New inquiry into journalists' deaths

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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 moved in to seize the former Portuguese colony. They all worked for Australian television channels. An inquiry ordered by Canberra concurred with Indonesian claims that they were killed in crossfire.

But 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 that the men were caught in crossfire, 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 knifed after being ordered out of the house. "Everybody says it was the Timorese who killed them but it was the Indonesians, the Indonesian 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." But 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 finding, a decision criticised by campaigners in Britain.

A spokesman for the Tapol Indonesian human-rights group said: "As we have some reservations about the original inquiry, we would like it to comprise independent experts from Australia, Britain and New Zealand, whose citizens were killed."

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," said Mrs Rennie, 79, who last year went to Australia to meet Mr Downer and the Indonesian ambassador. "When I met Mr Downer he 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. It also follows the disclosure in The Independent this week that the Indonesian President, B J Habibie, has promised his own investigation into the deaths. Earlier this year it was reported that the men were on a hit-list of the Indonesian security forces. The accounts emerging in the past week have added weight to these claims.