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Govt Knew Whereabouts Of Balibo Five

CANBERRA, Oct 17 AAP - The Whitlam government knew the whereabouts of five Australian newsmen killed 25 years ago in Balibo, a former diplomat said.

The so-called Balibo Five were killed on October 16, 1975, as Indonesian troops moved across the West Timor border into East Timor.

Their relatives have been fighting ever since to uncover the real story of what happened.

Foreign affairs documents released in Canberra last month indicated officers had prior knowledge of the Indonesian attack, but had no idea that the Balibo Five could be harmed.

But former diplomat John Starey said he sent a brief to the government on the movements of the men - Brian Peters, Malcolm Rennie, Gary Cunningham, Gary Stewart and Greg Shackleton - in October 1975 before they were killed.

"I sent a brief - what you might call a contact report - just to advise the government this was happening, that I'd met them and who they were, what

they were going to do and how they were going to travel," Mr Starey told ABC television.

He said he met and chatted with three of the newsmen before their trip and they were not afraid of their journey in East Timor.

"They felt their job as journalists was to be where the story was breaking and I suppose, to use the word 'gung ho' would be a bit unfair, but they were very enthusiastic and keen to get on with the job and find what was happening up there on the border," he said.

Mr Starey said he advised the government of the crew's plans five or six days before the men died.

"I spelt out the names, said who they worked for, that they were going by charter aircraft and what their intention was to report on."

The widow of Shackelton said yesterday eyewitnesses to the murders were afraid to come forward.

Shirley Shackelton believes at least six key witnesses are living in Australia but would not come forward because of possible reprisals.

+++niuswire

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