317 Letter from Johnson to El Tari

Kupang, 1 November 1975

I have been instructed by the Australian Ambassador to Indonesia, His Excellency Mr R. A. Woolcott, to convey the following to you.

I have been sent to Timor by the Australian Government to attempt to ascertain the fate of five missing Australian journalists. Since it is believed that these journalists died in Balibo, which is under the control of anti-Fretilin forces, it is not possible to obtain positive identification of the bodies or to recover personal effects through Fretilin forces or through the Government of Portugal. Direct contact with the leaders of anti-Fretilin forces in the border area has not been possible. The Government of Australia has requested that you use your good offices with the leaders of UDT/Apodeti to forward two letters to Mr Lopes da Cruz. These letters, both dated 23 October, requested the urgent provision of information and personal effects which would enable the Australian Government to ascertain the fact and manner of the death of the journalists. However no reply has been received from the leaders of the anti-Fretilin forces.

I have been instructed by the Australian Ambassador to stress that the Australian Government regards the resolution of this matter as most urgent. I have not been allowed to go to Atambua or the border area to try to ascertain how these bodies were identified, how positive the identification is, and whether there are any remains. If it is held that there are no remains, the Australian Government wishes to know why there are no remains. The Australian Government is most anxious to obtain documents and personal effects belonging to the five journalists.

The families of the five journalists need to know of their fate. There is also great concern at present in Australia at the absence of definite information concerning the fate of the journalists. It is in the interest of Indonesia that this matter be settled as soon as possible, in view of the damage that is occurring to Indonesia's standing in Australia.

The Indonesian Foreign Minister, Mr Adam Malik, has stated that an aircraft will be provided for me to travel to Atambua to attempt to obtain definite information. Since permission has now been granted in Jakarta, I again request your permission to go there as soon as possible, and also your assistance in obtaining information and personal effects. I wish if possible to interview UDT/Apodeti eyewitnesses of the incident at Balibo.

Having been sent to Timor by the Australian Government, I have been instructed to remain here until information and personal effects are obtained. It is also anticipated that a more senior official from the Australian Embassy in Jakarta will soon join me in Kupang.

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