Subject: Age: A fight with Indonesia neither Howard nor Rudd wants

Also Balibo Five inquest slams diplomacy

The Age

A fight with Indonesia neither Howard nor Rudd wants

Damien Kingsbury

November 20, 2007

THE finding by the NSW deputy state coroner that the five Australia-based newsmen killed at Balibo, East Timor, in 1975 were murdered by the Indonesian military has the potential to again derail Australia's often fraught relationship with Indonesia. It has also injected a foreign policy consideration into an election campaign that has been largely bereft of foreign policy debate.

Prime Minister John Howard's comment that he will seek the repatriation of the remains of the five newsmen looks, at best, like a minimal effort to placate their families, even if decades too late.

But neither he nor pro-Indonesia Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd will get tough with Indonesia. Neither wants the complication of dispute with Indonesia in their election campaigns, and neither wants it in government.

Yet if war crimes charges are formalised, whoever is in government will have to handle the flak generated from an Indonesia that regards the Balibo five case, like so much else of its brutal history, as closed.

Like the Indonesia-East Timor "truth and friendship commission" that was roundly rejected by the international community as a whitewash, with little truth and imposed "friendship", Indonesia now wants the claim that the newsmen were killed in a crossfire to remain the official "truth".

Should charges go ahead, there is little Australia can do to press the case. There is no extradition treaty between Australia and Indonesia so Australia's meaningful capacity to pursue this matter is limited.

The Indonesian Government will also not go outside its own judicial process to hand over alleged war criminals, regardless of international procedures.

Within Indonesia, accounting for the past is set against what was, and which to some extent remains, a culture of impunity. In short, there are so many individuals guilty of so many crimes that a full accounting is next to impossible, especially given Indonesia's still malleable judiciary. Further, while Indonesia's military is politically weakened, it still retains influence. Importantly, it can count on allies within Indonesia's fractious legislature who will oppose any war crimes trial on narrow political grounds.

From Australia's perspective, whoever forms the next government will have to watch more or less helplessly as the judicial process takes its course. It will then be left to explain to an angry Indonesia that the separation of powers means that there is no executive capacity to influence judicial processes. Indonesia should understand the separation of powers, given it has used the same claim in recent trials of Australian citizens. But some in Indonesia are unlikely to accept that position at face value, as they did not accept the legitimate acceptance as refugees of the 43 Papuan asylum seekers.

Australia's relationship with Indonesia has been characterised by regular diplomatic rows, and many observers believe that this is a sign of consistently poor relations. These rows have continued despite frequent claims that the relationship is strong. It is possible for Australia and Indonesia to have more secure and consistent relations.

Australia needs to say to both the Indonesian Government and people that it wants to have a positive and constructive relationship, and that it is there as a friend. It must explain that real friendships are based on honesty and transparency.

There is a claim that Australia and Indonesia clash over what amounts to cultural difference, and that frankness is not appreciated by Indonesian politicians. The lack of appreciation was certainly true, although it much less reflected culture than it did the untrammelled abuse of power. As Indonesia democratises, it is learning that transparency and accountability are a part of that process.

It may be that no Indonesians will ever stand trial in Australia, or Indonesia, or East Timor, or elsewhere, for war crimes. But it would be useful for the Indonesian Government to finally admit that those crimes were committed, against their own citizens as well as ours, and that they should never happen again.

Associate Professor Damien Kingsbury is associate head of the School of International and Political Studies at Deakin University.


The Bulletin

Balibo Five inquest slams diplomacy

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The deliberate slaying of the Balibo Five shows up Australia's paralysed diplomacy in the face of Indonesia's military. By Clinton Fernandes.

There is no statute of limitations on murder. Nor, it appears, on those trying to cover it up. Last week, a coronial inquest finally did what the leading lights of Australian diplomacy could not do: establish the truth of the murders of five journalists at Balibo in East Timor, 32 years ago.

The coroner found that Brian Peters, Greg Shackleton, Gary Cunningham, Tony Stewart and Malcolm Rennie clearly identified themselves as Australians and as journalists. They were unarmed and dressed in civilian clothes. They had their hands raised in the universally recognised gesture of surrender. They were shot and/or stabbed to death in a deliberate act. The Indonesian military tactical commander gave the order to kill as part of a plan that emanated from the highest levels. Their corpses were dressed in uniforms, guns placed beside them and photographs taken in an attempt to portray them as legitimate targets.

Australian diplomats, academics and media commentators who make up the Jakarta Lobby claimed they were pursuing a pragmatic, hard-headed and tough-minded strategy of better relations with the Indonesian military. But they were thoroughly compromised by Indonesia's strategists, who made a mockery of their supposed expertise in foreign policy. Indonesian brutalities could not be concealed from the Australian public, nor could a good relationship with Indonesia be conducted in the face of sustained public condemnation. Indeed, the only people the Jakarta Lobby was tough-minded towards were the families of the victims, not their Indonesian counterparts.

As the Australian public learns more about Indonesia, they will discover that military personnel who committed atrocities in East Timor were promoted and posted to West Papua. They will learn the black West Papuans are subjected to a racist, oppressive military presence that would be condemned were a European power to act similarly. Our diplomats will try to be tough-minded about this - towards concerned Australians, not their Indonesian counterparts. The latter know the unspoken truth about Australia's diplomats: they are not the lions of Gallipoli but the lambs of Canberra.

Clinton Fernandes is a senior lecturer in strategic studies at the University of NSW.

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