Subject: The Age Editorial: Balibo Finding Must Be Acted Upon [+CT Op-Ed By James Dunn: Time For RI To Face The Truth]

also: CT/James Dunn: It's time for Indonesia to face the truth of Balibo; Antara: Australia Should Not Worsen Balibo Case: Legal Expert

The Age (Melbourne)

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


Balibo finding must be acted upon

IT COULD hardly have been a more grievous finding: the killing of five Australian newsmen in Balibo in 1975 had been a war crime. NSW Deputy Coroner Dorelle Pinch has found that the five men had been fatally shot by Indonesian special forces soldiers after they had surrendered. Previous investigations had concluded that the men had died in crossfire.

Ms Pinch, who had presided at an inquest into the deaths, concluded that "there is strong circumstantial evidence" that the orders to shoot the men came from the head of Indonesia's Special Forces, Major-General Benny Murdani, to Colonel Dading Kalbuadi, who was group commander in Timor, who then passed them on to Captain Mohammad Yunus Yosfiah. Another soldier, Christoforus da Silva, was the only other soldier named. Kalbuadi and Murdani are dead.

But the Deputy Coroner's findings are not the end of the story. Despite a spokesman for the Indonesian President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, saying "the book is closed" there are avenues open to Australia. Ms Pinch has recommended that the federal attorney-general examine the possibility of prosecutions. If that were to happen then the process of extradition would come into play. However, it is unlikely in the extreme that Indonesia would agree. Australia must stand up and insist.

The prevarication, obfuscation and lies that have surrounded the murder of five Australians during Indonesia's invasion of Timor in 1975 has gone on for far too long. For the sake of the dead's memory and the peace of mind of their relatives, justice must prevail. For far too long, politics has blighted this sorry and tragic episode. How strong fundamentally is a bilateral relationship that finds common ground in burying the truth?

A consolation to the families of the five - Greg Shackleton, Brian Peters, Tony Stewart, Gary Cunningham and Malcolm Rennie - is that both John Howard and Kevin Rudd have said they would seek the repatriation of the newsmen's remains. Would it have been too much that they also had pledged to seek justice?


The Canberra Times Tuesday, November 20, 2007

It's time for Indonesia to face the truth of Balibo

By James Dunn

At last, 32 years after the event, relatives of the Balibo victims have been given a measure of satisfaction, thanks to the NSW coronial inquiry. However, this outcome is only a step, albeit a significant one, towards a satisfactory resolution of a problem that has formed an obstacle to a closer relationship between Australians and Indonesians. In effect, Coroner Dorelle Pinch found that the five newsmen were deliberately killed by Indonesian Army (TNI) troops acting on orders from Captain Yunus Yosfiah, to prevent media exposure of this covert operation by the TNI against Portuguese Timor.

This conclusion was not new to most of us I myself wrote a brief account in 1977 based on witness testimonies, and another report some 12 years ago for a British House of Commons inquiry, both of which argued that the newsmen had been summarily executed by the TNI invaders to conceal their serious violation of the UN Charter. The coroner's findings, especially the recommendations that the victims' remains be returned, were a welcome outcome for the newsmen's relatives, but the hard part is her call for further action by the Commonwealth on the matter of the ''war crime''. As such, it is not subject to statutory time limitations.

This presents quite a challenge, meaning there will be no closure for whoever will be in charge in Canberra after this weekend. Previous official accounts have now been exposed as attempts to keep the Balibo incident off the political agenda, even shamefully apportioning some blame to the victims.

Here Dorelle Pinch has treated the Whitlam government (and its successor, for that matter) rather too tenderly. She appears to exonerate the former from foreknowledge that the newsmen's lives were in danger. But the relevant officials did know that an attack was to take place almost a fortnight before it happened, and their experts on the TNI would surely have known that, as Indonesian troops had acquired a reputation for brutality during Konfrontasi and after the 1965 coup, the newsmen's lives were gravely at risk. As this report points out, Prime Minister Gough Whitlam was distracted by the deep crisis at the time, making it difficult to get his attention (to an issue he probably didn't want to hear about).

But the Balibo killings was an explosive incident. It deserved better than the feeble response it got from the government of the time, one that apparently surprised the Suharto government, which expected a blast from Canberra and got a mere whimper a polite letter from Whitlam asking for Suharto's help in solving the problem of the missing newsmen, whose fate was already known to Canberra. He got no reply, for after November 11, 1975, the Labor government was no longer in office. Taking this important matter forward will therefore depend on a much stronger political will than has so far been exercised by Australian governments Labor and Coalition but it should be addressed.

The focus is now on retired Lieutenant-General Yosfiah, a former minister for information, whose denials are supported by Indonesian authorities who dismissively declared the case closed. But it cannot be so easily dismissed, including in Indonesia itself, where a growing number of Indonesian pro-democracy politicians are demanding that the TNI be held to account for a brutal past. It should not be forgotten that the Indonesian people themselves have been the worst victims of TNI excesses.

In Timor's case an independent Indonesian commission early in 2000 urged the then Wahid government to open an investigation into all allegations of TNI crimes from 1975 onwards. However, although Indonesia has shifted towards democracy, Suharto's powerful military has escaped serious reform. At least two senior officers indicted for crimes against humanity in East Timor still occupy high office.

If the Yudhoyono Government were to reopen the Balibo case, it would lead to renewed pressure for a wider investigation into atrocities committed by the TNI during its 24 years of occupation of East Timor. Balibo cost the lives of five newsmen but more than 100 East Timorese were murdered in each of six or seven massacres. This saga has been shamefully mishandled by past Labor and Coalition governments, the latter remaining silent while tens of thousands of East Timorese were killed by the TNI after the invasion.

For the sake of the relationship, both parties have resorted to their own forms of cover-up, some insight into which emerged from the testimonies of officials. In effect, by consistently failing to disclose what our governments knew about the Balibo incident and summarily dismissing reports like the one I wrote in 1977 they have covered up for the killers, accommodating a crime against humanity.

Perhaps Yosfiah is only the fall guy, the real culprits being those who set up the operation and gave the orders, but unfortunately Major-General Murdani, the overall commander, and Colonel Dading Kalbuardi, field commander of the assault on Balibo, are now dead. Let's hope for courageous follow-up from Canberra, facing up to, rather than turning away from, the truth.

James Dunn was in East Timor when the five Australian newsmen were killed, and later served as a UN expert on crimes against humanity.


Australia Should Not Worsen Balibo Case: Legal Expert

Jakarta, Nov 18 (Antara): Senior legal expert Benyamin Mangkudilaga has urged Australia to stop resorting to all sorts of action with regard to the Balibo incident as such doings may hamper efforts and the strong desire for a reconciliation between Indonesia and Timor Leste.

He was commenting on a recent decision of New South Wales Glebe Coroner's Court that Indonesian army soldiers had killed five Australia-based journalists in Balibo, East Timor, in 1975.

As reported by Indonesian and Australian media, the Indonesian government has rejected the Coroner's Court decision which accused retired Army Lt. Gen. Yunus Yosfiah of involvement in the deaths of the Australia-based journalists.

"I just want to remind Australia that it should not disrupt the efforts of Indonesia and Timor Leste in building friendship and reconciliation," Benyamin Mangkudilaga said.

He said that the efforts of both Indonesia and Timor Leste to build harmonious relations should not be undermined by parties who sought to disrupt peace in this region.

Mangkudilaga, who is also co-chairman of the Indonesia-Timor Leste Commission of Truth and Reconciliation, said the five Australian journalists should not have come to Balibo in the first place.

According to ABC online on Friday, the New South Wales coroner has found that Indonesian forces had deliberately killed the five journalists in Balibo, East Timor, in 1975.

Deputy State Coroner Dorelle Pinch delivered her findings at the Glebe Coroner's Court on the death of Brian Peters, one of the five journalists.

Her findings followed a six-week inquest earlier this year which heard evidence about the circumstances surrounding the death of the five newsmen.

She told the court the journalists did not die in a crossfire between Indonesian troops and Fretilin fighters, but were deliberately killed on the order of Indonesian field commander, Captain Yunus Yosfiah.

Gough Whitlam, prime minister at that time, told the Sydney inquest last May he never saw any material suggesting the Indonesian military ordered the killing of the five journalists.

He told the Sydney Glebe Coroner's Court that a month before the incident took place, he had warned one of the newsmen that the Australian government had no way of protecting them if they traveled to East Timor. He said despite his advice, the they decided to go anyway.

He told the court he had not seen any material suggesting that the Indonesians were planning to kill the five men, and he said that at no time had he seen anything suggesting that they were deliberately targeted for execution.

Back to November menu
World Leaders Contact List
Main Postings Menu