Subject: SMH update: Indonesian voices from the grave at Balibo inquest

Also Indonesian captain 'told of plan to kill Aust newsmen' in E Timor

The Sydney Morning Herald Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Indonesian voices from the grave at inquest

Hamish McDonald

THEY have been conspicuously absent so far, but two of Indonesia's generals yesterday spoke to the Sydney inquest into the deaths of five Australian-based newsmen at Balibo in 1975.

Unfortunately, it was far from a live appearance. Both Major-General Benny Murdani, the overall commander of the Indonesian attack on the East Timorese border village, and Major-General Dading Kalbuadi, the ground commander, died some years ago.

Their very guarded answers about the incident were heard thanks to tape recordings by the Herald's former Asia editor David Jenkins, who interviewed both in 1995 and who was the first witness when the Deputy State Coroner Dorelle Pinch reopened the inquest yesterday.

In snatches of interview played to the court, Jenkins prised admissions from Murdani and Kalbuadi that Indonesian special forces under then Captain Yunus Yosfiah had carried out the attack, with local partisans. The now-retired lieutenant-general Yosfiah, who was Indonesia's information minister in 1998-99, has declined Ms Pinch's invitation to appear either in person or by videolink at the inquest.

As Jenkins reported in the Herald in 1995, Murdani said the Indonesians had been aware that Australian reporters were in Balibo and claimed they had been "sending messages to Dili [the East Timorese capital, then held by the pro-independence Fretilin party]" by "field telephone".

However, he insisted the five had died in a "firefight", as did Kalbuadi. Asked about reports that some of the newsmen had been captured and executed, Kalbuadi said: "No, no, that's not right ... it [was] really in combat."

But Antonio Sarmento, a former Timorese partisan who was at Kalbuadi's forward headquarters at Batugade, about 12 kilometres from Balibo, around the time of the attack, said the Indonesian forces intended to kill the journalists.

At dinner the night before the October 16 dawn attack, an officer codenamed Captain Fernando had spoken to him and others about the Australians, he told the court. "He said they knew there are some Australian journalists in Balibo, and they try to locate them, to arrest them, or if possible to kill them," Sarmento said.

He said he was told by an Indonesian journalist who visited Balibo with the then lieutenant-colonel Kalbuadi immediately after the attack that the five had been captured trying to surrender, briefly questioned, then killed.

Their bodies had been dressed in camouflage uniforms and propped over a machine gun "to make like they were killed while they were fighting".

The inquest continues.


ABC News Online

Last Update: Tuesday, May 1, 2007. 3:44pm (AEST)

Indonesian captain 'told of plan to kill Aust newsmen' in E Timor

An East Timorese man has told a Sydney inquest that a captain in the Indonesian military told him of plans to arrest and kill five Australian journalists in 1975.

Former soldier, Antonio Sarmento, has given evidence at the coronial inquiry into the death of Brian Peters, one of five newsmen killed in the East Timorese town of Balibo in 1975.

They were killed during the invasion of East Timor by Indonesian forces.

The inquiry resumed today after a two-month break.

Mr Sarmento has told the Glebe Coroner's Court that the day before Indonesian forces took Balibo, he had a conversation with a man called Captain Fernando.

He says the captain told him they were aware there were Australian journalists in Balibo and they would arrest them and, if possible, kill them.

Mr Sarmento also told the court an Indonesian journalist told him Red Beret Indonesian commandos shot dead the men, after the men raised their arms and identified themselves.

Mr Sarmento said he was told the men were then dressed in Portuguese military uniforms and photographed holding weapons to prove to the world that they were fighting with Fretilin against Indonesia.

Earlier, the inquiry heard evidence from a journalist who interviewed a retired Indonesian general in 1995.

David Jenkins told the court that the general insisted the journalists were not killed in cold blood, but died in crossfire between Fretilin troops and the advancing Indonesian forces.

Mr Jenkins said the general admitted Jakarta was aware there were journalists in Balibo, but that he did not instruct the Indonesian special forces to protect the men, because he had not turned his mind to it.

The inquest continues tomorrow.

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