Subject: Balibo probe still in 'early stages': Negus

Balibo probe still in 'early stages': Negus

By Adam Gartrell, South-East Asia Correspondent

JAKARTA, Dec 9 AAP - An Australian Federal Police (AFP) probe into the Balibo Five killings is still in its early stages and it's too soon to say if investigators will seek to interview witnesses in Indonesia, commissioner Tony Negus says.

The AFP launched its war crimes probe earlier this year, almost two years after a coronial inquest concluded Indonesian forces deliberately killed the Australia-based journalists to cover up their 1975 invasion of East Timor.

Debate about the killings was reignited this week when a retired Indonesian army colonel appeared to back the coroner's findings, becoming the first senior Indonesian figure to contradict the official explanation the newsmen were killed in crossfire.

Gatot Purwanto - a junior special forces commando at the time when he took part in the assault on Balibo - said soldiers made a rational decision to kill the newsmen but were also provoked by the sound of gunfire from their direction.

Asked if the AFP would seek to interview witnesses like Purwanto, Negus said the probe was still in "its early stages".

"It would be premature to say at all that we could interview anyone in Indonesia at this stage," he said, adding he was aware of Purwanto's comments.

"I'm also aware today that the individual has said he's not prepared to talk to the AFP.

"So all these things need to be examined in the entirety of the investigation and we'll address those as they come up."

Australia would have to seek Indonesia's permission to interview potential witnesses on Indonesian soil, Negus said.

"We respect the sovereign rights of Indonesia and they would have to allow AFP officers to come to Indonesia to conduct an investigation that would be done with the full co-operation and understanding of the Indonesian national police," he said.

Purwanto made his claims after seeing Robert Connolly's Balibo, the Australian film about the killings that has been banned in Indonesia.

Indonesia's national journalist's association is continuing to defy the ban, staging a series of screenings across the country.

 


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