Subject: Balibo prosecution 'not issue for A-G'

Also Rudd spoke to Indon president about Balibo five

Balibo prosecution 'not issue for A-G'

December 13, 2007 - 5:16PM

The Rudd government appears to be backing away from any government involvement in prosecutions relating to the death of five Australian-based newsmen in East Timor in 1975.

Last month, NSW deputy coroner Dorelle Pinch found the men, known as the Balibo Five, were deliberately killed by Indonesian troops in 1975 to cover up the invasion of East Timor.

She recommended that the federal attorney-general consider prosecuting those responsible, including military commander turned politician Yunus Yosfiah.

A week before the federal election, Labor leader Kevin Rudd endorsed the coroner's recommendations, saying it was not something to "sweep ... to one side".

"I'm methodical in following the recommendations of the coroner's report and the first one, in an absolute clear cut commitment from us, it will be referred therefore to the attorney-general to consider prosecution," he said at the time.

But Attorney-General Robert McClelland on Thursday said the matter would be handled at arms length from his office.

While he hadn't had a briefing on matter, Mr McClelland said he agreed with the response of the former government.

"We agreed entirely with what (Mr Ruddock) was proposing," he said.

"That is that it was a matter for the federal police to look at the report and it was certainly a matter for the prosecuting authorities to look at the information and make a decision as to the appropriate course of action in light of that."

Mr McClelland said the issue had to be handled independently of government.

"The prosecution of any individual is not a matter for the attorney-general's office, it is a matter for the DPP, the director of public prosecution ... independently from the political process," he said.

"That's how it must be, and desirably so."

Mr Rudd is believed to have discussed the issue with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono during a meeting this week.

But Mr McClelland was reluctant to discuss whether the issue could harm relations between the two countries.

"I don't want to pre-empt the independent consideration of the matter and what transpires," he said.

"The previous attorney-general appropriately commenced measures to have the findings of the report drawn to the appropriate agencies and that process will unfold."



Rudd spoke to Indon president about Balibo five

TIMOR DILI, Dec 14 AAP - Prime Minister Kevin Rudd today said he'd discussed the 1975 deaths of five Australian-based journalists in East Timor with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

NSW Deputy Coroner Dorelle Pinch last month found the Balibo Five were deliberately killed by Indonesian troops to cover up the invasion of East Timor.

At the time, Mr Rudd committed a Labor government to referring the deaths to the attorney-general for prosecution.

He also backed moves to develop a national industry-wide safety code for journalists and to arrange for repatriation of the bodies of the five.

The prime minister was asked in East Timor today if he'd used a meeting with Dr Yudhoyono during climate talks in Bali this week to discuss the matter.

"Yes, I did raise those matters in the discussion I had with President Yudhoyono," Mr Rudd told reporters in the capital, Dili.

"We had a general discussion on it, and I also referred to the fact that the independent legal processes in Australia still had their own way to work through and these were independent of the executive arm of government and that they should proceed as they would normally to do."

Indonesia had always insisted the Balibo five were killed in crossfire in the border town of Balibo during its invasion of East Timor.

It considers the case closed.

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