Subject: UK govt to meet Balibo Five relatives


Thursday February 28, 08:38 AM

UK govt to meet Balibo Five relatives

The British government will consult with the families of two of the Balibo Five about what action, if any, it should take over the killings of the British-born newsmen in East Timor in 1975.

Foreign Office Minister Meg Munn offered to meet relatives of Brian Peters and Malcolm Rennie - the two British members of the group of five Australian-based newsmen who were deliberately killed by Indonesian soldiers at Balibo in October 1975.

The offer came after Liberal Democrat MP Don Foster called on Britain to ask INTERPOL to issue arrest warrants for two surviving Indonesian military men whom a NSW coroner linked to the killings after an inquest into the deaths.

Munn described the killings as "tragic" and assured the slain men's families the British government was taking the case seriously.

"I would now like to offer to meet the honorable member (Foster) and the families of the two British journalists killed ... to discuss the outcome of the Australian inquest," Munn said.

Asked by Foster during a debate at Westminster if she would call on Australian police to take the case to court, Munn said it was not up to Britain to "take forward the findings of the coroner's ... nor to comment on their accuracy".

"But I can assure him that we have paid close attention to the process of the inquest, and I plan to ask the Australian authorities at a suitable opportunity how they plan to respond to the inquest's recommendations," she said.

Handing down her findings last November, Deputy NSW Coroner Dorelle Pinch found that Gary Cunningham, Greg Shackleton, Tony Stewart and their two British-born colleagues were deliberately shot or stabbed while trying to surrender to Indonesian-led troops who stormed Balibo on October 16, 1975.

Their bodies were then dressed in military uniforms and photographed with guns before being incinerated in an attempt to portray them as combatants killed in a mortar attack.

The Australian Federal Police is still considering whether to charge the surviving former Indonesian military personnel linked to the deaths, Christoforus da Silva and Captain Yunus Yosfiah.

Both the Australian and British governments have been accused in the past of trying to cover up the deaths in order to protect diplomatic ties with Indonesia.

Foster wants the British government to carry out a major review of its conduct in relation to the men's deaths.

He said secret government documents released in 2002 showed that Britain's ambassador to Jakarta, John Ford, had warned a month before the Balibo Five were killed that Indonesia was ready to "step up clandestine intervention" and about to invade East Timor but the UK had done nothing to stop it.

The documents also showed that after Britain learned of the journalists' deaths eight days after they were killed, it recommended to Australian officials that it would be "pointless to go on demanding information from the Indonesians".

"When Britons die abroad we anticipate our government doing all they can to help the relatives," Foster said.

"We expect the government to seek as much information as possible and to share it with the relatives. Sadly, in this case, the opposite happened.

"From 1975 until 1995 there was almost complete inaction. The government were involved in a disgraceful cover-up."

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