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More witnesses confirm that "Balibo Five" were murdered by Indonesian forces

(RSF/IFEX) - An inquest being held in the Sydney suburb of Glebe into the death of British cameraman Brian Peters, one of a group of five journalists working for Australian TV stations who were killed in the East Timorese town of Balibo in 1975, heard dramatic allegations on 7 and 8 February 2007 about the multiple murders.

Three former Timorese militiamen working for the Indonesian special forces during the October 1975 attack on Balibo confirmed on 8 February that Indonesian army Captain Yunus Yosfiah was present.

The witness known as "Glebe 3," a former Indonesian army auxiliary, said he saw cameraman Brian Peters with his hands in the air cry "Australian" and then collapse to the ground. The former militiaman cried while being questioned.

The witness "Glebe 4," who was also hired by the Indonesian army, was questioned in detail about the forces involved in the attack on Balibo. There were 500 fighters - 120 Timorese militiamen and about 400 Indonesian Kopassus special forces - backed by artillery and the navy. After two days of bombardment, all the civilians had fled. Only five guerrillas of the Fretilin stayed to defend the town, but as the Indonesian troops advanced, they also withdrew.

As a result, no fighting was taking place when the Indonesian army finally entered Balibo, where Peters and four other journalists had remained. In order to be identified, they had painted the Australian flag on the side of a house. This was confirmed by a film shot by Portuguese journalists a few days before the town was taken. It shows the journalists painting a wall.

One of the five Fretilin fighters, "Glebe 7," told the hearing that from his hiding place on the outskirts of the town, he saw an officer fire on Peters. He also heard Peters' companions cry "journalists" before shots rang out. "Glebe 5," a Timorese man hired to work with the Kopassus, confirmed seeing the bodies of the five journalists in a Balibo house two hours later.

On 7 February, a witness said he saw a former Indonesian information minister shoot Peters.

A Timorese witness, identified only as "Glebe 2" for his protection, accused former Indonesian Information Minister Yunus Yosfiah, then a captain in the Indonesian army, of opening fire on Peters, who was unarmed. Peters had pleaded with Yosfiah with his hands in the air before he was shot, he said.

Indonesian soldiers then shot the other journalists with the help of Timorese paramilitaries, said the witness, a former member of a pro-Indonesian militia. He said he was about 50 metres away and to one side, when he saw Capt. Yosfiah shoot Peters at point-blank range without saying a word. "I believe Yunus killed Brian Peters," the witness told the judge.

A second witness, "Glebe 4," said he saw three white men gunned down by two Indonesian soldiers inside a Chinese shop in Balibo.

Until he agreed to testify to this Australian court, "Glebe 2" supported the official Indonesian version of this episode. The Jakarta authorities reportedly used his name and his statement to claim that the five journalists were killed when fired on by members of the Revolutionary Front for the Independence of East Timor (Fretilin) while in a house. According to the official account, a mortar shell set fire to the house and burned their bodies.

It was in 1999 that this key witness finally decided to tell an Australian journalist what really happened, and thereby give lie to the official version.

On 7 February, "Glebe 2" described how Col. Dading Kalbuadi, the commander of the Indonesian invasion force, flew by helicopter to the scene of the incident to make sure the journalists' bodies were burned in another house. The soldiers also destroyed all their documents and equipment.

When the Australian government sent a team of investigators to the scene of the murders a year later, "Glebe 2" gave them the official story. An Indonesian colonel, Ed Sinaga, reportedly even sat in on the interview, posing as a servant of "Glebe 2," in order to ensure he did not tell the truth.

Yosfiah, who refused to travel to Sydney for the inquest, denied these allegations in an interview with the Australian radio and TV broadcaster ABC. He insisted he never saw the five journalists, but he did not deny leading the attack on Balibo on 16 October 1975, the day they were killed. "Glebe 2" was lying, he said.

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