330 Cablegram to Jakarta

Canberra, 7 November 1975


Portuguese Timor

Ref O.CH2871981

For Woolcott

The Prime Minister has approved the text of the letter to President Soeharto on the subject of the missing newsmen. The signed original will be handed to the Indonesian Ambassador, hopefully over the weekend but if not on Monday 10 November. Tasning leaves for Jakarta on 11 November.

Following is text of letter.


Before his return for a brief visit to Jakarta, I was very glad to have the opportunity for a general discussion with the Indonesian Ambassador in Canberra, Mr Her Tasning, about the question of Portuguese Timor. He will be able to inform you fully of my views, and when he comes back to Canberra I shall look forward to hearing from him of your own thinking. In this way we shall be able to continue the valuable exchange of views on Portuguese Timor which we had in Yogyakarta and Townsville. On one particular aspect of the question of Portuguese Timor, I am taking the opportunity of your Ambassador's visit to Jakarta to seek through him Your Excellency's personal help.

I refer to the fate of the five missing newsmen from Australia, who, it now seems clear, were caught in the fighting at Balibo in Portuguese Timor on 16 October. There is a great deal of public concern in Australia about the newsmen. The issues involved are very difficult ones for us. We have been assuming that the men, or at least four of them, have been killed. But we have so far been unable to obtain positive confirmation of this fact or indeed to establish precisely the circumstances in which the men were killed. We need to do what we can to establish the facts, to obtain positive identification, and to carry out the wishes of the next-of­ kin in regard to the disposal of the remains and the return of personal effects. In the absence of information about the fate of the missing men, various legal problems arise and will continue.

I recognize that Indonesia might not feel well-placed to provide information on an incident which occurred in Portuguese Timor. But Indonesia is the only country in direct touch with UDT and APODETI forces and we have, therefore, been enlisting the good offices of your Government in trying to bring this matter to a satisfactory conclusion.

Our officials have been in touch these last few weeks and I appreciate the help which Indonesian officials have felt able to provide, in particular in arranging for an exchange of letters between the Australian Embassy in Jakarta and the UDT leader, Mr Lopez da Cruz. We are still lacking, however, final and positive confirmation that the bodies located at Balibo are in fact those of the missing newsmen.

My concern, Your Excellency, is that the longer the issue is not settled the greater will be the speculation in our newspapers and elsewhere about the circumstances in which the five died. It is for this reason that I have felt that I should write to you personally to seek your help in overcoming the problem which has arisen for us. May I suggest, too, that it is in the interests of others concerned, including the UDT and APODETI parties themselves, that the matter be cleared up as quickly as possible? I should, therefore, be most grateful for anything further Indonesia might be able to do to help us establish positively the fate of the newsmen and to help us obtain such personal effects and remains as may be available.


[NAA: A1838, 3038/10/12/4, i]