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Eyewitness account of 1975 murder of journalists

28 April 2000

The final truth about the 1975 killing of the five journalists -- and the disgraceful cover-up by successive Australian governments not wishing to offend Indonesia.

SBS TV, Australia - Dateline documentary

This week, DATELINE reveals startling new evidence about the five journalists killed in Balibo in October, 1975. According to an eye witness who has remained silent for 25 years, former Indonesian Information Minister, Yunus Yosfiah, was the Indonesian special forces officer who opened fire on four of the five newsmen killed at Balibo, East Timor.

DATELINE's Mark Davis returns to Balibo with Shirley Shackleton, widow of Australian journalist Greg Shackleton, who was one of the five killed.

Both Davis and Shackleton meet Tomas Gonsalves, the Commander of the Timorese forces that came into Balibo with Yunus Yosfiah in 1975. For the last quarter of a century there have been many people who claim to know what happened at Balibo, but Mr Gonsalves is the only confirmed eye witness to the deaths. For the first time, Mr Gonsalves, explains in detail what happened to the five newsmen.

Gonsalves says he was unaware at first that there were five journalists in the house where they had taken refuge. "They came out, three at the back one at the front, with his hands up".

He goes on to describe the shootings. "Their intention in coming out [of the house] was to survive. They thought they would get protection. Yunus had other ideas, his reaction was to fire straight away. He started first...he started shooting and then everyone joined in. You know its war and they all wanted promotion."

When asked why Yunus Yosfiah opened fire when the newsmen were clearly surrendering, Tomas claims Yunus Yosfiah said he had to shoot them "so they would not publicise what they saw to the outside world, that's why they had to kill them."

In late 1975 the five newsmen were in East Timor investigating claims of illegal Indonesian incursions into East Timorese territory (Portuguese East Timor).

In several inquiries into the Balibo affair over the last 25 years, its been suggested that the five were killed in cross fire between East Timorese Fretilin and the forces of the pro-Indonesian coalition led by the UDT party.

Gonsalves explains, "...we didn't confront Fretilin. Fretilin saw we were too many and they withdrew. None of them were killed. The only ones killed in Balibo on October the 16th were five journalists."

Shirley Shackleton asks, "So there was no fighting?"

Gonsalves replies. "No, no they withdrew. Only the five journalists were there, not even one Fretilin. They'd left a mortar and one gun, no Fretilin, it was deserted, only the five journalists."

Gonsalves also tells DATELINE that in 1976 he gave false evidence to the first Australian enquiry into the killing. He says Indonesian intelligence arranged for a statement quoting him to be released. It said in part that Gonsalves led his partisan group into Balibo to face heavy gunfire from the house where the journalists stayed. It said Gonsalves gave the orders to shell the house instantly killing all 15 people inside including some unknown white men who were apparently controlling the Fretilin troups.

Shirley Shackleton tells DATELINE that according to Tomas, the fifth journalist hid in the house and was killed some ten minutes later. "We've always heard knives were used, so whoever that poor fellow was in there, [he] was probably petrified out of his mind," she says.

For 25 years Shirley Shackleton has sought the truth of the death of her husband, Greg. DATELINE filmed the gripping encounter between the widow and the man who watched as her husband was shot. "You really need Yosfiah. He's the one that pulled the trigger, he's the one that led the murder team in. He's the one that disposed of the evidence, he's the one that will know where the remains are. He needs to be asked but our government is too polite to ask. I'll have to go on asking," she says.

[from the transcript]

"What the journalists saw and possibly filmed from this house would have not just exposed Indonesia but would have forced Australia and other nations to end their pretence of ignorance. A shift in world opinion in October could possibly have prevented the full scale invasion and occupation of East Timor soon after."

And yet just two weeks after the five were killed, Richard Woolcott [the Australian Ambassador in Jakarta] had written to his minister:

"Although we know it is not true, the formal position of the Indonesian government is still that there is no Indonesian military intervention in East Timor.

"If the minister said or implied in public that the Indonesian government was lying, we would invite a hurt and angry reaction."

It would seem that the hurt and anger was to be reserved for the families.

SHIRLEY SHACKLETON: Unfinished, dirty business, very dirty business, made worse by lies that came from my own countrymen. Somehow I expected it from Indonesia, but not from Australia.

View full transcript at -

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