Subject: My attempt to engage President on Balibo - Shirley Shackleton

The Age

My attempt to engage President on Balibo


March 13, 2010

THIS week during the first Australian visit of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, I was confident for the first time in my activist life. On matters to do with East Timor, I usually feel I am walking into a black hole with no idea of what I will be able to achieve, if anything, but this time I was spoilt for choice by senators Bob Brown and Nick Xenophon, whose support proved to be formidable and successful beyond all expectations.

I wanted to ask the President, by means of a personal letter, to facilitate the extradition of the alleged murderers of the Balibo five, if the Australian Federal Police and the Director of Public Prosecutions find evidence to back the NSW Deputy Coroner's conclusion that my husband, Greg Shackleton, and his colleagues Gary Cunningham, Tony Stewart, Malcolm Rennie and Brian Peters were murdered in cold blood by Team Susi of the Indonesian Armed Forces to eliminate witnesses to their illegal incursion into what was then Portuguese Timor in 1975.

Here's how my week in Canberra unfolded.

Before the President arrived, there was a series of televised requests asking both leaders to agree to extradite the alleged murderers for trial. This was followed by a news conference with senators Brown and Xenophon in Parliament House on Tuesday. Xenophon invited me to accompany him to the state banquet to welcome the President the following day.

I carried my letter in case there was an opportunity to hand it to him. As lunch was served I was approached by two emissaries who said they were sent by Yudhoyono and he wanted me to know he was sympathetic to me and he was interested to read what I had to say in my letter.

After welcoming the President to Australia and congratulating him on being appointed an Honorary Companion of the Order of Australia, this is what I wrote:

''I am aware of the potential for our two great nations to become true friends but, as everyone knows, we have serious problems to settle, one of which is the atrocity at Balibo which remains a weeping sore.

''It is no use just saying we are friends; we have to be friends and friends do not lie to each other, especially about something as serious as the cold-hearted murder of unarmed civilians.

''On that terrible morning when I heard that Greg Shackleton was missing with four other journalists, I feared he was dead.

''My second fear was if my premonition was correct, this would have to be managed very carefully or boys like my eight-year-old son could be fighting Indonesian boys in the future. And then I was forced to witness lies that failed to serve the Indonesian and Australian peoples; on the contrary, they forced us to mistrust one another.

''Unfortunately this is not confined to Australia; in your recent visit to the US, questions were posed to you regarding the shooting of the Australian journalists. I note, however, that at Harvard University you responded to a questioner by promising, 'We will co-operate with Australia because we respect human rights and democracy'.

''I believe it is time to put this atrocity to rest and I am asking you to use this occasion to heal the weeping sore that taints any possibility of respect and true friendship between our two countries by not only sending those accused of the murders to Australia for trial, but to grant me five minutes to plead my case.''

I also sent a second letter to Prime Minister Kevin Rudd regarding the repatriation of the remains of my husband to Australia (I had originally written to Rudd in January but have not received a reply).

I also sought answers to many salient questions. These are just two: Without my permission, the remains of my husband and his colleagues were moved from the original grave in Jakarta's Kebayoran Lama Cemetery in 1979 and were re-interred at the edge of the cemetery down by the railway line. Why was this done?

The new site is a crime scene. Is Australia treating it as a crime scene?

I will continue to request answers as there is no statute of limitations regarding the unsolved crimes against humanity at Balibo.

I have been invited to visit Indonesia to meet the relatives of victims of their own military. I believe I will accept the invitation.

Shirley Shackleton's book The Circle of Silence will be published by Pier Nine in May.

Back March 2010 Menu        
World Leaders Contact List
Main Postings Menu