Subject: Herald Sun: Opinion: Cleanse shame over Balibo five

Herald Sun (Melbourne, Australia)

Monday, March 5, 2007

Cleanse shame over Balibo five

By Paul Gray

A GOVERNMENT cannot turn a blind eye to the murder of its own citizens.

But there's growing evidence that this is exactly what the Whitlam government did in the case of the murder of five Australian newsmen at Balibo in East Timor in 1975.

The long overdue coroner's inquest on one, Brian Peters, is unfolding painfully in Sydney.

The most ominous new evidence it has produced is the claim that the office of prime minister Gough Whitlam was given the text, within minutes, of an intercepted Indonesian military message on October 16, 1975.

It stated that five Australian journalists had been deliberately killed at Balibo village and their corpses burnt. This was the day of their deaths.

The Whitlam government wanted the takeover of East Timor to proceed but was faced with a dilemma when Australians were killed.

The government chose to withhold any protest, instead politely asking President Suharto, three weeks later, for ''Your Excellency's personal help'' in learning the facts about the missing newsmen.

There were many facts Whitlam already knew. In later years Whitlam has continually denied detailed knowledge of Indonesian government involvement in the killings.

The former PM has sent an undisclosed statement to the Coroner's Court.

Aside from the human suffering of the five victims' families, another factor has always stuck in the craw of many Australians over this issue.

That's the strong suspicion that successive Australian governments have hushed up their knowledge of the atrocity to appease Indonesia.

Malcolm Fraser became caretaker PM within a month of the killings.

It seems inconceivable he was not given a detailed briefing then, or soon after he won the 1975 election. He was PM for seven years.

Coroner Dorelle Pinch has issued a warrant for the arrest of Yunus Yosfiah, later Indonesia's Minister for Information, for refusing to give evidence.

The man named as leading the Indonesian attack at Balibo laughed at her.

Robin Dix, an Indonesian language specialist, said he translated an Indonesian military message on October 16, 1975 which read: ''Five Australian journalists have been killed and their corpses incinerated or burnt to a crisp.''

The new testimony comes on top of years of inquiry by United Nations investigators, who called for warrants to be issued for Yosfiah's arrest.

There is also the work of investigative journalists such as Jill Jolliffe, whose book Cover-Up: the Inside Story of the Balibo Five provided extensive documentation on the newsmen's deaths.

Jolliffe reported a statement by 1970s Labor backbencher Arthur Gietzelt that Whitlam had ''almost boastfully'' told him in late 1975 that he knew how the Balibo Five had died.

GIETZELT also said Whitlam boasted he knew everything that went on in the region.

Whitlam was so fond of saying this that he ''even referred to knowing when people peed outside their windows anywhere in the Asia-Pacific.''

Of course, none of this adds up to comprehensive proof of Indonesia's guilt in murdering the five newsmen, or Whitlam government complicity.

The jury, or rather the coroner, is still out on the final details.

The relationship between a parliamentary democracy, such as Australia, and a military dictatorship, as Indonesia clearly was until 1998, is naturally difficult.

Diplomacy sometimes requires the turning of a blind eye, but the murder by our closest large neighbour of five journalists, in the course of their professional duty to reveal news of a military invasion, is a crime far beyond any that can be ignored in the name of expedient diplomacy.

Gough Whitlam is still praised by many for ushering in a new era in important social areas -- education, movies and culture, family law reform -- and an allegedly independent foreign policy.

The murders remain an ugly stain on the glorious myth of the Whitlam years.

To put it in its proper context, many people today despise the Howard Government for its conniving at the imprisonment of David Hicks at Guantanamo Bay.

Criticism of today's government on this score is justified, but at least Hicks is still alive.

The murder of five Australian newsmen by Indonesia's military is far worse.

Labor's 1975 election slogan was: Shame, Fraser, Shame.

If our government covered up the killings, many would also cry, with justice: Shame, Whitlam, shame.

------------------------------------- Joyo Indonesia News Service

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