326 Cablegram to Canberra

Jakarta, 6 November 1975 4.00 p.m.

O.JA2902 CONFIDENTIAL PRIORITY

Timor: Missing Journalists

Notwithstanding continuing pressure I am afraid we are still not getting far on the journalists. We are fully aware of the difficulties this is causing you in Canberra and of the likelihood that the Minister may need to be critical in public of Indonesia's handling of this matter. We have of course impressed this on the Indonesians assuring them that we want to avoid this if possible.

  1. Despite his undertaking to let me have further definite information early this week, General Yoga has not done so and has left Jakarta for a meeting in Kuala Lumpur without telling me. He is not expected back until the evening of 7 November.
  2. Generals Murtopo and Moerdani who could be helpful have been overseas but they are due back today and I shall of course try and see either or both as soon as possible.
  3. Malik, Alatas and Adenan returned from Rome last night. I have asked to see Malik as soon as possible about the Rome talks and the journalists and, hopefully, will do so tomorrow.
  4. I do not think the Indonesians are being deliberately inaccessible at this stage but they are behaving in a very Javanese, touchy and unhelpful way on the journalists. This is compounded somewhat by a general disenchantment with the way the Timor situation has developed and with what they regard as Australia's over-active and unhelpful role in Timor in contrast to the reactions of other countries within and outside the region.
  5. In the absence of all of the above-mentioned I saw the Director-General, Political Affairs, Djajadiningrat, yesterday evening 5 November. I went through the whole issue again with him stressing the urgent need our Minister had to be able to make an acceptable public statement on the matter in Australia and our obvious obligations to the next-of-kin.
  6. I also said that Indonesia's reluctance to help seemed to me to be damaging Indonesia's own interest and was giving credence to reports in the media in Australia that the journalists had been shot by Indonesian forces. Djajadiningrat reacted strongly to the latter comment saying that the journalists were with Fretilin forces and that this story was Fretilin propaganda which was not uncommonly given good coverage in the Australian media as though it were the truth. He blandly repeated the denial that Indonesian troops were engaged in Timor.
  7. I told Djajadiningrat that the whole situation was most unsatisfactory to us. He and I had known each other for years. If Australian/Indonesian relations were as close and as soundly based as we said they were, then surely we should be frank with each other on an issue like this. What value would people in Australia place on our close relations if we could not secure Indonesia's help when we needed it on an issue like this?
  8. Djajadiningrat said he took the point. But it was 'very difficult'. He then went through the usual legal and climatic arguments about Balibo being in Portuguese territory, the monsoons, bad roads, no bridges, difficult communications etc. between Indonesian and Portuguese Timor. I said that we could not accept this. We knew through our own contacts that several Indonesian journalists had been able to reach Balibo within a few days of the battle in which the Australian journalists were apparently killed. If Indonesian journalists could do so, why could not proper information be obtained and passed on to us by Indonesian officials? Djajadiningrat could not answer this but repeated that it was 'difficult'. He would however do all he could with BAKIN and HANKAM to assist.
  9. He asked, what did we really want? I said that as he knew we had been through all this before. But in essence we wanted confirmation of death, perhaps by way of an eye-witness account, possibly from the UDT Commander, of how the Australians died. We also wanted information on the methods of identification of the bodies.We also wanted the bodies themselves or any remains. Finally we wanted all personal effects including passports, documents, cameras, etc.
  10. Djadiningrat said he personally understood our problem and repeated he would do his best. But the answer would really have to come through BAKIN. I said we knew this and had been in daily contact with BAKIN. He also said that whatever we might think Indonesia's influence over UDT was not absolute and communications in the area, especially now, were appalling.
  11. I turned to the question of Malik's offer of a plane and the Rodgers visit. Djajadiningrat was obviously embarrassed by this. He said he did not know what the offer of a plane to fly members of our staff to Kupang or Atambua could achieve. I said that our Minister wanted to accept the offer which Malik had made publicly. In any case we would be sending Rodgers to Kupang as early as possible by commercial means unless the offered Indonesian plane materialised before then. (Rodgers is in fact leaving this evening 6 November.) Djajadiningrat said all he could do would be to take the matter up again with the Minister after his return.

WOOLCOTT

[NAA: A10463, 801/13/11/5, i]