Saturday, October 15, 2005

Western journalists murdered by Indonesian military; key Balibo witness dies; UK and Australian cover-up

The Balibo Five were a group of journalists based in the town of Balibo in Portuguese Timor (now East Timor).

They were were killed on October 16th, 1975 by Indonesian troops. The troops were mounting incursions, prior to the full-scale invasion of East Timor on December 7th 1975.

The journalists were:

1. Australians, Greg Shackleton and Tony Stewart, ( reporter and cameraman for HSV-7 Seven Network in Melbourne),

2. Britons, Brian Peters and Malcolm Rennie,

3. A New Zealander, Gary Cunningham, working for TCN-9 Nine Network in Sydney.

The Indonesian military justified its killing of the camera crews on the grounds that they were 'communists', and sympathisers with the Fretilin party in Portuguese Timor; however most historians think they were killed to prevent them exposing the Indonesian incursions.

In 1994, Brian Peters' sister, Maureen Tolfree, became involved with the East Timor issue, having heard of a demonstration in her home town of Bristol against the sale of BAE Hawk fighter jets to Indonesia.


From The Sydney Morning Herald:

Key witness to 1975 Balibo killings dies.

By Jill Jolliffe in Darwin, September 19, 2005

A witness to the killing of five Australian journalists in Balibo, East Timor, in 1975 has died in Dili, months before a new inquiry by the NSW Coroner.

Olandino Maia Guterres publicly accused former Indonesian minister Yunus Yosfiah in 1998 of having ordered the deaths of the five television journalists after they filmed an attack on the border town.

Official reports claimed the men - Greg Shackleton, Gary Cunningham and Tony Stewart of Channel Seven and Malcolm Rennie and Brian Peters of Channel Nine - were killed in crossfire.

Mr Guterres entered Balibo with the Indonesian troops.

He told the ABC's Foreign Correspondent program that from a distance of less than 20 metres he heard Yosfiah give the order to shoot the men as they tried to surrender, and that he also saw him fire shots at them.

The East Timorese police commander, Paulo Martins, said by phone from Dili yesterday that Mr Guterres had apparently died of renal failure after several weeks of illness.

The NSW Coroner, John Abernethy, announced in June that he would hold an inquest into the death of Brian Peters, who was a resident of Sydney, in response to a request from his sister Maureen Tolfree, of Bristol, England.


In the early daylight hours of 16 October 1975, military forces under the command of Indonesian officers attacked and entered the village of Balibo in East Timor.

Shortly after entry, five Australian based journalists - Greg Shackleton, Tony Stewart, Malcolm Rennie, Gary Cunningham and Brian Peters - who had lodged themselves in a house in Balibo, were murdered.

Shackleton, a TV journalist with Channel 7, had joined forces with the Channel 9 crew to expose the injustice of the Indonesian invasion.

If they could reveal the truth, then international pressure might stop further atrocities.

This is an excerpt from Shackleton's last report before he was shot and stabbed to death by Indonesian soldiers.

"Something happened here last night that moved us very deeply. It was so far outside our experience as Australians, and so inextricably interwoven with the atmosphere of this place that we find it very difficult to convey to you watching in an Australian living room.

"Why, they ask, are the Indonesians invading us? Why, they ask, if the Indonesians believe that Fretilin is Communist, do they not send a delegation to Dili to find out?

"Why, they ask, are the Australians not helping us? When the Japanese invaded, they did help us. Why, they ask, are the Portuguese not helping us? We're still a Portuguese colony. Who, they ask, will pay for the terrible damage to our homes?"

The bodies of the five men were dressed in Fretilin military uniforms and burned.

In January 1997, the Melbourne Herald-Sun published photographs of a secret funeral - purporting to be that of the five journalists - in Jakarta in 1975.

In attendance, wearing dark glasses, was Ambassador Woolcott.

There was only one coffin.

To this day, the Australian government have made no formal public complaints or launched an official enquiry.

It has since been revealed that senior officials conspired to cover up the details of the murders.

Furthermore, there is plenty of evidence that Australian government officials knew that the journalists were in danger and failed to warn them.

James Dunn, the last Australian consul in East Timor, says that his government knew about the Balibo invasion 12 days before it took place. Shackleton's wife, Shirley, has campaigned in vain for the truth for the last 25 years.

In 1989, she managed to reach Balibo to plant a tree in Greg's memory.

'As I knelt saying a few words to Greg,' she said, 'the most wonderful singing washed over me. On the other side of the road, a young people's choir started up. They had timed their practice to my being there. I shall never forget those voices. They came through the barrier the Indonesians had set between us, and they comforted me. They will never be defeated.'

For further details of Australian complicity with Indonesia, click here.



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