Indonesia warns Australia on war crimes probe
JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesia warned Australia on Thursday that reopening an inquiry into the killing of five foreign journalists during Jakarta's 1975 invasion of East Timor risked casting a chill over relations across all three countries.
Ties between Indonesia, East Timor and Australia are at an all-time high after years of tension over Jakarta's annexation of East Timor and the bloodshed leading to the fledgling nation's 1999 vote for independence.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said Australia's decision to reopen the inquiry was not in keeping with Indonesia's and East Timor's efforts to put the past behind them.
"Sometimes we need to be clear, take a firm stance," Yudhoyono told reporters.
"It is important that relations with Australia which have been good, even very good, will not be disrupted by problems created by a backward-looking mindset. I am asking the foreign minister to manage the problem well, so that it will not disturb the good relations with Australia."
Australian Federal Police on Wednesday reopened an investigation into the deaths of the reporters known as "the Balibo five" -- nearly two years after a Sydney coroner concluded that Indonesian soldiers deliberately killed them.
An Indonesian foreign ministry spokesman warned that the case could upset Indonesia's fragile relations with East Timor.
"We consider the case is closed," Teuku Faizasyah told Reuters, adding "we are not even considering extradition of our nationals to face criminal charges on something that has already been resolved."
Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith acknowledged that the reopening of the inquiry into the deaths of two Australians, two Britons and a New Zealander -- had generated surprise.
"There's no point beating about the bush, Indonesia is surprised by this decision," Smith told state radio. "(But) we don't regard these as issues that will disturb the fundamentals of the relationship."
POLICE ACTED ALONE
Indonesia's ambassador, he said, had been informed of the decision and Australian police had acted alone in reopening the investigation 34 years after the deaths.
The 2007 ruling said the killings were ordered to cover up an Indonesian incursion into East Timor ahead of the full invasion.
The new war crimes inquiry could damage not only improving ties between Indonesia and Australia, but also impair cooperation between police forces on combating Indonesian militants.
East Timor's President Jose Ramos-Horta called this month for the journalists' killers to be brought to justice, reversing earlier government opposition to war crimes prosecutions.
The case has been an irritant to Australian-Indonesian relations for decades, with the men's families campaigning for the Indonesian officers responsible to face justice.
The deaths of journalists Greg Shackleton and Malcolm Rennie, sound recordist Tony Stewart and cameramen Gary Cunningham and Brian Peters were the subject of a recent movie
The new police probe will focus on Mohammad Yunus Yosfiah, an army special forces captain accused of ordering the killings and who later rose to be an Indonesian government minister, and another soldier, Christoforus da Silva.
The coroner's inquest heard in 2007 that Yosfiah, a former Minister of Information and still a member of parliament, ordered the shootings under instruction from senior officers. He denied the accusation.
Official Indonesian reports say the men died in crossfire with Timorese Fretilin fighters on October 16, 1975, as Indonesian forces entered East Timor two months before the full invasion.
(Additional reporting by Rob Taylor in CANBERRA and Olivia Rondonuwu in JAKARTA, Writing by Rob Taylor, Editing by Ron Popeski)
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