In a surprise move, the Australian government has decided to reopen the notorious ‘Balibo five‘case that involved the alleged killings of five Australia-based journalists in the village of Balibo in East Timor by the Indonesian special forces in October 1975.
The incident occurred when the journalists – two from Australia, two from the UK and one from New Zealand – were covering Indonesia’s advance into East Timor.
The freshly launched investigation into the deaths of Brian Peters, Malcolm Rennie, Greg Shackleton, Gary Cunningham and Tony Stewart has sparked off a diplomatic row between the two countries, with the Indonesian government warning that it may harm its ties with Australia and asking that the enquiry be dropped. The Australian government has sought to downplay the fears of damaged relations.
The new Australian probe follows evidence unearthed by the deputy state coroner Dorelle Pinch investigating the deaths, who said that the killings were deliberately orchestrated by the Indonesia special forces and constituted a war crime.
The coroner’s findings contradict the official version issued by both the governments that the journalists were killed accidentally in a crossfire between Indonesian troops and East Timor defenders.
Indonesia officially considers the case to be closed, but families of the victims have been waging a media campaign for several years in Australia. Indonesian officials have denied any involvement in the killings and refused to cooperate in the investigation.
The Indonesian military has urged the country’s censors to ban the new Australian film ‘Balibo,’directed by Robert Conolly, which is in the running to be shown at the next Jakarta International film Festival (JIFF). The movie depicts the journalists being killed by the Indonesian forces.