277 Cablegram to Canberra

Canberra, 20 October 1975, 3.08 p.m.

O.CH280286 SECRET AUSTEO IMMEDIATE

Australian Journalists in Timor

Ref. O.CH280045,1 O.JA24982

We understand from Joseph's telephone conversation with Dan that you will have been following up urgently with the Indonesians the Kompas report about the discovery of four bodies in the Balibo area.3 Meanwhile, on the basis of the information in paragraph 18 of JA2498 we have advised enquirers that the Indonesians have agreed to help ascertain the fate of the journalists. We should like to go further so that we could advise enquirers of the other action which Malik said the Indonesian authorities are taking and to attribute to the Indonesian authorities his comments about Fretilin uniforms. We should not want to attribute any of this information to Malik personally but generally to the 'Indonesian authorities'.

  1. Further immediate action will depend on the results of your enquiries about the Kompas report. If it is still appropriate, however, we should like you to ask the Indonesians whether they would agree that a member of the Embassy might visit Indonesian Timor as soon as possible to help with enquiries about the missing journalists. In response to questions in the Senate on Tuesday 21 October, the Minister would want to say that the request to send somebody to Indonesian Timor from Jakarta had been put to the Indonesians. Even before we learned of the Kompas article the Minister was also proposing to make it clear that the Australian authorities had grave fears for the safety of the journalists.
  2. You will appreciate that in our view, for a variety of reasons, it is clearly in our interests and the Indonesians' interests that they inform us of the fate of the journalists. If after a time it becomes apparent that they will not tell us the truth, then the next best course would be for them to confirm to us that the UDT and APODETI forces were not holding the journalists prisoner

[4.] We appreciate that the Indonesians may hesitate to tell us the truth for fear of a sharply anti-Indonesian reaction in Australia. There is, of course, that danger, which the Government would do its best to moderate. But on the other hand if uncertainty about the fate of the journalists drags on, we can expect concern about them to build up and to be a continuing source of trouble in our relations with Indonesia (just as the Sharman case has proved in our relations with Laos4). You will also appreciate that the Government would feel that it has a duty to inform the next of kin as soon as it possibly can of the journalists' fate.

[NAA: Al838, 3038/10/12/4, i]