Subject: AFP: Australians probe 30-year-old death of journalist in East Timor


Australians probe 30-year-old death of journalist in East Timor Posted: 14-Jun-2005 16:20 hrs

Australian troops land at Balibo, East Timor in 1999. A coroner has agreed to open an inquest into the 1975 death of a journalist killed in the town with four others as they covered an attack by invading Indonesian troops.

An Australian coroner agreed to open an inquest into the death of a journalist killed along with four others while covering an attack by Indonesian troops on an East Timor town in 1975.

Television cameraman Brian Peters was one of five Australian-based journalists killed during the attack on the Timorese border town of Balibo in October 1975.

Official reports maintained the men -- Greg Shackleton, Gary Cunningham, Tony Stewart, Malcolm Rennie and Peters -- were killed in crossfire, but their families insist there was a cover-up and they were murdered by the Indonesians.

There have been two inquiries into the incident, in 1996 and 1999, but no formal inquests have been held.

Peters' sister, Maureen Tolfree, requested the inquest a year ago and New South Wales state coroner John Abernethy agreed on Tuesday to hear the case.

Tolfree's lawyer Robert Dubler said he believed there are are as yet unheard eyewitnesses to the deaths and he hopes the inquest will travel to East Timor, which gained its independence from Indonesia in 2002, to hear their evidence.

"The deaths of the Balibo Five have been controversial and, despite occurring some 30 years ago, have been the subject of continuing public interest," Dubler said.

"Given the additional new material which is now available ... an inquest will necessarily provide greater illumination of the circumstances surrounding the deaths than has hitherto been provided to the Australian public and relatives of the deceased," he said.

Indonesia launched a full-scale invasion of East Timor on December 7, 1975, and ruled the half-island for a quarter-century, during which it was accused of widespread human rights abuses.

In late 1999, Australia dispatched its military to East Timor to stop a campaign of violence by pro-Jakarta militia that followed a UN-backed vote in in East Timor in favour of separating from Indonesia.

The last Australian troops are leaving this month.

Abernethy said his inquest would not look into political aspects of the Indonesian invasion, which occured just nine days after the former Portuguese colony declared itself independent from Lisbon.

"I'm not conducting an inquest into any events of 1975 ... these are far too remote in terms of manner and cause of death," he said. "I will be looking at whether Mr Peters was in fact murdered and if so, by whom."

Abernethy adjourned the case until December 9, with the inquest expected to begin early next year. ­ AFP

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