Subject: True culprits in sight as silence over Balibo killings breaks

Sydney Morning Herald

True culprits in sight as silence over Balibo killings breaks

JILL JOLLIFFE December 9, 2009

The emergence of retired colonel Gatot Purwanto as a whistleblowing Indonesian officer in the Balibo five case has revealed the first cracks in Jakarta's military monolith after 34 years of stubborn silence over the true cause of the deaths of the ill-fated reporters - Greg Shackleton, Gary Cunningham and Tony Stewart from Channel Seven and Brian Peters and Malcolm Rennie from Channel Nine, shot dead in the East Timor border town of Balibo in October 1975 as they filmed Indonesian troops advancing into the village.

The former special forces officer attended a clandestine viewing of Robert Connolly's film Balibo, which was banned in Jakarta, a ban defied by the Alliance of Independent Journalists who invited Gatot Purwanto to its screening.

Colonel Purwanto had been prominent in key events of Indonesia's 24-year occupation of East Timor. He had not previously been mentioned in relation to Balibo, but told Indonesia's Tempo magazine that he was present at the killings. He used the word ''executed'' to describe them and said the bodies had been deliberately burned to conceal the crime and all evidence of Indonesia's presence in what was then Portuguese Timor.

The Australian Federal Police is now re-examining the case with a view to prosecuting Indonesia's former information minister Yunus Yosfiah and Christoforus da Silva - both special forces operatives described by witnesses as leaders of the operation - under the Fourth Geneva Convention, for the wilful killing of protected persons in a theatre of war.

Gatot Purwanto, who said he was a first-lieutenant when he witnessed the killings in 1975, told Tempo that he had been part of the attack force, and named his superior as Yunus Yosfiah, commander of a unit known as team Susi.

The testimony on Balibo by the 62-year-old retired officer could well result from his unusual military career in East Timor during successive tours of duty, with the possibility that his intervention has been planned as part of a thaw on the Indonesian side towards ending the impasse between Australia and Indonesia over the prosecutions.

Purwanto rose to prominence in March 1983 when he brokered a ceasefire with Xanana Gusmao, then a young guerilla commander, which held for several months. He was then a colonel, and the officers who worked with him, such as Willem da Costa and a Captain Iswanto, were considered liberal-minded in the Indonesian military spectrum.

The ceasefire talks were held at Lari Guto, south of Baucau. There was even a football match in Baucau between Indonesian soldiers and guerillas; it was a period of brief relief in a long and ugly war.

The ceasefire broke down after an uprising in the Viqueque region some months later, after which Indonesian military chief Benny Murdani poured in reinforcements, accompanied by president Suharto's brutal son-in-law, Prabowo Subianto, then a junior officer.

Colonel Purwanto slipped from view and Timorese resistance sources suggested he had been disciplined and sent from Timor for his role in the ceasefire.

He reappeared as a Dili-based commander, still with the rank of colonel, in the period before the 1991 Santa Cruz massacre, when political mediation was once again the order of the day, with a UN-organised visit planned by a Portuguese parliamentary delegation.

It did not occur and resulted instead in the massacre, film of which changed the world's perception of the East Timor problem, eventually paving the way for independence.

Under immense pressure from world opinion, Indonesia held a series of nominal trials and disciplinary hearings of its military commanders in Dili, which resulted in Colonel Purwanto's ''honourable discharge'' from the army. Another man sacked, who had been considered by Timorese leaders as a rather liberal figure before the massacre, was provincial military commander Rudolf Warouw, leading to speculation that some of the ''better'' military commanders in East Timor took the rap for the true culprits.

Jill Jolliffe is the author of Cover-Up: The inside story of the Balibo five.

 


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