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Last Updated: Friday, 16 November 2007, 10:12 GMT
Journalists 'murdered' in E Timor
Maureen Tolfree, sister of dead journalist Brian Peters
Relatives of the journalists were present for the judgement
Five Australian-based journalists were deliberately killed by Indonesian troops in East Timor in 1975, an Australian coroner's court has ruled.

Dorelle Pinch, deputy coroner of New South Wales, said the killings could constitute a war crime.

The two Australians, two Britons and a New Zealander, known as the Balibo Five, were killed to stop them exposing the invasion of East Timor, she said.

The Indonesian government insists the group were killed in a crossfire.

The two British journalists were cameraman Brian Peters, 29, from Bristol and Scottish-born reporter, Malcolm Rennie, also 29. The Scot was on his first foreign assignment for an Australian television network.

The Sydney court concluded the men, along with Australians Greg Shackleton and Tony Stewart, and New Zealander Gary Cunningham were deliberately shot or stabbed.

"The journalists were not incidental casualties in the fighting - they were captured then deliberately killed despite protesting their status," Ms Pinch said.

'Cold blood'

She named three former senior officers from the Indonesian special forces as having ordered the killings, and suggested they could be charged with war crimes under Australian law.

Map of East Timor

Australia's attorney general pledged to forward her recommendations to police and prosecutors.

The families of the men, who have spent 30 years trying to prove that the reporters were murdered, welcomed the finding.

Mr Peters' sister, Maureen Tolfree, told reporters outside the court: "They were murdered in cold blood. Justice has been done. We got what we wanted."

But Indonesia's foreign ministry said the coroner's ruling would not change their opinion that the men were killed in a crossfire.

"Whatever decision or recommendations that they have made, that will not change our assertion about what happened in Balibo," a spokesman said.

"So this will not change also our position that it is a closed case."

On the question of whether the Australian authorities were forewarned that the journalists were about to be killed, the coroner said all the evidence was to the contrary.

After the invasion, Indonesia ruled East Timor until 1999, when its people voted overwhelmingly for independence.

Archive footage of the journalists in East Timor

Australia inquiry angers Jakarta
30 May 07 |  Asia-Pacific
Indonesian army 'shot reporters'
06 Feb 07 |  Asia-Pacific
Country profile: East Timor
08 Aug 07 |  Country profiles
Timeline: East Timor
07 Aug 07 |  Country profiles

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