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Families angered by delays to Balibo Five investigation

Melbourne Age - November 30, 2013

Rory Callinan – Six years ago, NSW magistrate Dorelle Pinch recommended that the killings of Australian journalists Brian Peters, 29, Malcolm Rennie, 28, Gary Cunningham, 27, Gregory Shackleton, 29, and Anthony Stewart, 21, in Balibo, East Timor be investigated as a war crime.

But now, despite a four-year Australian Federal Police investigation and extraordinary publicity generated about the case through a popular film, little seems to have been done.

Important witnesses are yet to be interviewed, key information has not been obtained from overseas authorities and one of the relatives of the journalists believes someone has tried to threaten him over the case.

There are rumours Australian authorities are aware of a location where human remains may have been buried near Balibo, but so far have been unable to conduct any excavation.

Greig, the brother of Gary Cunningham, says: "Anger is not a strong enough word to describe how we feel about the situation.

"I don't think people realise what impact it has on the families and I'm sure there are people who think we go on about it, but I wonder how they would feel if it was their relative. This (the delay) takes a pretty severe emotional toll on us."

From the inquest into the death of British-born Peters, Ms Pinch found he and the others "died from wounds sustained from being shot and/or stabbed deliberately and not in the heat of battle, by members of the Indonesian Special Forces, including Christoforus da Silva and Captain Yunus Yosfiah".

Ms Pinch referred the matter to the federal attorney-general, who turned the case over to the Australian Federal Police in 2008 and started an investigation the following year.

In April this year, relatives of the dead journalists were shocked to receive a a letter from the AFP's Mick Turner that led them to believe the investigation was stalling because the East Timorese government had not yet provided certain information.

This month, East Timor Justice Minister Dionisio Babo-Soares said he was not aware of any problems or any requests from the Australian government about the issue. He referred Fairfax Media to the country's foreign affairs department, which is yet to respond.

Meanwhile, in the capital Dili, two of the aged witnesses who gave evidence at the inquest said they had not yet had the appropriate statements taken by Australian Federal Police.

One witness who can only be known as "Glebe 4" – the code name allocated by the coroner – says he is still waiting to talk to the AFP about how he saw the bullet riddled journalists' bodies at Balibo before being ordered to leave the area by an Indonesian commander. "They (the AFP) must come and talk to me soon. I'm not too sure about my memory," he said.

Another witness code-named Glebe 3 also said he had yet to speak to the AFP but indicated his willingness, and then broke down in tears saying he thought about the journalists' killings every day. However, Fairfax Media understands the AFP has sought to interview the men but had so far been unsuccessful.

Australian relatives of the journalists say they have heard explosive rumours about the delays. One, who asked not to be named, says he heard the delay could relate to a possible grave site near Balibo, a controversial claim as the Indonesian authorities have said all Australian remains were buried in a cemetery in Jakarta.

The same relative confirmed he had alerted the AFP to a possible threat at his Australian home where something had been left outside his front door following some publicity about the case. Fairfax has also learned the children of Da Silva and Yosfiah regularly spend time in East Timor. One of them lives in the country.

On Thursday, the AFP maintained the investigation was continuing. A spokeswoman said the AFP had engaged with all witnesses willing to provide a statement on this matter. She said the matter remained an active AFP investigation and that it was conducting inquiries with overseas authorities; matters that were "inherently complex, transnational and protracted".