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Timor-Leste: Pressure mounts on NZ to reopen Balibo Five murder case

Pacific Media Centre - October 23, 2014

Wellington (Dominion Post/West Papua Action Auckland/Pacific Media Watch) – The New Zealand government is coming under pressure to have the Australian Federal Police reopen the war crimes investigation into the 1975 slaying of five journalists in East Timor by Indonesian special forces.

The journalists were killed while on assignment as they were covering the Indonesian invasion of Timor-Leste. They included one New Zealander, Gary Cunningham.

This week, the Australian Federal Police (AFP) dropped its investigation into the murders, claiming it did not have the evidence to prove that the men were murdered, even though a more senior legal body, the New South Wales Coroner's Office, had said earlier that there was proof that Indonesian soldiers Christoforus da Silva and Retired Lt General Yunus Yosfiah were responsible for the killings.

Yosfiah, who served as an Indonesian cabinet minister after allegedly slaying the five journalists, is alive and living in Jakarta.

It also emerged last week in response to a Parliamentary question that the AFP had never once asked Indonesia for assistance with the case.

Cunningham's son, John Milkins, has told the Dominion Post that he wanted the case re-opened. "Milkins is disappointed five years of police work and A$500,000 has been effectively wasted on a null outcome", the Dominion Post reported.

West Papua Action Auckland called on New Zealand's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Murray McCully, to pressure the Australian Federal Police to reveal why they did not attempt to extradite Yosfiah and anyone else involved with the war crime.

"The historical record shows that New Zealand has relied on Australia to take the initiative in the numerous inquiries that have taken place over the years into the deaths of journalists. It is time we became more proactive in the search for the truth," said the organisation's spokesperson, Maire Leadbeater.

"We are surprised and disappointed that there will be no move to prosecute those alleged to be responsible for the deaths of the five journalists under the terms of the Geneva Convention. We believe that the Sydney coronial hearing was conducted with great thoroughness – it involved the perusal of a mountain of confidential Australian government records, the hearing of evidence from the top echelons of the foreign affairs and intelligence bureaucracy, the appearance of Timorese witnesses including crucial evidence from several Timorese who were on the Indonesian side at the time of the Balibo killings," Leadbeater added.

West Papua Action Auckland described Cunningham as "a hero for peace". "He and his colleagues were trying to expose Indonesia's illegal incursion into the then Portuguese territory. Had the events not been covered up at the time a terrible 24 year long war might have been prevented. For the sake of the Balibo Five and the hundreds of thousands of victims of Indonesia's past brutal occupation of Timor Leste this matter cannot be allowed to drop", the group said.

Source: http:/www.pmc.aut.ac.nz/pacific-media-watch/timor-leste-pressure-mounts-nz-reopen-balibo-five-murder-case-9025