Subject: ABC: Minister pressured to stay silent, Balibo inquest told

Also AU: Whitlam 'encouraged' Indonesia's Timor claim


May 18, 2007

Minister pressured to stay silent, Balibo inquest told

A Sydney court has heard the foreign affairs minister in 1975 was pressured not to tell the families of the Balibo five that the men had been killed on the grounds of national security.

Geoff Briot was the foreign affairs minister's chief of staff when five Australian journalists were killed at Balibo in East Timor 32 years ago.

He has told the Glebe Coroners Court, when minister Donald Willesee learnt of the deaths shortly after they happened he was horrified because five of his children were in journalism.

He said the minister wanted to tell the Balibo five's families about the deaths, but was heavily leant on not to say anything on the grounds that it may affect national security.

The court heard the minister was very unhappy about it.

Mr Briot said the minister was talked out of it, either by joint intelligence organisation head Gordon Jockell, defence department head Sir Arthur Tange or both men.


The Australian

May 18, 2007

Whitlam 'encouraged' Indonesia's Timor claim

Dan Box

THE Indonesian Government believed it had been given ''carte blanche'' by then Australian prime minister Gough Whitlam to launch the 1975 invasion of East Timor that led to the killings of the Balibo Five.

The then head of the Department of Foreign Affairs, Alan Renouf, yesterday told an inquest into the death of one of the five journalists that he re-wrote the official Australian policy at the time, which he described as ''chilling in its ... simplicity''.

Mr Whitlam initially encouraged Indonesia's claim to East Timor, Mr Renouf said.

Mr Renouf said he felt compelled to insist that Indonesia only exercise this claim through a democratic vote, not military force. He then wrote that into the official policy.

''I always thought that Indonesia would adopt the position that 'we have carte blanche, we can go ahead with force' and I'm not sure they believed the Australian government would oppose that,'' Mr Renouf said.

''He (Whitlam) was very angry that I changed his policy but that was how it was. It was a policy that a man like Whitlam, very much attached to human rights, should adopt.''

The former diplomat was scathing in his description of the Indonesian attack on the Timorese village of Balibo, on October 16, 1975, which he said broke international law.

''I took strong objection to the killings of the five journalists,'' Mr Renouf said. ''I thought it was ... revolting, quite unnecessary, cold blooded and really merciless, wanton, an infamous act.

''When I came to my conclusion about the responsibility and the fault lying with the Indonesian Government ... I found that feeling shared by nearly everybody who was in the Department of Foreign Affairs at the time.''

The inquest has heard that the Australian government received detailed information on an impending Indonesian attack in the days before October 16.

The Australian ambassador to Indonesia at the time, Richard Woolcott, contradicted Mr Renouf, arguing that he did not believe the journalists -- Greg Shackleton, Gary Cunningham, Tony Stewart, Malcolm Rennie and Brian Peters -- had been killed deliberately.

''I would be very surprised if they were killed on orders from Jakarta, because that would be so counter-productive to Indonesia's own interests,'' he said.

The inquest, at Glebe coroner's court in Sydney, continues today when Peters' sister, Maureen Tolfree, will give evidence that she received an anonymous warning to stay away from her brother's funeral in Indonesia.

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