Subject: Australian government 'hampering' in Balibo probe

Herald Sun

Federal 'hampering' in Balibo probe By Vera Devai 23may06

THE Australian Government was hampering the investigation into the death of a TV news cameraman in East Timor because of its political ties with Indonesia, NSW police said today.

Brian Peters, who was working for the Nine Network, was killed along with four other Australian newsmen in Balibo, East Timor, in October 1975.

They were killed when Indonesian military forces were pushing inland on the first day of the invasion of East Timor.

Previous official reports have said the Balibo Five – Greg Shackleton, Gary Cunningham, Tony Stewart, Malcolm Rennie and Mr Peters – were killed in crossfire between warring Timorese factions.

But a report earlier this year by East Timor's Commission for Truth and Reconciliation said that, based on witness interviews, it believed the five men were probably executed by Indonesian soldiers.

That report sparked fresh calls for Australia to hold a judicial inquiry into the deaths.

An inquest into Mr Peters' death is due to be heard in the NSW Coroner's Court in Glebe, Sydney, in July.

But Detective Sergeant Steve Thomas of the NSW Coronial Assistance Unit said the investigation had come to a halt.

Police were unable to get the co-operation of the federal Attorney-General's Department and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) that would allow them to travel to Indonesia to arrange an examination of Mr Peters' remains and to meet persons of interest.

Det Sgt Thomas, who took the stand in the coroner's court during a mention of the matter yesterday, said he had asked DFAT to lodge a mutual assistance request with Indonesia in April.

"But since that date, our request has been hampered by DFAT," Det Sgt Thomas told AAP today.

Investigators were given three reasons for the Federal Government's inaction, he said: "The history of (Indonesia's) non-compliance in mutual assistance requests, the implication of the Indonesian military and Australia's political links with Indonesia."

He said he raised the difficulties during yesterday's hearing to put his frustrations on the record.

"We needed to show the court the lengths we are going to get (assistance)," he said.

Rodney Lewis, the lawyer representing Mr Peters' relatives, said the family was also frustrated with the delays.

"You can imagine how upsetting it is for the relatives of the deceased to discover that our own DFAT is unwilling to ask the Indonesian government for its help under a well-understood mutual assistance protocol which has apparently been followed in other cases," Mr Lewis said today.

"We understand that relations between Indonesia and Australia are sensitive but there may be allegations of murder at the inquest so that relationship will need to be subordinated to the interests of justice and a proper forensic inquiry into the facts."

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