October 21, 2014 / 7:54 AM / 3 years ago

Australia drops investigation into Indonesia 'Balibo Five' murders

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australian police said on Tuesday they were dropping a long-running war crimes investigation into the deaths of five Australian journalists, killed during Indonesia’s invasion of East Timor in 1975.

The killing of the journalists in the then Portuguese colony clouded relations between Australia and Indonesia and for many people came to symbolize the brutality of Indonesia’s occupation of the half-island.

Australian Federal Police (AFP) said that despite having conducted an extensive review of the investigation into the killings of the “Balibo Five”, they were unable to overcome “operational difficulties” and had not found sufficient evidence to charge anyone.

“During the investigation the AFP identified challenges associated with establishing jurisdiction. The investigation continued in an effort to overcome those issues,” the force said in a statement.

“However, the AFP has concluded that there is currently insufficient evidence to prove an offense. As a result, the AFP has exhausted all inquiries in relation to this matter and will be taking no further action.”

Journalists Brian Peters, 29, Malcolm Rennie, 28, Gary Cunningham, 27, Gregory Shackleton, 29, and Anthony Stewart, 21, were killed in the East Timor town of Balibo.

Their deaths, and the death several months later of fellow Australian journalist Roger East in Indonesia, formed the basis of the 2009 Australian film “Balibo”.

An Indonesian officer admitted in 2009 that the military had killed the journalists to cover up the early stages of the invasion and occupation, which lasted until East Timor gained independence in 2002.

Relations between Australia and Indonesia are often testy and struck a new low last November over media revelations that Australia had spied on former Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, his wife and other top Indonesian officials.

The announcement that Australian police were dropping their investigation came a day after Prime Minister Tony Abbott attended the inauguration of Indonesian President Joko Widodo, who signaled he may take a tougher line on issues such as Canberra’s policy of sending asylum-seeker vessels back to Indonesian waters.

Reporting by Matt Siegel; Editing by Robert Birsel

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