Indonesian commander “fired on” British journalists

A former Indonesian military commander was the first to fire at two British journalists and three colleagues covering Jakarta's 1975 invasion of East Timor, an eyewitness told an inquest today.

The Indonesian government says the journalists – Britons Brian Peters and Malcolm Rennie, who worked for Australia's Channel 9 TV network, two Australians, and a New Zealander – were killed in crossfire as advancing troops took over the town of Balibo on October 16, 1975.

But Peters' family insists he was murdered and this week a coroner's inquest was called to examine the circumstances of his death.

Testifying before Sydney's Glebe Coroner's Court, an East Timorese eyewitness, who claims to have trained with the Indonesian military, said the Indonesian commander Yunus Yosfiah was the first to open fire on the five journalists.

The witness, identified only by the pseudonym "Glebe 2", said other Indonesian soldiers then began shooting at the house where the journalists were staying and that the attack was unprovoked.

Senior military officials warned their junior offices to keep quiet, the man said, adding that he lied to Australian investigators about the incident until his conscience prompted him to speak out.

"In East Timor, I saw a lot of injustice and massacres and as an East Timorese I couldn't support that anymore," the eyewitness said.

Yosfiah was the captain of Indonesian special forces at the time of the shooting, and later became information minister in 1998.

An independent report presented to the United Nations last year found that the journalists were probably killed deliberately by the Indonesian soldiers. The 2,500-page document, which was based on eyewitness accounts of the shooting, called for "further investigation of the elusive truth of this matter".

The journalists were killed as Indonesian special forces attacked a local militia that had claimed sovereignty after Portugal abandoned its former colony. The attack was a prelude to an Indonesian invasion in December of that year.

Indonesia invaded the former Portuguese colony in 1975 and ruled the tiny half-island territory until 1999, when a UN-organised plebiscite resulted in an overwhelming vote for independence.

Withdrawing Indonesian troops and their militia auxiliaries destroyed much of the country's infrastructure and killed at least 1,500 people.

Yosfiah dismissed the witness' remarks, saying: "It is all lies. I am afraid that person (making those allegations) wants to start a new life in Australia by making up a sensational story."

But East Timor's prime minister Jose Ramos-Horta said there was no doubt the journalists were killed deliberately by Indonesian forces and urged Indonesia to come clean and allow the reporters' families to move on.

"At least, let the truth emerge … for the tranquility of the families of these five newsmen," Ramos-Horta said.

REUTERS PICTURE: Australian soldier guarding a road in East Timor.


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