327 Cablegram to Canberra

Jakarta, 6 November 1975,4.15 p.m.


Missing Journalists

The Age correspondent from Singapore, Michael Richardson, who has returned to Jakarta has told us that he has ascertained from 'a very reliable Indonesian source' that '200 Indonesian troops had been involved in the attack on Balibo with UDT and Apodeti forces'. His source, whom he would not name, said that heavy fire had come from the house in which the Australian journalists were. The house had been mortared and most of the occupants including four of the journalists had been killed inside the house. The fifth jumped out of a window with his arms up saying 'Australian, Australian' but was shot. Richardson added his source had said not in cold blood but in the heat of the battle and probably before what he was saying was understood. He was also said by the source to be wearing a Fretilin battle jacket.

  1. Richardson said he was also aware that several Indonesian journalists seemed to know the story but were under strict instructions not to talk about it. But one of his contacts had. He said that carefully vetted Indonesian journalists had been on the scene fairly soon after the fall of Balibo. There had been a sordid argument between Indonesian journalists over who would take one of the cameras which was intact. According to Richardson's source, the newspaper Berita Yudha has one of the cameras.It is difficult but we are doing our best to follow this up.
  2. Richardson-whose source is obviously very well informed-has asked that in any use the Embassy makes of the information he has given us he is not mentioned by name. We do not think Richardson himself will report this or if he does it will be in a very guarded way.
  3. A new element is that Johnson has told us from Kupang that he has come upon some evidence that one of the journalists may be still alive and in Occussi. If true this would be most important. It could also explain the evasiveness and prevarication which we have encountered on this matter. But it could also create a very real problem of how to secure his safety. All the evidence we have suggests that this is not so but we shall, of course, follow it up. Meanwhile it would be wrong to raise any false hopes and this information should be closely held.

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