Selected postings from east-timor (reg.easttimor)

Subject: Books Offer Australian Perspective on East Timor Killings

The Jakarta Globe

October 16, 2009

Books Offer Australian Perspective on East Timor Killings

by Belinda Lopez

In Blok AA1 of the Christian cemetery in Kebayoran Lama, an engraved headstone marks the resting place of young journalists shot by the Indonesian military. The five men from Australia died in East Timor on this day in 1975. The five identified themselves as Australians to the soldiers, who then killed them as the military continued its advance into the town of Balibo, on the border of West Timor.

So declared a coronial inquest in the Australian state of New South Wales in 2007. The fallout from the findings has been a cultural and legal revival of interest in an incident that has stubbornly refused to be forgotten. The Indonesian version is that the journalists were caught in the crossfire between its soldiers and the East Timorese resistance. Now, a prickly phrase war crime — has seeped past East Timor activist circles into the official Australian vernacular. An Australian Federal Police investigation was launched in August, and the diplomatic alarm bells have begun to sound.

Readers in Indonesia wishing to examine the Australian and East Timorese perspectives to an investigation being labeled hurtful” and “a waste of time” by politicians here may have to order material online. In Australia, the literary treatment on the subject is stacking up. It now includes Tony Maniaty’s Shooting Balibo” and Jill Jolliffe’s “Balibo,” two pieces of nonfiction released this year to complement the release of Balibo,” the film.

Readers will find an unapologetically Australian version of events in the books by Maniaty and Jolliffe, both Australian journalists. “Balibo” was originally released in 2001 as “Cover Up: The Inside Story of the Balibo Five.” In her updated version, tailored to better suit the structure of the movie, Jolliffe has thickened out an already detailed autopsy on the case.

Some of the Indonesian figures she examines are still very much active in public life. Mohammad Yunus Yosfiah, a former minister of information and currently an influential Prosperous Justice Party (PPP) member said to reside in Bandung, was one of the men mentioned in coroner Dorelle Pinch’s 2007 report.

She recommended that criminal proceedings be brought against both Yunus and former soldier Christoforus da Silva, now believed to be living in Kupang, East Nusa Tenggara. Jolliffe collated eyewitness accounts accusing both men of shooting at the journalists in 1975. Prabowo Subianto, a former general and the chairman of the Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra), is linked to another atrocity in East Timor in her book.

Jolliffe’s own relationship with Indonesia has never been friendly. She began working as a stringer in East Timor just a month before the Balibo incident and has followed the story ever since. Jolliffe told the Jakarta Globe she was banned from Indonesia between 1975 and 2001, but entered the country illegally on several occasions, including in 1998, just after former President Suharto fell.

In 2001, she was granted safe passage by the Indonesian government to travel into West Timor with then-president and current Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao of East Timor. During the trip, Jolliffe said, Indonesian police appeared at the losman (small motel) she was staying at in Kupang in the middle of the night, demanding a list of journalists staying there.

I do not want to be biased against Indonesia,” she said, “and I think it’s very sad that I don’t really feel secure enough to go back there now.”

Jolliffe said that after years of being stalked by Indonesian agents near her home in Darwin, Australia, she was again followed this year by someone she believed was from the Indonesian consulate. “I have to be a little careful of my security.”

Maniaty, meanwhile, has never been to Indonesia, but since the launch of his book he has become an advocate of the need to seek justice against those involved in the Balibo incidents.

He spent only two short periods of time in East Timor, the first as the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s correspondent at the time the journalists died in Balibo in 1975. He warned his five colleagues beforehand not to visit the site where they would ultimately die.

A friend of director Robert Connolly, Maniaty returned to East Timor to work on the “Balibo” film as a consultant, offering insights to the actors playing the five young journalists. He received a thumbs up from his publishers to write an “on the road with the film crew” book, Maniaty said. Instead, “I sat down and 1975 just poured out of me.”

In his own words: “The book is about a young man caught in the events of 1975, with a bit of filmmaking in 2008. It became the book I needed to write.”

Shooting Balibo” is a memoir about the demons of memory, survivor’s guilt, journalism and youth. That said, it is certainly not the book of record. Maniaty writes eloquently but subjectively, and Indonesian readers will confront a perspective they are unlikely to encounter in their own country.

A lot of people in Indonesia say — and I can see their point of view — that ‘yeah, that’s all behind us, we want to move forward, we don’t want to keep on raising these issues,’” Maniaty told the Globe. “The bottom line is, no murder should go unprosecuted.”

Shooting Balibo: Blood and Memory in East Timor’ By Tony Maniaty Penguin Books 320 pages

Balibo By Jill Jolliffe Scribe Publications 392 pages


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