Subject: The Balibó Five atrocity...the first step - Shirley Shackleton

The Guardian (Australia)

12 December, 2007

The Balibó Five atrocity...the first step

Shirley Shackleton

On the morning I heard that my husband and four colleagues were missing, I felt that Greg was already dead. I remember thinking if my worst fears were realised and all five "missing journalists" were dead, the matter would have to be handled with skill or an enmity could start that might result in Australians and Indonesians fighting each other in the future. I then had to watch as lies for 24 years and unforgivably inept officials worsened our shallow relationship with Indonesia to the point that Mr Howard was forced by public demand to send Australian troops into East Timor.

The fact that fighting did not break out at that time is a miracle aided by the fact that Indonesian soldiers are accustomed to fighting unarmed civilians.

Details of the cold blooded murders of Australian born Gregory John Shackleton (29) and Anthony John Stewart (21); British born Brian Raymond Peters (29); Malcolm Rennie (28); and Gary James Cunningham (27) a New Zealander, have been known for decades but were officially ignored. To make matters worse the facts were buried by the perfidy of Australian, New Zealand, British, American and Indonesian governments including Australian diplomats, academics and media commentators.

These persons are known in Australia as The Jakarta Lobby.

November 16, 2007 was an amazing relief for me. On that day 32 years and one month after the murders, the Deputy State Coroner, Dorelle Pinch, reported: "Few events have become as poignantly etched into the Australian psyche as the deaths of five Australian journalists in Balibó, Timor Leste (or Portuguese Timor, as it was then known), who have become known in Australian folklore as ‘the Balibó Five’".

Some may wonder why an inquest was held only into the death of Brian Peters. In the year 2000 the Australian section of the International Commission of Jurists, chaired by John Dowd, found a loophole that allows a resident of New South Wales killed overseas to have an inquest. Brian Peters was the only one of the Balibó Five to qualify and so Rodney Lewis, New South Wales solicitor and long-time chairman of the Balibó Committee, invited Maureen Tolfree, sister of Brian Peters to report her brother’s death as a precursor to requesting an inquest.

Truth confirmed

Having had to tolerate five so-called previous investigations I was not confident of an acceptable outcome. Though it may seem heartless it was with incandescent joy that I heard the findings: "The Balibó Five were unarmed and dressed in civilian clothes. They had their hands raised in the universally recognised gesture of surrender. They were shot and/or stabbed to death in a deliberate act. Their corpses were dressed in uniforms, guns placed beside them, and photographs taken in an attempt to portray them as legitimate targets."

The previous "investigations" are now consigned to the dustbin of history where they always belonged.

Due to the courage of Dorelle Pinch the truth of what happened in Balibó is now confirmed, but vital doubts about the murky past still linger. Ms Pinch put responsibility back onto the Balibó Five "for refusing opportunities to escape their danger, and the Indonesian military for executing them."

I reject the use of the term "executed" on the grounds that it perpetuates the myth that some sort of investigation was held.

The Balibó Five did not need to be warned of the dangers. They did underestimate the brutality of TNI (Indonesian military). They thought being international journalists that they would not be killed which was reasonable at the time ­ it is only since TNI got away with the murders of six journalists in East Timor that the killing of journalists has become commonplace.

How could they have protected themselves from being murdered? I submit that it is ingenuous to blame them for their own murders.

I ask you to imagine the situation in Balibó. There was no demarcation line to define the border between Indonesian occupied West Timor and Portuguese Timor and it was not manned until after the Indonesian invasion several weeks later. Both sides had forward scouts and Falintil (the fighting arm of the Fretilin political party) received reports of huge Indonesian troop movements (five battalions were massing along the border in Western Timor). Knowing Greg’s determination to expose a situation of such enormous importance to Australia, is it any wonder that when Falintil withdrew (except for one lone machine gunner covering the retreat) Greg and his colleagues would have breathed a sigh of relief in the belief that they could not be killed accidentally as they were alone in a deserted village.

Attempts to belittle victims

Attempts were made to belittle the Balibó Five and Greg Shackleton: he was young, inexperienced and even the crude Australian flag he drew on the side of the house in Balibó to bolster all their spirits was spin-doctored to make him appear stupid. The Seven Network team passed a three-man ABC team withdrawing ­ this is frequently held-up as evidence that the ABC crew were wise and the Balibó Five were unwise. The ABC team came to offer their condolences to me. They said had not wanted to withdraw, but their insurance had run out and they were forced to leave on orders from the ABC.

The Portuguese reporter Adelino Gomes told me he had invited them to Maliana for lunch and to have a bath or a swim, but the Seven team had already stayed beyond their original time and they were keen to make their final report and leave. Adelino agreed to send incriminating film to Australia from Maliana of Indonesian warships operating on the wrong side of the border. Full marks to both teams and to Adelino because when that film was shown on Australian TV it blew the plot wide open, or should have if our government officials had not been made fools of by their clever Indonesian counterparts. Adelino had intended to return to Balibó the following day; it is to his disgust that he is also held up as having been wise to have withdrawn.

Greg had the courage to tell the Timorese the truth when they asked what Australia would do for them. "Australia will not send troops", he said, "that would be impossible, but they can report this fighting at the United Nations." Remember when he was describing how the elderly gentlemen spoke about the terrible damage to their homes? In response to their plight Greg had a catch in his throat ­ this evidence of compassion from one human being to another was used to cast Greg as a communist sympathiser.

Why did they stay? Never underestimate the intense rivalry between the heads of news departments. If the Channel Seven team had retreated and left the other team to get the scoop, John Maher, the head of Channel Seven News would have sacked them.

Murderer rewarded

Battalion 744 was commanded by Lieutenant-General Mohammad Yunus Yosfiah (a captain at that time). He is named for the murders along with Christoforus de Silva. He describes himself as an orang tempur, a fighting animal. He led 100 red beret Kopassandha (secret warfare) troops (now called Kopasses) into Balibó. The operation was part of the wider attack and was a clear breach of the United Nations Charter. Yosfiah’s troops were ordered to remove all badges of rank and other identifying insignia. Yosfiah was promoted after Balibó and he went on to greater things ­ he led Battalion 744 when they murdered the commander of the Timorese Resistance Army, Nicolau dos Reis Lobato on Mt Maubesi in 1978. Yosfiah was promoted after both these actions.

In an interview with the magazine Tempo in 1989, he disclosed the fact that his favourite pastime is in playing back a video of the killing of Nicolau Dos Reis Lobato. I often wonder if he filmed our loved ones as they died at Balibó. Yosfiah was accepted for special training at the United States Special Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth (1997) and at the Royal College of Defence Studies in Britain (1989).

Callously kept in the dark

I was not informed of the deaths of my husband and his colleagues by my government. I heard a news report on ABC radio. Sometime after October 16 I received a telegram from Dr Henry Will, the Australian Consulate doctor in Jakarta, informing me that he had been asked to examine what purported to be the remains of the five journalists. The information contained in that telegram made me reel with horror. I was still in shock when I received a telephone call later that day from a man claiming to be from the Department of Foreign Affairs. I was told if I wanted the bodies brought home I would have to pay at least $48,000. The silence was deafening as I re-read the telegram: "The most I can say about the remains is that they are possibly human."

I asked if they were being brought home in five coffins and was curtly told, "No." Angry now at this attempt to frighten me, I asked if they were stuffed into one coffin. Again, the answer was "No." Were they in a suitcase or a shoebox? Having received a negative reply I read out the telegram. Then I made a terrible mistake ­ I lost my temper. "In other words the pilot could bring the so-called remains home in a matchbox in his pocket," I said, "whatever they’ve got up there isn’t my husband or his colleagues. They were definitely human. You can do whatever the hell you want."

When it came to the big confidence trick of burying the remains of his countrymen, Ambassador to Indonesia Richard Woolcott did not even possess the wit to use five coffins! He agreed to bury our loved ones in a foreign country whose military were implicated in the deceased’s murders.

Dr Henry Will did not send me the telegram. Some years later he explained, "Whoever did send it knew precisely what I wrote in my report." I would like to take this opportunity to thank the unknown male or female, Australian or Indonesian who sent me that telegram.

In the know

Prime Minister Gough Whitlam’s mouthpiece in the person of Ambassador Woolcott, boasted that he knew more about the "takeover of East Timor" than Indonesian military commanders knew at the time. He underestimated his Indonesian counterparts by allowing himself to be used; by actually briefing Woolcott well ahead of the pre-invasion terror attack on Balibó, the Indonesians implicated Gough Whitlam to the point that his advisors were forced to insist on secrecy in order to save their prime minister from the embarrassment of having to publicly condemn the Indonesian government.

In other words the Balibó Five had to die.

A full judicial investigation must held into the running of DEFAT, ASIS and ASIO. Who are they? How did these disgraceful people stay in their jobs? Could it be true that they deceived Prime Minister Whitlam on such a serious matter as these murders as was claimed in the witness box? How did Australian diplomacy stoop so low as to give de jure recognition to "the takeover of East Timor?" Note how the term takeover was substituted for invasion. Having accommodated the disgraceful sham, we are now seen as turncoats. How did successive prime ministers and their puerile members of staff set the basis for a shallow relationship with the rulers of Indonesia that ditched the hopes of the vast population of Indonesia for the establishment of the rule of law?

Evidence disclosed by the inquest establishes that these people claim they were pursuing a pragmatic, hardheaded and tough-minded strategy of better relations with the Indonesian military. But they were thoroughly compromised by Indonesia’s strategists, who made a mockery of their supposed expertise in foreign policy.

The question of any negligence by Canberra was ruled outside the parameters of the inquest before it started. Some kind but naďve people have expressed relief in a belief that the coroner absolved Gough Whitlam and his government. A closer reading of the report reveals that Ms Pinch said according to the information given to her (intelligence material) she was unable to find evidence to that affect. Ah, but what about the revelations in the book Death in Balibó; Lies in Canberra by Hamish McDonald and Professor Desmond Ball? They established that many of the vital papers are missing. "Cleansed" is the term the spooks use. In addition, notes of meetings held at the time were re-written to enhance the reputations of people who were present.

Prime Minister Rudd suggested his government will allow war crimes prosecutions to proceed. "This is a very disturbing conclusion from the coroner", he said.

"It may now be 32 years ago, but this is a matter of concern to all Australians, not just those in journalism, but everyone who is concerned about the proper reporting of events around the world. I believe this has to be taken through to its logical conclusion. I also believe that those responsible should be held to account."

For all our sakes, and especially for the long suffering Indonesian people, holding to international law can hardly be against the public interest or Indonesia’s democratic transition, despite the Indonesian military’s opposition. This case also has important lessons for the future. It should warn policymakers who believe they can dismiss public opinion without being ultimately defeated by their own actions.

One could be forgiven for wondering why the Australian government bothered to cover up the murders in the first place. Part of the answer is money ­ otherwise known as trade. Eager for profits from the numerically superior Indonesian population, relations between Gough Whitlam and General Suharto were habitually obsequious. Two little words at the end of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade turns so-called great men into pig­ignorant money grubbing puppets once removed from horse traders.

It is easy to establish the motives of a dictator, for if you seize a country’s assets ­ oil, marble, minerals, gold, sandalwood, timber, copra, coffee, ponies (they were either eaten by the invading army or sold throughout Indonesia) and if you steal the entire contents of houses and sell them, the profit margin is 100%. However, it is not so easy to accept that pragmatism was the only motive in the case of the Balibó Five. So what other dark secrets wait to be revealed?

Roger East murder

The murder of Roger East has never been addressed. The Balibó Five were murdered seven weeks before Indonesia invaded East Timor. Roger went there to try to discover their fate and he wrote the first credible reports of their murders. He was arrested by troops from Battalion 502, an East Java unit under the command of Major Warsito and taken to the Dili wharf on December 8, 1975. He was ordered to turn his back on the guns. He refused and was shot in the face. His murder was witnessed by numerous Timorese citizens forced to cheer as 100 of their countrymen and women were murdered.

Roger fell from the wharf and his body floated in the sea. Someone moved him that night and placed flowers and lit candles all around his body ­ this brave unknown human being did more for Roger East with that courageous act than any Australian official has ever done for him. To this date nothing has been done to address Roger’s murder. He covered the Spanish Civil War, started a newspaper there and reported the war in Vietnam. His murder is testament to the fact that no amount of experience or training can protect anyone from being murdered.

When the coroner invited Governor Sutiyoso to attend the inquest as a possible eyewitness, no less than five apologies were made to this former member of Team Susi that attacked Balibó. Amongst those who lined up to offer their supine apologies was the Premier of New South Wales, Maurice Iemma; the Australian Ambassador to Jakarta; Air Chief Vice Marshall Angus Houston; the Governor of New South Wales Marie Bashir and Alexander Downer.

With friends like them we don’t need enemies.

Mr Downer asserted that Sutiyoso need not worry about the Balibó Inquest. With these words he impugned the validity of the court. Mr Downer revealed something dreadful: he has more in common with the rulers of Indonesia than he has with decent Australian people.

If the DPP fails to match the guts shown by her honour Deputy Coroner Dorelle Pinch, their failure to do so will make a mockery of the judicial system.

Some may wonder why we want the remains brought home. If it isn’t enough to know that they were dumped in the land of their murderers, consider this: one year after the bogus funeral was held the grave was dismantled and moved to make way for a block of flats. The grave was unceremoniously deposited down by the railway line.

The Remains of the Day.....

....they were free to roam the world their oyster their hearts at home, long before Balibň.

Seeds in the wind? Too romantic by far; they’re stuck together like pitch and tar.

Their bodies were burned three times in all. Imagine the stench? Consider the pall?

Ashes to ashes; dust to dust described as "bone fragments" "the remains" were stuffed into four small boxes.

Hidden away in the murderer’s land by the Australian Ambassador’s blood-soaked hand

silver-tongued bastards tell lie upon lie on behalf of the murderers for a piece of the pie.

Our tears may dry their bones stay bones. Abandoned by rhetoric they must come home.

Together in bondage no longer afar; stuck together like pitch and tar.

Shirley Shackleton Back to index page

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