Subject: SMH: UN closes in on killers of five Australian newsmen in Timor

Sydney Morning Herald: UN closes in on killers of five Australian newsmen in Timor

Date: February 3, 2001

By Jill Jolliffe

United Nations investigators have sought international warrants to arrest three men - including a former Indonesian Government minister - for the murders of five Australian-based journalists in East Timor more than 25 years ago.

They believe they have enough evidence, gathered during a seven-month investigation, to prosecute the three for the killings at Balibo on October 16, 1975.

The investigation was conducted by the national investigation unit of the UN Civilian Police in East Timor.

A source close to the UN administration in East Timor said the police investigators had asked the UN's Prosecutor-General in Dili, Mr Mohamed Othman, to authorise the arrest of Mr Mohammad Yunus Yosfiah, the former Cabinet minister; another Indonesian, Mr Christoforus da Silva; and Mr Domingos Bere, an East Timorese.

At the time of the killings Mr Yunus was an Indonesian Army captain commanding an elite RPKAD (commando-special forces) unit called Team Susi involved in the covert invasion of what was then Portuguese Timor. Mr da Silva and Mr Bere were members of the unit.

The source said the investigators recommended that the men be charged with crimes against humanity under the 1949 Geneva Convention.

Those killed were Greg Shackleton, Tony Stewart, and Gary Cunningham of Channel 7, and Brian Peters and Malcolm Rennie of Channel 9. Mr Peters and Mr Rennie were British citizens and Mr Cunningham was a New Zealander.

The chief investigator, Mr James Osborne, yesterday confirmed the request, saying: "I have submitted a court brief to the prosecutor-general, who is reviewing it."

Mr Othman said from Dili yesterday that the brief presented by the police team was under review to determine if further evidence was needed, whether forensic evidence was sufficient, and under which law the accused should be charged.

"There is a review going on as to whether or not we have jurisdiction over the case," he said. "The statute of limitations for murder in Indonesian law is 18 years, and I think 15 years in Portuguese law ...

"Indications are that this will proceed as a war crimes charge. There we have jurisdiction. That would be the most likely prosecution scenario. There were armed hostilities, and they [the journalists] were civilians."

A decision on the police request for warrants would be decided in Dili in "about a week".

If the warrants are granted, Mr Yunus, who later rose to the rank of lieutenant-general, will be the first senior Indonesian official to be charged with war crimes since UN forces moved into East Timor in 1999.

The international investigation team obtained evidence that he, Mr da Silva and Mr Bere murdered the five television personnel as they were filming the attack on Balibo at dawn on October.

At least one of them had been protesting that he was Australian immediately before being shot at close range. The evidence disputes claims that the men were killed in cross-fire during the heat of battle.

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