Subject: The Australian: Whitlam issues Timor rebuttal

The Australian October 22, 2000

Whitlam issues Timor rebuttal


FORMER Prime Minister Gough Whitlam has written to every member of the Federal Labor Caucus over his government's handling of the Indonesian invasion of East Timor in 1975.

Mr Whitlam's 10-page letter includes a detailed account of how he first learnt of the killing of five journalists at Balibo on October 16, 1975, and pre-empts a Senate committee inquiry next month.

Mr Whitlam's point-by-point personal chronology of the events leading up to the Indonesian invasion of East Timor in late 1975 follows earlier remarks in which he described the journalists as "foolhardy" and his former Foreign Affairs Minister, Don Willesee, as "forgetful and forgettable".

Mr Whitlam, Prime Minister during 1972-75, said three MPs, Senator Arthur Gietzelt, Senator George Georges and Ken Fry had supported the Fretilin rebel army.

"By their loud support for one party they compromised our efforts to influence all the parties," he said in the letter.

"In questions, statements and interjections they supported Fretilin while Willesee and I were using all our efforts to persuade the gutless Portuguese to carry out their responsibilities to get all three Timorese parties to lay down their arms."

Mr Whitlam said it proved impossible to demand the return of the bodies of the five journalists from East Timor because of the impression of Australian support for Fretilin.

Two of the MPs, Mr Fry and Mr Gietzelt, yesterday rejected Mr Whitlam's recollection of events.

Mr Fry said Mr Whitlam was wrong about East Timor, but could not bring himself to admit it. "I had a lot of respect for Whitlam's achievement's, but he's not a bloke who can admit he was wrong," Mr Fry said.

Mr Fry recalled that he was a member of a parliamentary delegation that visited East Timor and which reported back to Mr Whitlam that the civil war in mid-1975 in East Timor had ended. He said he told Mr Whitlam that people were returning to their homes and farms.

"The Indonesians spread propaganda instead that the war was still going on, justifying their invasion and Whitlam has been repeating that propaganda ever since," Mr Fry said.

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