|Subject: Balibo killings: I want justice
for my Brian
Also: Part II: Man who stands accused
Copyright 2001 Bristol United Press Western Daily Press
May 19, 2001
I want justice for my Brian; Sister says she knows TV news man's killer - but who will prove it?
EXCLUSIVE Roger Tavener
THE executioners' bullets that ripped into Brian Peters' body ended his sister's life, too.
Maureen Tolfree wasn't there in the dusty town square in Balibo, East Timor, when the death squad moved into the paradise island in 1975.
But the murder of her brother, a 26-year-old former Western Daily Press photographic assistant, turned her world upside-down.
She was a mother of three working as a student supervisor at Bristol University's halls of residence. But overnight she became the unofficial chief prosecutor in an international scandal - a thorn in the flesh of governments across the world that sought to cover-up the murder of Brian, who by that time was a top news cameraman, and four other Australian-based journalists.
A few weeks ago she walked the same streets he trod shortly before his death.
Nothing could have prepared her for the moment she stood on the patch of earth on which he was gunned down. She was with people who saw him die - on the instructions, she believes, of Captain Mohammad Yunus Yosfiah.
He is the leader of the covert Indonesian special forces unit, a version of the SAS.
"I believe he ordered the murder of my brother and I would like to speak to him in the hope that he might tell the truth about what happened, " says Maureen, now 55.
"They killed Brian and his colleagues but they also gave my family and me a life sentence. I couldn't just let his murder pass, and not know the truth - but down the line we have been ignored and fobbed off.
"I have suffered through the stress of the case and I think my brother would have said 'Sis, let it go, ' like so many of my friends said. But really I couldn't. Who else was going to fight for the truth?
"I was running around doing my job, and everyone was saying so many years had passed.
Ishould move on, and Brian should rest in peace. But that was giving in.
"It caused all of us a great deal of stress - me and the other families. We haven't had a lot of help from the governments involved. They were trying to hide the truth - but bit by bit they have been admitting that all the things we knew were true."
She says she doesn't know where her brother is: "I don't know if his remains are buried in Jakarta, along with the others. I would like the grave exhumed, but I know the Indonesians won't do that."
Now she has been able to match her brother's last words with the scene of his death.
For nearly 20 years the Australian government kept Brian's final letter home a secret. Even now it has only handed over a photocopy. It always insisted he and the four others, including Scots-born Malcolm Rennie, were hapless victims of a local firefight.
Now independent investigations have claimed the two rival TV news teams, from Channels 7 and 9, were killed because their film would have proved East Timor was being invaded by Indonesians from the other side of the partitioned island.
While sheltering in a fort Brian wrote home, telling of his fears of being caught in a gun battle. Shrapnel was flying all around and he was worried about putting his head above the parapet to film.
For the Australian Government, which insisted for two decades that there was no invasion, this was evidence of an attack.
Last night, Maureen's hopes of justice seemed finally to have been dashed, though it is certain that she will never give up the fight. A few weeks ago her spirits were raised when United Nations police asked for warrants for the arrest on war crimes charges of Yosfiah and two of his henchmen - but the local prosecutor sent back the file, saying there was insufficient evidence to proceed.
Now the Western Daily Press can reveal that police chiefs in Dili, the capital of East Timor, have closed their files on the murders. There is nothing more they can do to prove that Yosfiah was the chief executioner.
A senior officer who cannot be named for fear of his life said: "We submitted the evidence and asked for the arrest warrants.
We did our work and put the papers in, but until a court decides to charge these men, there is nothing more we can do."
Observers close to the case say the local lawyers have been under extreme pressure to resist charging the men. "The decision to close the files will please many governments, " said one.
The news confirmed Maureen's worst fears. Earlier this year United Nations police officers named Yosfiah as one of three men they wanted arrested and charged with war crimes. But UN chief prosecutor Mohamed Othman replied:
"We must have a fully tight case, trialready - which I don't think it is now."
Mrs Tolfree said, "I've been told he has privately been saying he was under political pressure. To be honest, after all we've been through, I expected something to go wrong, " she said.
"I have spoken to the police investigating the case and they are very disturbed, because the evidence they produce is ignored."
This international intrigue is all a long way from Lockleaze School, Bristol, which Brian left at 15. He worked at a portrait studio and became a self -taught photographer, honing his skills at the Western Daily Press as a photographic assistant.
He loved the idea of travelling, and saved every penny he could.
Maureen and their father George also pitched in to raise the price of a oneway ticket to Australia.
Brian could never have imagined his destiny - summary execution and a place at the centre of an international scandal that still reverberates around the world a quarter of a century later.
He was a leading TV news cameraman working for tycoon Kerry Packer's Channel 9 when he was sent to East Timor to report on the Indonesian invasion of the partitioned Pacific island 300 miles north of Australia.
It was his second trip. On the first he had stolen into the country and left after a few days, armed with exclusive, revealing newsreel and a commandeered boat loaded with 104 refugees.
His reward was a return ticket - but within a few hours of landing, he and his four colleagues had been shot, stabbed and burned by a covert hit squad eager to cover up the attack and prevent film footage reaching television screens.
Before they were burned, their bodies were dressed in rebel uniforms for propaganda photographs.
Until just a few months ago the Australian Government, which has been uncomfortably involved for 25 years, denied knowledge of the invasion. Now it has admitted it did know.
It was a brutal end to a life full of promise. Brian was dating a beautiful blonde debutante and living in style in one ofSydney's finest beach suburbs. His life had been transformed - but deep down he was the same old Brian, friends said.
Since then, Maureen, who is separated and survives on disability benefits, has travelled the world piecing together the true story of that terrible day.
She is convinced the killer is Yosfiah - a career soldier who obeyed his superiors without question. Eye witnesses appeared to confirm her suspicions, and his name figured increasingly in international investigations.
Carlos Santos, a high level defector, said he saw Yosfiah, who was then a special forces captain, lead the attack on Balibo.
Last night a United Nations spokesman said the status of the inquiry into the deaths was being investigated.
Meanwhile, the Foreign Office in London said it was confident the war crimes probe had not been dropped.
A spokesman said: "We don't believe the UN is trying to sweep this under the carpet. Only recently Sergio Di Mello, the UN Secretary General's special representative for East Timor, said the inquiry was still being pursued.
"The relatives have been kept fully informed. We do stay in touch with them. This incident might have happened 25 years ago, but that doesn't matter.
"We are determined the allegations are fully investigated, and have always stressed that."
But will we ever know the full story of that tragic day of October 16, 1975? On the latest evidence, the answer is no.
------ PART II
Copyright 2001 Bristol United Press Western Daily Press May 21, 2001
Man who stands accused; CONCLUDING MAUREEN TOLFREE'S ACCOUNT OF HOW SHE IS FIGHTING FOR JUSTICE OVER THE MURDER OF HER BROTHER
MAUREEN Tolfree swears she knows the man who has devastated her life - the man she has spent the past 25 years trying to bring to justice.
Eye witnesses are convinced that Colonel Mohammad Yunus Yosfiah was responsible for the death of her brother Brian Peters, aged 26, who died unarmed.
Now, despite top-level international investigations, the killers are still free. And as the Western Daily Press revealed at the weekend, attempts by police in East Timor to have Mohammad Yunus Yosfiah arrested - who is believed to have order the killing - have come to nothing because of a lack of evidence.
Brian's cold-blooded shooting, stabbing and burning in East Timor, and that of four other Australianbased TV newsmen has been covered up, says Maureen.
In public he is a respected, Britishtrained former government figure who travelled the world oozing diplomatic charm as minister of information. In private, however, he is widely feared. On that fateful day of October 16, 1975 he was the leader of an Indonesian hit team. The United Nations police force has demanded his arrest, and senior officers believe they have enough evidence to convict.
But not for the first time, the man suspected of leading an invading Indonesian death squad and ordering the murder of the Bristol newsman and his colleagues has not been arrested.
Police in East Timor have told this newspaper that they have reluctantly closed the files on the case. They are convinced that they have enough evidence to convict - but the higher authorities say no.
Back then, Yosfiah was a young Indonesian army captain eager to please his military bosses. He strutted into Balibo as head of an SAS-style covert team sent into East Timor, a strategic Pacific island, with orders to silence key opponents. The operation was a prelude to an invasion which for 20 years was denied by politicians - including the Australian government just 300 miles away. People for him saw him in the streets of Balibo, a swarthy 30-year-old with curly dark hair. He was the man who stared through the mirrored lenses of his sunglasses and is believed to have ordered the death of the newsmen, whose job was to let the world know what was going on.
Yosfiah's mission was totally opposite to theirs. His task was to keep the attack under wraps.
For more than two decades the "secret" Indonesian invasion of East Timor never even happened - if you believed the Australian government. It only recently accepted that political leaders had prior warning of the attack, and also stands accused of supplying arms to the invaders.
Separated mum Maureen, aged 55, recently visited the Pacific island the size of Wales and spoke to eye witnesses to the massacre. "I believe that Brian and the others were killed on the orders of Mohammad Yunus Yosfiah who was a captain at the time, " she says.
Yosfiah married a young Timorese woman while serving in the country between 1975 and 1978 and rose through the ranks, studying military matters around the world, including at top U.S. base Fort Leavenworth.
Later, in 1989, he was a colonel at the Royal College of Defence Studies in London.
In East Timor's bloody history, it could have been expected that the death of the five Australian-based TV journalists would hardly rate a footnote, but the controversy surrounding the atrocity refuses to go away.
In February, United Nations investigators probing Balibo sought international warrants to arrest three men, including Yosfiah. They said he and the others should be charged with crimes against humanity under the 1949 Geneva Convention for their role in killing Brian Peters, Scots-born Malcolm Rennie, New Zealander Gary Cunningham and Australians Greg Shackleton and Tony Stewart .
"He was doing so well and was writing home as often as he could with stories of what he was up to. He lived in Mosman in Sydney, and I went there recently and it is full of 4 million beach houses, " says Maureen.
"He would have had a wonderful career.
"He got engaged to a debutante, Janine, a lovely girl, and made so many friends. But he was loving the work, so even if it was dangerous, he wanted to do it.
"Then we got a letter saying he had been to East Timor with Kerry Packer, the boss of the channel. Mr Packer's involvement is not widely known, but it shows how important the work was if the boss goes on the trip.
"Brian said he would send the second part of the letter but never did, because he was sent to East Timor again in October. I only saw a copy of that letter 20 years on. The authorities had it, but wouldn't show it to the family.We didn't know it existed."
"The local MPs helped as much as they could, but the Foreign Office didn't seem to want to know, " says Maureen.
"I won't rest until we get a judicial inquiry which examines exactly what did happen - not what people pretend happened so that governments are not offended."
Hugh Dowson, former Western Region Development Officer for the United Nations Association, has been one of the world's leading experts on the East Timor situation for nearly 30 years.
He said last night: "There is absolutely no question that Maureen Tolfree, her family and the relatives of the other murdered men have been treated abominably."
He said several governments had at the very least withheld important information about the 1975 invasion.
"Only recently the Australians have admitted knowing about the invasion.The Indonesians have always covered up the circumstances. And the Foreign Office? I have no idea why they have treated Maureen with such casual cynicism. Neither have I any idea why they have refused to investigate.
For so long the story was that the men were killed by accident, shot in crossfire. We know that was nonsense and that is what the evidence shows.
Yosfiah has been named by so many people. Now he is admitting he was in East Timor at the time - which is something, after so many years."
Foreign Office spokesman John Battle told local MP Roger Berry:
"We fully support the UN investigation into this case. While it continues it would be inappropriate for me to comment on the involvement of any one individual. We will continue to raise this case with the UN and pass on information to the relatives when it is available to use."
Meanwhile, the Foreign Office has said it may release some information contained in British Government documents in 2006 - but not if they are deemed to have implications for international relations or national security.
MPs have signed motions demanding information on the killings and Lord Avebury told the Lords recently there were new documents available regarding the death of the five newsmen "coldbloodedly massacred by the clandestine Indonesian invasion forces".
He demanded to know what was happening in the case of Yosfiah, "the commander of the Indonesian troops at Balibo in October 1975, who murdered two British citizens.
"He has never been brought to justice for those crimes, but, unknown to us, he was a guest of Her Majesty's Government. He came here to attend college as a guest of the Ministry of Defence and spent several months within our jurisdiction. He then peacefully went back to Jakarta."
Colonel Mohammad Yunus Yosfiah has so far not been questioned officially. The odds are that he will not be questioned - and Maureen Tolfree and her fellow bereaved relatives will be left fighting what they see as one of international politics' great injustices.
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