Subject: E Timor: Debate Builds On Balibo Death House

also: 18 victims of militia lie in graves, UN police believe

The Australian 10 January 00

Debate builds on Balibo death house

By PAUL TOOHEY in Balibo

THE Balibo house where five journalists were executed by Indonesian soldiers in 1975 was a house of evil that should be destroyed, and replaced with a more fitting monument to those who had died within its walls, an Australian lawyer in East Timor said yesterday.

Former ACT attorney-general Bernard Collaery, now a legal consultant to senior East Timorese, said while the house held symbolic appeal for Australians, Indonesian military and militia held "a perverse attraction to the house" and had turned it into "a human abattoir".

Mr Collaery said the site had become almost shrine-like in its attraction with an increasing number of Australian visitors over the past few years.

But according to Balibo locals, it is not only the five journalists who died there. When Interfet troops arrived in late September, they found two East Timorese men hanging together from a pole just inside the front doorway. In the bathroom at the back, also hanging, was a young woman who had been raped. All had been tortured.

An offer to examine the bags of human bones stored in one of the rooms was declined but, after examining the blood-stained walls, Mr Collaery commented: "It's really a provocative place, rather than an evocative place. For me, there's something very evil and sinister about it. It's gone beyond being a symbol of past suffering and past crimes; it's become a killing place.

"In my view, we should consider the obliteration of the appropriate monument, which would be a warning rather than an encouragement to any future butchers."

Mr Collaery said it would be proper to first consult the "stakeholders", including Shirley Shackleton, wife of one of the journalists killed there.

Mrs Shackleton said yesterday she believed "the evil, if there is such a thing, would remain even if the house was pulled down".

"That's what the Indonesians would love to happen ­ nothing left to show for what they have done. I think the house should be left. It should not be touched."

However, Mrs Shackleton ­ who tried to find the house in 1989 but was misled by local authorities, who told her it had been destroyed ­ said she would respect the wishes of the owner, if there was such a person, and the East Timorese.

Speaking for a group that had assembled in the house at Balibo's crossroads, Eduardo da Cruz said townsfolk "want the house pulled down. It is just a reminder".

Mr da Cruz said when normality returned to Balibo, its citizens would meet to discuss the future of the house.

There would be no discussion, however, about the seven-metre Indonesian-built statue over the road. That was doomed.

On his first familiarisation tour of East Timor, the Philippine commander of the new UN peacekeeping force in East Timor that will replace Interfet in February, Lieutenant-General Jaime de los Santos, said he hoped for an early meeting with Indonesian military officials.


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