Subject: SMH: Set history right: Balibo families

Sydney Morning Herald

Families tell of tricks over Balibo burials

Hamish McDonald

June 2, 2007

FAMILIES of the five newsmen killed at Balibo, East Timor, in 1975 have told a Sydney inquest they were tricked by Australian officials into agreeing to the burial of the purported remains in Jakarta.

Three of the families said each had been told separately by Department of Foreign Affairs officials that the other families did not want the remains brought back to Australia.

Shirley Shackleton - the widow of Greg Shackleton, a reporter for Channel Seven, who died in an Indonesian covert attack on October 16, 1975 - said an official told her "it would cost you $48,000" to transport the remains home.

John Stratton, SC, counsel for Maureen Tolfree, sister of Brian Peters, a cameraman for Channel Nine, asked the Deputy State Coroner Dorelle Pinch to urge the Federal Government to seek reburial in Australia.

"In view of the history of this matter it is utterly offensive to the families of the deceased journalists that they are buried in Indonesia," Mr Stratton said.

After weeks of requests, Indonesian authorities handed to the Australian embassy in Jakarta in November that year four shoe boxes of ash and charred bone fragments said to have come from the house in Balibo where four of the newsmen died. The embassy conducted a burial in a Jakarta cemetery on December 5, 1975, without the bereaved families.

In his closing submission on the inquest's last day of hearings, Mr Stratton said the official history of what happened to the Balibo five had been based on "a false account of history". "It has been in the interests of certain people, both in Indonesia and Australia, to maintain the false history."

Ms Pinch now retires to review submissions that include recommendations she refer the names of two former Indonesian army officers to prosecutors for possible war crime charges.


The Advertiser (Australia)

June 2, 2007

Set history right: Balibo families


THE families of five young Australian journalists ''executed'' by Indonesian forces at Balibo in East Timor called yesterday for the killers to be prosecuted for war crimes.

There was overwhelming evidence the 1975 killings were ordered by Yunus Yosfiah, who went on to become a minister in the Indonesian Government, counsel John Stratton SC told the NSW Coroners Court.

Mr Stratton, in closing submissions on behalf of the family of one of the newsmen, Brian Peters, said the families of all the men wanted 30 years of false history corrected.

The inquest has heard Australian and Indonesian governments maintained the men were killed in crossfire as Indonesia troops invaded East Timor although they knew from intelligence reports it was a lie.

''(Some) appear to have been concerned that the truth would damage relations between Australia and Indonesia,'' said Mr Stratton.

''The journalists were not killed in crossfire or in the heat of battle.

''They were executed by Indonesian special forces troops, with the participation of and at the direction of Yunus Yosfiah, with the intention of preventing the journalists from telling their story to the world.''

Mr Yosfiah led the Balibo attack. The inquest has heard graphic evidence of how Channel 9 cameraman Mr Peters and reporter Malcolm Rennie, and Channel 7 reporter Greg Shackleton, cameraman Gary Cunningham and sound recordist Tony Stewart died.

Mr Stratton said Mr Peters appeared to have been the first - stabbed and shot as he surrendered with his hands up.

The other four ran into a house where three were shot dead. The fifth hid in a toilet where Indonesian special forces officer Christoforus da Silva beat on the door with the butt of his rifle and threatened to throw in a grenade.

When the journalist came out with his hands up, he was stabbed in the back by da Silva.

Counsel assisting the coroner, Mark Tedeschi QC, this week recommended that two people be referred to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions for prosecution on war crimes charges under the Geneva Convention.

Mr Stratton also said the Government should seek the return of the journalists' remains, which were buried in Jakarta without the families' informed consent.

''In view of the history of this matter it is utterly offensive to the families of the deceased journalists that they are buried in Indonesia,'' he said.

Greg Shackleton's widow, Shirley, supported bringing the remains back to Australia. The burned bodies went into the grave ''all stuck in one box together'', she said outside court.

Mrs Shackleton yesterday addressed the coroner, saying a ''policy of decency'' had been missing from the Australian Government's handling of the case for 32 years.

''No matter how terrible the facts may be, trying to recover from grief is impossible if they're absent,'' she said.

Deputy State Coroner Dorelle Pinch will hand down her findings on a date to be fixed.

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