The Guardian & Agencies
December 7, 2009
Ex-Indonesia Officer Claims Journalists Murdered in 1975 East
Former lieutenant disputes Indonesian government's claim that
Australian-based journalists were killed in crossfire
by Peter Walker and agencies
photo: East Timor's President José Ramos-Horta and actor Oscar
Issac (left) who plays him in the film Balibo. Indonesia has
banned the film about the alleged murders of journalists during
the 1975 invasion of East Timor. HO/AFP/Getty Images
A retired Indonesian army officer who took part in the invasion
of East Timor in 1975 has said that troops deliberately murdered
five Australian-based journalists, an account which contradicts
an official version of events agreed between the countries.
Gatot Purwanto, at the time a special forces lieutenant, told
the magazine Tempo that he was among a vanguard of troops who
crossed from West Timor, an Indonesian province, into the
eastern part of the island, several weeks before the full
invasion of the former Portuguese colony, which had just
The journalists two British nationals working for a
Sydney-based TV channel, cameraman Brian Peters and reporter
Malcolm Rennie; reporter Greg Shackleton and sound recordist
Tony Stewart, from Australia, and cameraman Gary Cunningham, a
New Zealander were shot dead on 16 October 1975 when
Indonesian troops overran the East Timor town of Balibo.
Indonesia's government has always stated that the men were
killed in crossfire as the troops fought pro-independence East
Timorese fighters, a version officially accepted by the
However, human rights activists have long claimed that the men
were tortured and executed to avoid news of the troops'
incursion reaching the outside world. This account is backed by
East Timor's post-independence president, José Ramos-Horta, who
was a rebel commander at the time.
Asked by the magazine if the Indonesian troops had deliberately
killed the journalists, Purwanto replied: "Yes."
He added: "If they had been left alive, they would say it was an
Indonesian invasion." The men's bodies were burned to hide the
evidence, he said.
Australia swiftly backed the invasion of East Timor, fearing
that otherwise the half-island state, one of its closest Asian
neighbours, could be taken over by communists. Critics allege
that successive Australian governments failed to properly
investigate the deaths for fear of upsetting a key regional ally.
This has gradually changed: in October 2007, a New South Wales
coroner ruled that the men were deliberately killed. In
September this year, Australian federal police opened a war
crimes investigation into the case.
The incident has received further publicity from the release
this year of an Australian film, Balibo, which depicts
Indonesian troops stabbing and shooting the unarmed journalists.
At the film's premiere, Ramos-Horta said the actual incident was
considerably more gruesome.
Balibo, which was shot in East Timor, has been banned in
[note: The below report does not
say where the screening was held]
The Jakarta Post [web site]
December 7, 2009
Hundreds watch “Balibo” screening
Hundreds of people watched the screening of Australian film
Balibo despite the government ban, which tells of the brutal
killing of five foreign journalists during the invasion of then
East Timor in 1975.
After the screening, the viewers attended a public discussion
featuring historian Asvi Warman Adam and former officer Gatot
Purwanto. Gatot was a witness of the incident.
No officers guarded the event, which was mostly attended by
journalists, tempointeraktif.com reported. (ewd)
The Sydney Morning Herald
December 8, 2009
Balibo Five Executed, Soldier Admits
by TOM ALLARD
JAKARTA: An Indonesian officer present when five
Australian-based newsmen died in Balibo in 1975 says they were
executed and their bodies burned to hide evidence of the
invasion of East Timor.
The account by Gatot Purwanto, a former Kopassus officer and
intelligence commander in East Timor, is the first time a senior
Indonesian has admitted there was intent behind the killings of
the so-called Balibo Five and the destruction of their bodies.
''If we let them live, they would tell everyone it was an
Indonesian invasion,'' Colonel Purwanto told Tempo magazine.
''If they died and we abandoned them there would be evidence
that they were shot in territory controlled by Indonesian
guerillas. So the simple way was to eliminate everything. We
just claimed not to know anything.''
Colonel Purwanto was a junior officer in a special forces unit
when the five newsmen - Greg Shackleton, Tony Stewart, Gary
Cunningham, Malcolm Rennie and Brian Peters from Channel Nine -
The newsmen from the Seven and Nine networks were in the border
town of Balibo to record the secret invasion.
Colonel Purwanto's comments came amid intense interest in the
killing of the newsmen in Indonesia after the banning last week
of the movie Balibo.
The action of the censors ensured an otherwise obscure film
became headline news.
The interview also coincides with an Australian Federal Police
investigation into possible war crimes committed at Balibo.
The investigation is targeting Yunus Yosfiah, the Kopassus
commander who was accused by the NSW coroner in 2007 of ordering
the murders and personally undertaking some of the killings.
Colonel Purwanto's interview is, at times, contradictory and
full of gaps.
He says Jakarta did not approve the killings and that General
Yosfiah is innocent.
He insists that, contrary to the findings of the NSW coroner,
gunfire came from near the building where the five Australians
were being held. This is part of the official Indonesian account
that the men were caught in crossfire.
But Colonel Purwanto repeatedly uses the Indonesian word
dieksekusi - to execute - to describe the deaths and reveals
that the newsmen were ''captured alive''. This contradicts the
Indonesian version of events.
He also talks frankly of the motivations of the Indonesian
forces. ''If they were not executed, they could be witnesses to
the fact that the Indonesian Army had invaded Timor.''
He also tells of the gruesome job of disposing of the bodies to
destroy any evidence that the newsmen had been in Balibo.