Indonesian troops ‘deliberately killed’ reporters, cornoner rules
- Friday November 16, 2007
“The journalists were not incidental casualties in the fighting: they were captured then deliberately killed despite protesting their status,” Pinch said.
Technically, Pinch investigated only the death of Brian Raymond Peters, a British-born cameraman who went to Balibo to cover the anticipated Indonesian invasion of East Timor as the island descended toward civil war after the end of Portuguese colonial rule. But she said it was impossible to investigate the death of one of the journalists without investigating that of the others, and that her findings applied equally to all of them.
She found that Peters was “shot and/or stabbed deliberately, and not in the heat of battle, by members of the Indonesian special forces … to prevent him from revealing that Indonesian special forces had participated in the attack on Balibo.”
Pinch said the journalists, known as the Balibo five, were killed on the orders of Yunus Yosfiah, an Indonesian military captain who later became a government minister. He has denied it.
There is “strong circumstantial evidence” that Yosfiah’s orders to kill the journalists came down the chain of command from the then head of the Indonesian special forces, Major General Benny Murdani, Pinch said.
She named three former senior officers of Indonesia’s special military forces as likely to have ordered the killings, and suggested they should face possible war crimes charges.
Both the Indonesian and Australian governments have said that the journalists were killed accidentally in crossfire between Indonesian troops and East Timorese defenders in the town of Balibo.
The Indonesian foreign ministry spokesman Kristiarto Legowo rejected Pinch’s findings.
“The verdict will not change our assertion on what happened in Balibo at the time, namely that those five journalists were killed in crossfire,” Legowo said in Jakarta. “It is a closed case.”
Peters, 29, fellow Briton Malcolm Rennie, 28, Australians Gregory Shackleton, 29, and Anthony Stewart, 21, and New Zealander Gary Cunningham, 27, were killed in or near a house near the town, Pinch found. Their bodies were then burned by Indonesian special forces in an attempt to portray them as combatants, she said.
The Australian opposition leader, Kevin Rudd, who leads the opinion polls ahead of elections next week, indicated he would follow up on the war crimes should he become prime minister.
“Once I have read the report carefully, I will be making a further statement about what subsequent action should be taken,” the Labor leader said. “I believe this has to be taken through to its logical conclusion. I also believe that those responsible should be held to account.”