335 Cablegram to Canberra

Jakarta, 12 November 1975


Timor: Deceased Australian Journalists

After daily pressure since the weekend I saw General Yoga this afternoon 12 November.1

  1. Yoga said he regretted to inform me that all the evidence BAKIN had acquired now indicated that the five journalists (2 Australians, 2 British and one New Zealander) were dead.
  2. Yoga handed me a letter dated Balibo on the 3 November and signed by the Rajah of Atsabe. The full text is in my immediately following telegram.2 Yoga also handed me some documents, including three passports and one health certificate, the inventory of which also follows by separate telegram.3 In addition Yoga produced a box of photographic equipment and four repeat four boxes of remains.
  3. Yoga apologised for the delay which he blamed on poor communications in the border area and the movements of relevant UDT and Apodeti personnel.
  4. I said that in Australia the question of legal proof of death was a complex one and asked was it not possible to obtain an eye witness account of the deaths of the journalists which would be more satisfactory than the letter from the Rajah of Atsabe. Yoga said given the movements of troops this would be impossible. The Indonesians will I believe do no more. I also asked Yoga why there were four sets of remains and not five. Yoga said that spBAKINg frankly they had obtained through Atambua one box of remains which they had divided into four. No remains had been located in respect of the body found separately.
  5. I asked Yoga whether he was quite confident that all five journalists were dead. He simply said 'yes'.
  6. I said a number of Australian press reports maintained that the Australian journalists had been killed by Indonesian troops. Yoga insisted with some anger that this was Fretilin propaganda. He had gone out of his way to meet Australian demands for assistance. He added that the five journalists were with Fretilin forces and had stayed on after they had been warned to leave. They were foolish and their deaths were essentially their own fault. It was regrettable but this happens in wars. Yoga added that Indonesia would not issue any statement on the matter. Balibo was in Portuguese Timor but Indonesia had used its good offices to help us. It did not want to react to each example of Fretilin propaganda. If an Indonesian Minister were however asked at a press conference, he would of course strongly deny the Fretilin allegations. Indonesia would not however take the initiative in this matter.
  7. The Embassy Medical Officer Dr Will has examined the remains and confirmed that to the best of his knowledge they are human remains.
  8. We shall return all the documents and equipment listed in our related telegram by airfreight but would like further instructions on what to do with the four boxes of remains.4


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