Selected postings from east-timor (reg.easttimor)

Subject: Open Letter to UN Prosecutor-General

Mr. Mohamed Othman
Dili, Timor Lorosae.

From Shirley Shackleton, activist for Timor Lorosae and widow of Greg Shackleton.


Dear Sir,

This letter is not an attempt to persuade you to issue international warrants to arrest three men for the murders of five Australian-based journalists in East Timor more than 25 years ago. My reason for writing is to point out certain historical inaccuracies which are repeated in the media. Trying to discover what happened in East Timor and in Balibo has been like trying to put together a giant jigsaw puzzle with many pieces missing.

Some people had some pieces and some people had others, until they could make contact vital clues to the puzzle remained unknown. Consequently, a great deal of propaganda and misinformation has become part of the mythical history. I refer you to the fact that Operasi Komodo was set up one year before the Balibo killings (October 1974) for the express purpose of destabilising East Timor. Also Indonesia has retained the services of Hill and Knowlton a public relations firm for many years. In early February 1975 Indonesian troops carried out manoeuvres in South Sumatra as pre-invasion exercises for East Timor. An Indonesian soldier was captured soon after the failed coup in 1975. He had fallen during a night attack and broken his legs. He told the commander of the Portuguese garrison at Bobonaro that he believed that he was fighting in West Timor against Communists.

1. There was no fighting in Balibo (16/10/75.) Falintil had wisely withdrawn as they expected another attack. My husband and his colleagues were unarmed civilians. Timorese witnesses to their fate were either volunteers fighting with Indonesian soldiers under the political party UDT or had been captured and forced to carry attacking soldiers' equipment. Indonesian forces entered the village of Balibo firing, but there was no returning gunfire.

2. The Balibo attack was not part of an invasion force as is often stated. It was part of a series of offensives launched through Operasi Komodo. On the morning of 16th October the attack was much larger than the Timorese had previously experienced and included the whole border area from Lebos to Balibo. If it had been part of an invasion, a massive parachute drop would have taken place simultaneously in Dili, supported by an attack on Baucau (particularly Baucau airport.)

3. The invasion of East Timor did not take place for another two months (7th December 1975).

4. The Civil War so often used an excuse for the invasion, was not a war at all. It was a coup masterminded by Operasi Komodo agents AND IT FAILED. Nowhere else in the world has a similar event been described as a Civil War. It was over in eleven days in Dili (though there were some skirmishes along the border for another two days.) Less than 1500 casualties occurred. Many of were personal scores being settled during the disturbances and had no political basis.

5. One of the named suspects, a Mr Mohammad Yunus Yosfiah, a former Cabinet minister in the Habibie government, was an Indonesian Army captain commanding an elite RPKAD (commando-special forces) unit called Team Susi at the time of the killings. A Mr da Silva and a Mr Bere (two other suspects) were members of the same unit. Mr. Yosfiah has repeatedly said he is innocent. One would expect that he would welcome the chance to clear his name. His story has changed over the years. Originally, he claimed he was not in Balibo on 16th October 1975. Both the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and SBS Broadcasting have film of photographs said to have been taken on the morning of the killings in Balibo of Mr. Yosfiah who was known at the time because he had posed as an aid worker in Dili. In the photographs in question he is wearing what appears to be striped pajamas.

The evidence before you was painstakingly gathered over a seven-month period. I believe it is significant that it was the Timorese themselves who asked Mr. John Skeffington, a retired Western Australian policeman seconded to CIVPOL to investigate the said killings. He claims not to have even heard of Balibo or known about the deaths until then. After an initial visit to Balibo he decided there was enough evidence to warrant an investigation and set about doing the job in the same way such a matter would be done in Australia. He arranged for aerial photographs to be taken and made a detailed map of Balibo and its environs. He then interviewed every adult resident of the destroyed township and found several previously unknown eye witnesses to the murders. He sought an extension of time to complete the work. The request was refused. Of course, there could be many valid reasons for preventing Mr. Skeffington and his dedicated staff from completing the work, but the refusal came as no surprise to the bereaved families as it is typical of the way things have been done regarding justice for the dead men.

We have been lied to and our intelligence has been insulted. I have been vilified and defamed. My repeated requests for a full judicial inquiry have been ignored. Though you will no doubt hear of two 'investigations' by a Mr. Sherman, both have been shown to be deeply flawed by the International Commission of Jurists'. I believe this was largely because they were not full judicial enquiries.

My mother-in-law committed suicide. It was not the death of her wonderful son that caused her such despair, it was the patently obvious lies told to her by her own government officials and the belief that the world cared so little for justice, that nothing would ever be done.

Indonesia itself needs this matter to come to court as the country is trying to establish a credible rule of law.

Shirley Shackleton 
337 Dorcas Street South 
Melbourne Australia 3205

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