Thursday, September 10, 2009

Indonesia unhappy with new Balibo probe

Compiled from the original Sources: The Age and ABC News

Indonesian authorities are surprised and bemused by Australia's announcement that the Australian Federal Police (AFP) is opening up a war crimes investigation into the killings of five Australia-based newsmen in East Timor in 1975.

Indonesia has warned that its relations with Australia will be harmed by an Australian Federal Police war crimes investigation into the 1975 slaying of five journalists in East Timor. It also has the potential to upset the good relationship between the AFP and Indonesian police.

In a sharp official response to yesterday's announcement of the AFP probe, the Indonesian Government said it would not co-operate with investigators.

''We don't understand why past issues like this are being raised,'' said Foreign Ministry spokesman Teuku Faizasyah.

''It is not conducive to the bilateral relationship, especially when we are aiming at building something better between the two countries.''

The AFP has confirmed that it began a formal probe into the deaths of the five Australian-based newsmen on August 20.

Channel Nine cameraman Brian Peters, with his colleague Malcolm Rennie and Channel Seven's Greg Shackleton, Gary Cunningham and Tony Stewart, were killed in October 1975 by Indonesian special forces.

While Indonesia has claimed that the newsmen were caught in the crossfire, others have maintained that they were killed to prevent their reporting on Indonesia's invasion of East Timor.

The AFP probe is likely to focus on Mohammad Yunus Yosfiah, an army captain at the time of the killings, and another soldier, Christoforus da Silva.

The sister of Brian Peters, Maureen Tolfree, said from her home in Britain she was over the moon about the probe. ''Wow, at last! That's brilliant news,'' she said.

University of NSW academic and ex-army intelligence operative Clinton Fernandes also applauded the probe. ''Australian aid to Indonesia is half a billion dollars a year. There are 16,000 Indonesian students studying in Australia and $15 billion a year in bilateral investment and trade each year,'' he said.

''Considering that, the Indonesian Government should not be making a fuss about extraditing someone like Yosfiah. ''He is a figure from the past.''

Former Jakarta governor Sutiyoso, whose Sydney hotel room was broken into by police seeking to summons him to the inquest, said he was puzzled by the new investigation. ''What I know is that both governments, Indonesian and Australian, have decided not to reopen the case,'' he said. ''So … why do we have this now?'' Mr Sutiyoso served in the military in East Timor, but was not near Balibo when the newsmen died.

Analyst Hugh White of the Australian National University questioned the continuing focus on Balibo, and said the new investigation would not help relations with Indonesia.

He said the killings were deeply disturbing at the time and he could understand why they continued to torment the men's families. ''But for the country as a whole, our obsession with what happened at Balibo in 1975 has started to become a distraction from a whole lot of much more urgent and important questions, which include the nature of Australia's relationship with the new Indonesia,'' he said.