Subject: Search for Justice (Balibo 5) 

video links from here - 

Search for Justice

Friday, October 30, 2009

Reporter: <> Liam Bartlett Producers: <> Nick Greenaway, Shaun Devitt

They were five Australians ­ executed in cold blood. Journalists who became known as the Balibo Five, shot down by Indonesian soldiers in East Timor in 1975.

For 34 years, the families of the murdered men have been begging for answers. But all they've got from the Indonesians and successive Australian Governments are lies and excuses.

Finally, the Australian Federal Police has announced a special war crimes investigation into what really happened at Balibo. Just don't expect any help from the Indonesians - they think we should get over it and move on.

However, as Liam Bartlett discovered during a moving pilgrimage back to Balibo, that's something the long-suffering families of these men simply aren't willing to do.

<> Read Laim Bartlett's blog on this story and have your say

Story contacts:

The Living Memory project was set up by Jill Joliffe in East Timor to aid the 10,000 plus political prisoners there during Indonesian occupation. Jill Joliffe wrote the book Cover Up which was the basis for the movie Balibo and she was a great help to us during the shoot.

To find out more about the 2009 film Balibo, visit: <>

Full transcript below:

STORY - LIAM BARTLETT: Their faces are frozen in time. Five Australian-based newsmen, all in their 20s, each in their prime. They were executed 34 years ago in a place most people have never heard of or have since forgotten - Balibo, East Timor. The killers remain at large. So even after all this time, the families are prepared to make the long painful journey back to Balibo in their search for justice. What does Balibo mean to you two?

GREIG CUNNINGHAM: There's so many conflicting emotions, so many... Oh, aspects of our life. You know, our lives were turned upside down, basically, in 1975 when our brother was killed.

LIAM BARTLETT: Greig and Anne Cunningham never got a chance to say goodbye to their older brother, Gary, so the road to Balibo is full of mixed emotions.

ANNE CUNNINGHAM: You can just feel them all around and yeah, but in fact I just want to cry now, thinking about it. That's the place where he... he died. He never came back from that place.

LIAM BARTLETT: It's this one up, isn't it?

GREIG CUNNINGHAM: This is the house where they were killed.

LIAM BARTLETT: And there in the centre of town, we find the ruined building where the men, know as the Balibo Five, were murdered by Indonesian special forces.

GREIG CUNNINGHAM: It still is, you know, haunting and spooky as ever, I think. While the structure's here you'll always have the the mental image of these walls, knowing that on one of the walls, against one of the walls, you know, our brother was when he was shot. How do we know?

ANNE CUNNINGHAM: Just think, if these walls could talk, what would they say? What would they say?

LIAM BARTLETT: The Australian Federal Police recently announced a war crimes investigation into what took place here. But they shouldn't hold their breath expecting the Indonesians to help as far as they're concerned - it's case closed. If five Indonesians were murdered in Australia, would you expect us to track down the killers?

TEUKU FAIZASYAH: On what conditions?

LIAM BARTLETT: It's a simple question, sir. INDONESIAN SPOKESMAN: Let me emphasise again, time and again, it is the war, condition of the war.

LIAM BARTLETT: They were journalists, sir, not soldiers. Malcolm Rennie, Greg Shackleton, Brian Peters, Gary Cunningham and Tony Stewart are seen here in Balibo in October 1975, less than 24 hours before they died. They'd travelled here to report on Indonesia's secret plans to surge across the border from West Timor and seize control of its tiny neighbour. The man who drove them there was a young freedom fighter who went on to become East Timor's President, Jose Ramos Horta.

JOSE RAMOS HORTA: We went straight to Balibo. I drove the jeep myself.

LIAM BARTLETT: Do you feel any personal guilt because you took them there?

JOSE RAMOS HORTA: Knowing what I know, I would not have taken them there. But, at that time we all had the illusions, I had the illusion that A, the Indonesian side would never touch a journalist.

LIAM BARTLETT: The Balibo Five certainly believed that.

GREG SHACKLETON NEWS REPORT: At any rate, we look like being the last people left in the town.

LIAM BARTLETT: They assumed as long as the invading troops knew they were Australian media, they'd be safe.

GREG SHACKLETON NEWS REPORT: We daubed our house with the word 'Australia' in red and the Australian flag in the house where we spent the night. We are hoping it will afford us some protection.

LIAM BARTLETT: Those famous images of reporter Greg Shackleton were filmed by cameraman, Gary Cunningham. I can see the resemblance.

ANNE CUNNINGHAM: Can you? Yeah, I think we were, Gary and I, were a lot like our mother. Yes, I'm just very sad looking at his picture, like I miss my brother. Wish he was around, yep.

LIAM BARTLETT: Exactly what happened in the early hours of October 16 has, until recently, been shrouded in mystery. Covered up by successive Indonesian and Australian governments. But an Australian coroner's report in 2007, and the newly-released film 'Balibo' have, according to most, set the record straight about what did happen, when the Indonesians forces surged across the border into the town of Balibo. Just as dawn broke, a couple of thousand Indonesian soldiers came pouring over that hill. It was more than anyone had bargained for. And the five newsmen who were trying to film their arrival came under heavy fire. So they sprinted down here into the centre of Balibo. But in the chaos, instead of turning right and heading back to where they were staying, they turned left and ran straight into a place the locals called the 'Chinese House'. In those terrifying moments, it soon became apparent to the five men, that they and their footage were the targets. The Indonesians didn't want the world to know what they were doing. Then cameraman Brian Peters, the most experienced, walked out to surrender. The Indonesians then burst into the Chinese House, determined to kill the rest of the team. This is where three of them were killed, Greig?

GREIG CUNNINGHAM: This is where the three, yeah, Greg Shackleton, Malcolm Rennie and our brother Gary Cunningham were killed - in this room.

LIAM BARTLETT: So, these bullet holes in the wall?


LIAM BARTLETT: I take it that these are still remnants of...

GREIG CUNNINGHAM: Yes, of the time.

LIAM BARTLETT: Of the shots that were fired that morning.

ANNE CUNNINGHAM: Yes. Got to wonder which ones, you know. There's so many.

LIAM BARTLETT: 34 years later, Greig and Anne are still putting the gruesome jigsaw together in the burnt-out shell of the Chinese House. Would you want to know exactly where Gary was standing when he was shot?

ANNE CUNNINGHAM: Yeah, I could probably touch the wall. It might, maybe it's right here. You know, I'd be like feeling him, wouldn't it, if that's possible, but, yeah, I would actually. Now, I'm standing here, yeah, it...yeah, it would be good to know.

LIAM BARTLETT: Sharing those last moments is a sort of...brings you closer, is that what you think?

ANNE CUNNINGHAM: That's right. Yeah. Yep.

LIAM BARTLETT: The official government line in Jakarta has always been the men were killed accidentally in crossfire.

TEUKU FAIZASYAH: During the war a lot of confusion might take place. Teuku Faizasyah is the official spokesman.

TEUKU FAIZASYAH: Our understanding of the issues is that they were killed during the crossfire, so that's our understanding and that's, ah...

LIAM BARTLETT: And if you were wrong?


LIAM BARTLETT: That means an Indonesian, one of your countrymen, is a murderer.

TEUKU FAIZASYAH: War is war. To be killed in the crossfire in the line of war, it's a risk that anyone can happen. It's...

LIAM BARTLETT: War is not war, sir, when those men were killed walking down the middle of the street with their hands in the air.

TEUKU FAIZASYAH: That's the understanding of your side.

LIAM BARTLETT: But Indonesia's version of events completely ignores eyewitness accounts of the newsmen's executions. Alberto was a young porter for the Indonesian Army. He saw the men plead for their lives inside the Chinese House.

ALBERTO: TRANSLATION: He said, "Journalist. I am a journalist". But the Indonesians didn't want to know about him being a journalist and fired off shots. The one standing fell to the ground, and they then fired at the other two who were seated on the ground.

LIAM BARTLETT: You saw the Australian newsmen murdered by Indonesian soldiers?

ALBERTO: TRANSLATION: I saw it absolutely with my own eyes.

LIAM BARTLETT: It's an extraordinary moment for the Cunninghams, finally they come face to face with an eyewitness to their brother's execution.

ANNE CUNNINGHAM: Do you remember, do you remember what they looked like, was there a big man, short man, do you remember?

GREIG CUNNINGHAM: Our brother was a very big man, the biggest of all five.

ALBERTO: TRANSLATION: He looked like this lady, and was a big person like you. The one who died saying, "I'm a journalist", looked like you.

ANNE CUNNINGHAM: And he was shot. Where was he shot? In the head or his body, do you remember what part he was shot in?

ALBERTO: TRANSLATION: I just saw him shot and fall immediately, I didn't see if he was shot here or here.

GREIG CUNNINGHAM: You know the man or the men who killed them?

ALBERTO: TRANSLATION: There were two people who killed them. One whose name I know was called Chris, the other name I've forgotten - it was 34 years ago.

LIAM BARTLETT: Chris or Christo da Silva was under the command of this man - Captain Yunus Yosfiah, who other witnesses have named as one of the killers. Today, Mr Yosfiah is an Indonesian politician. He's never faced charges, never been fully investigated and steadfastly refused to speak to us. Should the people responsible for your brother's murder be tried as war criminals, Greig?

GREIG CUNNINGHAM: Yep, definitely. They were murdered in cold blood.

LIAM BARTLETT: If Australia attempted to extradite Yunus Yosfiah, what would Indonesia do about that?

TEUKU FAIZASYAH: I don't believe that it will be, will happened at anyway, because we never in our policy, never been in our policy to expedite any of our nationals.

LIAM BARTLETT: There are still eyewitnesses alive who can tell you what they saw, what they heard.

TEUKU FAIZASYAH: Well, you may conduct your enquiries on your side.

LIAM BARTLETT: But you will do nothing on the Indonesian side?

TEUKU FAIZASYAH: Certainly in our case it's not, it's a case closed.

LIAM BARTLETT: Tell that to the Peters family. Tell that to the Stewart family. Tell it to the Cunningham family. Tell it to the Shackleton family. Tell it to the Rennie family.

TEUKU FAIZASYAH: I've told you already. I understand the situation. We are sympathetic with their situation.

LIAM BARTLETT: You are sympathetic, but you'll do nothing?

TEUKU FAIZASYAH: Well, by expressing our sympathy, by understanding that grievances will take time to subside.

LIAM BARTLETT: It's been a long and painful battle for the truth about the Balibo Five. And it's not just the Indonesians who refuse to confront what happened. Australian governments, desperate to keep good relations with Indonesia, have been just as guilty of sweeping Balibo under the carpet.

GREIG CUNNINGHAM: The actions of successive Australian governments since then has some...has made it worse. I mean, we've had no support. All we've had basically until recently, until after the coroner's inquest, we've had just lies, and blatant lies.

JOSE RAMOS HORTA: Successive Australian governments, they knew, but they knew that if they were to make a fuss, big fuss about it to, ah, it would rock the boat of the relationship between Australia and Indonesia back then. And East Timor was a minor issue at that time in Australia.

LIAM BARTLETT: The Australian Government was so keen not to rock the boat, that none of the families of the five men were invited to their funeral. Strangely enough, without any of them being formally identified the remains were placed in a single coffin and buried in Jakarta's biggest cemetery. Just two days later, the very thing that these journalists were trying to warn the world about, the invasion of East Timor - began. It was an invasion and occupation that led to the death of 180,000 East Timorese - that's 20% of the population. Indonesia's rule finally ended 10 years ago, and Australia is helping this battered little country get to its feet. The Cunninghams are doing their bit too, donating to causes like the Living Memory project for political prisoners.

GREIG CUNNINGHAM: Our brother was only here for a short time, but this country is part of him. He's now part of this country, and his spirit will always be with the Timorese people, like Ann and our spirit will be.

LIAM BARTLETT: But as these people embrace the future, Greg and Anne want to make sure, no-one forgets the reality of the past. Truth was the first casualty of war at a place called Balibo. What do you think Gary would say to you today, if he was here?

ANNE CUNNINGHAM: He'd just go, "Just keep on, keep on going, "just, just, you know, don't. don't give up." And we won't.

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