Australia Tries to Calm Diplomatic Row

SYDNEY ~ Australian Prime Minister John Howard sought on Thursday to calm a diplomatic row over the treatment in Sydney of a visiting Indonesian politician.

Jakarta Governor Sutiyoso has complained that police used a master key to enter his hotel room and urge him to give evidence at an inquest into the death of five Australia-based journalists in East Timor in 1975.

Howard told reporters that while Australian coroners conducting inquests acted independently of the government, “proper courtesy should be extended” when they carried out their work.

He said Sutiyoso had been the guest of the New South Wales government and the state premier would make a statement in parliament on the issue later on Thursday.

“Whether the appropriate process was observed on this occasion is for the New South Wales government to explain,” Howard said.

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said if it was true that police officers entered Sutiyoso’s room without knocking, “it doesn’t come as a great surprise that he took offence.”

Sutiyoso was a senior Indonesian politician who was spoken of as a possible presidential candidate “and the Australians have to understand the concept of humiliation in Indonesia,” he said.

“As the Indonesians would see it, this is an enormous humiliation for a major Indonesian figure. That’s their perspective.

“Of course our perspective, or the New South Wales perspective, is that the deputy coroner is just doing her job.”

Sutiyoso, who cut short his visit to Sydney and flew back to Jakarta early on Wednesday, has demanded an apology.

Several hundred Indonesians, mainly members of youth groups, later protested outside the Australian embassy in Jakarta over the incident.

The inquest in Sydney is probing the death of a cameraman who was among five British, Australian and New Zealand newsmen killed in the border town of Balibo ahead of the Indonesian military’s invasion of East Timor in 1975.

The journalists were officially reported to have been killed in crossfire, but their families insist they were murdered and there was a cover-up by Canberra and Jakarta.

Sutiyoso, a retired lieutenant general, served in the military for three decades and was part of Indonesia’s occupation of East Timor. He has denied any role in the killings.

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