7 Dec 2009

Former colonel admits Balibo killings part of cover-up

9:02 pm on 7 December 2009

A former army colonel has admitted Indonesian soldiers killed five journalists to cover up the invasion of East Timor.

New Zealand cameraman Gary Cunningham and four other Australian-based journalists were killed by Indonesian forces in 1975 in the town of Balibo.

Gatot Purwanto has told Tempo magazine that a rational decision was made to kill the men, contradicting Indonesia's official line that they died in crossfire, AAP reports.

Colonel Purwanto made the revelation after seeing the Australian film Balibo, saying he and his fellow soldiers had been surprised to find the men in the border town.

He claims his superior Yunus Yosfiah tried to ask the Indonesian government what to do about the journalists as soldiers surrounded the house where they were hiding.

Colonel Purwanto says those soldiers decided to open fire, before the government responded, after they were "provoked" by gunfire from the journalists' direction.

He says afterwards, soldiers took the bodies to another house to be burned.

Colonel Purwanto was "honourably discharged" from the Indonesian military after his involvement in the 1991 Santa Cruz Cemetery massacre in Dili.

Indonesia's censorship board stopped Balibo from being premiered in Jakarta last week.