JAKARTA, INDONESIA - A retired Indonesian army colonel has admitted for the first time that five foreign reporters killed in East Timor in 1975 were shot by Indonesian troops, a report said Monday.
Gatot Purwanto, a former special forces commando and veteran of the Timor invasion, told Tempo weekly magazine that the reporters were killed when troops heard gunfire coming from the house where the foreigners were hiding.
The comments contradict Indonesia's long-held position that the reporters - two Australians, two Britons and a New Zealander - were killed in crossfire as Indonesian forces entered the border town of Balibo.
Their deaths have been turned into a feature film called "Balibo", directed by Robert Connolly and starring Anthony LaPaglia, which was banned in Indonesia last week.
"We were facing a difficult situation. If we arrested them they would know that it was Indonesian military that arrested them. If we executed them, that's also difficult," Purwanto was quoted as saying.
"At that time, when our soldiers were relaxing and sitting around, suddenly there was gunfire from the house (where the journalists were hiding).
"Maybe somebody tried to rescue them. Our soldiers immediately opened fire at the house... all the journalists were then found dead," he said.
He added: "We didn't receive any instruction to kill them or do anything to them."
Purwanto, who was a lieutenant disguised as a local food vendor at the time of the offensive, said the Indonesian troops in Balibo were confused about what to do with the reporters.
There was concern that should they be allowed to tell their stories, it would be used as "evidence" of the invasion of the former Portuguese colony which Indonesia wanted to keep secret.
Shooting them was the best thing to do, he concluded.
"If they hadn't been executed they could have given testimony that there had been an Indonesian military invasion," he said.
"To make it easier, we say that we don't know anything. That it was our spontaneous reactions at that time."
He said the journalists' bodies were burnt for two days to make sure there was no trace of them left behind.
Australian police earlier this year launched a war crimes investigation into the deaths of the five journalists after a coronor's report recommended charges be laid against a number of Indonesian military officers.
Former Indonesian army chief Wiranto is among the senior officers who have been indicted by UN prosecutors over gross human rights abuses during Indonesia's 24-year occupation, which claimed an estimated 100,000 lives. East Timor gained formal independence in 2002 after a referendum in 1999 voted to split from Indonesia. --AFP