Yesterday, as most of the news media were busy with another matter, the AFP quietly dropped its investigation into the murder of five journalists on assignment for Australian TV in East Timor in 1975.

It’s widely recognised that the Balibo Five, as they became known, were murdered in cold blood by the Indonesian military because their presence posed a threat to the Indonesian invasion of East Timor. A 2007 coronial inquest into their deaths found the five were killed deliberately on orders that emanated from the highest levels — and that Australian intelligence agents knew this, because they were listening in.

But successive Australian governments have been too gutless to call our powerful neighbour to account for these deaths.

Although it came more than 30 years too late, the AFP investigation into the deaths was a welcome development. The fact that it has been abandoned due to “insufficient evidence” is galling and will have serious repercussions for those still suffering at the hands of the Indonesian military — most notably indigenous West Papuans.

Tony Abbott flew to Jakarta this week for the inauguration of Indonesia’s new president, keen to normalise relations with “our most important neighbour”. With asylum seekers and spying scandals top of the agenda, the deaths of five men 40 years ago might not seem to be the most important bilateral concern between our two countries.

But for the message it would send to Indonesia, it’s vital that the Australian government finally take steps to prosecute those responsible for the deaths of the Balibo Five — and acknowledge that we were complicit in the ensuing cover-up. The Australian government must finally tell Indonesia that its military cannot get off scot-free when it murders civilians, no matter their nationality.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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