In a move that threatens to strain foreign relations, Australia is prying open a case from 1975 about five foreign journalists killed by Indonesian special forces while covering Indonesia’s invasion of East Timor.
It announced Wednesday that it will open a war crimes investigation into the murders. Indonesian authorities immediately expressed concerns and suggested they would not cooperate, while observers in Australia have counseled police to proceed with caution.
The Indonesian government has long insisted that the case is closed, saying the men – known as the Balibo Five – died accidentally in a cross-fire.
The deaths of the journalists – two Australians, two Britons, and a New Zealander – have haunted Australia for decades, according to Reuters:
The case has been an irritant to Australian-Indonesian relations for decades, with the men's families waging a high-profile campaign in Australian media for the Indonesian officers responsible for the shootings to face justice.
A…coronial inquest in 2007 into the death of one of the five journalists - the Channel Nine cameraman Brian Peters - found he and his colleagues were ''shot and/or stabbed deliberately'' by Indonesian special forces when they invaded East Timor in October 1975.
It named Yunus Yosfiah, a special forces captain who later rose to lieutenant-general, as having ordered the killings on the instructions of his (now deceased) superiors.
It’s unclear whether Yosfiah and others can be extradited to Australia, but Indonesian officials have dismissed the idea.
''Our position is that it's case closed. We have no intention of re-opening this case,'' Teuku Faizasyah, a spokesperson for Indonesia’s foreign minister, told the Sydney Morning Herald.
Mr. Faizasyah later expressed his concern in an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation:
“We are forward looking in our approach in our bilateral relation with Australia and we don't want to see these issues become another hurdle on how we approach the bilateral relations.
Many have long questioned why the Australian government has allowed the matter to go uninvestigated for so long. Now, many are questioning why the probe has been announced. The Age suggests it might be because of a new movie about the case.
It seems a bit of a coincidence to Greig Cunningham that the Australian Federal Police has suddenly, after 34 years, decided to investigate the deaths of his brother, Gary, and four journalist colleagues in East Timor.
Could it, he asked, have something to do with the film Balibo, released last month and this weekend about to hit suburban cinema multiplexes around the country?