Wednesday, September 9, 2009
Another Indonesia Australian confrontation looms
The Australian Federal Police have launched a war-crimes investigation into the murders of five Australian newsmen at Balibo, East Timor, in 1975, allegedly by Indonesian troops. In November 2007, NSW deputy coroner Dorelle Pinch found that the Balibo five were executed in October 1975 by Indonesian Special Forces to stop them from revealing details of Indonesia's invasion of East Timor.
"There is strong circumstantial evidence that those orders emanated from the head of Indonesian Special Forces, Major-General Benny Murdani to Colonel Dading Kalbuadi, Special Forces Group Commander in Timor, and then to Captain [Mohammad Yunus Yosfiah]," Ms Pinch found. Murdani and Kalbuadi are dead.
Balibo victims ... Gary Cunningham, Malcolm Rennie, Greg Shackleton, Tony Stewart and Brian Peters.
Indonesia claimed the five were killed in crossfire during the battle for the town.
Ms Pinch's explosive finding followed her lengthy inquest into the death of one of the five, Brian Peters.Two Indonesians named in the inquest were Yunus, who was an army captain at the time and who is now a retired general, and another soldier, Christoforus da Silva.Ms Pinch said Channel Nine cameraman Brian Peters was probably the first killed, with colleague Malcolm Rennie and Channel Seven's Greg Shackleton, Gary Cunningham and Tony Stewart killed soon afterwards on the orders of Yunus.
She recommended that the Commonwealth attorney-general take action.
The then attorney-general, Philip Ruddock, said on November 16, 2007, that he would refer the matter to the federal police and that was done in January 2008.
The Herald understands that when Brendan O'Connor became Home Affairs Minister earlier this year he asked the police to explain an apparent lack of progress since then.
Today the federal police has confirmed that it began a formal investigation into the deaths of all five on August 20 this year and it has told the families it is under way.
The federal police said the investigation of war crimes allegations could be difficult in cases in which witnesses and evidence were overseas and considerable time had passed since the killings occurred.
The federal police said that if the investigations revealed enough information and evidence of criminality then a brief would be referred to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions which would decide if the matter should go to court.
Brendan Nicholson is the Herald's Foreign Affairs Correspondent