Indonesian troops burned suspected bodies of 5 slain journalists in East Timor

Indonesian commanders ordered their troops to burn a pile of bodies believed to be those of five journalists killed during Jakarta's 1975 invasion of East Timor, according to testimony Tuesday.

The five journalists - two Britons, two Australians and a New Zealander - died during an attack by Indonesian special forces on the town of Balibo on Oct. 16, 1975.

The Indonesian government says the reporters were accidentally killed in crossfire, but the family of one of the Australians, Brian Peters, insists he was murdered.

Last week, the New South Wales state coroner called an inquest to examine the circumstances of Peters' death. In Australia, a state coroner can investigate any resident's death not due to natural causes, especially if the circumstances are deemed suspicious.

On Tuesday, a former Indonesian soldier testifying under a pseudonym for fear of retaliation said his officers gave him kerosene and ordered him to re-burn a pile of bodies that had already been charred a few days before.

The witness told the Glebe Coroner's Court he was told to burn "some of their organs" and "the rest of their remains." He said he believed the bodies belonged to the foreign journalists, but that he could not tell how many bodies there were because they were badly burnt, the AP reports.

He said he saw a camera and a radio in the tangled remains.

Previous witnesses have testified they saw Indonesian soldiers, led by former commander Yunus Yosfiah, fire on the unarmed journalists and then set fire to their bodies.

Another witness, Augusto Perreira, told the court that around the time of the newsmen's deaths, he had seen Indonesian soldiers punching two Caucasian men who were holding their hands up in a surrender gesture.

The journalists were killed as Indonesian special forces attacked a local militia that had claimed sovereignty in East Timor after Portugal abandoned its former colony. The attack was a prelude to a full Indonesian invasion in December of that year.

After its invasion, Indonesia ruled the half-island territory until 1999, when a U.N.-organized plebiscite resulted in an overwhelming vote for independence. As they withdrew, Indonesian troops and their militia auxiliaries destroyed much of the country's infrastructure and killed at least 1,500 people.

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