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TIMOR: UN police race time to lay Balibo charges

* Pacific Media Watch Online: http://www.pmw.c2o.org


UN POLICE RACE TIME TO LAY BALIBO CHARGES

By Mark Dodd, Herald Correspondent in Dili

United Nations police in East Timor have opened a formal investigation into the 1975 killing of five Australian-based journalists at Balibo and say they may lay charges within the next month.

The UN civilian police spokesman, Assistant Commissioner Antero Lopes, said yesterday the investigators were in a battle against time to beat a 25-year statute of limitations that applies to the case, which falls under Portuguese law.

The police had until October 15 this year to produce evidence that could

result in the issuing of criminal indictments, he said.

The UN police official said the five newsmen Australians Greg Shackleton and Tony Stewart, Britons Malcolm Rennie and Brian Peters, and New Zealander Gary Cunningham were in the East Timor village of Balibo when it was attacked by Indonesian troops.

"The journalists, as you know, were killed under questionable circumstances during this invasion."

Although Indonesians are unlikely to surrender or be turned over to the UN by their government, even laying charges will be explosive, as several of the officers known to have taken part in in the Balibo attack later rose to high positions.

The attack leader, Yunus Yosfiah, rose to lieutenant-general and was Information Minister in the 1998-99 Habibie Government. Another officer,

Lieutenant-General Sutiyoso, is now Governor of Jakarta; Major-General Slamet Kirbiantoro is Jakarta Military Region commander; and Major-General Kuntara is Indonesia's ambassador in Beijing.

Two months ago, several key witnesses gave new testimony to UN investigators, Commissioner Lopes said.

"They are reliable sources and facts they have reported are sustainable, and they have been checked," he said. "There was a reconstitution of the [crime] scene based on their statements. These statements are very important and it's likely they are true.

"Anyway, the witnesses interviewed have produced very interesting comments. Their statements have been very important if not for a valid trial then to clarify what happened."

He said a multinational police team, including Australian investigators, had been working on the case for two months.

Details on the killings had been sought from the Indonesian police through the Civil Liaison Office in Kupang in West Timor, though their information was of little value. It was unlikely Indonesian witnesses living outside East Timor would be sought for the investigation.

However, Indonesian witnesses could be summonsed to help out in the investigation. "If necessary there are international laws applicable to this kind of situation and they could be enforced," he said.

Charges could be laid at the end of the investigation.

"Yes, it is possible to conduct an investigation which we are doing and yes, it is possible to charge people for that."

+++niuswire

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