Julia May in London
March 17, 2008
A FORMER head of defence intelligence in East Timor has criticised the British and Australian governments for failing to extradite two former Indonesian military leaders named over the killings of five newsmen in 1975.
Clinton Fernandes, the Australian former army major who was head of intelligence during East Timor’s liberation from Indonesia in 1999, said a lack of political will, rather than legal obstacles, was hindering the process. He called on the British Government to stop “passing the buck” and to seek to extradite the men for war crimes.
The call comes three days before a meeting between a British Foreign Office Minister, Meg Munn, the British Liberal Democrat MP Don Foster, and relatives of two of the newsmen who were British. During a parliamentary debate in Britain last month Mr Foster called on the British Government to ask Interpol to issue arrests for the Indonesians, Christoforus da Silva and Captain Yunus Yosfiah, who were named in November by the NSW Deputy Coroner for the killings of the five Australia-based newsmen in Balibo. Captain Yosfiah went on to become the Indonesian information minister.
The two British newsmen were Brian Peters and Malcolm Rennie. Greg Shackleton and Tony Stewart were Australian, and Gary Cunningham was a New Zealander.
The NSW Coroner referred the case to the Federal Attorney-General for consideration, branding the deaths as the wilful killing of civilians and therefore war crimes under international law.
Australia has an extradition agreement with Indonesia, and until now Britain has said it would wait for Australia to act under the treaty. But Britain is facing pressure to instead exercise its international jurisdiction under the Geneva Conventions. “The murder in cold blood of the five journalists at Balibo was a grave breach of the fourth Geneva convention, and Britain can exercise universal jurisdiction over that grave breach,” Dr Fernandes said. “Rather than pass the buck to the Australian authorities, it can act right now by asking Interpol to issue an arrest warrant for the two suspects.” The Australian Federal Attorney-General’s office said last month it had referred the case to the federal police, who have yet to provide a brief of evidence for the Commonwealth Department of Public Prosecutions.
Mr Foster said he would use the meeting on Wednesday to urge Ms Munn to encourage the Australian Government to expedite the process. The next step, he said, would be for Britain to seek to extradite the men. “If a citizen is killed abroad there is a duty of government becoming involved in seeking the truth of what happened,” he said.
Ms Munn’s response will be closely watched, given her publicly stated position on Balibo.
In 2002 Ms Munn, who became Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State last July, signed a parliamentary petition to urge the British Government to press Indonesia to co-operate in a United Nations investigation into the killings of the Balibo five, and a Financial Times journalist in East Timor in 1999.
A British Foreign Office spokesman said Ms Munn’s personal position was unlikely to influence the Government’s policy on Balibo.
“We have noted [the NSW coroner’s] verdict, but these findings are the outcome of an independent judicial process run by the NSW State Coroner’s Court,” he said.
“It is for the Australian Attorney-General to decide how to take this forward. We are in contact with the Australian authorities about this issue.”
Asked if Britain would seek to extradite the men, he said he was unable to comment.