Subject: Anniversary of Balibo Five deaths brings renewed call for answers

Anniversary of Balibo Five deaths brings renewed call for answers

Relative demands explanation for death of journalists in East Timor

10/15/2005 08:55:15 AM EDT THE HERALD (UNITED KINGDOM)

MARGARET Wilson has many questions. Tomorrow is the 30th anniversary of the death of her cousin, who was killed, along with four other journalists, in an Indonesian assault on a village in East Timor.

Mrs Wilson is still trying to find out what happened before the bodies of the two television crews were burned in the village of Balibo.

She wants to know what the British and Australian authorities knew when a hastilyarranged funeral, to which the relatives were never invited, was held in Jakarta.

Above all, she wants to know why the British government has failed to give her answers.

The Balibo Five were; Malcolm Rennie, 29, a television reporter originally from Barrhead and Mrs Wilson's cousin;

Brian Peters, 26, also a Briton;

Greg Shackleton, 27, Tony Stewart, 21, both Australian; and Gary Cunningham, 27, a New Zealander. No-one has been convicted for their deaths.

Mrs Wilson will be backing Don Foster, a LibDem MP, who is demanding the declassification of crucial files, and will soon raise the issue in parliament.

For years, relatives were led to believe that the men had been killed in crossfire. However, it is suspected that they witnessed an illegal invasion by Indonesian troops which, according to British and Australian authorities at the time, did not officially occur until December, 1975 - two months after their deaths.

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Mrs Wilson, 59, is convinced she knows who oversaw the murders - Mohammad Yunus Yosfiah, an Indonesian army commander and former information minister.

He was allegedly under orders to ensure no international observers witnessed the assault on East Timor.

Mrs Wilson said: "It is part conspiracy, part cock-up. I don't know who fired the bullets, or who died first, but they acted on orders from the Indonesian army, and tried to cover it up. That is almost indisputable."

Mr Rennie, a reporter with Australia's Channel 9, joined Mr Peters, a cameraman, for his first foreign assignment to East Timor, a newly decolonised region which the brutal Suharto regime considered ripe for reintegration into Indonesia.

Within days of reaching Balibo with the others, a Channel 7 team, they were dead.

"What I believed for years was that they had been killed in crossfire. I had no reason to question otherwise, " said Ms Wilson, a local government officer in London.

It was nearly 20 years later that the official version of events began to falter.

Allegations emerged of a cover-up. At the focus of the speculation was Indonesia's lucrative role as the biggest consumer of UK arms and its commercial and strategic importance to Australia.

It emerged that Richard Woolcott, former ambassador to Indonesia, had sent a telegram to Canberra two months previously, which said that it was in Australian interests to take a "pragmatic" rather than "principled" stance as Indonesia prepared to massacre tens of thousands.

A spokeswoman for the Foreign Office said that enquiries were handled primarily by the Australians, adding that British intelligence had received "indirect reports that Indonesia was planning to increase its clandestine activity in East Timor, but did not know the date or details of any attack".

Mrs Wilson claims her subsequent requests for information were met with silence.

She believes the UK and Australia avoided investigating the deaths because they feared it would reveal that both nations had turned a blind eye to the illegal invasion in order to appease their powerful ally.

Around 15 years later, pictures emerged of a funeral in Jakarta. It is still unclearwhose remains, if any, were inside the coffin, but the burial is believed to be related to the deaths.

Among the mourners was Mr Woolcott.

"I would like to ask him what he knew as he was standing there, " said Mrs Wilson. "The most bizarre thing of all is why on earth did they bury the bodies in Jakarta? No-one has given us a reason for that."

The Foreign Office yesterday described the funeral arrangements as "complicated".

In December, an inquest will be held in Australia into the death of Mr Peters.

As the families' calls for a public inquiry have been refused, this is the closest they have come to an independent investigation. Mrs Wilson hopes the inquest can lead to a prosecution - but admits this is optimistic.

Her cousin's death was political dynamite, she claims, because it brought into focus atrocities on the doorstep of democracy.

"This just shows the wider impact of how governments can behave when they think they can get away with it, " she said.

"That is what this is all about.

And these are just the things we know about.

"Imagine what we don't know about."

TROUBLED TERRITORY

In the seventeenth century, the Netherlands and Portugal fought over Timor, a small island in south-east Asia, 1000 miles south of the Philippines and 400 miles north of Australia.

The two colonial powers divided the island into two.

The Dutch East Indies, comprising the west half and the surrounding archipelago, became Indonesia after the second world war, while Portugal held on to the east half until a change of government in the 1970s.

In 1975, Indonesia, a country of 136 million, launched a full-scale invasion of East Timor, population 700,000.

At least 200,000 East Timorese were massacred during the 24-year occupation that followed.

East Timor became independent in 2002.


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