The 80-year-old widow of an Australian journalist allegedly shot by Indonesian forces in East Timor in 1975 pleaded on Sunday for her husband’s remains to be swiftly repatriated.
Shirley Shackleton, who has been seeking the return of the remains of her husband Greg since his killing 37 years ago, fears that unless the saga is ended soon she may not live to see his body returned.
Greg Shackleton is buried in the same grave as four other journalists — two Britons, another Australian and a New Zealander — who were killed when Indonesian troops overran the East Timorese town of Balibo in October 1975.
His remains cannot be removed from the grave at a Jakarta cemetery without the prior agreement of relatives of the other four, prompting his widow’s call to the capital’s governor to order the exhumation of the site.
“They only have to exhume the grave to find out if it’s possible to bring my husband home. We can discuss what happens after that, once we know the condition of the remains,” she told reporters from the cemetery. “Nearly four decades have gone and it’s still very hard for me to come back here. But I want my husband back in Australia, I don’t think he should stay here.”
An Australian inquest into the deaths of the so-called “Balibo five” accused Indonesian forces of killing the group in cold blood in an effort to stifle their reporting on abuses committed during Indonesia’s brutal occupation of East Timor.
Jakarta has always maintained that they died in crossfire as Indonesian troops fought East Timorese Fretilin rebels and refused to cooperate with an Australian war crimes investigation launched in 2010.
A 2009 film about the suspected war crime was banned by Indonesian censors, prompting debate over free speech and democracy in Indonesia, which has failed to prosecute any military officer over alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in East Timor.
“I would think Indonesia wants to be rid of this whole situation,” Shirley Shackleton said. “If that’s the case. I hope they will help me bring my husband home.”
An estimated 183,000 people were killed or starved to death during Indonesia’s 24-year occupation of East Timor, which ended with a bloody vote for independence in 1999.