto regime to go in and 'annex' East Timor.

According to the secret documents, Australia's Ambassador to Indonesia at the time, Richard Woolcott, was boasting that he knew even more about the plans to invade through Balibo than even the Indonesian foreign minister or General Suharto.

A preliminary evaluation into the murders was conducted by Tom Sherman, former head of the National Crime Squad in 1995.

Sherman's recommendation that his findings should lead to a full judicial inquiry was ignored.

The International Commission of Jurists, headed in Australia by Justice Dowd, held their own investigation into Sherman's evaluation and found that it was deeply flawed.

The fact that this new investigation was initiated by the East Timorese themselves is a moving testament to their generosity and humanity.

Though their own losses far outweigh these six deaths, they see the Balibo murders and that of East as an implicit part of their overall tragedy.

They regard as heroes the newsmen who risked their lives to tell the world the truth of what was really going on in East Timor.

The Timorese know that the newsmen were not acting in a partisan manner towards the Timorese cause. They know that they were merely doing the job that they were sent to East Timor to do.

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