Australia opens Balibo war crimes investigation | Connect Asia

Australia opens Balibo war crimes investigation

Australia opens Balibo war crimes investigation

Updated 18 January 2012, 19:25 AEDT

In a case that is set to test diplomatic relations, Australia has begun a war crimes investigation into the killing of journalists by Indonesian troops in East Timor 34 years ago.

Five Australian journalists were killed at the start of Indonesia's invasion of East Timor in 1975. An Australian inquest in 2007 found Indonesian troops had murdered the men to prevent them reporting the news of the invasion. The Indonesian Government says it will be seeking clarification of the investigation but has no interest in reopening the case itself.

Presenter: Karon Snowdon

Greig Cunningham, brother of news cameraman Gary Cunningham; Teuku Faiza, Indonesian foreign ministry spokesman; Usman Hamid, coordinator of the human rights group, KONTRAS

SNOWDON: The Five young journalists were Brian Peters, Malcolm Rennie, Greg Shackleton, Gary Cunningham and Tony Stewart. They were killed in October 1975 by Indonesian special forces as they invaded the former Portuguese colony of East Timor.

For the East Timorese, 24 years of violent occupation followed.

For the families of the Balibo Five, the agony of East Timor was also theirs.

Greig Cunningham, the brother of news cameraman Gary Cunningham, has welcomed the investigation by the Australian Federal Police.

He says it should have happened sooner to bring those responsible to justice.

CUNNINGHAM: You can't just get away with murder. I just live in hope that something will happen with them.

SNOWDON: But as Indonesia is concerned the case is closed. Foreign ministry spokesman, Teuku Faiza.

FAIZA: The Indonesian government sees this as a case closed and we're not having any intention whatsoever to reopen the case. So, we are a bit puzzled by the news today and we wish to seek clarification as to what the investigation is all about.

SNOWDON: And that clarification will be necessary, I understand that, but are you saying the Indonesian government will not cooperate with the investigation?

FAIZA: Well, it's not implied as such, but as we consider this as a case closed, we don't see any merit to look at what happened way back 34 years ago.

SNOWDON: In a statement, the Australian Federal Police says investigations into allegations of war crimes are difficult especially when conducted overseas and where a long time has passed.

So, there's no guarantee of any outcome.

But the investigation has been welcomed by Indonesia's leading Human rights group, Kontras, the commission on missing persons and victims of violence.

The coordinator of Kontras, Usman Hamid.

HAMID: I think, what's happened in Australia is very important. The coroner's court in the Balibo case is very important for us in reminding the Indonesian public and the international public crimes committed by the military apparatus in the past.

SNOWDON: There have been other investigations - both by the UN and by Indonesia's own human rights commission - primarily into the violence against East Timor's moves to independence in 1999.

In its report in the year 2000, the Human Rights Commission named former military head, General Wiranto, at the top of a list of prominent military men which it said should be prosecuted for his failure to prevent the 1999 violence.

Indonesia failed to follow through and a later joint commission of truth and friendship with East Timor acknowledged the abuses as crimes against humanity but recommended no action be taken against the perpetrators from either 1975 or 1999.

Usman Hamid says the Australian investigation will give new impetus to calls within Indonesia for an international tribunal for East Timor.

HAMID: We are hoping all cases that took place in East Timor, especially involving crimes against humanity, will be brought to justice.

Contact the studio

Got something to say about what you're hearing on the radio right now?

Send your texts to +61 427 72 72 72

Add the hashtag #raonair to add your tweets to the conversation.

Email us your thoughts on an issue. Messages may be used on air.