Subject: Amb. washes hands of Scot's East Timor death

Scotland on Sunday Sun 29 Jun 2003

Ambassador washes hands of Scot's East Timor death


A SENIOR diplomat who was forewarned of the Indonesian invasion that led to the murder of a Scottish journalist and four others in East Timor has finally washed his hands of responsibility for the tragedy.

Richard Woolcott, the Australian ambassador in Jakarta at the time of Malcolm Rennie's killing in 1975, admits he knew the Indonesians were poised to invade East Timor.

But in a new book which explains his role in the episode, he insists he had no idea that Rennie and four colleagues from Australian broadcasters were also in the area.

Woolcott, who has been accused of involvement in a cover-up of the deaths in the port of Balibo, said he endured "the first totally sleepless night of my life" when he received intelligence reports revealing the men had been murdered.

The former ambassador, who admits the Indonesians warned him about the invasion "hours before it happened", urged Australian leaders to take a hands-off role in the crisis. He advised them to "leave events to take their course and act in a way which would be designed to minimise the public impact on Australia and show private understanding to Indonesia of their problems".

But Rennie and his four colleagues were caught in the way of the invasion when it was eventually triggered, and they were murdered by Indonesian special forces. It is believed the journalists, who included Rennie's fellow Briton Brian Peters, were killed in cold blood to stop their film of the clandestine incursion reaching the outside world.

Scotland on Sunday revealed last year that British government documents "blamed" the journalists for their own deaths, because they had entered the conflict zone of their own accord. Declassified papers revealed that UK embassy officials were aware of the impending incursion, which sparked a bloody occupation, but failed to warn the reporters.

Australian broadcasters insist they were not told of the looming danger in Balibo.

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