Subject: Indonesian general says witnesses to deaths of journalists lying

Indonesian general says witnesses to deaths of journalists lying

JAKARTA, Feb 22 (AFP) - A retired Indonesian general accused of killing five Australian-based journalists in East Timor in 1975 told a parliamentary hearing here Thursday that new witnesses in the case were lying.

Former lieutenant general Yunus Yosfiah, who served as Information Minister in the previous government, denied that he was involved in the deaths of the television journalists, the state Antara news agency said.

UN investigators say they have enough evidence to prosecute Yosifah and two other Indonesians, and are preparing to seek international warrants to arrest the three for the killings of the five, Australia's Sydney Morning Herald newspaper reported earlier this month.

The journalists were killed in the border town of Balibo during a covert operation by an Indonesian special forces unit in October 16, 1975, months before Indonesia invaded the then-Portuguese colony.

Testifying before the parliament's foreign affairs and defence committee, Yosfiah said the truth of new information given by two East Timorese men to UN investigators last year should be questioned.

"Their information is based more on emotion and hatred for Indonesian soldiers," Antara quoted him as saying.

Yosfiah said both witnesses, whom he named as Olandino Guterres and Thomas Gonzales, had been captured, interrogated and wounded by Indonesian troops in the past.

Their accounts were inconsistent and contradicted each other on the time and place of the killings, he said.

"The witnesses are lying," the news service quoted Yosfiah as saying.

He added that the killings had occcurred an extremely long time ago.

As Indonesia prepared to invade the half-island territory, Yosfiah was an army captain in charge of the "Team Susi" unit, which was allegedly responsible for the killings.

He said he interacted more with East Timorese fighters from a pro-Indonesian group known as Apodeti, while Olandino was a fighter with different political leanings.

"Olandino Guterres, who appears to know the most, was not part of Captain Yunus' team nor was he one of his men in the field," he told the committee hearing.

"It is very strange that even though he was neither in my team nor has even been near me, he can give witness accounts of what I (allegedly) did."

Yunus accused the UN of behaving ambivalently and trying to corner Indonesia.

"In a report received by the UN 1976, it was clearly stated that more than 75,000 people were killed by Fretilin and most were women and children," Antara quoted Yosfiah as saying.

"Without trivialising (the UN's) real intentions in the case, why do they close their eyes in the case of much more serious human rights violations?" said Yosfiah charged that "attempts to corner the TNI (Indonesian armed forces)" were behind the Balibo investigation.

The journalists were Australians Greg Shackleton and Tony Stewart; Britons Malcolm Rennie and Brian Peters; and New Zealander Gary Cunningham.

Indonesia maintains they were caught in crossfire between rival East Timorese factions and were not killed by Indonesian troops.

An Australian government inquiry led by judge Tom Sherman last year found Indonesian special forces troops were responsible for the deaths, but said the killings were more likely to have been a blunder rather than murder.

Sherman said attempts were made to cover up the killings by dressing the newsmen in combat uniforms, and then burning the bodies.

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