Subject: Courier Mail: One-way traffic (Balibo)

The Courier Mail

June 4, 2007 Monday

One-way traffic

Ian McPhedran

Australia grovelling to an Indonesian governor was offensive, writes Ian McPhedran

The families of newsmen are still waiting for an apology

THE sight of Australia's ambassador to Jakarta, Bill Farmer, grovelling to the Governor of Jakarta, former army general Sutiyoso, over his treatment at the hands of New South Wales police made many Australians feel somewhat ashamed.

What is it about Australian diplomats and Indonesia? Why do they, for generation after generation, find it necessary to kowtow to a regime replete with former generals with blood on their hands?

Sutiyoso was a captain in the Indonesian Army in 1975 when Indonesia invaded East Timor.

The fact NSW police wanted him to assist the coroner in shedding some light on events at Balibo at the time when five Australian-based newsmen were slaughtered indicates he may have a story to tell.

The matter was clumsily handled by police entering his Sydney hotel room unannounced, but we must remember that every attempt to request Indonesian co-operation with the inquiry has been met with a wall of silence from Jakarta. An angry Indonesian government spokesman made his country's position clear: ''Do I have to reiterate again our position? We always considered that that is a closed case. That's it.''

Those in power in our neighbour, which also happens to be the world's biggest Muslim country, are mostly ex-military strongmen and they have plenty of skeletons in their closets.

Details of the disgraceful Balibo cover-up and on-going fawning to Indonesia over the murders of the newsmen have been brought to light by the NSW coronial inquiry, but it has proceeded with zero co-operation from Indonesia.

Is that the action of a close and friendly neighbour -- the same neighbour that Australia has bailed out of trouble time and again?

Who was first to the table with $1 billion in aid following the Boxing Day tsunami? Australia was, and rightly so. Diplomacy is a two-way street. But when it comes to Indonesia, all the traffic appears to be one way.

They attack us over a loss of face, they trigger riots outside our embassy and we not only take it but we find it necessary to appease them with a very public grovelling.

Australian diplomats have, for years, beaten a path to the presidential palace in Jakarta and the foreign ministry to assure the regime that Australia respects Indonesian sovereignty. Therefore, we respect its right to murder the newsmen and tens of thousands of East Timorese and others in the name of national unity.

We are told, and most would agree, that the so-called ''Balkanisation'' of Indonesia into numerous smaller states would not be in Australia's national interest.

But why does that fundamental policy message have to be sugar-coated with layers of over-the-top diplomatic bootlicking?

''As an Australian, I thought that it was really, extremely unfortunate that that visit ended in such a negative way,'' an emotional Farmer said.

''I fully understand the depth of the Governor's feelings about the way in which the visit ended. I deeply sympathise with him in the way he felt.''

Why did Farmer, who was removed as head of immigration and packed off to Jakarta after numerous debacles in the department, have to empathise so forcefully with Sutiyoso?

And where was the protest about Indonesia's lack of co-operation with the coronial inquiry?

NSW Premier Morris Iemma also issued a strongly worded written apology to the good general for any inconvenience or loss of face caused.

That apology and Farmer's heartfelt sorrow for any embarrassment were graciously accepted by Sutiyoso who said he was ''touched''.

The loud and passionate anti-Australian protests outside our embassy in Jakarta promptly ceased.

The protests included ranting youths waving placards reading ''F--- off Australia'' and ''Go to hell Australia''.

Despite the spectacular democratic advances in Indonesia since General Suharto fell, such protests simply cannot happen without the sanction of men such as Sutiyoso.

Meanwhile, the families of the five newsmen butchered at Balibo are still waiting for their apology.

For 30 years they have endured the cover-up and the appalling sight of Australian officials crawling to Indonesia and assuring the generals that no offence is meant by the pursuit of truth.

Thanks to the Balibo inquest run by the NSW coroner, and the courage of some of the witnesses who appeared, we now know categorically that the men were murdered in a most brutal and merciless fashion by Indonesian officers.

We also know that Indonesia's story that they were killed in crossfire or mistaken for enemy combatants is a lie and that war crimes charges could follow.

An apology to the Balibo families from the Australian Government may still come.

But they should not hold their breath waiting for any apology or even an acknowledgement of the truth from Jakarta.

Ian McPhedran is a Sydney-based defence correspondent

for The Courier-Mail

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