December 2, 2009 / 11:43 AM / 10 years ago

Indonesia bans "war crimes" film Balibo

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesia’s censors have banned “Balibo,” an Australian-made film about five foreign journalists who were killed by Indonesian troops during the 1975 invasion of East Timor.

The killing of the so-called Balibo Five — two Australians, a New Zealand national, and two Britons — has been a point of friction between Jakarta and Canberra for years.

The men’s families campaigned for the Indonesian officers alleged to be responsible to face justice, with no success, even after East Timor eventually won independence and Indonesia pulled out its troops a decade ago.

Relations between the two countries soured in September when the Australian Federal Police decided to launch a war crimes investigation into the case, and Jakarta had already warned that it would not welcome a showing of the film, directed by Robert Connolly and starring Emmy-winner Anthony LaPaglia.

Indonesia’s foreign minister, Marty Natalegawa, sought to play down tensions between the two neighbours. He told parliament on Wednesday that the ministry would ensure the ban of “Balibo” did not create further problems in relations with Australia.

The head of the censorship board could not be reached for comment, but his staff said a letter banning the film had been prepared. No reason for the ban has been given yet.

Predominantly Muslim Indonesia has banned films in the past for various reasons.

DVD piracy is also common in the country, however, and bootleg copies of “Balibo” were already available in Jakarta.

The foreign ministry’s spokesman, Teuku Faizasyah, said in September that while Indonesia was open to foreign movies, it did not want this particular film to be shown because of its “rather offensive” content.

Lalu Roisamri, programme director for the Jakarta International Film Festival (JIFF), said he had been told by the censors on Tuesday that the film had been banned.

The Jakarta Foreign Correspondents Club, which had planned a private screening in Jakarta on Tuesday, called it off.

Roisamri said in 2006 the censorship board also banned four movies including “Promised Paradise,” a documentary about the bomb attacks on the resort island of Bali in 2002, from the festival screening.

An Australian coroner’s inquest heard in 2007 said that Yunus Yosfiah, a former Indonesian minister of information and still a member of parliament, ordered the shootings, which took place in the East Timorese village of Balibo, under instruction from senior officers. He denied the accusation.

Official Indonesian reports say the men died in a crossfire with Timorese Fretilin fighters on October 16, 1975, as Indonesian forces entered East Timor two months before the full invasion.

Reporting by Olivia Rondonuwu; Editing by Sara Webb and Alex Richardson

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