Subject: ABC PM - Balibo witness weeps at inquest over shooting

Also: PM - Balibo Five inquest hears from second key witness

ABC Online

PM - Balibo witness weeps at inquest over shooting

[This is the print version of story]

PM - Thursday, 8 February , 2007 18:34:00

Reporter: Emma Alberici

MARK COLVIN: A witness at the inquest into the death of the newsman Brian Peters in East Timor in 1975 wept today, as he described seeing the five dead Australian journalists in a house in Balibo.

Another witness identified Brian Peters as the first of the five to be gunned down outside what was known as the "Chinese house".

Previous official reports have suggested the journalists were accidentally shot in the crossfire of war.

But the East Timorese witness told the court today that there were was no fighting at all between the Fretilin independence movement and the Indonesians in Balibo when the Australians were killed.

Emma Alberici reports

EMMA ALBERICI: Over the past four days, the coronial inquest into the death of Brian Peters has heard from four East Timorese men, all of whom have requested their names be suppressed for fear of reprisals back home

Their evidence has been explosive, and while much of it has been suggested before, it was never presented to an open, independent court

Previous inquiries into the deaths of the five Australian journalists in Balibo, East Timor in 1975, concluded that they had most probably been caught in the crossfire of war.

But none of the witnesses giving evidence in Sydney this week have corroborated that story. Each of them has detailed a shocking scene of white men surrendering and Indonesian men shooting at them en masse with AK-47 rifles.

It was more than 31 years ago but the emotion of seeing innocent bystanders killed was too much for the man referred to as Glebe Three, as he broke down in the witness box.

With his voice quivering, he reached for a tissue, wiped the tears away and told Deputy State Coroner Dorelle Pinch, of the scene he witnessed as he walked into the Chinese house in Balibo and saw five dead white men in civilian clothes, three sitting down and two lying down. All in pools of blood, either shot or stabbed to death

He later recalled seeing smoke coming from the Chinese house and being told the bodies of the Australian men were being burned.

Fairfax Correspondent, Hamish McDonald co-wrote the book Death in Balibo, Lies in Canberra.

HAMISH MCDONALD: Even in the four days of the hearing so far, there's been a noticeable convergence of stories on some central elements of what happened.

One is that it looks like Brian Peters, the Channel Nine cameraman was the first to be shot in the square, as he tried to surrender to the Indonesian Special Forces.

The others may have fled into a Chinese house nearby and three seem to have been shot or knifed to death inside that house, and one other knifed to death as he tried to take shelter outside the house.

EMMA ALBERICI: If we take it they were shot or stabbed, why?

HAMISH MCDONALD: I think it's become clear that the Indonesians thought they had a green light from Gough Whitlam's government to go ahead with this covert attack, and that the Whitlam government would do all it can, would bend over backwards not to condemn it.

However, this was premised on there not being glaring evidence that the Indonesians were doing it. So, it was essentially to maintain the Indonesian cover story that these were local pro-Indonesian forces doing this, fighting back against Fretilin.

EMMA ALBERICI: But if it comes to light that the Australian Government of 1975 under Gough Whitlam knew the Indonesians were about to invade Balibo, and that indeed they also knew there were five Australian journalists in Balibo, there will be a lot of questions to answer I imagine.

HAMISH MCDONALD: Well, I think it's already been conclusively proven that the Whitlam Government was briefed by the Indonesians about what they were going to do and didn't protest beforehand except to say, keep it hidden.

The foreknowledge of the Australian journalists being in the way of that attack is the main issue to be really proven. That would be extremely embarrassing if it was shown that they were knowingly sacrificed for this operation.

MARK COLVIN: The journalist and author, Hamish McDonald, speaking to Emma Alberici.


ABC Online

PM - Balibo Five inquest hears from second key witness

[This is the print version of story]

PM - Wednesday, 7 February , 2007 18:30:00

Reporter: Emma Alberici

MARK COLVIN: A witness to the deaths of five Australian journalists in Timor in 1975 told a court today that he'd heard people yelling "there are whites, there are whites" before gunfire broke out.

The man, known only as Glebe Four, is the second witness to suggest in Sydney's He spoke to Emma Alberici.

BEN SAUL: Most coronial inquests deal with deaths which happened within New South Wales, or to New South Wales citizens elsewhere in Australia.

It's very significant to have a coronial inquest proceeding to investigate a death overseas.

EMMA ALBERICI: Why was it left to the families of the Balibo Five to bring this death to the intention of the coroner 30 or so years later? Why wasn't this investigated by an Australian coroner sooner than now?

BEN SAUL: Well, there has been a history of Australian governments not investigating this case for all sorts of political reasons. After East Timor became independent in 1999, the UN tried to investigate the killings of the Balibo journalists, but Indonesia refused to cooperate, and so no evidence could be taken from Indonesian citizens who were there at the time.

EMMA ALBERICI: Shouldn't more pressure have been brought to bear on the Indonesians to cooperate?

BEN SAUL: Well, there's a long political history between Australia and Indonesia on this issue.

Certainly members of the victims' families and other groups in the community have applied sustained pressure over the last 25-30 years to ensure that these killings weren't forgotten.

There is evidence to suggest that these killings were war crimes, in violation of international humanitarian law, the Geneva Conventions, which both Indonesia and Australia have signed up to, and the failure to fully investigate and, if appropriate, prosecute war crimes is very significant indeed.

EMMA ALBERICI: If the coroner decides in her judgment to find that members of the Indonesian military, or indeed the Government, were responsible for the deaths of the journalists, what powers would Australia have to bring charges against those people, given the coronial inquest has no jurisdiction to compel witnesses from Indonesia to even appear before it?

BEN SAUL: Australia for a long time has had war crimes legislation which allows Australia to prosecute those who are suspected of committing war crimes anywhere in the world. They don't have to be Australian nationals, the crime doesn't have to have taken place within Australia.

The problem is obtaining custody of the suspects, and to do that Australia would need to lodge an extradition request with the Indonesian authorities, and hope that the Indonesians agreed to extradite the suspect to Australia.

EMMA ALBERICI: And if they didn't?

BEN SAUL: Well, the extradition treaty between Australia and Indonesia provides that if either country refuses to extradite a national, then they have to submit the case to their own authorities for prosecution.

And that really would depend upon the Indonesian justice system as to whether they thought there was sufficient evidence to prosecute.

Beause there are high-level political and military figures in Indonesia arguably implicated in these killings, it's been very unlikely in the past that these kinds of cases would be seriously prosecuted and brought to trial.

This has been the problem with this case all along, I mean, there's been such a long history between Australia and Indonesia of Australia not, successive Australian governments really not doing their best to uncover the truth here.

MARK COLVIN: Dr Ben Saul of the Centre for International Law at Sydney University, with Emma Alberici.


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