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Tuesday, December 8


At last the Indonesians have admitted what everyone knows– they deliberately killed five Australasian journalists in Balibo in 1975.

It had long been realized the Indonesian army killed the journalists to cover up the invasion of East Timor, Newspaper Publishers’ Association (NPA) chief executive Tim Pankhurst said.

``What has been equally shameful has been the silence of the Australian and New Zealand governments over the killing of its citizens,’’ he said.

``They are brave enough when it comes to a small country like Fiji – and there are good reasons for being critical of that regime – but stop short of risking offending a large neighbor like Indonesia.’’

Mr Pankhurst was commenting on the admission by former Indonesian army colonel Gatot Purwanto, who took part in the assault on Balibo, that a decision was made to kill the Australia-based newsmen, contradicting Indonesia’s stout official line that they died in crossfire.

Wellington cameraman Gary Cunningham and four colleagues – Brian Peters, Malcolm Rennie, Greg Shackleton and Anthony Stewart – were executed on October 16, 1975 and their bodies burned.

Mr Peters and Mr Rennie were British nationals working for Australia’s Channel 9.

Mr Shackleton and Mr Stewart were Australians and along with Mr Cunningham worked for the rival Channel 7.

``If we let them live, they would tell everyone it was an Indonesian invasion,’’ Colonel Purwanto said in an interview in Tempo magazine.

``Over the years there has been nary a peep from this country and even in the mid 1990s then Foreign Minister Don McKinnon was quibbling over the term invasion for what happened in East Timor following the departure of the Portuguese,’’ Mr Pankhurst said.
``At least Australian authorities, if not the Government, have not let the matter rest.’’

The Australian Federal Police launched a war crimes investigation in September this year. Indonesia is refusing to co-operate.

This followed a NSW coronial inquest in 2007 into the death of Brian Peters that found he and his colleagues were “shot and/or stabbed deliberately” by Indonesian forces.

Yunus Yosfiah, a special forces captain who later became minister for information in Indonesia’s Habibie government, was named as having ordered the killings.

The Australian federal police investigation coincided with the release of the movie Balibo, which dramatizes the East Timor invasion and the journalists’ killings.

The movie is banned in Indonesia. It is not due for release in this country until early next year.

``Journalism is a dangerous occupation in many parts of the world,’’ Mr Pankhurst said.

``Countries like New Zealand and Australia that support free speech, a fundamental tenet of democracy, need to back that up by defending their citizens.

``It might be 34 years on but it is not too late for justice for the Balibo Five and their families.’’

The NPA is the secretariat for the Media Freedom Committee, which represents all facets of the New Zealand media, and is a strong advocate of free speech and journalists’ rights.

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