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Indonesia Obstructing Journalist Death Probe

Indonesia 'obstructing journalist death probe'

Source -- Associated Press

INDONESIA OBSTRUCTING JOURNALIST DEATH PROBE - UN OFFICER

DILI (AP)--The investigation into the murder of a Dutch journalist in East Timor in September has been hindered by lack of cooperation from the Indonesian security forces who controlled the area at that time, investigators say.

Sander Thoenes, who worked for the Christian Science Monitor and Financial Times newspapers, was killed on Sept. 21, the day after an Australian-led international peacekeeping force arrived in East Timor to restore order.

Chaos reigned at the time, as Indonesian-backed local gangs known as militias terrorized the populace and set about burning down most buildings in the capital, Dili. Their rampage was triggered by an Aug. 30 referendum in which East Timorese voted overwhelmingly for independence from Indonesia, which had annexed the territory after a bloody 1975 invasion.

Alan Castles, chief of the U.N. civilian police component of the United Nation mission in East Timor, told The Associated Press late Saturday that Indonesian authorities have not cooperated in the investigation into the killing. Castles is overseeing the probe, a joint effort of the U.N. mission and the international peacekeeping force, Interfet.

"For one reason or another the Indonesian side of it, the TNI (military) and the Polri (police), didn't function quite as well as it could have," Castles said. "Some of the Polri investigators were transferred, the TNI military police investigator was transferred and wasn't replaced."

Twenty Indonesian soldiers are being sought for questioning in connection with the murder, said another investigator, who asked not to be named.

Thoenes was murdered at a road block in the Dili suburb of Becora. An American and British journalist were also attacked in the same area the same day Thoenes was killed.

The investigation has focused on the activities of the Indonesian army's
Battalion 745, which was passing through the area at the time.

Castles said Battalion 745 later evacuated across the border to Indonesian West Timor, and he believes they are still there. Although East Timor is now temporarily under the administration of the United Nations, West Timor is part of Indonesia, so investigators cannot go there without permission.

A Dutch police investigator attached to the investigation was able to question two officers of Battalion 745 in the Indonesian capital Jakarta, but only after the Dutch government put diplomatic pressure on Indonesia, Castles said.

"There are certain inquiries underway" as a result of the interviews, he said.

Thoenes had been in Dili only a few hours before he was killed. He had dropped off his luggage at the Turismo Hotel, where most journalists were staying under the protection of the peacekeeping force, and went to Becora on a motorbike.

The motorbike driver, Florindo da Conceicao Araujo, recounted afterwards that they had approached a roadblock manned by six Indonesian soldiers who were carrying automatic weapons.

He said the soldiers tried to wave him down, but, in a panic, he instead turned his bike around to try to escape.

The soldiers opened fire as Araujo sped from the scene, and Thoenes fell from the bike. The journalist's body was discovered the next morning by soldiers from the peacekeeping force.

Castles said the investigation into the murder was ongoing, but that all avenues of inquiry in Dili had been exhausted.

"I believe that's got to be a matter that's worked out on the diplomatic side so that further independent inquiries can be done in relation to Battalion 745," he said.

In 1975 six journalists working for Australian news organizations were murdered while covering Indonesia's invasion of East Timor. It is widely believed that they were executed by Indonesian soldiers but no one has ever been brought to justice for their deaths.

Article provided by the Journalism Programmme, University of the South Pacific. Pasific Media Watch.

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