Subject: Scotland on Sunday: Balibo Suspects excape UK war crimes trials

Scotland on Sunday

August 11, 2002, Sunday


Camillo Fracassini

THE suspected killers of a Scottish journalist murdered in East Timor 27 years ago have escaped a war crimes trial in the UK, Scotland on Sunday can reveal.

Government lawyers recently investigated and ruled out the possibility of bringing three men from Indonesia to Britain to stand trial for the killing of Malcolm Rennie, from Renfrewshire.

The television reporter was one of five journalists murdered after Indonesian forces invaded East Timor

The suspects - one of whom is a former Indonesian government minister - have been named by the United Nations as wanted for the murders.

Despite new laws allowing foreign nationals to be prosecuted in Britain for war crimes, the government has concluded that the law would not apply in this case, and that it would be almost impossible to extradite the suspects.

Rennie and his colleagues were murdered in October 1975 in the town of Balibo, during undercover raids by Indonesian forces which preceded annexation of East Timor. The country had won independence from Portugal earlier that year.

It is believed they were killed in cold blood to stop their film of the special forces incursion reaching the outside world.

In 2000, investigators from the UN said they had enough evidence to arrest three suspects for the Balibo murders. They named three men, former Indonesian Cabinet minister Yunus Yosfiah, Christoforus da Silva, an Indonesian, and Domingos Bere, an East Timorese.

The three deny involvement and Indonesia has refused to hand them over for trial.

The family of Rennie urged the British government to intervene.

Oona King, MP for the London constituency of Bethnal Green, asked the Home Office to use its powers of "universal jurisdiction" over grave breaches of the Geneva Convention.

The Home Office reply says for the law to apply, the killings "must take place during international armed conflict between parties to the Convention".

Rennie's murder took place during a covert operation which preceded the invasion.

The letter adds: "If the perpetrators were in Indonesia, it would be extremely difficult to bring them to the UK to face trial, as there is no extradition treaty in place between the UK and Indonesia."

Margaret Wilson, Rennie's cousin, last night condemned the lack of political will to bring his killers to justice.

She said: "There is a lack of political will to push this forward for political reasons. Nobody wants to go out of their way to antagonise the Indonesians when we are still selling arms to them.

"Nevertheless, this is about more than prosecuting the people responsible for Malcolm's murder. There must be a wider judicial inquiry into the way this matter was handled by the British government. We are not going to give up."

The Home Office decision not to attempt to bring the three to trial in Britain is the latest twist in the 27-year campaign for justice by relatives of the dead men, who became known as the Balibo Five.

In another development, British government documents relating to the killings - which Rennie's family were told had been destroyed - have been found and will be handed over to them next month.

Rennie's family hope the documents will finally prove their long-held suspicion that the UK and Australian governments knew Indonesian action against East Timor was imminent but failed to warn British nationals to get out.

One of the documents is known to contain minutes of a meeting between a Foreign and Commonwealth Office official and Jose Ramos-Horta, the former leader of the Timorese resistance movement in 1976.

It is claimed Ramos-Horta - who went on to win the Nobel peace prize - told the British government, which insisted the men died in crossfire, that they had been murdered.

Wilson said: "My fear is that any information which might be embarrassing for the government will be deemed classified and not be released.

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