The shadow culture secretary has called on the British government to reveal its involvement in the murder of two British journalists 32 years ago by Indonesian forces, after an Australian coroner said she believed war crimes had been committed.
Don Foster, shadow secretary of state for culture, media and sport, called for the British government to work with the relatives of Brian Peters and Malcolm Rennie – who were killed by Indonesian troops – after Australian coroner Dorelle Pinch referred the case to the Attorney General to investigate possible war crimes last week.
Calling the previous government response ‘woeful”, Foster said: ‘I believe the British government should agree to work with the relatives of the two Britons, or anybody nominated by them to review British government involvment in this case and the misinformation that they put out on a number of occasions about the deaths.”
The Australian coroner’s finding contradicted the Indonesian and Australian governments’ official version of events – that Brian Peters, Malcolm Rennie and the three other journalists, commonly referred to as the Balibo Five, were killed accidentally in crossfire between Indonesian troops and East Timorese defenders.
The coroner’s report names three former senior officers of Indonesia’s special military forces as probably ordering the killings and suggests they should be investigated for possible war crimes.
Peters, 29, a British-born cameraman for Australian television network, Channel Nine, was among two news crews who went to Balibo in 1975 to cover the anticipated Indonesian invasion of East Timor after it descended towards civil war following the end of Portuguese colonial rule.
The Australian coroner, who was required only to make findings in relation to Peters concluded he was “shot and/or stabbed deliberately, and not in the heat of battle, by members of the Indonesian Special Forces … to prevent him from revealing that Indonesian Special Forces had participated in the attack on Balibo.’She said it was impossible to separate the death of one of the journalists from the others, and that her findings applied equally to all of them.
The bodies of – Peters, 29; Rennie, 28; Australians Gregory Shackleton, 29, and Anthony Stewart, 21; and New Zealander Gary Cunningham, 27 – were found burned in Balibo and eventually buried in Jakarta, the Indonesian capital.