East Timor: Five Journalists
Dan called today 10 June on Adenan (Foreign Ministry) in connection with the instruction in your reference telegram. Adenan was also given an aide memoire which set out the relevant information.
- He agreed to refer our request to the appropriate Indonesian authorities. He could not predict what the reply would be but his personal view was that we might be able to interview at least some of the personalities named by Martins.
- He added that in agreeing to follow up our request and in expressing this personal view he was not repeat not acknowledging that the people named were in fact involved in the Balibo battle or that they might have some first-hand knowledge of the death of the journalists.
- We also mentioned the approach the Australian Government had had from the solicitors of the Victorian Branch of the Australian Journalists' Association.
- In conversation after this point had been made Adenan commented that sooner or later someone would have to reply to the important issues raised by the Indonesian Journalist Association in its statement of 25 May 1976. In particular there were two questions that had to be answered:
- who briefed the five journalists before they left Australia for Timor concerning safety precautions they should observe and on the rules (written or unwritten) concerning the behaviour of war correspondents in a war zone? And
- why did Shackleton deliver a military message for Fretilin at the front line, thereby forfeiting his neutral status as a war correspondent and compromising that of his companions?
- With regard to (b), Adenan hinted that East Timorese war widows might also be interested in the question of financial compensation.
- Adenan also asked why the Embassy had not made representations to the pro-Indonesian forces in East Timor concerning the safety of the five journalists before the 16 October 1975.
- Adenan's ready acceptance ofthe aide memoire surprised us as did his personal view on the possible Indonesian response to our request to interview the Indonesians named by Martins. Our own feeling is that the chances of the Indonesian Government acceding to this request are remote (Adenan himself may get into trouble for going as far as he did).
- In putting to Adenan the case in favour of Indonesian cooperation in this matter we did not argue directly that 'it is in the interests of Indonesia as much as Australia to see the journalists question brought to a speedy and satisfactory solution' (paragraph 8, O.CH3660352). The Indonesians, and particularly President Soeharto, do not like foreigners telling them what is in Indonesia's best interests. But we argued that the longer the distressing matter is drawn out the more difficult it will be to bring it to a conclusion.
[NAA: A1838, 3038/10/12/4, v]