Subject: Jose Ramos Horta relives Balibo Five through new Australian film

Also JRH won't push for new Balibo probe; Horta hopes Balibo inspires policy change from Australia

Jose Ramos Horta relives Balibo Five through new Australian film

Stuart Rintoul | July 24, 2009

EAST Timor president Jose Ramos Horta has given the film Balibo the thumbs up, saying that watching it was like a flashback, casting him back 34 years to events in East Timor in 1975 to relive "what I thought I had forgotten about". Speaking ahead of the launch of the film at the Melbourne International Film Festival tonight, he said he hopes the film, about the murder of six journalists during the invasion of East Timor by Indonesia, will do some justice to the memory of the journalists and what his people suffered.

He said there were some "lingering comments" that the Balibo Five journalists and Roger East, who went to East Timor to investigate the deaths and was also killed, were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

"They were in the right place at the right time," he said.

Mr Ramos Horta said East went to East Timor, at his urging, because "he felt disgust at the absolute lack of knowledge about what was going on in East Timor and he wanted to do something about it".

"He was a man with a mission and the mission was to tell the truth about a small people that no-one cared about," he said.

President Horta said the portrayal of the killing of East was "almost 100 per cent accurate," but the torture and murder of at least one of the Balibo Five was in reality much more shocking than portrayed in the film.

"They were not just executed," he said. "At least one of them was brutally, brutally tortured." The journalists' bodies were then burned to cover the facts because senior officers knew what the political consequences would be if the bodies were discovered.

Horta said East Timor was regarded in 1975 as "a footnote" in the post-Vietnam era and one senior US diplomat told Indonesia to "go ahead, invade, but do it quickly, effectively and without the use of US weapons".

Actor Anthony LaPaglia (East) described the journalist as a forgotten man, who "for some reason, in the world of journalism, seems to have disappeared off the map".

He said he was introduced to the Balibo story, about which he knew little, at a barbeque at the home of producer Rebecca Williamson in Los Angeles where they discussed Jill Jolliffe's book, Cover Up.

Director Robert Connolly said it was on many trips to East Timor that he became determined to tell the story not only of the Australian journalists killed in East Timor but also East Timor's "incredible journey to independence".

"It is not only the story of the Balibo Five and the story of Roger East and the president in '75, but also the story of Timor Leste," he said.

Touching on the conspiracy trial over his attempted assassination last year, President Horta said he had "no problem" about sympathetic coverage given to the case of Angelita Pires, former girlfriend of rebel leader Alfredo Reinado.

"Journalists are human beings, not above any of us mere mortals," he said. "They have their own prejudices, perceptions (and) sensitivities."

He said he had "the deepest respect" for East Timor's young judicial system. "They are part of our new incipient nation handling an extremely difficult case that involves an attempt on the life of the president therefore I can express only tremendous sympathy and respect for them."

The Balibo Five were Greg Shackleton, 27, Tony Stewart, 21, Gary Cunningham, 27, Brian Peters, 29, Malcolm Rennie, 28. Tony East was 50.


Timor won't push for new Balibo probe

East Timorese President Jose Ramos-Horta says he will not push for a war crimes tribunal to investigate the deaths of six Australians in 1975.

A coronial inquest in 2007 found that Indonesian forces shot and stabbed five television journalists in the small town of Balibo, near the West Timor border.

A few weeks later another Australian journalist, Roger East, was also executed as Indonesian troops parachuted into Dili.

Mr Ramos-Horta says there would be little point in pursuing charges against the soldiers who killed the Australians, or those responsible for deaths of tens of thousands of East Timorese civilians.

"We are dealing with a still powerful neighbour," he said.

"It is highly unlikely that any government in Indonesia in the foreseeable future [would] feel strong enough to bring to trial surviving Indonesian military officers who perpetrated barbarities in East Timor."

Mr Ramos-Horta says Indonesian troops tortured and mutilated the foreign journalists.

"They were not just executed, from what I remember researching at the time, back in '75, '76, at least one of them was brutally, brutally tortured," he said.

He says the Balibo film is largely accurate but its makers were unable to depict the gruesome nature of the killings because the scenes of torture and mutilation by the Indonesian military would be too shocking.

Mr Ramos-Horta says Indonesian officers ordered troops to burn the bodies to conceal the crime.

"Those who killed them felt the need to burn them because senior officers arrived on the scene and saw what happened," he said.

"They knew what the consequences would be, so they had to burn any evidence that those people had been captured alive and then were brutally murdered.

"That's why they burned the bodies, to cover the evidence of torture and mutilations."

'Bring remains home'

Meanwhile Shirley Shackleton, the widow of the late Channel Seven reporter Greg Shackleton, is urging authorities to bring her husband's remains home to Australia.

The 2007 inquest found the journalists had been deliberately killed to stop them covering the Indonesian invasion.

The coroner found the journalists' remains were burnt together and mixed before being buried in Indonesia and recommended they be repatriated if the families agreed.

Ms Shackleton says in the past two weeks the families have received a letter from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) outlining the repatriation process.

"They're saying that the families have to make a decision and let them know that we all want repatriation," Ms Shackleton said.

"We can't be expected to tell them what we want until we know what is in the grave.

"If there is a small speck of my husband left there, I don't want him left up there."

She says a film about the events in Balibo, to be premiered in Melbourne tonight, might have prompted DFAT's action.

"I think the film has caused this," she said.

"It sounds cynical, doesn't it, but I think maybe they know there's going to be a great deal of publicity.

"People who never knew about this are suddenly going to be educated and [for] a lot of people who did know... it's going to open up old wounds."

The film is based on a book by author Jill Jolliff, who was working as a journalist in East Timor when the Balibo Five died.

"Producing this film now shows that you should never give up. There is always the possibility that you will bring war criminals to account or human rights violated anywhere," she said.

"That is very important to continue."

The NSW coroner also recommended prosecutions for those responsible for the deaths, but Jolliff thinks that is unlikely.

"Possibly the exhumation of the bodies is not such a hard call for the current Indonesian Government," she said.

"The extradition of at least one senior military officer certainly is and I don't see that happening easily."


Horta hopes Balibo inspires policy change from Australia

By Alyssa Braithwaite, National Entertainment Writer

MELBOURNE, July 24 AAP - East Timorese President Jose Ramos Horta hopes the new movie Balibo, about the murder of six Australian journalists in 1975, prompts world leaders to learn from past mistakes.

But the Nobel Peace Prize winner doesn't expect those guilty for the crime to be brought to justice any time soon.

Speaking at the launch of the political thriller, Dr Horta said he hoped Balibo would inspire world leaders to be moral in their conduct of foreign policy.

"I hope that the film, if anything, help Indonesians, help Australians, help us do some soul searching and learn from this tragic chapter of our history," Dr Horta told journalists.

"I hope that the enormous price paid by the East Timorese, paid by the six (Australians) will help leaders elsewhere to try to always put principles and morality and decency above expediency."

Dr Horta said Australia had turned a "blind eye to blatant situations of human rights abuses" during Indonesia's 24-year occupation of East Timor and urged leaders not to let it happen again.

"Australia can work with Indonesia for instance... help bring an end to that ugly situation in Myanmar - Burma," he said.

"Here is where Australia can be more proactive and not only be happy with occasional statements."

Robert Connolly's film Balibo tells the story surrounding the execution of five Australia-based journalists during Indonesia's invasion of East Timor.

Actor Anthony LaPaglia plays another Australian journalist, Roger East, who was killed when he went to East Timor to investigate the deaths.

While a 2007 coronial inquest found that Indonesian forces shot and stabbed the five television journalists, Ramos-Horta said there was little point pushing for a war crimes tribunal to investigate the deaths.

"We are dealing with a still powerful neighbour," he told the ABC.

"It is highly unlikely that any government in Indonesia in the foreseeable future (would) feel strong enough to bring to trial surviving Indonesian military officers who perpetrated barbarities in East Timor."

On Friday Indonesian foreign ministry spokesman Teuku Faizasyah said Balibo wouldn't change anything as far as Indonesia was concerned.

"The film may stir some controversy in Australia, but for us, it's a finished problem, case closed," he said.

"Because the fact is the Australian government itself has stated it was an accident, that they were in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Dr Horta, who is portrayed as a young man by actor Oscar Isaac, said the film would bring a bit of justice to the six Australians killed and to the people of East Timor by telling their story.

He added that watching it ahead of the world premiere in Melbourne on Friday night was difficult for him.

"Watching Balibo ... we go back to 35 years ago almost like you are (having a) flashback and reliving what I thought I had forgotten about," he said.

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