Monday, December 7, 2009

Balibo Five Executed, Soldier Admits

JAKARTA: An Indonesian officer present when five Australian-based newsmen died in Balibo in 1975 says they were executed and their bodies burned to hide evidence of the invasion of East Timor. The account by Gatot Purwanto, a former Kopassus officer and intelligence commander in East Timor, is the first time a senior Indonesian has admitted there was intent behind the killings of the so-called Balibo Five and the destruction of their bodies.

''If we let them live, they would tell everyone it was an Indonesian invasion,'' Colonel Purwanto told Tempo magazine. ''If they died and we abandoned them there would be evidence that they were shot in territory controlled by Indonesian guerillas. So the simple way was to eliminate everything. We just claimed not to know anything.''

Colonel Purwanto was a junior officer in a special forces unit when the five newsmen - Greg Shackleton, Tony Stewart, Gary Cunningham, Malcolm Rennie and Brian Peters from Channel Nine - were killed. The newsmen from the Seven and Nine networks were in the border town of Balibo to record the secret invasion.

Colonel Purwanto's comments came amid intense interest in the killing of the newsmen in Indonesia after the banning last week of the movie Balibo. The action of the censors ensured an otherwise obscure film became headline news. The interview also coincides with an Australian Federal Police investigation into possible war crimes committed at Balibo. The investigation is targeting Yunus Yosfiah, the Kopassus commander who was accused by the NSW coroner in 2007 of ordering the murders and personally undertaking some of the killings. Colonel Purwanto's interview is, at times, contradictory and full of gaps. He says Jakarta did not approve the killings and that General Yosfiah is innocent.

He insists that, contrary to the findings of the NSW coroner, gunfire came from near the building where the five Australians were being held. This is part of the official Indonesian account that the men were caught in crossfire. But Colonel Purwanto repeatedly uses the Indonesian word dieksekusi - to execute - to describe the deaths and reveals that the newsmen were ''captured alive''. This contradicts the Indonesian version of events. He also talks frankly of the motivations of the Indonesian forces. ''If they were not executed, they could be witnesses to the fact that the Indonesian Army had invaded Timor.'' He also tells of the gruesome job of disposing of the bodies to destroy any evidence that the newsmen had been in Balibo. The Sydney Morning Herald by TOM ALLARD

NOTE from Kerry: The five were not all Australians. The five included New Zealanders and Brits.

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