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Australia - Indonesia - East Timor 6 June 2007

Australian authorities had no reason to apologise to Jakarta governor Sutiyoso

Evidence given by different witnesses to the Sydney coroner’s court inquest into the death of Brian Peters and four other journalists in the East Timor town of Balibo on 16 October 1975 indicate that former Gen. Sutiyoso, now governor of Jakarta, may have been an army captain in "Team Susi," the Indonesian military unit responsible for taking Balibo that day.

Members of an Indonesian coalition of human rights groups said at a new conference in Jakarta on 31 May that Governor Sutiyoso should have been arrested during a visit to Sydney when he failed to comply with a summons to give evidence to the inquest.

Referring to UN police archives, the coalition said Sutiyoso led the unit that took the town of Batugade, which became the strategic base for taking Balibo a few days later. Now a retired army general, Sutiyoso commanded troops that committed war crimes during the invasion and occupation of East Timor, the coalition said. His name has also been mentioned in connection with the repression of Indonesian oppositions group, especially the PDI, during the dictatorship and the repression of separatists in Aceh.

"Governor Sutiyoso’s orchestration of a diplomatic crisis since his return to Jakarta should not make us forget his record of human rights violations," a coalition spokesperson said. "The Australian government should have insisted that the governor of Jakarta appear before the court in Sydney."

After cutting short a trip of Sydney and returning to Jakarta on 29 May, Gen. Sutiyoso angrily complained that a police officer forcibly entered his Sydney hotel room to deliver him the summons to appear before the inquest. His demands for an official apology were followed by anti-Australian demonstrations in Indonesia.

Australia’s ambassador in Indonesia, Bill Farmer, and New South Wales premier Morris Iemma (who had invited Gen. Sutiyoso to Sydney) quickly apologised to him and said the "regrettable" incident would be investigated.

When the inquest into the death of the five journalists in Balibo began last February, the Indonesian foreign minister warned Australia that "any discovery hostile to Indonesia in the course of this inquiry would only weaken the already tenuous links of this bilateral relationship."


Jakarta governor becomes fugitive from justice in Balibo five investigation

Reporters Without Borders voiced support today for Glebe deputy coroner Dorelle Pinch after her inquest into the 1975 murders of journalist Brian Peters and four colleagues in East Timor led to a diplomatic incident. A former Indonesian army officer who served in East Timor in 1975 and who is now governor of Jakarta yesterday chose to cut short an official visit to Australia rather than comply with a summons to testify.

"We condemn Governor Sutiyoso’s decision to flee rather than testify to the coroner’s court," the press freedom organisation said. "Dorelle Pinch must continue her investigation into the killing of the five journalists on 16 October 1975 in the East Timor town of Balibo. There is no reason to keep protecting the Indonesian military indefinitely."

Reporters Without Borders added: "Justice must now prevail, not impunity or diplomatic deals. What happened in Balibo was a war crime - the physical elimination of people who knew too much about a military invasion that subsequently led to the deaths of tens of thousands of Timorese."

The guest of the New South Wales government, Jakarta governor Sutiyoso was at his Sydney hotel yesterday when a police officer handed him a summons to appear before Pinch’s court, located in the Sydney suburb of Glebe. A retired lieutenant-general and possible candidate in the next presidential election, Sutiyoso was asked to testify as a member of the Indonesian brigade that attacked Balibo at the start of the invasion of East Timor.

According to an Indonesian war reporter, Sutiyoso was a member of the special forces that killed the five journalists, although he denies being in Balibo.

Within hours of receiving the summons, Sutiyoso boarded a flight to Jakarta and gave the Australian government a formal apology. Anti-Austrialian protests were held in Jakarta and Australian citizens were threatened.

In his summing-up, coroner’s legal counsel Mark Tedeschi yesterday asked the court to reach a verdict that the deaths of Peters and his four colleagues - who all worked for Australia TV stations - were premeditated murders by the Indonesian armed forces.

Since resuming hearings on 2 May, the inquest has gathered ample evidence, including testimony by new witnesses, to establish that these murders were "war crimes" and to have recourse to international police procedures. The Geneva Conventions concerning the protection of civilians in war time empower the Australian judicial authorities to continue investigating these murders and to punish the perpetrators and their accomplices.

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