New inquiry into death of journalists in East Timor

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The Independent Online
AUSTRALIA will reopen an inquiry into the death of five journalists, two of them British, in East Timor in 1975 after evidence emerged that an Indonesian commander ordered that they be killed.

Malcolm Rennie, 28, and Brian Peters, 29, from Bristol, died with three Australian colleagues as Indonesian troops seized the former Portuguese colony. They all worked for Australian television. An inquiry ordered by Canberra concurred with Indonesian claims that they were killed in crossfire.

A new witness has come forward who says Yunus Yosfiah, now Indonesia's Information Minister but then a special- forces commander, ordered the killings. Olandino Guterres, who was travelling with Indonesian troops, said in a television interview that, contrary to Indonesian assertions, there was no gunfire from East Timorese resistance fighters.

Mr Yosfiah told his troops to fire at four of the journalists through the windows of the house where they were taking refuge. The fifth was knifedafter being ordered outside.

"Everybody says it was the Timorese, but it was the Indonesians soldiers who killed the five Australian journalists."

Mr Yosfiah has denied the allegations, but Australia's Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, said yesterday: "The account given can't just be lightly dismissed ... it has to be examined."

He would ask Tom Sherman, former head of Australia's National Crime Authority who conducted the original investigation, to review the new evidence and report on whether it changed his earlier findings.

Maureen Tolfree, sister of Mr Peters, said she was not convinced the new inquiry would be independent. "I want a full, open judicial inquiry ... I am not asking any longer - I am demanding it."

But Minna Rennie,mother of Malcolm Rennie, was delighted. "We have fought so long for this." Last year she went to Australia to meet Mr Downer and the Indonesian ambassador. "Mr Downer said he was washing his hands of the matter [and that] East Timor was not an issue."

His decision follows disclosures that witnesses are still alive. At least one, a member of the pro-independence Fretilin, saw three of the journalists being dragged, dead, from a house in Balibo.