Australians welcome 'confession' on Timor killings
Tue, Dec 08, 2009

SYDNEY - Relatives of five journalists killed in the East Timor border town of Balibo in 1975 on Tuesday welcomed a former soldier's "milestone" statement that they were shot by invading Indonesian troops.

Shirley Shackleton, the widow of Australian television reporter Greg Shackleton, said the retired Indonesian colonel's comments shattered Jakarta's "lies" that the five died in crossfire.

"It is a milestone. It's another nail in the coffin of lies," she told Fairfax radio.

Gatot Purwanto, a former special forces commando, told Tempo weekly magazine that the "Balibo Five" 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 gunbattles as Indonesian forces entered the town.

"At that time, when our soldiers were relaxing and sitting around, suddenly there was gunfire from the house," Purwanto was quoted as saying.

"Maybe somebody tried to rescue them. Our soldiers immediately opened fire at the house... all the journalists were then found dead," he said.

Purwanto was reportedly speaking after viewing the film "Balibo", directed by Robert Connolly and starring Anthony LaPaglia, which was banned in Indonesia last week.

Australian Paul Stewart, whose 21-year-old brother Tony was the youngest of the Balibo Five, said Purwanto had shown the Indonesia's official explanation was "absolute nonsense".

"It just goes to show banning the film was probably the worst thing the Indonesians could have done because it's opened up the whole controversy again," Stewart told ABC radio. "It's going to bite them on the bum, big-time."

Purwanto, who was a lieutenant disguised as a local food vendor at the time of the offensive, said 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.

He said the soldiers had not been ordered to kill the journalists, adding that the bodies were burnt for two days to conceal their identities.

"I think he's in deep strife," Stewart said. "He's probably written his own death warrant. The Indonesian generals have never wanted this to come out -- I think this guy might disappear overnight."

Australian police in September launched a war crimes investigation into the deaths after a coroner's report recommended charges against a number of Indonesian military officers.

Former 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. Its President Jose Ramos-Horta, a former rebel leader, has said at least one of the Balibo Five was "brutally tortured".

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