435 Cablegram to Canberra

Jakarta, 22 March 1976


East Timor: Journalists

I refer to paragraphs 3, 4 and 11 of JA5414.1

  1. I have now had a fairly frosty answer from General Yoga to my letter2 seeking, on instructions, to reopen the Balibo affair although he does say he will do his best to seek the agreement of the PGET to a visit to Balibo by an officer from this Embassy.
  2. The operative paragraph of Yoga's letter which is in English is as follows:


'I regret very much to learn from you that the case of those journalists' deaths as has been re­-raised by Mr Martins has created doubts from your side. In this respect, and regardless of your evaluation on the credibility of our explanations given before, no account has also been taken by your side on explanations which are also given on the part of an Australian national, Mr Rex Syddell on the same matter. Nonetheless, in keeping my pledge to cooperate with you, I will do my best to seek agreement of the PGET to a visit to Balibo by an officer from your Embassy'.


  1. Yoga is an influential figure in the making of Indonesian policy. I was on good terms personally with him before my posting to Indonesia and was able to build on the relationship after my arrival. One unfortunate aspect of the Balibo affair is that Yoga to whom I have applied a lot of pressure on it is now less readily accessible and less friendly. I shall, however, do my best to mend the fences so that we can maintain contact on other issues not related to Timor on which he has in the past been cooperative and helpful.
  2. I shall also seek to discuss personally with him his rather negative response to my carefully and politely worded enquiry about the journalists which did incidentally take account of what Syddell had said. It does seem however that there will be no response from the Indonesian side to Martins' allegations and possibly not to questions put by Mrs Dryden to the Minister.3 I shall take up the latter again. As you will see from paragraph 4 of our reference telegram Moerdani warned me that Yoga might be unresponsive and difficult on this matter.
  3. Australian interests as we see them here are now best served through a solution to the Timor problem which is recognised internationally and leaves as few as possible opportunities for the problem to be kept alive.
  4. Given that integration is inevitable it follows that the integration should be achieved in a manner which is recognised by other countries. We appreciate that our recent strong support for a genuine act of self-determination would create difficulties for us if the Indonesians proceed as we think they will.
  5. But, as we see it here, we shall be faced with a choice of recognising East Timor's integration into Indonesia or, by not doing so, of encouraging continued FRETILIN resistance to integration and possibly even the establishment of a Government in exile. The latter could have serious implications for our longer term relations with Indonesia, especially if it sought to promote anti-Indonesian activities as, for example, the RMS does in the Netherlands. It could be a destabilising factor in the South East Asian region.
  6. In preparation for that choice we would suggest that the Government should consider starting to place less emphasis on the need for a 'genuine' act of self-determination. Without abandoning the principle, the Government could, perhaps, acknowledge the difficulties of conducting a proper act of self-determination in a politically very backward and undeveloped society which recently experienced a civil war. Also we would recommend that we do not take a leading role in criticising, in the United Nations, a PGET proposal for an act of self­-determination along the lines set out in our reference telegram.
  7. In our discussions with Tjan we have, of course, reiterated the Government's policy of support for a proper act of self-determination.
  8. Grateful advice on any specific points you would like us to make to well-placed Indonesians on this matter.
  9. Also from Yoga's letter and theAntara report in our JA55154 the Indonesians probably intend to continue to make use of Syddell's story and to try to lay the blame on FRETILIN (a scenario which in any case cannot be entirely ruled out).


[NAA: Al838, 3038/10/12/4, ii]