|Subject: CT: Balibo inquest shows the
futility of appeasement [+Daily Telegraph]
also: Daily Telegraph: Post-Balibo inquest fears [Op-Ed By Ian McPhedran]
Canberra Times (Australia) Friday, June 8, 2007
Balibo inquest shows the futility of appeasement
By Bruce Haigh
THE NSW coronial inquest into the killing of five journalists in East Timor in 1975 has achieved far more than earlier government inquiries into the deaths.
The Deputy NSW Coroner, Dorelle Pinch, has been able to uncover facts that other investigations could not, and the inquest has confirmed the cover-up engaged in by successive Australian governments. This cover-up was maintained through a loose consensus of foreign policy-makers, known as the pro-Jakarta lobby, including public servants in the Department of Foreign Affairs, politicians, journalists, academics and businessmen.
It came into being and was maintained to try and protect the Indonesian government from adverse commentary and scrutiny which it was felt might damage a fragile relationship. This policy amounted to appeasement and brought few rewards.
Maintenance of the policy included sweeping under the carpet Indonesian military atrocities in Aceh, Flores, East Timor and West Papua and complicity in military corruption.
There were three previous inquiries. The first was conducted in 1976 by an official from Foreign Affairs, Alan Taylor, which reiterated Indonesian denials and regurgitated publicly available information that the deaths by shooting were accidental.
Under pressure, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer instituted an inquiry in 1996 by the former head of the National Crime Authority, Tom Sherman; it concluded that the five had been killed by crossfire.
This finding did not satisfy those outside the pro-Jakarta lobby and under further pressure Downer, in 1999, again whistled up Sherman, who surprisingly came to the same conclusion, although adding the useful rider that if the journalists had been murdered it was the result of a blunder.
The coronial inquest lays bare the Australian attempt to get Indonesia off the hook over the cruel and calculated murder of five journalists done in an attempt to hide the Indonesian invasion of East Timor. It also exposes the shallowness and expediency of the policy of appeasement peddled by the pro-Jakarta lobby.
However, it fights on under the patronage of Downer who apparently urged NSW law authorities not to serve the visiting Governor of Jakarta, Sutiyoso, with a subpoena to appear before the coroners court.
A police request to do so was met with flight and anger expressed on his return home which prompted the NSW Premier, Morris Iemma, to apologise, no doubt on advice from Downer.
Given what has transpired at the coroners court, I would have thought that Indonesia should be apologising to the families of the victims and the Australian people. Imagine the fuss if the boot was on the other foot.
Indonesian forces invaded East Timor on October 7, 1975. The five Australian journalists were murdered on October 16 in Balibo.
They have long been referred to as journalists but in fact they were war correspondents. The reason they went to Balibo was because they, along with other members of the media, intelligence, defence and foreign affairs officials, were convinced that Indonesia would invade East Timor. I spoke briefly to Greg Shackleton before he went to East Timor and that was the gist of the conversation.
Why they have never been accorded the status of war correspondents presumably rests with the fact that Australia has for so long tried to demonise them, blame them for their own deaths and accord them the role of non-persons, not deserving the protection or respect of the Australian government.
Well they do. They were five brave young Australians dedicated to exposing the truth and by doing so perhaps prevent a great injustice to the people of East Timor.
If the Government can put money into finding the Australian World War I submarine AE1, if it can put money into bringing back the bodies of two formerly missing Vietnam veterans, it can put money into bringing back from Indonesia the bodies of Gary Cunningham, Greg Shackleton, Malcolm Rennie, Anthony Stewart and Brian Peters.
They should be posthumously awarded the Humanitarian Overseas Service Medal and an appropriate memorial erected in Canberra which might go some way towards making amends for 32 years of Australian government vilification and denial.
National self-esteem demands nothing less. If a nation cannot honour its heroes it will slowly decay from within. In 2000 I wrote in my book The Great Australian Blight, that the reason the bodies of the newsmen were not brought to Australia for burial was because of fears a funeral would stir up anti-Indonesian sentiment.
This should not now be the excuse for not bringing them home and honouring them.
The only way to develop a strong long term relationship with Indonesia is on the basis of honest exchanges, anything else has a well demonstrated propensity to unravel with negative results.
Australians are angry at their war correspondents having been shot by members of the Indonesian Army and they should be told so.
The coronial inquest has demonstrated that the Taylor and Sherman inquiries were fundamentally flawed. Where does this leave the Flood inquiries into the intelligence services, refugee detention camps and the Cole inquiry into the AWB?
There is a lesson in this for the Howard Government: eventually the truth will out.
Bruce Haigh is a retired diplomat and political commentator. He published two books in 2000 which addressed the relationship between Australia and Indonesia and regional defence issues.
The Daily Telegraph (Sydney, Australia) Friday, June 8, 2007
Post-Balibo inquest fears
By Ian McPhedran
MANY readers have contacted me in the wake of the Balibo inquest affair to ask what Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim nation, has to offer in terms of power projection.
The answer is quite simple Indonesia presents no direct military threat to Australia, but it is obviously in our interest that this country of 250 million remains stable.
A brutal military remains the central authority in the archipelago and the primary reason it has not fragmented into a Balkans-style set of small, independent states.
There are more than 276,000 troops in the Indonesian army's area commands. In addition, Indonesia has a strategic reserve of 35,000 troops and a special forces command of 5500 well-trained men for a total army force of about 312,000.
This compares with Australia's 26,000 soldiers.
There are 57,000 sailors in the Indonesian navy and 27,000 in the air force compared with about 13,000 in each force in Australia.
Hardware-wise, Indonesia can field hundreds of tanks and armoured vehicles, mortars, missiles, self-propelled artillery, attack helicopters, 10 frigates, 24 corvettes, two submarines and dozens of fast patrol boats. Importantly from an Australian perspective the navy also operates 28 land transport ships for landing troops and supplies.
The Indonesian Air Force runs 70 combat jets and 63 helicopters. These include 10 highly capable Russian built Sukhoi Flanker fighters and a dozen US built F-15s.
So Australia is vastly outnumbered by Indonesia and would be overwhelmed if it was simply a numbers game, but it is not.
The major factors against an Indonesian attack are geography, the Anzus treaty and technology.
The former, known as the sea-air gap, means landing troops here unopposed would be virtually impossible for Indonesia and almost every other nation bar our close ally the United States.
Anzus says that if anyone did attack they would have our powerful American friends to deal with.
There is also a huge gap (in Australia's favour) between the forces in terms of technology and skills.
Indonesia spends just $2 billion a year on defence whereas Australia devotes $20 billion to maintaining a highly capable, high-tech force.
So an Indonesian force would find it virtually impossible to even land in Australia let alone establish a beach head and reach the population.
The final factor mitigating against an Indonesian attack is that most of Indonesia's post-independence military strength has been directed inwards at keeping the crowded and poor republic intact.
Indonesian troops have fired far more bullets at their countrymen (including East Timorese) than they have at any foreign fighters.
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