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The Balibo Five - A New Zealand Perspective...
The Balibo Five as they have become known were a group of journalists working on assignment for an Australian television channel, Channel Seven. There were five in the initial group who were shot, gunned down, executed by Indonesian troops, or caught in a crossfire between them and rebels. Just who were the insurgents has ben a matter of opinion for decades. There was another journalist who came to investigate the missing journalists, who was also killed in the area. It has been claimed also that Indonesian troops responsible for the deaths were special forces troops whose role was to prepare the ground for the actual invasion forces. President Suharto allegedly did not want flags or identification markings on these particular troops.That has to be treated as hearsay evidence at this stage until the current enquiry proves otherwise.
The Balibo Five comprised two Australian and two British journalists and a New Zealnd cameraman, Gary Cunningham. It has been claimed the five men were killed to prevent them from reporting to the outside world the prevalent abuse of local Timorese citizens by Indonesian special forces troops.
What has followed for the family of Gary Cunningham has been three decades of injustice, lack of information, and a shameful lack of action by the New Zealand Government. The latter has, for reasons of their own, failed to give a satisfactory account of the Balibo Five massacre. Successive administrations apparently just shelved all information concerning the late Gary Cunningham and his colleagues over many years. Australians were also denied the facts starting with former Australian prime minister Gough Whitlam's denial. An existing Australian investigation should soon make these facts available. The Indonesians are also bemused by the apparent inaction over the years.
Gary Cunningham's family has been frustrated over many years by the failure of apparent gutless New Zealand Government administrations to reveal the truth they were, undoubtably, well aware of. A memorial to the late Gary Cunningham will be installed at Charles Plimmer Park, Mount Victoria, in the New Zealand capital, Wellington City. Mr Cunningham lived in Wellington until he ws 21 years old. A commemorative plaque, park bench and tree will comprise the memorial at the park. Gary's late father Jim, died in 2001 and would undoubtably be pleased with the memorial.
An Indonesian Committee for Human Rights, Maire Leadbeater, who organised the memorial with the Media Freedom Committee secretary, reportedly called Gary Cunningham a "true hero". To the East TImorese people he is a martyr.
A war crimes investigation was carried out by the Australian Federal police last year and what has been described as a "powerful film", Balibo, was released on Feb 18 2010, this year.
It is hoped the local memorial would provoke some action from the so-far gutless New Zealand government, which has not been any better than its predecessors and has turned its back on this incident, and should at least give some public recognition, something shared by Wellington City mayor, Kerry Prentergast - but as they say, don't hold your breath!