|Subject: Balibo ruling irks Jakarta,
Saturday, November 17, 2007
Balibo ruling irks Jakarta
David King, Stephen Fitzpatrick
INDONESIA has dismissed an Australian court's finding that its special forces troops deliberately killed five Australian newsmen in East Timor and possibly committed a war crime.
As Jakarta officially declared the matter ``case closed'', an Indonesian politician suggested the country would not accept Australian attempts to extradite Yunus Yosfiah, the military commander turned politician accused of leading the killing of the journalists.
``If Australia demands Pak (Mr) Yunus appear in court, I as an Indonesian would be very concerned. They would have to go via the Indonesian Government, through diplomatic channels,'' foreign affairs parliamentary committee member Yudi Chrisnandi said.
``It was government policy that he go there ... he went there on the orders of the Government.
``So individuals cannot be blamed for it.''
NSW Deputy State Coroner Dorelle Pinch found yesterday that the Australian newsmen, known as the Balibo Five, were executed in October 1975 by Indonesian special forces troops, away from the heat of battle, because they could have made public Indonesia's invasion of East Timor.
She found Mr Yosfiah, an Indonesian parliamentarian who once held the position of information minister, was involved in the killing and led the attack on the journalists.
``There is strong circumstantial evidence that those orders emanated from the head of the Indonesian special forces, Major General Benny Murdani, to Colonel Dading Kalbuadi, special forces group commander in Timor, and then to Captain Yosfiah.''
In her inquest into the death of Brian Peters, Ms Pinch found the conduct of Indonesian military might have constituted a war crime, and referred the matter to federal Attorney-General Philip Ruddock.
She recommended that the Australian Government urgently liaise with the families to facilitate repatriation of the remains.
The bodies of the five men -- Greg Shackleton, Tony Stewart, Greg Cunningham, Malcolm Rennie and Brian Peters -- were dressed in Portuguese uniforms, photographed and then burnt, with their ashes mixed together and later buried in Jakarta.
The men's families yesterday expressed happiness that the coroner had found that the men were deliberately killed, and that a war crimes charge would be examined.
``Justice has been done, this is it, we got what we wanted,'' said Maureen Tolfree, the sister of Peters, outside Glebe Coroners Court. ``They were murdered in cold blood -- it was just getting someone to listen and help us,'' she said.
Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokesman Christiarto Suryolegowo said the coroner's decision would not do anything ``to change Indonesia's stance that for us it is a closed case, and we are still in the position that they were killed because of crossfire between conflicting sides at thetime''.
The coroner agreed with former prime minister Gough Whitlam's testimony that he had not known of the journalists' deaths prior to October 21, even though his defence minister knew of the tragedy within hours.
``I am aware that there has been speculation that government agencies in Australia had forewarning that the journalists were to be killed. All of the evidence before this inquest is to the contrary,'' Ms Pinch said.
The Advertiser Saturday, November 17, 2007
War crimes: The terrible truth of the Balibo Five
Thirty-two years after five Australian-based newsmen died in East Timor, an inquest has ruled it was a deliberate military act. JANET FIFE-YEOMANS reports
THE first sight of the dusty Balibo square surrounded by ruined buildings where five young Australians were slaughtered brought a lump to the throat of Rodney Lewis.
Little had changed since newsmen Brian Peters, Greg Shackleton, Malcolm Rennie, Gary Cunningham and Tony Stewart died there in 1975, reporting on a story they knew had to be told - the invasion of East Timor by Indonesia.
Mr Lewis, a Sydney solicitor, knew the story that had to be told was the one behind their deaths, the one behind the wall of secrecy thrown up by both the Indonesian and Australian governments.
Mr Lewis's day job is business law and property cases, run out of his one-man practice at West Ryde. But the quietly spoken Lewis has been working away in the back room as a member of the Australian section of the International Commission of Jurists since 1974.
The commission is an independent, non-political organisation of lawyers who believe the rule of law can be used to protect human rights. The group locked on to the killings in Balibo.
It was unconvinced by two government inquiries conducted by former National Crime Authority chairman Tom Sherman which concluded the newsmen died in crossfire between Indonesians and East Timor's Fretilin forces.
It took Mr Lewis 27 years, six applications for a visa and East Timor to win its independence from Indonesia before he made it to the border village of Balibo where one of the last photographs of the five men showed them lounging around outside one of the 12 houses.
The Australians had dubbed it the ``embassy'' and painted an Aussie flag on the wall.
The photograph shows them sharing a few beers and a bottle of Portugese red on October 15, their last night alive.
``Having spent so many years watching and reading and listening to people telling their stories, for me to be there was a surreal experience,'' says Mr Lewis, who finally got there in 2002. ``I tried to picture in my mind's eye where they had been sitting, where they had been shot.''
Yesterday, NSW deputy state coroner Dorelle Pinch made sure of that when she handed down her findings following Australia's most politically charged inquest.
Ms Pinch referred the case to Attorney-General Philip Ruddock for possible prosecution of war crimes, after finding that far from being caught in crossfire, Peters, 29, Rennie, 28, Shackleton, 27, Cunningham, 27 and Stewart, 21, had been deliberately killed.
The inquest was a ``real beacon for the rule of law in Australia,'' says Lewis, because it used the law to do what the two Sherman inquiries never did - find the truth. Former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam and other political leaders and intelligence chiefs were called into the witness box just the same as East Timorese witnesses. Mr Lewis and other lawyers put in thousands of unpaid hours over the years, representing the families of all five men. He secured Legal Aid funding only for the inquest.
Holding an inquest in NSW into the death of a British citizen in a foreign country had never been done before. The idea grew out of a meeting convened by the International Commission of Jurists in Sydney in 1997 and attended by families of the newsmen, including Rennie's mother, Minna, then in her 80s, who travelled from the UK.
It was Lewis and Maureen Tolfree, the sister of Brian Peters, who formally reported the death of her brother to the NSW coroner in 2000. Peters was the only NSW resident. Ms Tolfree says she was happy to hand it over to the coroner when the inquest opened earlier this year.
``From the first five minutes sitting in the coroner's court, I thought this is it. This is what I wanted and whatever the outcome, it's up to the law now,'' Ms Tolfree says, having flown from the UK to Sydney this week for the inquest finding.
In August 1975, it was Peters who captured the first footage of a coup by the UDT, the Timorese democratic union, when he sailed into Dili on a shonky trawler.
When fighting broke out again in October, his then news chief Gerald Stone chose Peters to accompany reporter Rennie to get the proof that Indonesia had not only engineered the coup but was involved in border incursions.
Shackleton, an ambitious reporter who had been agitating for an exciting assignment, led the Channel Seven crew in East Timor with veteran cameraman Cunningham, a New Zealander, and the youngest of the doomed group, sound recordist Stewart.
They met up with the Nine crew and while they had all been warned of the dangers they faced, they were determined to remain.
They also believed that as journalists, they were bulletproof. The inquest discovered that while diplomats in Jakarta were told of the attack on Balibo was planned and others knew the journalists were there, the information was not put together.
But the Indonesians knew the journalists were in Balibo and the Australian authorities were caught up in a bizarre charade, according to counsel assisting the inquest, Mark Tedeschi, QC.
Having been warned of the attack and saying nothing, they then had to keep quiet about what they knew - becoming complicit in Indonesia's 30-year campaign of disinformation.
And no-one told the journalists - who were woken at 4am on October 16 by friendly Fretilin soldiers who then fled Balibo.
When the Indonesian special forces arrived, the newsmen attempted to surrender. One was attacked in the town square and the others forced into a house.
At least three were shot on the orders of Captain Yunus Yosfiah, leader of the special forces, who also shot them himself.
Yosfiah went on to become the most decorated member of the Indonesian army and served as Minister of Information in 1998 and 1999.
The fifth escaped to the back of the house, where he locked himself in a bathroom. Another Indonesian officer, Christoforus Da Silva, banged on the door with his rifle and threatened to throw a grenade in. When the journalist came out, Da Silva stabbed him in the back with a military knife.
The remains of four bodies were eventually sent in a shoebox back to Jakarta, where they were buried by Australian diplomats in December 1975 in a single coffin - with no family present. One body is believed to have been buried around Balibo.
Ms Tolfree now wants to bring the boys home to Australia.
The Sydney Morning Herald Saturday, November 17, 2007
Balibo: time for Jakarta to come clean
IT HAS taken an ordinary coronial inquest to do what the highest levels of Australian politics and diplomacy had been unable to manage for more than 30 years: establish publicly how and why five Australian-based newsmen died at Balibo during Indonesia's 1975 invasion of East Timor. We now know the men were deliberately killed by Indonesian troops to prevent news of the invasion getting out and the circumstances of their murder covered up.
The importance of the findings by Deputy State Coroner Dorelle Pinch can hardly be overestimated: it clears up almost completely the mystery of what happened on October 16 that year, and it prepares the way for the necessary next step - the pursuit of those involved in what Ms Pinch has described as a war crime. The finding, and this subsequent prosecution, will no doubt face difficulties. But it also has the potential to clear away a persistent irritant in Australian-Indonesian relations.
Even after so long, the case still has the power to anger Australians - and Indonesians - much as the invasion and its consequences for the region have reverberations even now. Ms Pinch sought co-operation from Indonesian authorities but did not receive it. That does not greatly affect her ability to reconstruct events, but it points to the continuing sensitivity that has bedevilled attempts to get at the truth.
Before the inquest there was the suspicion that the Australian Government knew more - had always known more - than it was letting on. Indonesian military signals monitored in northern Australia might have contained information about how the journalists died.
Ms Pinch found this not to be so. Instead, eyewitness accounts from Timorese fighters in Balibo were more help to her in piecing together what happened. She has steered away - perhaps wrongly - from examining the question of negligence within the Australian bureaucracy of the day. Officials knew there were Australian journalists in the area; it was also known when Indonesia would invade. No one in a position of influence, however, brought the two facts together or drew the obvious conclusion that the newsmen should be warned.
If the Government now makes a greater effort to put two and two together in this way and to warn Australians working in trouble spots abroad of possible danger, it is one positive outcome from the Balibo tragedy.
Indonesia took advantage of the disarray in Australian politics as the Whitlam government degenerated at the end of 1975. It did so cleverly: compromising Canberra's independence by revealing its intentions. Knowing in advance of Jakarta's intentions and in no position to oppose them, Australia was thus manoeuvred into approving of the whole disastrous escapade. It could not, with any consistency, express outrage at subsequent events including the journalists' murder. It could not adequately support their families. This country had willingly fallen into a trap from which it finally escaped only in 1999, with the East Timorese independence vote.
Relations with Indonesia have suffered as a result of that 30-year-old mistake, and though relations between individual Australians and Indonesians are almost universally cordial, more generalised mistrust lingers. That is why Ms Pinch's recommendations are so important.
Her decision to refer the case to the federal Attorney-General for decision on whether a war-crimes prosecution should be launched creates a conundrum for Canberra. To their credit, both the Attorney-General, Philip Ruddock, and the Leader of the Opposition, Kevin Rudd have said the process should go ahead. In Jakarta, meanwhile, all the talk was of the case being closed long ago. Clearly, as the full story has only now emerged, it was not.
Indonesia is a signatory, like Australia, of the Geneva conventions covering war crimes, and should be asked to meet its obligations under them. To be realistic, it is unlikely that Jakarta will agree to extradite those accused of the men's deaths to Australia for trial. Its limp war-crimes prosecutions following the events in East Timor in 1999 probably show the very best that may be expected. That is a pity. It would be far better for both countries if Indonesia gave its side of the story with candour, and accepted the necessary consequences, so that both countries can put the whole painful episode behind them.
The Canberra Times Saturday, November 17, 2007
Doubts linger over deaths and what Australia knew
Yet another report into the deaths of the Balibo Five will not put to rest the concerns and doubts about the case, a consequence for which the Government and intelligence authorities can only blame themselves. Australians did not shoot the journalists in cold blood Indonesian soldiers did that and Australians had no foreknowledge they would do so. But the official Australian response to the murders has always been compromised by its advance knowledge of Indonesia's invasion plans, and the fact our spooks were closely monitoring Indonesian military communications. From the start, our diplomats and our spooks knew more than they admitted, and told less than they knew so as not to compromise their foreknowledge of the invasion and their eavesdropping, which was in any event hardly a deep secret.
The effort to protect intelligence- gathering operations has made many suspicious of witting Australian involvement in the Indonesian deception operations and cover-up, and made some suspect, probably wrongly, that Australia could have done more to protect the journalists. Those suspicions have been redoubled by incompetence and possible malfeasance with intelligence records, including the deliberate deception of earlier inquiries. NSW Deputy Coroner Dorelle Pinch is happy enough she has seen all of the documents that still exist. The Commonwealth still claims privilege over a few, but she was allowed to see them and records they do not change anything of significance of findings made from open evidence.
Certainly they support and emphasise a witting and premeditated decision by Indonesian officers, almost certainly sanctioned at a high level, to execute unarmed people known to be journalists, because they were witnesses to a truth Indonesia did not want the world to know that the invasion of East Timor was by regular Indonesian soldiers. But Pinch is not the first person to have been told she has been shown all the documents which could be found. Earlier investigations were told the same thing, and were lied to. Some will still be inclined to believe information is being withheld. Probably not so much as to show Australia could have done much, but to demonstrate how we knew more, and knew earlier, and did little about it. Previous claims of cover-up have turned on the existence of a Blue Book which the coroner now thinks herself to have seen documents shown to senior officials working with the Hope Royal Commission but never produced in any of the investigations, and the gossip, recollections and reconstructions of any number of people in the intelligence, administrative and political world at the time of the killings. Some go, in effect, to suggest real- time knowledge of the executions perhaps even the hearing of explicit orders for them. The available documents do not go anywhere as far, although they certainly confirm our spooks knew most of the facts days before the public.
Those still suspicious draw on other reasons to suggest some individuals, as much as the Australian Government or security establishment, have grounds for cover-up. Our diplomats in Jakarta had been told the invasion was imminent, and knew broadly where and when it would happen. (As it turned out, the operation was deferred a day, but that gave us even more time to be prepared to keep a very close eye particularly with signals intelligence on what occurred.) Australia's capacity to react properly to what happened was deeply compromised by its having been briefed by Indonesian officers and spies, and the circumstances are the most commonly cited evidence for the claims of the influence in Australia of an Indonesian lobby. Publicly cited material shows us to have overheard commands from those directing the operation, but the tenor of the rumours has always been that our ability also extended even to radio messages between very low- level units.
If this is a great secret it is hard to imagine the Indonesian military does not have a clearer idea of what happens than the typical Australian civilian it is still preserved in the Coroner's report. But perhaps the real secret we are so uncomfortable with is that we were, at the time, comprehensively outsmarted and outplayed by Indonesian intelligence agents. We might have been able to read their mail and hear what they said on lines they must have known or suspected to be monitored, but we, by and large, were playing to their script, not they to ours. Five dead journalists may be mere collateral casualties to this fact, with us, seemingly, having as much to conceal about their fate as Indonesia does.