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Quest for Balibo truth spans 40 years

Australian Associated Press - October 15, 2015

"The truth is never too young to be told, nor too old." So said Coroner Dorelle Pinch as she summed up the 2007 inquest into the deaths of the Balibo Five in East Timor.

The truth is now 40 years old, and the men's families are still chasing it.

The NSW inquest found television reporters Greg Shackleton and Malcolm Rennie, cameramen Gary Cunningham and Brian Peters, and sound recordist Tony Stewart, were shot or stabbed by Indonesian troops on October 16, 1975, to prevent news of the invasion getting out.

The Australian Federal Police war crimes investigation the coroner recommended was wound up last year.

Meanwhile in Indonesia – where authorities have always maintained the five were caught in crossfire – two men linked to the matter persist in public life.

Shirley Shackleton, Greg's widow, says she still wants the AFP to explain fully why it shelved the case, and who and what was examined for five years. For her, the matter is far from closed.

"I don't mind doing an impossible thing and losing, but I'm not doing it without a fight," she told AAP.

Cunningham's son John Milkins agrees that whether it's the 40th anniversary or the 50th, the principle remains the same. "There no doubt in our mind that war crimes occurred and we will keep pursuing that," he says.

"And because many of the Timorese that we speak to believe that if there is some justice for our relatives, perhaps there's some justice for their lost family members as well."

In the UK, the families of Britons Rennie and Peters are still lobbying their government to get involved.

Rennie's cousin Sue Spence, who was one of the last relatives to see the journalist alive, says the UK Foreign Office has dodged the issue since 1975. "I understand it will be politically difficult, but a lot of things that matter are," she argues.

Mrs Spence has visited Balibo, and like all the families, feels a connection with East Timor and cares deeply about its development.

All are linked through the Balibo House Trust, which restored the famous Australia Flag House and supports a range of community activities, including a kindergarten.

Meanwhile Melbourne musician Paulie Stewart, Tony's brother, was there last month, touring with rappers Flybz, who were once child soldiers in Africa. Stewart says it's important to appreciate the good things that have come from the tragedy.

"I did lose one brother, but I've sort of gained 200,000 East Timorese brothers," he says. "There's lots of people who I know and love now in Timor, and that never would've happened if Tony hadn't gone up there."

The 2007 inquest named Yunus Yosfiah as the Indonesian field commander who gave the order to kill the five journalists. He is now adviser to Gerindra, the political party of Prabowo Subianto, who was President Joko Widodo's opponent in last year's election.

Former general Sutiyoso, who refused to attend the inquest to be questioned about his service in East Timor, was this year appointed as chief of Indonesia's spy agency, BIN.

Source: http://www.9news.com.au/world/2015/10/15/15/58/quest-for-balibo-truth-spans-40-years