Subject: The Age: Indonesian Anger at Balibo Probe, Puts Ties at Risk; JP: RI to Seek Clarification [+Michelle Grattan: Emotion Makes It Hard to Focus on Harsh Realities (3 reports)

also: JP: RI to Seek Clarification Over Australia's New Probe into Balibo Five; and The Age by Michelle Grattan: Balibo Emotion Makes It Hard to Focus on Harsh Realities

The Age (Melbourne)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Indonesian Anger at Balibo Probe


INDONESIA has warned that its relations with Australia will be harmed by an Australian Federal Police war crimes investigation into the 1975 slaying of five journalists in East Timor.

In a sharp official response to yesterday's announcement of the AFP probe, the Indonesian Government said it would not co-operate with investigators.

''We don't understand why past issues like this are being raised,'' said Foreign Ministry spokesman Teuku Faizasyah.

''It is not conducive to the bilateral relationship, especially when we are aiming at building something better between the two countries.''

The AFP has confirmed that it began a formal probe into the deaths of the five Australian-based newsmen on August 20.

The announcement, which was applauded by relatives of the newsmen, comes almost two years after NSW deputy coroner Dorelle Pinch found they were executed in October 1975 by Indonesian Special Forces to stop them revealing details of the invasion of East Timor.

Indonesia insists the men were killed in crossfire during the battle for the town of Balibo.

The AFP probe is likely to focus on Mohammad Yunus Yosfiah, an army captain at the time of the killings, and another soldier, Christoforus da Silva.

The NSW inquest was told that Captain Yosfiah ordered the murders under instructions from two superiors, both of whom have since died.

The AFP probe faces big hurdles, including whether Indonesia will allow the extradition of Mr Yosfiah and Mr da Silva.

It is also still to be seen whether Indonesia, and the men's families, will allow exhumation of their remains.

The AFP said investigating war crimes allegations could be difficult where witnesses and evidence were overseas and where considerable time had passed since the killings.

The 2007 inquest focused on the death of one of the Balibo five, Channel Nine cameraman Brian Peters. Ms Pinch found Mr Peters was probably killed first, followed by his colleague Malcolm Rennie and Channel Seven's Greg Shackleton, Gary Cunningham and Tony Stewart.

Mr Yosfiah, who has denied ordering the killings, lives in Jakarta. Mr da Silva is believed to live on the island of Flores.

Asked whether Indonesia would agree to their extradition, Mr Faizasyah was dismissive. ''Our position is that it's 'case closed'. We have no intention of re-opening this case.''

Former Jakarta governor Sutiyoso, whose Sydney hotel room was broken into by police seeking to summons him to the inquest, said he was puzzled by the new investigation. ''What I know is that both governments, Indonesian and Australian, have decided not to reopen the case,'' he said. ''So … why do we have this now?'' Mr Sutiyoso served in the military in East Timor, but was not near Balibo when the newsmen died.

Analyst Hugh White of the Australian National University questioned the continuing focus on Balibo, and said the new investigation would not help relations with Indonesia.

He said the killings were deeply disturbing at the time and he could understand why they continued to torment the men's families. ''But for the country as a whole, our obsession with what happened at Balibo in 1975 has started to become a distraction from a whole lot of much more urgent and important questions, which include the nature of Australia's relationship with the new Indonesia,'' he said.

The sister of Brian Peters, Maureen Tolfree, said from her home in Britain she was over the moon about the probe. ''Wow, at last! That's brilliant news,'' she said.

University of NSW academic and ex-army intelligence operative Clinton Fernandes also applauded the probe. ''Australian aid to Indonesia is half a billion dollars a year. There are 16,000 Indonesian students studying in Australia and $15 billion a year in bilateral investment and trade each year,'' he said.

''Considering that, the Indonesian Government should not be making a fuss about extraditing someone like Yosfiah. ''He is a figure from the past.''

Flinders University legal expert Grant Niemann said the renewed focus on the issue after the release of the film Balibo may have prompted authorities to act. He warned of ''numerous'' problems for investigators. ''The delay is a real problem because the evidence isn't fresh,'' he said.

The legal basis was also an issue. ''If they got the defendants here … they could possibly prosecute them [under] the Geneva Convention, but that is a very long bow.''


The Jakarta Post [web site]

September 9, 2009

RI to Seek Clarification Over Australia's New Probe into Balibo Five

by Lilian Budianto

Indonesia is seeking clarification with Australian Federal Police's plan to reopen an investigation into the death of five foreign journalists during the Southeast Asian country's invasion to East Timor 1975, saying “the case closure has been final”.

We will ask our ambassador to Australia to clarify the matter with Australian government because we have not received any official notification. We only heard it from the police press release,” Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokesman Teuku Faizasyah said Wednesday.

Reuters reported Wednesday that the Australian Federal Police would reopen the investigation to look at possible war crimes. An Australian coroner looking into the deaths of the two Australians, two Britons and a New Zealander ­ known as "the Balibo Five" ­ ruled in 2007 that they were killed on duty in the East Timorese village of Balibo to cover up the invasion by Indonesian military to its former province.

Faizasyah said he could not comment on the new probe pending Australia’s clarification, but underlined that the Australian police’s allegation was “a very serious issue” that needed settlement.


The Age (Melbourne)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Emotion Makes It Hard to Focus on Harsh Realities

By Michelle Grattan

BALIBO is an emotional touchstone. For many Australians, what happened there to five young men in 1975 has etched itself indelibly into their views about Indonesia. But the hard question for Australia as a nation is whether it's wise to continue to pick at this tragedy.

Of course a lot of the people who've seen the film Balibo would say that we should - that time should not dull the pain and outrage. They'd argue that if the journalists were executed, rather than killed in crossfire - as the Indonesians maintain - evidence should be sifted and justice sought.

One can fully understand families feeling that. But looked at from a wider perspective, there is another side. These events were decades ago. Today's Indonesia is a very different country from that of 1975, with another generation of leaders; its political system and (to some extent) its values have evolved. Our national interest won't be particularly served by going down a path that could put our two countries at odds.

Sometimes events spin out of control and it can be argued this has happened in these investigations. A NSW coronial inquiry in 2007 concluded the men were executed. The finding went to the Liberal government and then to the federal police.

Labor's Home Affairs Minister, Brendan O'Connor, had pursued the issue in opposition; when he recently took over responsibility for the Australian Federal Police he wanted to know what was happening. Now the police are running hard.

But where will their investigation lead? It may be doomed to failure. The police point out that investigations of war crime allegations ''can be problematic'' when the events happened offshore and many years ago.

But if the police come up with a brief that the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions believes holds water, what then? Two of the Indonesians named in the coronial report are dead. Trying to get action against others would be difficult and potentially damaging to relations with our near neighbour.

But can any politician say ''enough - time to close the book''? No, because they reckon that it is easier to try to manage the international politics than to lecture a domestic audience on some hard realities.

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