289 Record of Conversation Between Taylor and Akosah

Jakarta, 23 October 1975


Portuguese Timor

I referred to Malik's Press Conference on 22 October in which he was reported to have answered questions about the five missing Australian journalists by saying that he was not 'a grave digger'. I said that if this were reported in Australia, it could cause great offence. Akosah said he also had been concerned about the interview. He didn't think that Malik meant to be offensive. He used Indonesian slang which could not be easily translated into English and the humour of the slang was probably not appreciated by English speakers. What he was saying, Akosah said, was that he did not know anything about the bodies because he did not bury them. I said that regardless of how the remark came across in Indonesian humour, foreign journalists would, of course, have to translate what Malik said into English and it seemed that there was no other translation for 'tukang kuburan' than 'grave digger', 'grave attendant' or 'grave worker'. In the present quite difficult state of Australia/Indonesia relations, it was important that Australian public opinion was not moved in an anti-Indonesian direction by such statements.

  1. Asked about the reported statement that Lopes da Cruz had accepted an Indonesian request to search for the missing journalists, Akosah said he had no more details than were in the press. He said no answer had come to the Foreign Ministry's enquiries. He added that he had questioned Gen. Adenan closely about whether Indonesia had any information about the bodies and Adenan had said that they did not.
  2. I told Akosah that Johnson had gone to Kupang with instructions to see the Governor, and, if necessary, to ask the Governor if he would forward a letter from Johnson to Lopes da Cruz asking for positive information about the bodies he was reported in Kompas as saying had been located at Balibo. I gave Akosah the message to the Governor (see attached)1 and asked informally whether it would be possible for the Foreign Ministry to send the message. We did not know whether Johnson had yet delivered a letter to the Governor and if he had not, we thought it would be useful for him to have a text from us. We would have used normal communication channels but understood that they were not wholly reliable. Akosah said he would make enquiries and let me know as soon as possible. (I later spoke to Johnson on the phone. He had delivered a letter to the Governor, so Mr Blount asked Akosah if he would not take any action on the message I had left with him. When he spoke to Mr Blount, Akosah said that the message from Johnson was a good idea and should help.) Akosah said that there was considerable resistance from 'our neighbours' (EAKIN) to giving us any assistance on the question of the journalists. Foreign Affairs argued that, in terms of Indonesia's relations with Australia and with other countries in the region and of importance to them, Akosah said, they were fully aware of the political importance of the journalists.
  3. I gave Akosah the details in Canberra's cables CH281199 and CH281644.2
  4. I readAkosah the context ofFretilin's messages to Channels 7 and 9 about Radio Kupang reports that UDT forces had captured and killed five Communist journalists (CH281628).3 Akosah said that his enquiries so far suggested that Radio Kupang had not made these broadcasts. After all, it would not be in Indonesia's interests for it to do so. He said he would let me know if he got any firm information about the supposed radio broadcasts.

[matter omitted]4

[NAA: Al0463, 801/13/11/5, i]