11 September 2009

AFP probe watched closely in E Timor: Balibo author

By Sara Everingham Posted Thu Sep 10, 2009 7:14am AEST Updated Thu Sep 10, 2009 8:31am AEST The Balibo Five run from the Indonesian Army in a scene from the movie Balibo

Jolliffe's book was the inspiration behind the recent film, Balibo. (www.balibo.com.au)

* Video: 'Indonesia is surprised': Smith (ABC News)

The author of a book on the Balibo Five says the Australian Federal Police's decision to open an investigation into the deaths of five Australian-based newsmen in East Timor in 1975 will be viewed with great interest in East Timor.

Jill Jolliffe wrote the book Cover Up, which was used as the basis for the recent film Balibo.

She says political leaders in East Timor will be watching the events closely, especially in light of their recent decision to release former militia leader Martenus Bere from a Dili jail.

Bere was released at the end of last month on the same day East Timor was celebrating 10 years since its referendum on independence from Indonesia.

President Jose Ramos-Horta has voiced his opposition to an international tribunal to prosecute those responsible for human rights abuses in East Timor during the Indonesian occupation and in 1999, saying it is important that Indonesia be given time to bring them to justice.

But the President has been quoted in media reports as saying those responsible for the deaths of the Balibo Five should be prosecuted.

There has been vigorous debate in East Timor over Dr Ramos-Horta's stance on the international tribunal.

Jolliffe says the AFP investigation will cause further discussion.

"I think the common people in East Timor will see it as a very interesting example and I think there is a very widespread need and call for justice from ordinary people in East Timor," she said.

"This will strengthen their faith that perhaps one day, they will see justice done for the pretty terrible crimes that were committed against them by the Indonesian army during its occupation of the territory.

An Indonesia and East Timor expert at the University of New South Wales, Dr Clinton Fernandes, says the general population in East Timor will receive the news of the AFP investigation with jubilation.

"Unlike East Timor, Australia is not sharing a land border with Indonesia, no longer has to worry about being attacked by Indonesia and so we can actually make this thing happen."

He says an international tribunal will eventually be set up for East Timor.

"Don't forget that the international tribunal for Rwanda was opposed by only one state, and that was Rwanda, because it had its own fears. But that happened and it has contributed to the valuable jurisprudence to international law.

"Similarly an international criminal tribunal for East Timor will happen. It takes time just like the independence of East Timor takes time... but this is all going to happen."

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