334 Cablegram to Geneva

Canberra, 11 November 1975


Portuguese Timor: Missing Journalists

In reports appearing in the Australian press on 10 November, three FRETILIN militiamen who ha[ve] 'just returned to Dili' and had witnessed the fighting in Balibo on 15116 October when the newsmen disappeared, were reported as saying that the five newsmen had been 'captured and executed' by Indonesian troops.

  1. We believe that it would fall within the ICRC's mandate in regard to persons missing in war zones to follow up such reports about the missing journalists. Accordingly, we contacted the ICRC Representative Pasquier yesterday 10 November to request his assistance in checking these reports. He expressed reservations about the ICRC becoming involved. He said that it was quite clear that the newsmen were dead and that the ICRC's responsibility for locating the newsmen has thus lapsed. He was also concerned that interviewing the three militiamen would compromise the ICRC's neutrality either by provoking the UDT-APODETI side or alienating FRETILIN in the likely event of the ICRC's having to attach a caveat to the effect that it was unable to establish the credibility of the account of the FRETILIN militiamen. Pasquier nevertheless undertook to refer our request to ICRC in Geneva for decision.
  2. We should be grateful if you would take up this matter informally with the ICRC in an attempt to enlist their help. We do not of course expect that the ICRC will confirm or deny the reports. However, it would be most helpful if we could say publicly that, in response to an Australian Government request, the ICRC has interviewed the three militiamen concerned and passed to us a report on the interview.

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