Subject: Balibo Five do not yet rest in peace - Shirley Shackleton

also Otago Daily Times: The Balibo Five

Brisbane Times

Balibo Five do not yet rest in peace

September 24, 2009

The Australian Federal Police deserves support for undertaking a criminal prosecution into the cold-blooded murders of five journalists in Balibo, East Timor, in 1975.

The NSW Coroner has established that Brian Peters, Malcolm Rennie, Greg Shackleton, Gary Cunningham and Tony Stewart were murdered following orders from the highest levels during an illegal incursion into Portuguese Timor.

Commentators display ignorance when they blame the Balibo Five for their own murders; as Greg Shackleton knew when he accepted the assignment, even the feared North Vietnamese army did not harm journalists or photographers when it invaded South Vietnam.

The Balibo Five were just doing their job; they needed to prove that the invading troops were not disaffected Timorese. They were murdered merely to cover up the facts they were trying to expose and were protected by the terms of the Geneva Conventions as they died.

After the Indonesian military got away with five murders, followed by a sixth when they shot Roger East on the Dili wharf in front of more than 100 witnesses, journalists were frequently targeted all over the world. It is in the interests of all media to support the AFP's action.

Uninformed commentators avow that extradition of suspects will damage Australia-Indonesia relations. There is absolutely no danger of this - Indonesia receives millions of dollars in aid from Australia and our two countries are interdependent regarding trade.

One of my reasons for writing this letter is to appeal for anyone with information to come forward by writing a submission to the AFP. There are many questions that have never been asked, let alone answered, and the police are not clairvoyant.

It we want to prevent our sons and daughters from being murdered with impunity I ask you to co-operate as we did when Timorese voted for independence and a reluctant John Howard was forced to take action by what he termed ordinary Australians.

Shirley Shackleton South Melbourne


New Zealand

Otago Daily Times

The Balibo Five

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Thu, 24 Sep 2009


As we flick through the pages, the channels and the websites of our daily news services, it is hardly surprising we rest more lightly on stories that reference events in distant places long ago - events such as the killing of four Australian and one New Zealand newsman in the village of Balibo, East Timor, on October 16, 1975.

We might assume that such events were thoroughly chewed over in their day, examined from every angle, argued, discussed, disputed, prosecuted but eventually resolved, as best they could be, and put to bed.

Old news. Part of history. Nothing more to say.

With 27 journalists dead so far this year from doing their jobs, there are plenty of reasons to think that five dead in East Timor 34 years ago are a previous generation's problem.

But just as we hand down the national debt from one generation to the next, we also hand on the moral debt, of which Balibo is part.

Those five who died, and their families, are owed justice.

We can pretend that it is not our debt to pay, we can find reasons for delaying our payment of it, we can simply ignore it and hope it will go away.

This latter course has been the Australia and New Zealand approach for 34 years.

But, as difficult and painful and expensive and, perhaps, even as irrelevant as it might seem to some of us, those victims, and their families, deserve the same level of justice that we would demand if they were our own sons and the events that caused their deaths had happened yesterday.

After more than three decades, Australia has recognised that.

First came the 2007 finding of New South Wales deputy state coroner Dorelle Pinch that the journalists and cameramen - Brian Peters, Malcolm Rennie, Greg Shackleton, Tony Stewart and Gary Cunningham (of New Zealand) - were deliberately killed by Indonesian special forces, "away from the heat of battle", to prevent them reporting the invasion of East Timor.

Coroner Pinch found enough evidence to be able to declare that a war crimes investigation was warranted.

Some Australian media have reported her saying "strong circumstantial evidence" suggested the order to kill the "Balibo Five" came from the head of the Indonesian special forces, (the late) Major-general Benny Moerdani.

Special forces group commander in Timor, (the late) Colonel Dading Kalbuadi, passed the order on to Captain Yunus Yosfiah who ordered soldier Christoforus Da Silva to shoot and stab them.

On August 20 this year, Australian Federal Police announced a formal investigation into the deaths and it can be assumed, from the coroner's finding, that there is enough evidence to establish there is a case to answer.

The New Zealand Government has remained almost silent on the affair, saying only that it is following the Australian investigation "closely" but regards the issue of the inquiry as a "bilateral matter" between Australia and Indonesia.

That appears to be a stance of convenience for New Zealand, given the inevitable tensions such an investigation is likely to create between our two biggest and most powerful neighbours.

The head of Indonesia's parliamentary commission, Theo Sambuaga, has described the police investigation as useless and a waste of time, claiming his and Timor's governments have "never found evidence" of war crimes while others, not least the producers of the recently screened film Balibo, are convinced the unarmed men were murdered.

It will take a well conducted police investigation to determine which of two such diametrically opposed views is valid and it would seem only right and fair that New Zealand police should be taking an active part in the investigation, rather than be left standing on the sideline to "follow" the Australian investigation.

There is also the possibility the investigation will resolve some political questions as well that may be of considerable interest to New Zealanders and Australians.

The killings happened during Gough Whitlam's term as Australian prime minister and, until the coronial inquiry, "official reports" maintained the five were killed in crossfire during the invasion.

Bill Rowling was the New Zealand prime minister at the time and Robert Muldoon took over in December that year.

The coroner's finding has already put the official version of events in considerable doubt and it has added fuel to the debate over the level of involvement by Australia, Britain and United States in the Indonesian invasion of East Timor.

If the police investigation finds enough evidence for charges of murder to be laid in the case of the Balibo Five, where will that leave those who created the "official reports" and those who accepted them?

And, if the events surrounding the killings have been covered up, as many believe, what other events surrounding the invasion also remain hidden?

It is possible the answers to these questions will be found closer to home than the remote island where 100,000 East Timorese, four Australians and one New Zealander died 34 years ago.

But the answers will not be found unless we start to look.

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