Subject: SMH: East Timor inquest to go ahead

Also: The Scotsman: Inquest 'to shed light' on Scots newsman's death

Sydney Morning Herald

East Timor inquest to go ahead

By Geesche Jacobsen June 15, 2005

Thirty years on, the State Coroner will hold an inquest into the death of Brian Peters, one of five Australian-based journalists killed in Balibo in East Timor during the Indonesian invasion.

This comes after five previous inconclusive Australian inquiries and one UN-led investigation into the events of October 16, 1975. But the Coroners Court was told new documents and witnesses that have recently come to light warranted an inquest.

Rodney Lewis, the lawyer for Mr Peters's sister, Maureen Tolfree, said the decision to hold an inquest provided an opportunity to discover the truth, "something our Government has been unable to do to the satisfaction of most observers".

Mr Peters, a Channel Nine cameraman, and his fellow journalists Greg Shackleton, Tony Stewart, Gary Cunningham and Malcolm Rennie were in East Timor to report on the Indonesian invasion of the former Portuguese colony.

It is believed they were killed while trying to surrender to advancing Indonesian forces, but it is unclear whether they died in crossfire or were murdered.

It is also suspected that the governments in Jakarta and Canberra covered up the incident.

But the NSW Coroner, John Abernethy, said he would not conduct an inquest into "events in 1975 to do with the government at the time".

"I'm looking at whether Mr Peters was in fact murdered and if so how and who by," he said.

Counsel assisting the coroner, Richard Cogswell, SC, said in his submission to the coroner the report by the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor had located four or five witnesses.

One, Tomas de Aquino Goncalves, had said a man he believed to be Mr Peters was shot by General Yunus Yosfiah, subsequently an Indonesian government minister. He said Mr Peters had stood in front of three of his colleagues outside a house with his hands raised in "an obvious gesture of surrender".

Mr Cogswell's submission said this suggested Mr Peters was shot "in circumstances that suggest little other than murder", but warned the statement differs from the account of other witnesses.

The UN report had suggested three men, including Mr Yosfiah, be arrested, but East Timorese authorities have told the court no prosecutions were proceeding.

Mr Cogswell warned an inquest may be costly and limited by the time that has passed. It was also unclear if witnesses were still alive and would travel to NSW.

"It is highly unlikely that anyone found to be responsible for the death of Mr Peters will be brought to justice in any jurisdiction," the submission said.

The submission for Mrs Tolfree said that even if the families of those killed could not get justice, they were entitled to the facts.

"Given the inadequacies of the previous inquiries into the deaths there is all the more reason from a public interest perspective … to ascertain as far as can be the circumstances which gave rise to the deaths," it said.


Previous inquiries

Oct 1975 Johnson inquiry, by third secretary of Australian embassy in Jakarta

Apr 1976 Taylor report, by Australian embassy officials

Jun 1996 First report by Tom Sherman, QC

Jan 1999 Second Sherman report

Sep 2001 Blick report, by inspector- general of intelligence and security Bill Blick

2002 Investigation by UN Transitional Administration in East Timor

--- The Scotsman

Inquest 'to shed light' on Scots newsman's death


AN INQUEST opened in Australia yesterday to examine new revelations about an incident in which a Scottish journalist and his four colleagues died in East Timor 30 years ago.

Renfrewshire-born television reporter Malcolm Rennie, 28, was one of five newsmen killed while reporting from the country on the eve of Indonesian occupation in 1975.

Investigators and the Indonesian government said the five were caught in crossfire between Indonesian troops and members of the East Timorese resistance movement in the western town of Balibo. This version of events was contradicted by witnesses who said the men were deliberately targeted.

In Australia yesterday, John Abernethy, the New South Wales coroner, opened an inquest into the death of Brian Peters, one of the five killed.

The hearing follows a long fight by Mr Peter's sister, Maureen Tolfree, now living in Australia, who was not satisfied with the official explanation of what happened to the journalists, known as the "Balibo Five".

Ms Tolfree's lawyer, Robert Dubler, said the hearing would almost certainly travel to East Timor to see where the group died and to hear from what he believed were new eyewitnesses.

Mr Dubler said that although the inquest could only focus on Mr Peter's death, it should also shed light on the deaths of Mr Rennie and the other three journalists who died on October 16, 1975.

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