Accessibility links

Indonesia 'Surprised' by Australian War Crimes Probe in East Timor

  • Phil Mercer

Australia has played down fears that a police investigation into the deaths of five journalists in East Timor will spark a diplomatic dispute with Indonesia.

Australian police have begun a war crimes investigation into the deaths of the five newsmen in the East Timor town of Balibo, which lies about 10 kilometers from the Indonesian border.

Their families and others allege that Indonesian special forces troops deliberately killed the men in an attempt to cover up their advance into East Timor during an invasion in 1975.

A coroner in Sydney ruled in an inquest in 2007 that the men - two Australians, two Britons and a New Zealander - were murdered.

Indonesia disputes those findings. It says the journalists known as the Balibo Five died accidentally during fighting between its troops and rebel groups.

Jakarta has called for clarification from Australia over the new police investigation. Indonesian officials say the Balibo case is closed.

Political analyst Damien Kingsbury does not think the war crimes inquiry will ultimately bring the suspected killers to justice.

"What is likely to happen is if there is sufficient evidence and charges are laid, that the extradition process will be gone through and it will then end up as an Indonesian judicial matter and they will simply say that in the circumstances, that Australia doesn't have the capacity or the right to demand extradition and they will refuse it and that will effectively be the end of the story," he said.

Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith says both countries will approach the investigation in a "calm and sensible way."

Smith says Indonesia was "surprised" by the police decision to re-examine deaths that happened almost 40 years ago. He says, however, the inquiry will not harm bilateral ties.

Relations between the two were tense for many years, but have been warming over the past seven years, as the neighbors have cooperated in fighting regional terrorism and on other problems.

Indonesia invaded East Timor in 1975, as the Portuguese colonial government left. That began more than a quarter of a century of rule that ended after a bloody insurgency culminated in independence in 2002.

The tiny nation has been beset by political squabbles and poverty ever since and relies on foreign peacekeepers for its internal security.

XS
SM
MD
LG