Subject: JP: 'Balibo' case awaits revelation of key suspect


February 26, 2001

'Balibo' case awaits revelation of key suspect by Aboeprijadi Santoso

AMSTERDAM (JP): The brutal attack that killed five Australia-based journalists in Balibo, East Timor, on Oct. 16, 1975 remains relevant even today. The recent accusation by police under the authority of the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor against Lt. Gen. (ret.) Muhammad Yunus Yosfiah as the leading executioner, is a reminder of the poisonous legacy of the Indonesian army in East Timor.

Last month the UN civil police said that after seven months of investigation into the "Balibo case" they were seeking a warrant to arrest Yunus, another Indonesian and one East Timorese.

Yunus has again denied the allegations, the latest denial on Thursday in a meeting with legislators. He said he is willing to go to Australia to clear himself of the allegations.

"Balibo" was a prelude to the full-scale invasion on Dec. 7, 1975 and to a much greater human tragedy, victimizing a neighboring people. It was the beginning of a flagrant violation of the Indonesian constitution that requires the state to respect the sovereignty of other nations.

Despite years of inquiries, the case has not been fully clarified, suggesting that some key aspects are protected from being pursued. Impunity thus prevails.

Further, the case is an example of the threat against the free press by state and murderous army units that were condoned by the great powers.

1975 is a decisive year. The West lost Indochina, Cambodia's Pol Pot started a genocidal "Year Zero" and Soviet jet fighters landed in Cam Ranh, Vietnam. Meanwhile the struggle for hegemony intensified and the strategic deep trench of Ombai-Wetar Straits, east off Timor coast, became critical.

It strengthened the need, basically agreed at Jakarta-Canberra 1974 summits in Indonesia's Wonosobo and Australia's Townville, to take over East Timor.

However, that scenario was almost overtaken as the radical nationalist Fretilin guerrillas controlled most territory. Jakarta, therefore, launched a covert campaign "to stimulate a liberation war in the style of Lawrence of Arabia," the late Gen. Dading Kalbuadi told this writer in 1995.

In reality, it was a heavily armed operation to create a "civil war" and crush the Fretilin. They used some 3,800 "volunteers".

This piece of information "was the official side (of the story), and you've just heard the unofficial side," Gen. Benny Moerdani was quoted as saying, after he communicated Jakarta's military preparation to then Australian Ambassador Richard Woolcott a few days before "Balibo" occurred. Shackleton, Tony Stewart, Brian Peters and Malcolm Renie -- arrived in Balibo in western East Timor, it was possibly feared they could have known and revealed the positions of the troops led by Col. Dading who penetrated from the neighboring Indonesian town of Atambua.

Yet neither Canberra nor Jakarta had forewarned them. So when one commando (RPKAD) unit -- the "Susi Team" led by a "Major Andreas" -- entered Balibo at dawn and faced brief resistance from the Fretilin, the confrontation with the newsmen -- not the killing -- seemed inevitable.

Four of them were found dead, then dressed in Fretilin uniform and burnt. Questions remain about just who were involved when the "Susi Team" came face to face with them and whether the unit came armed with foreknowledge, thus targeting the journalists.

According to four witnesses interviewed by journalist Jill Jolliffe, the Balibo Five, as they became to be known, were unarmed and executed as they surrendered asking for protection. They were fired on "immediately without mercy" from about 10 meters and one was killed with a knife. (The Sydney Morning Herald, June 21, 1999).

The men who allegedly took part in the slayings included Maj. Andreas, Capt. Ali Mussa, Lt. Selamat Kirbiantoro, and others identified as Kris, Marcos and Yusuf.

It is also possible that some of the witnesses were involved since they were acting under the unit's command. A different source said a certain "Capt. Soeharto" killed the first two newsmen.

Significantly, some witnesses quoted "Andreas" as telling the group: "If anyone asks, say it was war, (and) we found some white bodies". Clearly, it was an attempt to deny that the actors knew that the victims were journalists and to use the war as a smoke screen.

That, indeed, became the standard response of both Jakarta and Canberra. "They were (caught) in cross fire," said Dading in 1995 (The English term "cross fire" was his).

A year later, the man in charge of Canberra's official inquiry, Tom Sherman, said, it all happened "in the heat of the battle."

But James Dunn, a former Australian consul who examined the town a day after the killings, strongly contradicted this (Radio Netherlands Feb. 7, 1996).

One man who closely observed the whole operation was the late Jose Martins Jr., a Timorese admirer of Gen. Ali Moertopo, then Soeharto's confidant directing Jakarta's operation (Opsus) in Timor.

In 1992, he told Radio Netherlands, that the RPKAD commando's had infiltrated East Timor since August 1975, "with Portuguese names, acting as tourists, with maps, etc". When the major sweep came in mid-October, there were fierce battles in nearby areas of Batugade and Maliana -- not in Balibo.

Former chief of one of the political parties, Apodeti, Guilherme M. Gonzalves (whose son, Tomas, joined the "Susi Team") and former Fretilin Chairman Francisco X. do Amaral told me in 1995 that they received similar reports.

The Balibo killings, therefore, were cold-blooded murders.

At his home in Lisbon, Jose Martins told this writer, "unfortunately some (of the officers) were cruel. That was not necessary". Then he mentioned: "Sinaga, Maj. Andreas ..."

Jose Martins, who was mysteriously dead on arrival at Jakarta airport in mid-August 1997, never revealed the identities of the names.

But Jolliffe's and other sources confirm that the man known as "Maj. Andreas" is definitely Muhammad Yunus Yosfiah. In 1975 his rank was captain, but he was called "major" apparently to boost his role as a RPKAD commander.

In 1998, Yunus, as then president B.J. Habibie's Minister for Information, became popular when he revoked Soeharto's hated instrument to control the press, the media publishing permit or the SIUPP.

On the Balibo issue, Yunus first denied allegations of his role, but later admitted, that he led the attack in Balibo. He said he had stayed there for 10 days, but had never seen (the journalists) alive or dead" and never had a report on that (Sydney Morning Herald, May 29 1999).

As to the shooting from 10 meters and the instruction to lie, Yunus replied: "Bullshit!" (Kompas, June 27, 1999).

So, how could a commander and intelligence officer stay 10 days in a small town yet not knowing anything about the incident?

While it can be established that "Maj. Andreas" was Yunus, it is not yet very clear whether allegations against him are true.

The Balibo slayings become a lesson of how a military regime, with a little help from big friends, started to act disastrously against a small nation by killing journalists.

In 1975 the East Timorese were threatened -- not by Indonesia, but by the army commanders in the name of Indonesia. Today the East Timorese and the Indonesians embark on a difficult processes of reconciliation to build new societies.

With the two countries now free, more evidence on "Balibo" may come forward.

The press and the press freedom that "Maj. Andreas" and his unit allegedly destroyed in Balibo in 1975 are the very same profession and principle that Minister Yunus respected and which made him respectable in 1998.

If Yunus did take part in those killings, he, being "reborn" a democrat, ought to have felt the pain of that irony. A celebrated killer of SIUPP, he has conceded a similar irony: "ABRI (the Indonesian armed forces) might be a frightening (force), but I'm a democrat". (Kompas, June 27, 1999).

Yunus should give his full version of the event. Given the stakes and in the spirit of reconciliation, his full testimony could contribute to "restore" his reputation, but also that of his corps.doing so, he would honor his claim and respect the public who wish to remember him as an anti-SIUPP democrat.

Finally, his full story could, perhaps, contribute to the reconciliation between the Indonesian army and East Timor, strengthening peace and security at the border.

The writer is a journalist with Radio Netherlands.

see also Balibo Investigation

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