Subject: SMH: Secret papers confirm East Timor cover-up

also: Canberra given notice of Balibo attack

Sydney Morning Herald September 13, 2000

Secret papers confirm East Timor cover-up

By HAMISH McDONALD Foreign Editor and agencies

Australian diplomatic cables released yesterday covering Indonesia's takeover of East Timor in 1974-76 show officials caught in a web of deceit and moral compromise that led to a foreign policy disaster.

Revelations in hundreds of pages of until now secret documents include:

Foreign Affairs officials "sanitised" the official record of talks on East Timor in 1975 between the then prime minister, Mr Gough Whitlam, and Indonesia's president Soeharto.

Australia was told of Indonesia's planned invasion of East Timor three days before the attack on Balibo that killed five Australian-based newsmen;

The night of Indonesia's invasion, Australia's Ambassador in Jakarta, Mr Richard Woolcott, had "a long and very frank discussion" with the Indonesian general in charge of the operation, Benny Murdani.

One of the most damning revelations is the evidence that Australia's official diplomatic records on East Timor were sanitised.

In April 1975 a senior Foreign Affairs official, Lance Joseph, sought to explain to the Australian Embassy in Jakarta why Canberra's official record did not reflect accurately talks just held in Townsville between Mr Whitlam and Soeharto, following complaints from the Indonesians.

What Indonesia had been shown, the official wrote, was the sanitised version of the record. "For presentational purposes it was felt important in the sanitised version to highlight Australia's commitment to [East Timor's] self-determination in a way which is not reflected in the exhaustive record."

The documents' release by the Foreign Affairs historical unit chronicles one of the most intense periods of Australian diplomacy and reignites the debate over East Timor, with former senior diplomats and politicians moving yesterday to defend their reputations.

The released documents show Canberra doing what the then ambassador Woolcott called "having its cake and eating it" - backing Indonesia's aim of incorporating Portuguese Timor, yet supporting the right of the territory to self-determination.

Mr Woolcott told the Herald Australia had warned against the use of force, and rejected the notion of being "compromised" by being told too much by the Indonesians.

"Could you imagine the criticism that would have fallen on the government and the embassy if the embassy had not been well informed about Indonesia's intentions in 1974 and 1975?" he said, referring to recent events in Fiji and the Solomon Islands.

The former prime minister Mr Malcolm Fraser, who succeeded Mr Whitlam, said yesterday that he was not told of intelligence reports about Indonesia's plans to invade East Timor when he became Australia's caretaker leader in 1975. "I didn't know the Australian government had that information," he told AAP. "The Department of Foreign Affairs did not brief me to that effect when I became prime minister or caretaker prime minister."

The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Downer, supported the act of "transparency" in opening the records six years ahead of the normal 30-year rule, and refused to pass judgment on the Whitlam government, knowing that the documents are damning enough.

The Opposition foreign affairs spokesman, Mr Laurie Brereton, said the release "bears the taint of political partisanship" as it did not extend to 1979, showing the Fraser government's knowledge of atrocities after the invasion, and its decisions to recognise Indonesian sovereignty.

Significant intelligence assessments on the invasion remain classified. However, Mr Downer said they would not tell a different story.

On the killing of the newsmen, Mr Downer said this was covered by a full selection of documents. They showed "Foreign Affairs had no information beforehand of any intention to kill the journalists, although it did have prior knowledge of the planned invasion".

Sydney Morning Herald September 13, 2000

Canberra given notice of Balibo attack

No check was made to see if any Australians were in the area before Indonesia's attack, Foreign Affairs documents show. Hamish McDonald reports.

As Indonesian covert soldiers moved into position for the October 1975 attack on Balibo that was to kill five Australian-based newsmen, Australia's ambassador in Jakarta, Mr Richard Woolcott, was having a "long and very frank discussion" with the Indonesian general in charge of the operation, Benny Murdani.

The account of this meeting, on the evening of October 15 and following General Murdani's return the previous day from a week in the Indonesian-held village of Batugade preparing the attack, makes disturbing reading.

Apart from reinforcing the case that Canberra's diplomacy had become thoroughly compromised, it shows that had Mr Woolcott been aware the journalists were in the line of attack, he could have intervened with General Murdani at the 11th hour to seek their protection.

But there is no evidence in the documents released yesterday that Mr Woolcott and his embassy, or the Department of Foreign Affairs back in Canberra thought Australians might be in the border region of Timor near Balibo.

The Jakarta embassy told Canberra on October 13 that the attack would start on October 15 (it was launched about 11pm local time with long distance mortar fire), and that Balibo would be the first target. This was brought to Foreign Minister Don Willesee's attention on October 14.

But Foreign Affairs did not appear to make any effort to find out the location of Australian journalists and aid workers in Portuguese Timor, and warn them to stay out of the danger zone. The head of Foreign Affairs, Alan Renouf, reacted angrily when Mr Woolcott cabled on October 18 that he assumed the department had "firmly discouraged" Australians from visiting East Timor "including the border area".

He pointed out that the embassy had reported the hostility in anti-Fretilin circles towards Australians, and that on October 13 the embassy had reported a warning that the UDT party would "probably kill [the Australian aid activist Michael] Darby if he fell into their hands". (The cable with this warning is not included in the volume of selected documents, Australia and the Indonesian Incorporation of Portuguese Timor, 1974-1976.)

The embassy had advised much earlier, on September 30, that key intelligence sources said President Soeharto had authorised increased assistance to the anti-Fretilin forces in Timor, and that up to 3,800 soldiers from Java would be gradually inserted into Portuguese Timor.

As the volume does not include intelligence material, we still do not know whether other agencies had put this advance notice together with the reports from the border by Greg Shackleton that were appearing on Channel 7 in Canberra and Melbourne (where all the intelligence agencies were then based).

The volume sheds no light on the question of Defence Signals Directorate interceptions of Indonesian radio messages before the attack that might show the Indonesians were aware of foreign journalists being in Balibo and that they were targeted to eliminate witnesses.

However, it does inferentially show that soon after the attack on October 16, DSD heard the Indonesians say that the bodies of four white men had been found in Balibo.

Officials said yesterday the Foreign Affairs historians who compiled the volume were shown this intercept, and the only other Balibo intercept DSD claims to have in its records, reporting that the bodies had been burned later the same day.

(In our book, Death in Balibo, Lies in Canberra, the Australian National University intelligence expert Desmond Ball and I report several former officials as saying that DSD did make an intercept several hours before the attack showing the newsmen would be targeted. We concluded this intercept had been withheld from normal distribution in Canberra).

That the October 16 intercept referred to only four bodies provides some excuse for the reluctance of Canberra to use it to confirm the deaths to the bereaved families: it was possible that one journalist, not known who, was still alive.

Even on November 6, the embassy official sent to investigate in Kupang, West Timor, Richard Johnson, reported information that the fifth journalist was being held captive in the Oecussi enclave. Mr Johnson said yesterday this came from an Indonesian journalist in Kupang, and was never corroborated.

The volume confirms that the Foreign Affairs mission to East Timor in April-May 1976 to investigate the Balibo deaths, led by the then political counsellor in the Jakarta embassy (and present head of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service), Allan Taylor, was a stage-managed affair. The Taylor team sent two reports to Canberra, one for public consumption, the other a backgrounder for the department.

The public document, presented by then foreign minister Andrew Peacock to Parliament, included accounts by Timorese anti-Fretilin leaders that only UDT and Apodeti partisans had been involved in the attack, and that the journalists had died in a hail of gunfire and their remains identified only much later.

The report said this account had "a certain plausibility" although Mr Taylor would have known from all his contacts with Indonesian operatives and access to intelligence material that in many respects the accounts were fictitious.

The second report includes the Indonesian Army's choreography of the visit, and mentions that Mr Taylor had lunch in Dili with General Murdani and Colonel Dading Kalbuadi, who had been the operational commander of the Balibo attacking forces and had gone into Balibo within an hour of the journalists' deaths.

There is no record that Mr Taylor asked Colonel Dading any embarrassing questions. He does report General Murdani as saying the presence of Indonesian troops was being concealed from the Australian mission (Jakarta then insisted there were only "volunteers" in East Timor). General Murdani told Mr Taylor: "You have seen the official side, this is the unofficial side."

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