Australia police drop 'Balibo Five' deaths probe

Indonesian journalists along with foreign colleagues sow flowers onto a tomb of five journalist as Australian Shirley Shackleton (C), widow of Australian journalist Greg Shackleton - killed in Balibo in what is now East Timor on 16 October 1975 - looks on at a cemetery in Jakarta on 14 October 2012 Image copyright AFP
Image caption The five men were killed in October 1975, as Indonesia invaded East Timor

Australian police have dropped a war crimes investigation into the deaths in East Timor in 1975 of the "Balibo Five" group of journalists.

Police said there was "insufficient evidence to prove an offence".

In 2007, an Australian coroner found the group were executed by Indonesian special forces in the town of Balibo.

It is thought they were killed to stop them revealing details of an impending Indonesian invasion. Indonesia says they were killed in crossfire.

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) opened an investigation into the deaths of Australians Greg Shackleton and Tony Stewart, Britons Brian Peters and Malcolm Rennie, and New Zealander Gary Cunningham in 2009.

The probe came after the coroner's court ruled that the men were not "incidental casualties in the fighting" but were deliberately shot or stabbed.

The court named three former senior officers from the Indonesian special forces as having ordered the killings.

'Complex and difficult'

In a statement, the AFP said it had "conducted an extensive review of the investigation".

"During the investigation the AFP identified challenges associated with establishing jurisdiction. The investigation continued in an effort to overcome those issues. However, the AFP has concluded that there is currently insufficient evidence to prove an offence.

"As a result, the AFP has exhausted all inquiries in relation to this matter and will be taking no further action," it said.

The AFP said it had been in contact with families of those who died during the "complex and difficult investigation".

When the AFP investigation was launched, Indonesia warned that it could harm ties with Australia.

Indonesian troops invaded East Timor shortly after Portugal withdrew in 1975, ending 450 years as its colonial ruler.

At least 100,000 people are estimated to have died as a result of Indonesia's 25-year occupation. East Timor achieved formal independence in 2002.

In Australia, questions have been asked about how aware Australian politicians and other governments were of the impending Indonesian invasion, and whether they should have acted more robustly.

Gough Whitlam, who died on Tuesday, was prime minister at the time of the killings.

He told the coroner's inquiry in 2007 that he had warned one of the journalists, Greg Shackleton, not to go to East Timor. He also said he did not remember seeing cables before the men were killed indicating Indonesian troops were planning an incursion.

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