The Road to Balibo

Before arriving here in Timor-Leste, I was determined not to leave the country without visiting the historic site of Balibo. It is a small town in the west that speaks so much of the plight of the independence movement at that time and the response of the international community to it.

Entrance of the Portuguese fort

Entrance to the Portuguese fort

I first learned about the importance of this place when I watched the movie “Balibo”. While the world turns a blind eye to the post-colonial situation in Timor-Leste and the impending invasion of the Indonesian army, five foreign journalists or collectively known as the “Balibo Five” were there to show that a tragedy is about to occur. They were convinced to cover the events in Timor-Leste and report back to the international community the increasing insecurity in the country. They wrongly believed that they wouldn’t be military targets. The invading army killed them and burned their tapes and equipment.

I assume this is a post-colonial monument built during the Indonesian occupation.

I assume this is a post-colonial monument built during the Indonesian occupation.

The movie showed that the conflict was not just a domestic one but a conflict instigated by the Indonesian military regime to justice its annexation of the newly decolonized island. A country abandoned by the Portuguese after years of colonization without improving any of its socio-political capacities was about to be invaded by another foreign country. The Balibo Five stayed during the invasion not just for a good story but for the picture of the conflict to be seen and for the voice of the people to be heard around the world. It costed them their lives and the political leaders of concerned countries still chose not to look and not to listen for the next 24 years.

Portuguese fort. In the movie, the journalists were hiding behind its walls while recording the invasion of Indonesian army.

Portuguese fort. In the movie, the journalists were hiding behind its walls while recording the invasion of Indonesian army.

View from the fort

View from the fort

The "Flag House" where the journalists were killed located at the city square

The “Flag House” where the journalists were killed located at the town square

A replica of Greg Shackleton's (one of the journalists) wall painting thinking that this might give them protection.

A replica of Greg Shackleton’s (one of the journalists) wall painting thinking that this might give them protection.

Photos of the journalists

Photos of the journalists

This memorial/museum now receives visitors

This memorial/museum now receives visitors

A memorial for Timor-Leste and Australian military cooperation

A memorial for Timorese and Australian military cooperation

The lives of the Balibo Five do not outweigh the lives of tens of thousands of Timorese slain during that period but it proves something about wars: that they do not recognize anyone; every person who crosses the frontline is an enemy; and neutral zones are hardly delineated.

Until now, there is still no justice given to the brave young journalists in Balibo. Until now, despite the “successful reconciliation process” in Timor-Leste, justice is still not served to those whose blood of thousands of innocent lives is still on their hands. It’s easy to ask for forgiveness but it’s difficult to repay for what was lost.

In a post-conflict society like Timor-Leste, it is important to have the past reconcile with the present in order to have a clearer view of the future but it is equally important to have the guilty answerable to justice to serve as a lesson for the next generations not to commit the same violations again. Chega!

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2 thoughts on “The Road to Balibo

  1. Pingback: Traversing Timor-Leste from West to East | A drifter off to see the world

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