Relatives of the dead Britons - both newsmen reporting on Indonesia's 1975 invasion of East Timor in the East Indies - yesterday expressed shock and anger at the discovery that Mohammad Yunus Yosfiah, now a major-general in the Indonesian army, was allowed to spend a year at the prestigious Royal College of Defence Studies in 1989.
In 1975 he was a special forces major in the Indonesian marines when his troops murdered the group of journalists, working for Australian television stations, at the tiny East Timorese frontier village of Balibo.
The five, including Britons Brian Peters, a 29-year-old cameraman, and Malcolm Rennie, a 28-year-old reporter, were killed in cold blood although they were unarmed and were wearing civilian clothes. They had taken no part in the desperate East Timorese defence of their territory against the invading Indonesians.
The house they were using as their temporary base was clearly identified with a drawing of an Australian flag and the word "Australia". Four died shouting: "Australians!"
After their death, men from Yosfiah's unit photographed the bodies with automatic weapons in a bid to manufacture evidence suggesting they had been combatants. The invaders then doused them with petrol and burned them. The Indonesians gave some of their charred bones to the Australian government a few weeks later.
In 1989, it has now emerged, Yosfiah was invited to Britain to study at the Royal College of Defence Studies, and spent a year in London as an honoured guest of the Government, working with senior officers, including British commanders from the Falklands war.
It is not clear how much was known about his background, but Colonel Yosfiah, as he was in 1989, could not have been chosen for the college without the recommendation of the British Embassy in Jakarta and the cooperation of the Ministry of Defence.
Maureen Tolfree, sister of Brian Peters, said yesterday : "It doesn't matter if it's 20 years ago. I couldn't believe he had been here in England studying. Whether the Government knew about him ... I don't know; I'm no politician. But I think the whole thing stinks."
John Foster, general secretary of the National Union of Journalists, said yesterday that he would write to the relevant Government departments demanding more information on the affair.
"If this proves to be true, we will make protests to Parliament and say that the guy should be extradited and the Government should take immediate action," he said.
The 1975 murders were committed at the very beginning of Indonesia's savage occupation of the former Portuguese colony, which continues to this day despite widespread international condemnation. So far, Indonesian rule has cost the lives of an estimated 200,000 Timorese.
In London yesterday, neither the Foreign Office nor the Ministry of Defence would comment on the affair.
Full report, page 5Reuse content