280 Cablegram to Canberra

Jakarta, 20 October 1975, 3.00 p.m.

O.JA2523 SECRET AUSTEO IMMEDIATE

Australian Journalists in Timor

Ref. O.JA25051

Dan called on General Adenan (Foreign Ministry) this morning. Akosah (Asia and Pacific Directorate) was also present, as was an official from HANKAM.

  1. Adenan said they had received no information about the five Australian journalists. They had made enquiries, but no information had come to light. We mentioned the Antara report of the Ambassador's meeting with Malik which contained the following: 'Malik explained following the meeting that if requested Indonesia would send a team to seek the missing journalists'. Dan said that if this were really necessary we would of course wish Indonesia to send such a team. Adenan said that such a step was not necessary because Indonesia was already making enquiries at the border.
  2. We drew their attention to the reported statement ofUDT leader Lopez da Cruz in today's Kompas (JA2505). We also said that foreign journalists in Jakarta had this morning picked up a report that a message had been received in Jakarta (it was not from da Cruz) to the effect that four bodies of Europeans had been found at Balibo. (This report has probably been filed already.) We also told them that a Fretilin soldier had reported seeing the destruction of the villa on top of the fort in which the Australians had been hiding (Sunday Times of Western Australia, 19 October, report on page 9).
  3. Adenan said that the evidence seemed to be building up that the five were indeed dead. The Indonesian authorities would continue to make enquiries but there was always the possibility that no confirmation of the deaths would be received.
  4. Dan said that if the situation seemed at all likely the Australian Government may decide to send a special team to Portuguese Timor to investigate. Senator Willesee had made it clear in a press statement today that the Department of Foreign Affairs would leave no stone unturned until the fate of the missing five had been established. Moreover we were actively considering the need to send an Australian Embassy officer to the border to investigate.
  5. The suggestion that an Australian investigatory team might be sent to Portuguese Timor produced the intended effect. Adenan and Akosah immediately argued strongly against the idea. (It would be too dangerous for the team; they could not enter Balibo, etc.)
  6. Dan repeated that we had to have advice about the journalists and quickly. We hoped that the Indonesian authorities would be able to convey to us a message from UDT/Apodeti about the journalists. The Indonesians would be acting only as messengers. Another possibility would be for Lopez da Cruz to send a message to the Australian Embassy or to the Australian Government along the lines of the report in Kompas (the whereabouts of the fifth Australian would also have to be explained).
  7. Adenan accepted that more efforts would have to be made by them to get us the answer. Dan said we wanted advice by today and Adenan replied that he would do his best.
  8. We also repeated the above to Tjan. (Tjan has been particularly helpful on this exercise and has been applying considerable pressure on our behalf in the right quarters.) He told us that four bodies of Europeans had been found at Balibo. He did not know whether they had been identified. (This information should not be used in any public statements.)

Comment

  1. It is hardly necessary to say that the Indonesians are extremely concerned about this matter. They are frightened that if they convey the news they will be implicated publicly. But they now realise that if they do not get word to us soon, we may be obliged to do things which will make matters very awkward for them (for example, the prospect of an Australian search team being sent to Portuguese Timor).
  2. Concerning this latter point, you know that we were not authorised to make this suggestion to them. But under all the circumstances, including no fewer than eight previous enquiries by us (including the Ambassador with Malik), we felt the need to underline our determination to get an answer by applying as much pressure as possible. For the moment, however, it may be as well not to refer in any public statements to the possibility of an Australian search team (that is, if you approve of the idea in the first place).
  3. We shall follow up actively.

[NAA: Al0463, 801/13/11/5, i]