Former Indonesian Soldier Stokes ‘Balibo’ Flames With Account of Massacre

People watching the film 'Balibo' which depicts the murders of
Australia journalists during Indonesia's 1975 invasion of East Timor

Awitness to the deaths of five journalists at Balibo in 1975 has said a plainclothes unit of Indonesian troops advancing into East Timor in October that year — well before Jakarta officially invaded the country in December — shot the men dead and burned the bodies to erase the evidence. Gatot Purwanto, at the time an Army lieutenant, told Tempo magazine that the advancing troops had found the five journalists — Greg Shackleton, Tony Stewart, Gary Cunningham, Brian Peters and Malcolm Rennie — alive inside a house on the outskirts of the East Timor town of Balibo. But after shots came from the direction of the house, soldiers reacted by spraying it with gunfire. The journalists were later found dead inside. Determined to keep the presence of the marauding military unit unknown, the soldiers burned the bodies. “If they’re dead and we ignore the bodies, there would be evidence that they were shot in an area taken over by Indonesian guerillas. To make it easy, we just got rid of the traces. We said we knew nothing. That was our spontaneous reaction,” said Gatot, now a retired Army colonel. Air Vice Marshal Sagom Tamboen, a military spokesman, said he respected what Gatot reportedly said because he was an eyewitness, but lashed out at Australian filmmakers for bringing a movie on the killings to Indonesia and causing trouble.

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