Subject: Balibo 5 suspect offers to face trial

The Australian Monday, February 5, 2001

Balibo 5 suspect offers to face trial

By DON GREENLEES and agencies

A RETIRED Indonesian general and minister accused of involvement in the deaths of five Australian-based newsmen in East Timor has said he was prepared to face court "anywhere" to clear his name.

Retired Lieutenant-General Yunus Yosfiah, a former information minister, repeated yesterday his longstanding rejection of the allegation he was implicated in the murder of the five newsmen at Balibo, near the West Timor border, in 1975.

The Balibo five were Australians Greg Shackleton and Tony Stewart, New Zealander Gary Cunningham, and Britons Brian Peters and Malcolm Rennie.

"I am ready to go anywhere, including to East Timor, if it's according to the rule and the law of Indonesia," he told The Australian.

His comments come as UN prosecutors consider whether to issue arrest warrants for Mr Yosfiah and two other men over the deaths of the five.

It follows an investigation by UN police in East Timor of what they say is new evidence on the October 16, 1975, killings.

At the time, Mr Yosfiah was an Indonesian special forces captain and took part in the covert invasion of East Timor.

The other two men facing arrest warrants are an Indonesian, Christoforus da Silva, and an East Timorese, Domingos Bere.

UN serious crimes prosecutor Oyvind Olsen said investigators were still working out whether the murders would be seen as war crimes under international law or as crimes under either Indonesian or Portuguese law. If the murders were seen as war crimes, they would come under UNTAET's jurisdiction.

However, it was too late to prosecute if they were seen as crimes under Indonesian or Portuguese law, because of deadlines under both countries' statues of limitations.

Contrary to weekend reports that investigators had sought international arrest warrants, Mr Olsen said the investigation had not yet been completed.

"The remaining investigation has to be done before any action can be taken," Mr Olsen said. "It's not clear whether they will be issued."

Speaking from his home in Bandung, West Java, Mr Yosfiah said he had read reports on the internet of the UN's plans to issue warrants and warned he may take legal action against those making allegations against him.

"I know what I did. I already explained about this many times in many newspapers," he said. "But I do understand if they still don't accept about that. But they have to prove that I was involved."

He said he welcomed the chance for "legal clarification" so the allegations against him would be finally settled.

Despite Mr Yosfiah's claims to be willing to go to court in East Timor, the UN is likely to face strong opposition to requests to hand over the suspects. Indonesian authorities have so far refused to co-operate in the extradition of others accused of crimes in East Timor.

UN prosecutors said a decision on whether to issue the warrants based on the recommendation of police investigators would be made in two weeks.

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