December 18, 2010
THE Australian government has quietly blacklisted a prominent Indonesian political figure implicated in the Balibo Five killings while working with Indonesian authorities to manage the fallout from the scandal.
Secret US diplomatic cables reveal that Australia has declared Yunus Yosfiah - a special forces captain during the 1975 invasion of East Timor - to be ''persona non grata'', a sanction that would bar him from entering Australia.
The NSW Deputy Coroner Dorelle Pinch found in 2007 that Yosfiah had ordered and participated in the murder of the five Australian newsmen at Balibo. He later became a general, the minister of information in the late 1990s, and remains an influential figure in Indonesian politics.
Cables sent from the US embassy in Jakarta confirm that Australian officials worked privately with the Indonesian government as it tried to ''manage'' the political reaction to the coronial finding.
In a cable dated November 21, 2007, obtained by WikiLeaks and made available exclusively to the
Herald, the head of the political section at the Australian embassy in Jakarta, Justin Lee, is reported to have told US officials that he had ''reviewed the coroner's report with the Indonesian government''.
''He had stressed to his Indonesian interlocutors that Australia wanted to work with the GOI [government of Indonesia] carefully on the matter,'' the cable says.
''The Indonesians replied that they also wanted 'to help manage' the issue, although they categorically rejected the allegation that Indonesian security forces committed human rights violations or war crimes."
''Lee noted that the soundings he picked up in private were 'much more constructive' than the tenor of some of the public remarks. He added that as far as he knew there were no active duty TNI [Indonesian army] members implicated in the Balibo incident.''
After the coroner's finding, an Indonesian foreign affairs spokesman, Teuku Faizasyah, said: ''In our view, this case is closed and should stay closed.''
The embassy cable reveals that despite Australia taking no formal action against Yosfiah, Mr Lee privately told the US diplomats that he was blacklisted.
''Justin Lee told … [the US embassy] that Yosfiah is 'persona non grata' in Australia, though formal charges have never been brought against him over the killings.''
The Australian government has never commented publicly on the status of Yosfiah, but at the time of the coroner's finding the then opposition leader, Kevin Rudd, vowed to ensure that action was taken against the military officers implicated in the killings.
''I also believe those responsible should be held to account … You can't just sweep this to one side,'' Mr Rudd said publicly in November 2007.
As prime minister and now as Foreign Minister, Mr Rudd has remained largely quiet on the matter.
Ms Pinch found that Greg Shackleton, Malcolm Rennie, Gary Cunningham, Brian Peters and Tony Stewart were murdered by Indonesian special forces as they tried to film the first stages of the invasion of East Timor.
In September last year, nearly 22 months after the case was referred to the federal government for action, the Australian Federal Police began its continuing war crimes inquiry into the killing of the journalists.
Shirley Shackleton, the wife of one of the murdered reporters, Greg Shackleton, said Australia should not have engaged in backroom diplomacy with Indonesia in connection to the murders.
''The cable makes us realise that Australia is not interested in justice, they are interested in smoothing relations with Indonesians,'' Ms Shackleton said.
''There is a constant pattern of deception from the Australian government. Kevin Rudd has vowed that the Indonesian military should be held to account, but privately the Australian government doesn't do anything. This hasn't just gone on since the coroner's report, it has gone on since the murders.'' (***)