Selected postings from east-timor (reg.easttimor)

Subject: Widow calls for criminal proceedings over husband's death

News And Features; Opinion

Ashes To Ashes, Dust To Dust
Shirley Shackleton

04/26/2000 Sydney Morning Herald

After 25 years of pain and anguish, Shirley Shackleton has finally come face to face with an eyewitness to her husband's murder in Balibo.

TWENTY-FIVE years ago, Greg Shackleton, my 29-year-old journalist husband, died with four colleagues while on assignment in East Timor ; two months later, in December 1975, Roger East, another Australian journalist, was killed. The circumstances of these six deaths have never been adequately explained.

Those who died with my husband in Balibo were Tony Stewart, an Australian sound technician, and the New Zealand cameraman Gary Cunningham, who both worked for Channel 7, and English-born cameraman Brian Peters and Malcolm Rennie, a BBC-trained reporter, both with Channel 9.

In 1989, I visited East Timor and confronted the man responsible for the deaths. This year I made a second visit and met a witness to the killings at Balibo and interviewed three men who were forced to burn and bury a body which I believe was that of Roger East.

I heard news of the killings on October 16, 1975, on ABC radio. Indonesia claimed that the journalists were killed in crossfire between warring Timorese factions. Soon after this I received a telegram signed by a Dr Will of the Australian Consulate in Jakarta stating that the remains sent to him for identification could only be described as possibly human. Dr Will subsequently denied sending me the telegram, but he confirmed that the words used were identical to those in his report.

An hour after the telegram arrived, a spokesman for the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs called to ask if I wanted the bodies brought home. If I insisted, he said, I would have to pay and it would be very expensive.

Trying not to cry, I read out the telegram and asked if we were talking about five coffins or a matchbox that could be flown home in the pilot's pocket. The remains must be minute, I cried, whatever they have in Jakarta, wasn't my husband. He was definitely human.

I should have realised this outburst would give the bureaucrat just what he was fishing for. A memo could be written claiming I had given permission to hold a funeral in Jakarta. Later I was asked if I wanted to send flowers. I refused.

Reports of a funeral followed. Sixteen years later an English activist sent me a glossy photograph of the funeral of the Balibo Five. It was a big affair. The mourners included the Ambassador to Indonesia, Richard Woollcott, his wife and embassy officials. None of the dead men's families were present. Some had not been invited. There was only one coffin.

On December 7, Indonesia invaded East Timor . Roger East, who had gone to investigate what had happened at Balibo, was said to have been killed on December 8.

By then my hair had gone white in a wide strip at the temples and I had large lump in my breast which later subsided. You expect that after a time your grief will lessen, but unless you know the truth you cannot begin to heal. The anguish in not knowing is excruciating. Some people handle grief by not seeking the truth. They hope the tragedy will go away. Refusing to be silenced helped settle my grief; but it would be quite wrong to assume that it has gone away.

In 1989, the 14-year-long Indonesian blockade was lifted. By then I was a fully committed activist for the rights of the Timorese nation. I went into East Timor to witness the situation for myself and found I was staying at the same hotel as General Murdani, who had headed the invasion.

I decided I would have to confront him. My legs shook as I entered the dining room and when I introduced myself by name everyone stopped what they were doing. The sudden silence was overwhelming. Murdani shook his head and turned his back to me. ``No journalists,'' I said. He turned and stared at me then nodded imperiously and murmured ``after breakfast''. A Timorese waiter raced across the room carrying a large pot of coffee. Double strength for courage, he whispered.

Because he is a Catholic, I appealed to the general to tell me what happened at Balibo. He denied any knowledge of the fate of the Balibo Five or of Roger East. Afterwards, I wrote these words:Turismo Hotel, East Timor , 1989The general has a Christian souland an almost kindly smileso it's easy to forget his rolein the genocide of this Isle.When I asked him for the simple truthI could see by the look in his eyesWith all his power he could only tellWeak, pathetic lies.

My visit this year was nothing like the first. Dili had swarmed with hard-eyed, heavily armed men in combat uniform; now in the burnt-out city everyone smiled. The differences were exhilarating even the foliage seemed greener, more luscious.

On this visit I met Tomas Gonsalves. He had accompanied the attacking force of 100 red beret Kopassandha (secret warfare) troops into Balibo. Tomas admitted that Balibo was not defended. There was a lot of gunfire, but it all came from invading Indonesians.

Tomas described how four of the five died. Leading the attack was Mohammad Yunus Yosfiah, a Buginese from South Sulawesi known as an orang tempur, a fighting animal. He was promoted after his work in Balibo and served as Minister for Information in the Habibie Government.

The journalists were looking out of the window as the troops approached their house. Four immediately exited by the front door. They were not armed or wearing anything that could be mistaken for a uniform. One stood in front with his hands raised and the other three stood in a row behind him. The fourth remained in the house. Yosfiah immediately fired a hail of bullets and his men followed his example. Tomas was then told to go away and did not see how the fifth man was killed. The four bodies were soaked in petrol and set alight. We were unable to discover what happened to their remains.

At the Turismo I met John, the brave waiter with the coffee on the day I spoke to Murdani. He had served Roger his last meal and described him as determined to retreat to the mountains in order to report to the outside world.

Later that day three men took me to the place where I believe Roger's remains were buried, a hundred yards or so from the sea, under a pavement. The victim the three men described was tall and had sandy hair. He was also not wearing uniform. The men had been forced to burn hundreds of bodies lying on the beach that day.

Though I have repeatedly requested that a full judicial inquiry be held into the killings at Balibo and of Roger East, successive Australian governments have failed in their duty to do so.

I dismiss the official investigation, called the Sherman Report, because it is so deeply flawed. In 1975, a witness called Jose Martins gave compelling evidence about the killings under cross examination in Melbourne. He was later refused permission to come back to Australia. In 1996, Tom Sherman failed to find him in Jakarta; it was later claimed that Martins was poisoned in 1996 after the Sherman preliminary investigation was announced.

The six journalists were sacrificed, along with hundreds of thousands of Timorese , to Australia's good relationship, which existed only in the minds of government bureaucrats. Timor 's tragedy started with the burning of my husband and his colleagues and ended with the whole of Timor ablaze. 

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