Premier Iemma apologises to Indonesian governor over hotel entry incident

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Friday, June 1, 2007

In response to an incident on May 29, 2007, New South Wales Premier Morris Iemma has issued a formal, written apology to Sutiyoso, the Governor of Jakarta who was visiting Sydney as an official guest of the New South Wales Government.

The incident occurred when New South Wales police entered Sutiyoso's harbourside hotel room in Sydney, whilst he was taking a nap, using a master hotel key, failing to knock or announce their presence before entering.

The police were requesting that the governor give evidence at an inquest into the 1975 death of an Australian cameraman Brian Peters in the neighbouring country of East Timor. Peters was killed in crossfire, along with four fellow Australian-based newspeople, in Balibo, just prior to the Indonesian military's invasion of East Timor. The circumstances around their death have been the centre of allegations regarding a cover-up by Indonesia and Australia, particularly from some of the families of those killed.

The fall-out resulted in the cancellation of the remaining plans of Sutiyoso's official trip in Australia, with him flying home to Indonesia, and created a diplomatic stand-off between the Federal Government of Australia and the Indonesian Government.

The incident would have been 'humiliating' for Sutiyoso and to Indonesians in general, Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer explained. Sutiyoso is a respected man in Indonesian history, and is also considered to be a possible candidate for the 2009 presidential elections. The Sydney incident caused a demonstration by Indonesians outside the Australian Embassy in Jakarta, which lasted into its second day before the apology was given.

Although the apology has relieved some of the diplomatic tension between the two neighbouring countries, Premier Iemma's apology has sparked condemnation by some Australians, most notably the widow of one of the newspeople who was killed in the 1975 incident.

Governor Sutiyoso is a retired Lieutenant General who served in the Indonesian military for three decades, and was involved in Indonesia's occupation of East Timor. It has been alleged at the inquest that Sutiyoso had been a member of 'Team Susi' - one of the units of the Indonesian military who were involved in the advancement on Balibo on the day in 1975 the five journalists were killed.

Shirley Shackleton, husband to Greg Shackleton who was one of the five killed, said he felt sorry for Morris Iemma being 'forced' to write this apology. "I think it's terribly sad because obviously someone's forced him to do that. He didn't want to, did he?" she said. "I'm sorry he's put in that position because I think it's humiliating for him."

Iemma had previously declined to comment as to whether he was going to issue an apology to the 'disgusted and angry' governor, saying that the police were not acting under the direction of the New South Wales Government.

The letter from the Premier, in which he apologised for the "distress and inconvenience caused", was in addition to the personal apology given by Bill Farmer, Australia's Ambassador to Indonesia, the day prior.

Sutiyoso has accepted the apologies, and said that it was "already more than I need". He also extended an invitation for Premier Iemma to visit Jakarta in July as a guest of the governor.

The inquest into the events of 1975, which Sutiyoso refused summons to, continues in Sydney. An investigation has also been launched into the police department over the incident.

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