- Aug 6, 2009
Reuters AlertNet - Indonesian army killed "Balibo Five", ex-officer saysSource: Reuters
JAKARTA, Dec 7 (Reuters) - Indonesia's military killed and burned the remains of five foreign journalists to cover up the early stages of its 1975 invasion of East Timor, an Indonesian magazine reported on Monday, quoting a former army colonel.
The admission is the first by an Indonesian military official involved in the operation.
Gatot Purwanto, a former special forces colonel, told Tempo magazine the military had killed the journalists -- who became known as the Balibo Five -- and burned their remains because they had seen Indonesian soldiers near the town of Balibo.
Indonesian military spokesman Sagom Tamboen said Purwanto's explanation made sense but the military did not admit to murdering the men, saying the deaths were "the cost of war".
"In a war, as was explained by him (Purwanto), that kind of situation is normal," he said.
The deaths of the five journalists -- two Australians, a New Zealander and two Britons -- has long strained relations between Indonesia and Australia. Indonesia has always maintained they were killed by crossfire. [ID:nSP332125]
The men's families have campaigned unsuccessfully for years for the Indonesian officers alleged to be responsible to face justice, even after East Timor eventually won independence and Indonesia withdrew its troops a decade ago.
Relations between Australia and Indonesia soured further in September when the Australian Federal Police decided to launch a war crimes probe into the case. [ID:nSYD487962]
This month, Jakarta banned the showing of a film based on the story of the Balibo Five. [ID:nJAK391604]
Purwanto said the Indonesian troops thought the journalists had filmed their invasion.
"The situation was difficult for us. If we captured them, it would come out that they were captured by Indonesian soldiers," he said.
"There was shooting from the direction of the house where they were hiding," Purwanto said, adding that Indonesian soldiers fired back.
"Maybe there (was) someone who wanted to rescue them. Our members immediately fired in that direction and the journalists were all dead," Purwanto said.
Purwanto did not say who actually killed the five journalists or how they died. He said the invading forces had asked Jakarta what to do about the five men but had not received instructions.
"The shooting occurred after we were provoked," he said.
"If they were not executed, they could have testified that there was indeed an invasion by Indonesian troops," said Purwanto, who now runs a private security service. (Reporting by Olivia Rondonuwu; Editing by Sara Webb and Paul Tait)