Friday, 11 December 2009

TNI dismisses Balibo Five murder claim

The Jakarta Post
Wednesday, December 9, 2009

TNI dismisses Balibo Five murder claim

The Jakarta Post , Jakarta

The Indonesian Military (TNI) has insisted the foreign journalists known as the Balibo Five were accidentally killed in East Timor in 1975, despite an admission by a former army colonel that the newsmen were executed by Indonesian soldiers.

Army spokesman Brig. Gen. Christian Zebua told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday that the Army was not involved in the killing of the five journalists as admitted by Col. (ret) Gatot Purwanto to Tempo magazine.

"The Army never committed such killings," he said.

Christian said he did not even know Gatot in person.

"I don't know him personally, and I don't even think he knew what was happening at that time. The deaths were purely accidental," he insisted.

Separately, TNI spokesman, Sagom Tamboen, told the Post via text message that Gatot did not admit to the killings.

"Gatot did not say there were such killings," he said.

In an interview with Tempo, Gatot, who claimed he was a lieutenant in the Army's special forces (Kopassus) team that converged on East Timor's border town of Balibo on Oct. 16, 1975, said his team found the five foreign journalists - two Australians, two Britons and a New Zealander - were still alive when the shootout between Indonesian soldiers and Timorese fighters began to die down.

The team infiltrated strategic East Timorese territory just weeks before Indonesia invaded the former Portuguese colony.

Gatot said that as the team did not know what to do with the journalists - Greg Shackleton, Tony Stewart, Brian Peters, Malcolm Rennie, dan Gary Cunningham - they asked Jakarta what action should be taken. While waiting, he claimed he heard gun shots from where the journalists were being held.

"Our soldiers fired back.the journalists were all [killed]," he said.

Gatot said the team was in a difficult situation because if they were detained then, once freed, they would reveal that it was Indonesian soldiers that arrested them, exposing Indonesia's planned invasion of East Timor.

"Probably, [the shooting] was the best option. If not executed then they could testify that there was invasion by Indonesian military," he said, adding the bodies were then burned to hide the evidence.

Australian Federal Police launched a war crimes investigation into the case in September after the release of the Australian movie Balibo renewed public interest in the case. The film was banned in Indonesia.

Shirley Shackleton, the widow of Shackleton welcomed Gatot's interview - the first senior Indonesian soldier to contradict the official version that the reporters were caught in the middle of a gunbattle and accidentally shot.

"It is a milestone. It's another nail in the coffin of lies," she told Australia's Fairfax Radio Network as quoted by AP on Tuesday. (nia)

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