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Coroner says death of "Balibo Five" was premeditated war crime by Indonesian army

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders hails the work of New South Wales coroner Dorelle Pinch, who issued an inquest report on 16 November 2007 that establishes with great detail that the Indonesian army was responsible for the death of five British, Australian and New Zealander journalists in East Timor in 1975. The report clearly shows they were eliminated because they knew too much about Indonesia's invasion of East Timor, which was just getting under way.

"The detailed and courageous inquest conducted by Dorelle Pinch shows that Indonesian army officers, including former special forces captain Yunus Yosfiah, are war criminals," the press freedom organisation said. "It is deplorable that the Indonesian government immediately dismissed the findings of the Australian inquest."

Reporters Without Borders added: "We call on the next Australian prime minister to do everything possible to ensure that those who carried out these killings and those who gave them their orders are brought to trial on Australia. Although more than 30 years have gone by, this inquest shed light on every aspect of this multiple murder. It is vital that justice should now be done."

The report issued on 16 November detailed the findings of a six-week inquest into the death of British cameraman Brian Peters on 16 October 1975 in the East Timor town of Balibo. Four other journalists were killed with him - Australian reporter Greg Shacketon, Australian soundman Tony Stewart, New Zealander cameraman Gary Cunningham and British reporter Malcolm Rennie.

Pinch has urged the Australian government to bring war crimes charges against those who killed them.

The Indonesian army has always refused to punish those responsible for their deaths and the deaths of other foreign journalists killed around the same time in Timor, including Australian Roger East and New Zealander Sander Thoenes.

According to Pinch's report, the five journalists killed in Balibo, known as the "Balibo Five," were arrested after filming the start of the Indonesian invasion and then executed. "The journalists were not incidental casualties in the fighting, they were captured, then deliberately killed despite protesting their status," Pinch wrote in her report.

The inquest established that they were executed by Yosfia and Christoforus da Silva, another member of the Indonesian special forces, on the orders of their commander, Maj. Gen. Benny Murdani.

The report also describes how the Australian, British and New Zealand governments helped cover up these murders by accepting the Indonesian version and by refusing to disclose relevant information they had obtained.

On 16 November, an Indonesian foreign ministry spokesman said Pinch's findings would not change his country's position. "This court has a very limited jurisdiction and its decision will not change our stance about what happened," he said.

Relatives of the journalists welcomed Pinch's report. "I never thought I would see this moment arrive," Peters' sister, Maureen Tolfree, said. Several relatives voiced support for Pinch's proposal that the Australian and Indonesian government should work together to have the remains of the journalists identified and returned home for burial.

The dozens of witnesses who gave evidence at the inquest included former government ministers, ambassadors and intelligence officers. They also included former Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam. But former Indonesian military officers such as Yosfiah refused to testify to the inquest.

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