U.N. hunt for Timor killers accuses three

SYDNEY, Reuters

United Nations investigators have sought arrest warrants for three men, including a former Indonesian minister, for the murders of five journalists in East Timor in 1975, an Australian newspaper said on Saturday.

The Sydney Morning Herald said the U.N. investigators believed they had enough evidence to prosecute the three men for the killings at Balibo on October 16, 1975, just weeks before Indonesia invaded East Timor.

Quoting an unnamed source close to the U.N. administration in East Timor, the paper said the U.N.’s prosecutor-general in the territory had been asked to authorize the arrest of former Indonesia information minister Mohammad Yunus Yosfiah, another Indonesian, Christoforus da Silva, and an East Timorese, Domingos Bere.

“The source said the investigators recommended that the men be charged with crimes against humanity under the 1949 Geneva Convention,” the newspaper said.

It added that chief investigator James Osborne had confirmed the request to arrest the men and quoted U.N. prosecutor-general Mohamed Othman as saying the case was likely to proceed as a war crimes charge.

“That would be the most likely prosecution scenario,” he said.

The widow of one of the five Australian-based journalists last year called for criminal proceedings against Yunus after a televised interview with an East Timorese man who said he saw the former minister fire at four of the five journalists.

An Australian government-backed report last year linked Yunus, then a special forces commander, to the military unit most likely to have killed the men, but would not conclude he had ordered the killings.

Yunus, a retired lieutenant-general who served as information minister under former President B.J. Habibie, has denied the allegations.The journalists killed were Australians Greg Shackleton and Tony Stewart, Britons Malcolm Rennie and Brian Peters, and New Zealander Gary Cunningham.

Australia led an international military force into East Timor in 1999 to quell pro-Jakarta militia mayhem and violence unleashed after the territory voted overwhelmingly in a U.N. sponsored referendum for independence from Indonesia.

The Sydney Morning Herald said the investigation into the killings had been conducted by the national investigation unit of the U.N. Civilian Police in East Timor.