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Australia-Indonesia-Timor 5 March 2007

Demand for justice in "Balibo five" murders

Reporters Without Borders called for justice in the case of five journalists killed almost 30 years ago in East Timor as the judge at a coroner’s court in Glebe, Sydney (Australia) adjourned the three-week old inquiry to 1st May.

The worldwide press freedom organisation said that based on testimony so far, it was possible to assert that British journalist Brian Peters and his four colleagues were victims of pre-meditated murder by the Indonesia Army and Timorese paramilitaries, that their bodies were burned to hide the evidence and that Australian authorities took part in a cover-up.

It is now urgent to move from the inquiry stage to the justice stage so that those who killed Brian Peters and his four colleagues in Balibo can be arrested and put on trial and those who protected the killers sanctioned, Reporters Without Borders said.

In a detailed analysis, the organisation said it was now possible to assert that:

1. Brian Peters and the four other journalists did not die in crossfire or from a mortar shell, nor were they sheltering in a position held by Fretilin combatants. Extract from evidence given at the hearing:
-  > "P 1", former Fretilin commander: "There was no further fighting when the Indonesian Army entered Balibo."
-  > Colonel Subico, former Fretilin officer: "The journalists never took part in armed operations."

2. The murder of the five journalists was premeditated by the Indonesian Army and the Timorese paramilitaries.
-  > Fernando Mariz, former bodyguard to Indonesian Colonel Dading: "When I told Colonel Dading about the presence of journalists in Balibo, he told me that he had prepared good treatment for them, which I understood to mean that the journalists were going to be killed."
-  > Ian Cunliffe, lawyer and former member of the Royal Commission on Intelligence and Security, testified about the statement by an Indonesian officer to his superior: "On your instructions, we have located and killed the five journalists. We are now awaiting your instructions in order to know what we should do with the bodies and the personal effects of the journalists."

3. The journalists were killed and their bodies burned to destroy all evidence.
-  > "M 4", who was present at the scene of the killings: "Once the journalists were dead, they were dressed in Portuguese Army uniforms and photographed with weapons next to them. The bodies were then burned in the Chinese house."

4. The paramilitaries justified the murders saying the journalists were militant communists.
-  > Jill Jolliffee, an Australian journalist, reported remarks made by one of the leaders of the Timorese Democratic Union paramilitary, Lopez da Cruz: "We have killed the communist journalists of Balibo and we hope it will serve as a warning to the rest of the journalist community."

5. Indonesian officers Dading Kalbuadi, Yunus Yosfiah, Louis Taolin (secret services head), and paramilitary chiefs Lopez da Cruz and Jose Celestino were present at the scene of the murders during or just afterwards.
-  > Jose Celestino, founder of the pro-Indonesian KOTA party, who has since died, said in 1976 that he was with Dading, Yosfiah and Taolin at the time of the killings.

6. Yunus Yosfiah, former Indonesian army officer who later became a minister, headed the invasion in the Balibo area, on 16 October 1975. He is suspected of having killed at least one of the journalists, Brian Peters.
-  > "Glebe 4", former Indonesian army combatant: "I think that Yunus killed Brian Peters".
-  > "Glebe 7", a former Fretilin combatant: "I saw an officer shoot Brian Peters".

7. The Australian government destroyed documents that could compromise the Indonesian government in the case.
-  > Gary Lindworth, former Australian secret services analyst: "John Bennets, former deputy head of the Office of Current Intelligence (OCI), ordered the destruction of documents proving that Australia was aware of the premeditated nature of the murder, from the following day."

8. Australian prime minister at the time, Gough Whitlam, the foreign and defence ministers were informed about the murder of the journalists less than one hour later.
-  > Robin Dix, linguist with the Australian Navy: "I sent a message to the prime minister, the defence minister and the foreign minister less than an hour after receiving a message about the pre-meditated nature of the murder".

9. The Australian government lied when it publicly denied the implication of the Indonesian army in the murder.
-  > Gary Lindworth: "When I wrote a memo on the murder of the journalists, John Bennets immediately ordered the destruction of this note because we had to maintain good relations with Indonesia".

Reporters Without Borders recommends that:

1. Yunus Yosfiah be brought, willingly or otherwise, before the Sydney court. ShouId he refuse to come to testify, then the Australian government should get Interpol involved in putting out an international arrest warrant for him.

2. Gough Whitlam and his close aides at the time should come to give evidence before the Sydney court.

3. The Australian government produce the missing pieces of evidence which disappeared when the offices of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) moved from Melbourne to Canberra.

4. US, New Zealand and British officials should come to tell the Sydney court about the information that their respective countries obtained at the time about the murder of their reporters.

5. The court looks into the reasons for which authorities in Canberra and Washington, particularly then US Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, lied about the five murders.

6. Australian, New Zealand, British and US ambassadors in Jakarta intervene with the competent authorities to get official documents on the events in Balibo declassified.

7. Future hearings should be held in public.

The "Balibo Five" were reporting for two Australian TV stations as an Indonesian force prepared to invade East Timor in October 1975. They were: Australian reporter Greg Shackleton, Australian soundman Tony Stewart, New Zealand cameraman Gary Cunningham, British cameraman Brian Peters and British reporter Malcolm Rennie.

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