286 Record of Conversation Between Johnson and El Tari

Kupang, 22 October 1975


Portuguese Timor: Missing Journalists

[matter omitted]

  1. Johnson explained to El Tari, who said that he had not been informed that he was coming, that Johnson had been sent to Timor by the Australian Ambassador to Indonesia under instruction by the Australian Government, to attempt to ascertain the fate of five missing Australians. Could the Governor use his good offices with the President of the UDT to forward a message to the border area?
  2. The Governor replied that Balibo was not in Indonesian territory and that UDT and Apodeti were not subject to direction by Indonesia. Johnson said that we understood the position of the Indonesian Government, but since there was no way of confirming reports about the five missing journalists from the other side of the border, and since El Tari had transmitted messages in the past, the Australian Government would be grateful if a message could be passed to da Cruz.
  3. El Tari agreed to send a message but said that he could not tell how long it would take to obtain a reply. In the case of a previous message, it had taken ten days for a reply. As the Governor seemed to be downplaying the urgency of our need for confirmation of the fate of the journalists, Johnson stressed that we regarded this as most urgent and mentioned in passing Australian need to consider press reports on this question as well as to consider the families of the missing men. El Tari then agreed to forward a message as quickly as possible. Johnson should give a message to Lede in the morning. But no reply would be likely to be forthcoming in under 5 days. It could take longer.
  4. During the conversation, the Governor noted that Radio Australia reports were infuriating the refugees in the border areas. The refugees did not understand Australia's attitude and thought that Australia and Radio Australia were supporting Fretilin. The refugees could see that aid was not being given to them by Australia.
  5. Johnson briefly outlined Australia's position on Portuguese Timor, that the matter was primarily between Portugal and the three parties concerned, with due regard to Indonesia's predominant interest. Australia was providing humanitarian aid. Australia was not responsible for the acts of individual Australian citizens. The Governor assured me that he understood our position. But the refugees did not. Johnson asked about popular views in Kupang. He replied that educated and politically aware people understood the Australian position, but that 'stupid' people and uneducated people did not, but took Australia's unwillingness to become involved, and the acts of individual Australians, as an indication of support for Fretilin.
  6. The Governor stressed the concern of the Indonesian people over the events taking place in Portuguese Timor. Fretilin was communist. After Madiun and G30S,1 Indonesia was naturally concerned over the presence in Timor of communism. Major Mota and other young Portuguese officers had engineered control by Fretilin in Portuguese Timor. Communism could spread to Australia. For example, fifty agents could infiltrate Australia from Portuguese Timor and begin to subvert Australia, which could become red.
  7. On the question of Johnson's going to Atambua, the Governor confirmed that there were no commercial flights. It would be 'difficult' for him to go to and be in Atambua, and also dangerous because of the attitude of the refugees.
  8. The Governor agreed to assist in returning personal effects, etc. if it should prove that the five missing journalists were indeed dead.

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