Subject: SAS Balibo '75 plan was aborted

SAS Balibo '75 plan was aborted

By Janet Fyfe-Yeomans

December 21, 2006 02:00am

Article from: Daily Telegraph

CRACK SAS troops were poised to launch a secret mission into East Timor to rescue the five Australians three days before their deaths, but were ordered to stand down.

Special forces soldiers were disgusted when the operation was called off and they learned that the five - all journalists - had been killed, according to sources.

It is the first confirmation that the Australian Government considered moves to rescue the newsmen - a shocking secret held since they were killed by Indonesian invasion forces in Balibo in October 1975.

It will put further pressure on an inquest to be held in Sydney next year into the death of one of the five men, Brian Peters, to call former prime minister Gough Whitlam and his senior ministers and public servants to give evidence.

Channel 9 cameraman Peters, 24, and reporter Malcolm Rennie, 29, and Channel 7 reporter Greg Shackleton, 29, cameraman Gary Cunningham, 27, and sound recordist Tony Stewart, 21, died while covering the Indonesian invasion of East Timor.

The fresh claims of an aborted SAS rescue mission will further embarrass the government over its relationship with Indonesia.

The troops were virtually on the tarmac at Darwin awaiting the signal to sneak into East Timor and bring out the five newsmen, although the SAS soldiers did not know they were journalists until later, according to sources.

"They were denied ministerial approval, turned around and sent back to the barracks in Perth," said one source.

"As a result, there was a lot of dissatisfaction within the unit.

"They had done countless jobs around the world for their country, known or unknown to the general public and this was the kind of operation they were trained for."

NSW deputy state coroner Dorelle Pinch, who will conduct the inquest, was told at a preliminary hearing last week of evidence that the government "at a high level" knew the invasion was to take place and that the Australian journalists would be targeted.

"It is clear that this was going to be a deniable, or black, operation," Mr Peters' solicitor Rodney Lewis told the court.

Previously-hidden intelligence intercepts have revealed the newsmen were assassinated on the orders of Indonesian generals.

Mr Lewis said yesterday that he was unable to comment on these fresh matters.

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