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Fears Balibo Five killing investigation is stalling

Sydney Morning Herald - May 5, 2013

Rory Callinan – A war crimes investigation into the killing of five Australian journalists in East Timor appears in danger of stalling after a key witness is feared dead and investigators say they are unable to obtain key information from overseas authorities.

For the past three years Australian Federal Police have been investigating the killings of of newsmen Gary Cunningham, Brian Peters, Malcolm Rennie, Gregory Shackleton and Anthony Stewart at the tiny village of Balibo in East Timor's south-west in 1975.

But correspondence sighted by Fairfax Media and from information provided by interview with Gary Cunningham's brother Greig, the investigation appeared to be facing serious problems.

Last month the AFP wrote to the families of the late newsmen warning that officers were "still seeking to access material from Timor Leste (East Timor) which may be relevant to the investigation".

"The timeframe for receiving this information is unknown and outside the control of the AFP and other Australian agencies," warned the correspondence from Mick Turner the AFP's national coordinator of special references.

An AFP spokesman yesterday said as part of the Balibo investigation, the AFP had requested information from overseas agencies. "The AFP has no control over the time taken to provide the information as this is determined by those overseas agencies," he said.

The correspondence gravely concerned Mr Cunningham who said he had recently heard a potential witness to the murders had recently died. "I believe the AFP officers are very genuine but I can't believe that this is taking this long," he said.

Mr Cunningham said he had been told a 62-year-old East Timorese man who had seen the newsmen gunned down, was reported to have died.

"They held a large funeral for him (in East Timor) and apparently there was about 900 people there and they spoke about how he was a witness," said Mr Cunningham who has lobbied for justice for his brother.

"Apparently he was a stretcher bearer for Fretilin. He was only 62. It's like they are almost waiting for all the eyewitnesses to drop dead."

Mr Cunningham called for all the government's involved to work together to provide the information.

In 2007, Australian Deputy State Coroner Dorelle Pinch found the five Australian newsman had been murdered by Indonesian special forces to cover up the invasion of East Timor.

She found Channel Nine cameraman Peters was probably the first killed and colleague Rennie, Cunningham and Stewart were killed soon afterwards.

Ms Pinch recommended the Commonwealth Attorney General take action. Then Federal Attorney-General Philip Ruddock said on November 16, that the matter would be referred to the Australian Federal Police. The referral took place in January 2008.

After the referral, the AFP said the investigation would be difficult where witnesses and evidence were overseas and considerable time had passed since the killings occurred.

The AFP is to refer findings to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions (CDPP) if their investigation uncovers "sufficient material" to compile a brief of evidence of criminality or a real possibility of criminality.

Indonesia has denied the men were murdered and said they died in a crossfire during the battle to take the town.