Friday, August 7, 2009

Woolcott and Balibo

Clinton Fernandes responded on the east-timor listserv (archive here, subscribe here) to an article in the Australian which features self-serving remarks by former Australian Ambassador to Indonesia Richard Woolcott. The retired diplomat blames the murdered Balibo 5 journalists and their bosses for the deaths:
"The ABC left, and others left," Mr Woolcott said. "I think proprietors (of the TV stations) bear a heavy responsibility that they've never had to shoulder." ...He said the Indonesians "would have regarded (the reporters) as combatants because of their close association with Fretilin".
He also denies any Australian or personal culpability:
Mr Woolcott said he assumed the [Balibo] film would be "partly fiction, but I don't want to buy into an argument about what the Australian government knew, or didn't know. All my cables have been made public. I have put it all down in my book, and I would not change a word of that chapter. It is simply a tragedy that these young and inexperienced people were there, and their lives were cut short."

Fernandes responds:

1. On 13th October 1975, Woolcott reported in a cable that he had been told by his Indonesian interlocutors that "The main thrust of the operation would begin on 15 October. It would be through Balibo and Maliana/Atsabe".

2. On 14th October, viewers across Australia watched Greg Shackleton's story stating that the Channel 7 team were on their way to the border.

3. On 15th October, Woolcott was once again told by the Indonesians that "Initially an Indonesian force of 800 will advance Batugade-Balibo-Maliana-Atsabe... It is of course clear that the presence of Indonesian forces of this order will become public. The Indonesians acknowledge this. The President's policy will be to deny any reports of the presence of Indonesian forces in Portuguese Timor."

4. On 16th October, the Indonesians attacked Balibo.

5. While there were no mobile phones in those days, Woolcott had immediate access to his Indonesian interlocutors face-to-face.

6. Here's an extract from the proceedings of the Coronial Inquest:

"Every single move by the Indonesians succeeded according to their plans. When informed of the precise Indonesian battle plans, no objection, public or private, was voiced. There were no news broadcasts showing Indonesian involvement in the attack on Balibo. Because senior Australian leaders had been compromised by advance warning of the attack, they were hardly in a position to disclose their true knowledge to the Australian people. When news of the deaths came out, not a single word in public or in private was uttered by the Australian Government or political leaders to suggest involvement or blame on the part of the Indonesians for the deaths of the journalists. Instead, Australian officials in public and in private persisted in what can only be called a bizarre charade of asking the Indonesian Military to use their good offices in seeking information from their Timorese militia allies about the deaths of the journalists... It is apparent that the Indonesian leaders engaged in a masterful power play worthy of an international chess grandmaster using Australian leaders and departmental officers as their pawns."

see also: ETAN: Australian Inquest into Balibo Journalists Killings in East Timor Shows Ongoing Need to Pursue Justice and Accountability

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