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Declassified British Documents Reveal U.K. Support
for Indonesian Invasion and Occupation of East Timor,
Recognition of Denial of Self-Determination, 1975-1976

By Hugh Dowson, independent researcher


Press Release

Index: A Quarter Century of U.S. Support for Occupation

The Indonesia/East Timor Documentation Project

"Timorese Parliament Should Release Truth Commission Report Immediately"
International Center for Transitional Justice
November 28, 2005

In the news

"Government lied to cover up war crimes in 1975 invasion of island"
By Richard Lloyd Parry
The Times (UK)
November 30, 2005

"Documents show Britain covered up murders of 5 journalists in RI's 1975 invasion of E. Timor"
Associated Press
December 1, 2005

"Files show complicity on Timor"
By Donald Greenlees
International Herald Tribune
December 1, 2005

"New documents expose US backing for Indonesian invasion of East Timor"
Agence France-Presse
December 2, 2005

"Thirty Years After the Indonesian Invasion of East Timor, Will the U.S. Be Held Accountable for its Role in the Slaughter?"
Democracy Now!
December 7, 2005

Related posting

East Timor Revisited
Ford, Kissinger and the Indonesian Invasion, 1975-76


On December 24, 1975, British Ambassador John A. Ford told Britain's Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in a secret telegram that Indonesian invading forces in Dili, East Timor had gone "on a rampage of looting and killing." "If asked to comment on any stories of atrocities," Ford advised the FCO in this still partly withheld telegram, "I suggest we say that we have no information."

A week later, Ford told Indonesian Foreign Ministry officials that on "the Timor business," Her Majesty's Government (HMG) "had tried to do our best for Indonesia in the UN." "Indonesia should… help her friends" in return, Ford requested, by helping to take "the wind out of the sails of those who wanted to trumpet atrocity stories." Britain's effective, low-key assistance to Indonesia in the wake of its invasion of East Timor "paid off handsomely," government officials recalled, by keeping East Timor out of British headlines and enabling the British government to support East Timor's right - in principle - to self-determination while maintaining cordial relations with the Suharto regime as it waged a brutal war against the former Portuguese colony.

As documents posted here demonstrate, the British role in Indonesia's 1975 invasion and occupation of East Timor was of critical importance. Even while it acknowledged that the Timorese were being denied their right to self-determination, the British Government was tacitly supporting Indonesia's efforts to incorporate East Timor. At the end of the Vietnam War, British post-colonial interests put it in the position both of seeking closer relations with the Suharto regime and of avoiding outright support for a denial of self-determination that might hold damaging implications for Britain with regards to the Falklands Islands and Belize, both still British colonies.

Today, as East Timor's Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation (CAVR) releases its final report on human rights violations committed in East Timor between 1974 and 1999, British researchers are releasing some of the documents they provided to assist the work of the Commission. These documents provide the first detailed account of British policymaking in the months leading up to and following Indonesia's invasion of East Timor.

Getting the Documents

These documents were released in response to a campaign by relatives of British journalists killed in East Timor 30 years ago. The relatives were assisted in that campaign by members of the British Parliament (MPs) and by public access and human rights campaigners.

The British journalists were Brian Peters and Malcolm Rennie. They were killed by Indonesian troops at Balibo, East Timor, in mid-October 1975. So were three other journalists: two Australians and a New Zealander. They are known as the 'Balibo Five'. (Note 1)

By 2002, the British relatives had the support of 150 MPs in their campaign for the release of FCO policy papers on East Timor and on the Balibo case. In that year the FCO released 17 of its political files on East Timor, dating from 1975 and 1976, to the relatives and, thereafter, to Britain's National Archives (TNA). Those files are known as the 'Balibo Files.' (Note 2) With the British relatives' agreement, independent researcher Hugh Dowson provided many papers from the 'Balibo Files' to East Timor's Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation (CAVR).

Twenty-eight papers in this selection are from the 'Balibo Files.' The others are from an FCO file on official visits to Indonesia in 1975, which was released to Hugh Dowson and then to TNA under Britain's new Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, which came into force in 2005. (Note 3)

Other requests from Hugh Dowson for Cabinet level documents on East Timor from 1975 and from the period 1998 to 1999 have been refused under national security exemptions to the FOI Act. (Note 4)

What the British documents say

When Britain's Labour Government took office in March 1974, it sought to improve relations not just with the Suharto regime in Jakarta but also with the Ford Administration and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, which had expressed a desire to bolster Indonesia's regional role and expressed worries about Portugal's 1974 revolution and the subsequent decolonization of its overseas territories

As indications of Indonesia's intent toward East Timor became more ominous, in March 1975 the Southeast Asia Department of the FCO began to formulate its 'line' on 'Portuguese' Timor, concluding that, although the British government in principle supported self-determination, Timor's eventual integration with Indonesia is probably the right answer" in terms of regional stability. (Document 1) British officials judged that the UK had no direct interest in the matter. Such apparent lack of interest casts an odd light on secret talks between Indonesian and Portuguese delegations in London on March 9, 1975. The Indonesians claimed, inaccurately, that the Portuguese made major concessions at those talks, which are regarded as among the most important discussions of East Timor held by the two Governments. Indonesia's delegation, which included the Ambassadors to London and Paris, was led by General Murtopo. The FCO assisted with those talks. An FCO paper suggests, however, that, until just before the event, some key FCO officials were not aware of the talks. (Document 2)

By July 1975, UK Ambassador Ford had concluded that Indonesian intervention in East Timor was inevitable. In a later widely circulated memo Ford observed in a memo to FCO that though Indonesia was determined to integrate Portuguese Timor into Indonesia, "within the territory the signals at the moment are clearly set toward independence." (Document 3) Ford also argued that "the people of Portuguese Timor are in no condition to exercise the right to self-determination," a position shared by many western governments. Regarding British policy, Ford rather infamously declared that "Certainly as seen from here it is in Britain's interest that Indonesia should absorb the territory" of East Timor "as soon and as unobtrusively as possible; and that if it comes to the crunch and there is a row in the United Nations we should keep our heads down and avoid siding against the Indonesian Government." Ford's letter was widely circulated in government circles outside the UK and is understood to have been highly influential. The letter achieved infamy after it was published, unofficially, in 1980. (Note 5)

A secret British Embassy letter claims that on October 9, 1975, Indonesia's Defence Minister General Panggabean stressed to Britain's First Sea Lord that the "integration with Indonesia was the only practical solution" for East Timor. (Document 10) Britain's then First Sea Lord, by contrast, sees his October, 1975 visit to the Indonesian Navy as a simple courtesy call (during which, he is certain, no discussion of East Timor took place). (Note 6) Whatever the truth, Indonesia's Admirals would have viewed the First Sea Lord's visit as evidence of Britain's tacit support: on October 4, 1975, their warships had deployed, aggressively, "off Dili." (Document 9) That covert deployment was followed, on October 6 - 8, by the covert seizure of the village of Batugade, a border post just inside 'Portuguese' Timor.

Sir Michael Palliser also visited Jakarta that October. It was a brief stop, on October 20 - 21, on a 2-month tour of overseas posts prior to his taking over as head of Britain's diplomatic service. Throughout his tour, he held "substantive talks in Ministries of Foreign Affairs." (Note 7) Three of the briefings prepared for him are posted here. The first sets out HMG's "Long-Term Interests" and "Short-Term Objectives" in "UK/ Indonesia Relations:" (Document 6) The other two set out HMG's concerns on "External Relations of Indonesia," including "Portuguese Timor." (Document 7) and (Document 8)

Palliser's visit took place almost a week into the 'Balibo Five' deaths crisis. That crisis concerned the five television newsmen killed in 'Portuguese' Timor near the border with Indonesia, including the two British citizens. The British deaths at Balibo were not raised with Indonesian officials by Palliser (who appears to have been unaware that British citizens had been killed at Balibo). (Note 8) As a result of that British silence, Indonesian officials cannot have avoided viewing Palliser's visit as a tactit endorsement of their covert invasion of East Timor.

British officials shared the desire of U.S. and other Western officials to keep the covert invasion hidden from the public. Hence the line taken by Ambassador Ford in Document 13: "The American Ambassador said at Sir Michael Palliser's dinner on 21 October that Timor was high on Kissinger's list of places where the US do not want to comment or get involved. I am sure we should continue to follow the American example."

In Australia, by contrast, the 'Balibo Five' deaths caused the government's biggest crisis in its response to East Timor's tragedy. (Note 9) The Australian press demanded that political leaders take a stand on those killings. While waiting for the Australian government response, journalist Jill Jolliffe has stated, the Indonesian military advance into East Timor was halted. Had a clear and very firm stance been taken on the deaths of the 'Balibo Five,' Jolliffe argues, East Timor might have been spared 24 years of Indonesian military occupation. (Note 10)

There were no such demands in Britain. That owed much to HMG's response to HM Embassy's advice over the deaths of the two British citizens involved: Brian Peters and Malcolm Rennie. There was local media coverage (in Bristol in 1975 and Glasgow in 1976) of family grief over deaths in a 'civil war,' and publicity efforts, in 1976, in London by Fretilin's Jose Ramos-Horta, the then MP Geoff Edge, and others. HMG's role was crucial, as some of the FCO papers posted here demonstrate.

The FCO insisted, until recently, that the Britons died in East Timor's civil war. But, as the FCO and HM Embassy knew in October 1975, the 'continuing civil war' was a cover story for an Indonesian-led covert invasion. (See Document 10, Document 11 and Document 13) On October 24, 1975, HM Embassy told the FCO that it had "suggested to the Australians" that it was "pointless" to raise the British deaths with the Indonesians. Retrospective approval was sought for "avoid[ing] representations" on the British deaths. (Document 14) FCO's approval took four days. (Document 15) Thus both HM Embassy, and the FCO, had central roles in the 'Balibo Five' cover-up. The British deaths at Balibo gave HMG an opportunity to halt the covert invasion in its tracks and, perhaps, to prevent the overt invasion. That opportunity was not taken. (Note 11)

On December 24, 1975, Ambassador Ford reported to FCO on "Confidential information" about "a rampage of looting and killing" by the Indonesian military (ABRI) in Dili. Ford advised the FCO, as Document 20 shows, that "if asked to comment on any stories of atrocities I suggest we say that we have no information." On January 2, 1976, in an Embassy internal memorandum, Ford summarised the suggestions he had just made to Indonesia's Foreign Ministry on how to avoid an international cause célèbre over atrocities in East Timor. (Document 21)

The Embassy summarized its view of the East Timor crisis in March 1976. (Document 25) The Embassy's view, overall, was that Foreign Secretary Callaghan's policy and that of U.S. Secretary of State Kissinger's, "has so far paid off handsomely. The lack of involvement has largely kept events in Timor out of the British and US headlines and away from becoming a major public issue. It was a pity that… the Australian Government could not follow suit."

HMG had many dilemmas over 'Portuguese' Timor in 1975 and 1976. The first was that good relations with Indonesia, established by HMG after 'Confrontation' and the overthrow of President Sukarno, were to be maintained despite an Indonesian takeover of an overseas territory of Portugal: Britain's oldest ally. (Note 12)

HMG may have hoped to follow Ambassador Ford's advice to "keep its head down." But when Indonesia invaded East Timor in December 1975 Britain was chairing the UN Security Council. (Document 18) To HMG's irritation, Indonesia continued to insist that no invasion had taken place. (Document 25) Indonesian likewise ignored UN Security Council Resolution 384 of December 1975 - a product of British chairmanship - which called upon Indonesia to withdraw from East Timor.

The FCO, acting in its own post-colonial interest, helped to block the legal recognition of the takeover craved by the Indonesians. It also strove to convince the Indonesian Government that HMG had not 'sided against' it. (Document 30) The FCO's purpose, it appears, was to protect British interests at the UN while avoiding upset to the Indonesians (and to the U.S. and Australian governments). Those interests concerned Belize (claimed by Guatemala), (Note 13) the Falkland Islands / Malvinas (claimed by Argentina), (Note 14) and Gibraltar (claimed by Spain). (Note 15)

The FCO expected that Indonesia might seek for East Timor a UN-approved, but fraudulent, 'Act of Free Choice' similar to that which it had organized in 1969 for the territory of West Papua. (Document 1) In May, 1976, an FCO official report alleges, UN Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim commented bluntly to the FCO that Indonesia wanted the U.N. to "legalize their 'anschluss.'" (Document 27) (Note 16) HMG also blocked an Indonesian attempt to concoct a two-stage 'Act of Free Choice' in East Timor in 1976. Ambassador Ford, who saw the 'People's Representative Council' meeting in Dili on May 31, 1976, as a "fiasco," sought the FCO's backing for UN involvement in the 'second stage' in June, 1976. (Document 29) HMG was very influential in ensuring that wide participation in both those events was impossible, FCO papers posted here indicate.

Note: The following documents are in PDF format.
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Document 1
March 5 and 17, 1975
Subject: The Future of Portuguese Timor
British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Confidential Memorandum for Ministers

A paper, prepared by Bill Squire, head of the S.E. Asian Department, after consulting other FCO departments, is forwarded by Peter Male to the private secretary to Lord Goronwy-Roberts, the FCO Minister with responsibilities towards S.E. Asia. Male is a senior civil servant: Assistant Under Secretary of State responsible for FCO's S.W. Pacific, S.E. Asian and S. Asian Departments. "The paper recommends, and I agree," writes Male, "that… Timor's eventual integration with Indonesia is probably the right answer."

Document 2
March 7, 1975
Subject: Portuguese/Indonesian Contacts
British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Confidential Internal Memorandum

This memorandum from the S.W. European Department (SWED) to S.E. Asian Department (SEAD) lists Portuguese officials who are about to arrive for talks with an Indonesian team. (This paper appears both to trivialise those talks and to validate an April 1975 claim to the British Embassy in Jakarta that SEAD did not learn about those talks until March 8. Other British officials were well aware of these talks, which, it appears, were held at a different location from the one stated here).

Document 3
July 14, 1975
Subject: Untitled Covering Letter to Mr Duggan's Report on his Visit to Portuguese Timor
British Embassy in Jakarta, Confidential Letter

Newly appointed British Ambassador to Jakarta, John A. Ford, advises senior FCO officer Peter Male that "it is in Britain's interest that Indonesia should absorb" East Timor "as soon and as unobtrusively as possible; and that if it comes to the crunch and there is a row in the United Nations we should keep our heads down and avoid siding against the Indonesian Government." This infamous cable was later leaked and published in Britain's New Statesman magazine on November 21, 1980.

Document 4
August 25, 1975
Subject: My telegram 313 (not to all): Portuguese Timor
British Embassy in Jakarta, Confidential Telegram

In August 1975, after Indonesian intelligence forces help provoke a civil war in East Timor, United Kingdom, Australian and U.S. intelligence concluded that Indonesia might launch an invasion of the territory. In this document the British Embassy warns Her Majesty's Government that the "Indonesians are now ready to launch an invasion" of East Timor "at very short notice if they choose to." This follows consultations by Mr Stuart (the Embassy's 'No 2') with the U.S. and Australian Ambassadors. "The Indonesians have promised the Australians as a concession, two hours notice if they intervene," the telegram notes.

Document 5
September 15, 1975
Subject: Untitled
British Embassy in Jakarta, Secret Letter

Ambassador John A. Ford writes to Bill Squire, Head of FCO's S.E. Asian Department, about moves "towards intervention" in East Timor. "The only limitation on clandestine activity now appears to be fear of its exposure.… A particular hurdle to be got over is a plane load of Australian journalists and politicians who are due to visit Timor, apparently at Fretilin request, to investigate allegations of Indonesian intervention." This visit by journalists was authorised by the Australian government, which lifted its ban on press visits to East Timor following the publicity generated by Australian Channel 9's visit to East Timor in August 1975 during the territory's civil war.

Document 6
September 26, 1975
Subject: Sir Michael Palliser's visit to Indonesia: 21 - 22 October 1975; UK/Indonesian Relations
British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Confidential Briefing Paper

In November 1975 Sir Michael Palliser took over as head of Britain's diplomatic service. Prior to this, Palliser agreed to a "lengthy and intensive… familiarisation" tour of British overseas posts, including the British Embassy in Jakarta. This briefing paper prepared for Palliser's visit to Indonesia sets out "Britain's Long-Term Interests" and "Short-Term Objectives" for improving relations with Jakarta. One objective listed is "to benefit from such defence sales as might be in our interest." That objective resulted from a comprehensive review in the early 1970s of UK Defence relations with Indonesia, which led to a particular effort to increase arms sales to the Suharto regime. In April 1978, some two years after Palliser's visit, British Aerospace announced its first sale of BAe Hawk 'trainer' warplanes to Indonesia; these planes, which are suitable for ground attack, were delivered in 1983.

Document 7
September 26, 1975
Subject: Sir Michael Palliser's visit to Indonesia: 21 - 22 October 1975; External Relations of Indonesia
British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Confidential Briefing Paper

This is the third of the three main briefing papers prepared for Sir Michael Palliser's September 1975 visit to Indonesia. "Indonesia's approach to foreign relations has been neatly summed up in her attitude to recent events in Portuguese Timor. She is alarmed," this paper states, but "concerned to preserve her reputation among the non-aligned nations by not precipitately taking over the territory by brute force (which she could easily do)."

Document 8
September 26, 1975
Subject: Portuguese Timor British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Confidential Briefing Paper

This Annex to the third briefing paper for Sir Michael Palliser's visit to Indonesia does not mention any Indonesian role in the August 1975 outbreak of civil war in East Timor, but concludes that "Indonesia is keeping her options open by harassing Fretilin with Indonesian troops and freshly-armed UDT and APODETI supporters." (Note 17)

Document 9
October 4, 1975
Subject: Portuguese Timor
British Embassy in Jakarta, Secret Telegram

In the wake of the leftist and nationalist Fretilin party's victory in East Timor's civil war, pressure grew on Indonesian President Suharto to approve an outright invasion of the territory. In this partially excised cable, British Ambassador to Indonesia John A. Ford advises Her Majesty's Government that Indonesia's Chiefs of Staff appear to be "preparing for early overt action. My Defence Attaché believes it unlikely that these large troop movements would have taken place unless HANKAM" (Indonesia's Defence Ministry) believed that President Suharto "would authorise early action." Ford reports, too, on a meeting today with General Murtopo. "Timor came up," so Ford "stressed the dangers of overt armed intervention particularly so far as Indonesia's position in the UN and with public opinion in the West was concerned."

Document 10
October 13, 1975
Subject: Portuguese Timor
British Embassy in Jakarta, Secret Letter

In early October Indonesian troops began launching cross border raids into East Timor from the Indonesian territory of West Timor, hoping to provoke a response that would justify a full-scale invasion. In this letter, Head of Chancery Gordon Duggan updates Lynton Jones, of the S E Asian Department of Britain's Foreign and Commonwealth Office, on the progress of Indonesian attacks on East Timor. Duggan reports on a meeting with Major General Akosah (Head, Asia-Pacific Directorate, Foreign Affairs Ministry) in which Akosah remarked that Panggabean had asked him "to prepare a paper justifying Indonesian intervention; if the invasion had taken place 'say on 1 October' the paper would have been telegraphed to posts and published the following day."

Document 11
October 16, 1975, 1730 Z
Subject: Portuguese Timor
British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Secret UK Eyes Alpha Telegram

In this Top Secret telegram, the FCO informs HM Embassy key officials in Jakarta that Cabinet Office Assessments Staff have learned "in confidence" from Britain's Joint Intelligence Committee representative in Canberra that "Indonesia intends soon to intervene covertly in strength" in East Timor. Three days earlier Harry Tjan Silalahi told Australian Embassy officials that "the main thrust" of the covert "operation would begin on 15 October… through Balibo and Maliana/ Atsabe "(The use of the word "soon" shows the British Cabinet Office to be a day behind events. Australian documents leave little room for doubt that this was intended to be the full-scale invasion of East Timor. But that, following the deaths of the British and other newsmen at Balibo on October 16, was delayed until December 1975).

Document 12
October 17, 1975, 0650 Z
Subject: Portuguese Timor
British Embassy in Jakarta, Confidential Priority Telegram

In response to warnings about an impending Indonesian invasion of East Timor, the British Embassy in Jakarta agrees with Australian intelligence assessments that the build-up should be viewed "in the context of a stepped-up clandestine operation, in which Indonesian participation continues to be limited and deniable." The telegram notes that Generals Murtopo and Moerdani, the two military officials heading up Indonesian operations in East Timor, "are out of the country at the moment on separate visits to the United States. It would be surprising if anything significant were to happen in their absence."

Document 13
October 24, 1975, 0810 Z
Subject: Portuguese Timor
British Embassy in Jakarta, Secret UK Eyes Alpha Telegram

This top secret telegram from the British Embassy in Jakarta offered a detailed assessment of Indonesian military plans in East Timor. That assessment is incorrect in one important respect - as the m.s. note from Cabinet Office Assessment Staff sources indicates. "The aim" of the "stepped up clandestine operation," it states, is "total encirclement of Dili by 15 November… This bears out our previous assessment that the President would continue to insist on a deniable operation which would cause the minimum of international fuss. So far he is succeeding." The telegram notes that the "Australians ... are in considerable embarrassment at home," a state of affairs linked, to a large extent, to the deaths of the 'Balibo Five' (two of whom are British citizens). "The American Ambassador said at Sir Michael Palliser's dinner on 21 October that Timor was high on Kissinger's list of places where the US do not want to comment or get involved. I am sure we should continue to follow the American example."

Document 14
October 24, 1975, 0835 Z
Subject: Journalists Killed in Timor
British Embassy in Jakarta, Secret UK Eyes Alpha Telegram

Although both the British and Australian governments publicly denied having concrete information about the deaths of the five British and Australian journalists in East Timor, both British and Australian intelligence were reporting otherwise. In this partially excised top secret telegram, the British Embassy reported that "British born" Brian Peters and Malcolm Rennie are among 5 journalists "killed, almost certainly inadvertently," during an attack on Balibo, East Timor, on 16 October "by Indonesian/UDT" forces. "We have suggested to the Australians that… it is pointless to go on demanding information … Their Embassy is inclined to agree but are apparently under pressure from Canberra … I think we should ourselves avoid representations to the Indonesians about them."

Document 15
October 28, 1975, 1700 Zulu Time
Subject: Journalists Killed in Timor
British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Unclassified Telegram

In this terse reply from the FCO, British officials state simply "We agree" and authorize the British Embassy in Jakarta to refrain from raising the deaths of British citizens Brian Peters and Malcolm Rennie with Indonesian military or government officials.

Document 16
November 3, 1975
Subject: Portugese Timor
British Embassy in Jakarta, Confidential Letter

By the beginning of November U.K., U.S. and Australian intelligence had all concluded that an Indonesian invasion was inevitable, though each government continued publicly call for a peaceful resolution of the decolonization process. Gordon Duggan, Head of Chancery, informs the S.E. Asian Department of Britain's Foreign and Commonwealth Office "that the Australian Embassy ... are showing a less sure touch" on East Timor. He adds that Mr Woolcott, the Australian Ambassador, "received instructions ... on 16 October to deliver a clear message to the Indonesians that Australia could not countenance Indonesian interference in the affairs of Timor." At the British Ambassador's October 21 dinner for Sir Michael Palliser, Woolcott had described how he had persuaded Canberra to modify those instructions and of how he spoke as "softly" as his new "instructions permitted" to Foreign Minister Malik on October 18, suggesting that Australian officials had decided as a matter of policy not to oppose Indonesia's pending invasion.

Document 17
December 5, 1975
Subject: Portuguese Timor
British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Confidential Guidance Telegram

As Indonesian forces prepared for their imminent invasion of East Timor and President Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger met with Suharto, the the FCO reminded British diplomatic missions that "It remains our prime aim to keep out of the controversy surrounding Timor as far as possible." This telegram states that "The extent to which Indonesia is able to avoid international opprobrium … will depend on her success in portraying an invasion as a restoration of law and order… Indonesia's future plans for any act of self-determination (which will have to be internationally acceptable) will be crucial in deciding our response and that of the international community."

Document 18
December 9, 1975
Subject: Portuguese Timor
British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Confidential Memorandum

Indonesia's invasion of East Timor posed immediate problems for the British government, which at the time held the rotating chair of the United Nations Security Council and was reluctant to condemn the Suharto regime. In this memo Peter Male, the Assistant Under Secretary of State responsible for the S.W. Pacific, S.E. Asian and S. Asian Departments refers to an urgent telephone call noting that the Australian Government "would be interested to know the extent to which" the British "would be anxious to protect Indonesia's interests… I told him that our object" is "to get as little involved as possible" in matters to do with 'Portuguese' Timor, "although our Presidency of the UN Security Council made this less easy than we would wish."

Document 19
December 10, 1975
Subject: Early Day Motion No 17: Indonesian Aggression Against Timor
British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Confidential Memorandum

Murray Simons, the new Head of S.E. Asian Department, advises senior figures in the FCO that 105 Members of Parliament (including future Foreign Secretary Robin Cook) are calling for a Parliamentary debate on East Timor. Simons worries that a Parliamentary debate would risk "widespread publicity" and might "have an unfortunate effect on our overall relationship with the Indonesians." A second official "strongly" recommends that the Leader of the House of Commons attempt to block such a debate from taking place since the British government's "attitude is perfectly clear (and impeccable)."

Document 20
December 24, 1975
Subject: Timor
British Embassy in Jakarta, Secret Telegram

Almost immediately after the invasion of East Timor Western governments began receiving reports of Indonesian atrocities. In this secret telegram, the British Embassy in Jakarta reports to the Foreign Office and the British Mission to the UN that "Confidential information … suggests that the … assault on Dili ... was badly mismanaged." The Embassy "gather further" that once the Indonesian forces were "established…in Dili they went on a rampage of looting and killing." If "asked to comment on any stories of atrocities I suggest we say that we have no information."

Document 21
January 2, 1976
Subject: Timor
British Embassy in Jakarta, Confidential Internal Memorandum

British Ambassador to Jakarta, John A. Ford, informs his Head of Chancery, Gordon Duggan, about his advice to senior officials at Indonesia's Foreign Ministry. The British Government "had tried to do our best for Indonesia" at the UN but it "might be very difficult to keep the temperature down" in 1976. So "Indonesia should do what she could to help her friends." It "would make it easier ... to react properly" to "atrocity stories" if the "acting Government" in Timor expressed "regret ... and set up some form of Court of Enquiry or Tribunal."

Document 22
January 20, 1976
Subject: The Siliwangi Division
British Embassy in Jakarta, Confidential Internal Memorandum

Richard Gozney, a junior official at the Embassy, 1974-78, relays a report that two battalions of 'green berets' from the crack Siliwangi division, numbering some 2000 troops, had participated in the invasion of East Timor.

Document 23
February 9, 1976
Subject: Timor
British Embassy in Jakarta, Confidential Internal Memorandum

Andrew Stuart, 'No 2' at Britain's Embassy in Jakarta, suggests to HM Ambassador John A. Ford, and to Head of Chancery, Gordon Duggan that the Embassy draft a report justifying U.K. policy toward East Timor. "In the real world," Stuart argues, "it is probably both inevitable and understandable that" East "Timor should be incorporated into Indonesia. The Timorese as a whole will not lose by this… If the Indonesians had achieved the takeover quietly ... most of the world would have been relieved." As it stood, Indonesia had suffered considerable diplomatic, political and economic damage, expending enormous resources "for the military operation, for the refugees, and for the cover up."

Document 24
February 10, 1976
Subject: Security Council debate on Timor
British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Confidential Letter

On December 10 1975 the UN General Assembly passed a strongly worded resolution which "deplored" Indonesia's invasion and demanded that Jakarta withdraw "without delay." The U.K. Ambassador to the U.N. then co-ordinated the shepherding through the Security Council of a watered down resolution calling on Indonesia to withdraw from East Timor and requesting a UN fact finding mission. That resolution was passed on December 22, 1975. S.E. Asian Department head Murray Simons tells Britain's Mission to the UN that far from "taking umbrage against the UK" over the UN "Security Council vote…, the Indonesians were evidently much gratified at the way the British delegation took account of their interests."

Document 25
March 15, 1976
Subject: Timor: Indonesia's Reluctant Takeover
British Embassy in Jakarta, Confidential Despatch printed by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for General (but confidential) Distribution

This lengthy report offers a post mortem on British policy toward East Timor. Ambassador John A. Ford and Embassy officials Andrew Stuart and Gordon Duggan observe to Foreign Secretary James Callaghan "that East Timor was an area in which Britain was no longer directly involved and that Britain's interests indicated a low profile… Dr Kissinger did likewise. This policy has so far paid off handsomely. The lack of involvement has largely kept Timor out of the British and US headlines and away from becoming a major public issue:" If East Timor's "crisis has any lesson for posterity," the Ambassador concludes, "that is the difficulty of developing some acceptable and practicable form of international law and morals."

Document 26
April 28, 1976
Subject: Security Council Debate on Timor
British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Internal Memorandum

In April 1976 the UN Security Council once again took up the issue of East Timor, passing another resolution which reiterated its call for Indonesia to withdraw from the territory. S.E. Asian Department official Lynton Jones recommends "capitalising now on the present understanding being displayed towards our view point by the Indonesians." He notes that although the British backed the UNSC's watered down resolution opposing Indonesia's presence in East Timor, Indonesian Foreign Minister Adam Malik wrote to the British Secretary of State thanking him for Britain's "understanding towards Indonesia's position and the support rendered by the [UK] delegation" in the recent UNSC discussion.

Document 27
May 15, 1976
Subject: Summary Record of Conversation between Mr Luard, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, FCO, and the Secretary General of the United Nations, over Dinner at the Excelsior Hotel, London Airport at 8.30 pm on Saturday 15 May 1976
Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Confidential Internal Memorandum

The meeting seems to have concentrated on Cyprus and the Middle East. On East Timor, the UN Secretary-General, Kurt Waldheim, allegedly suggests that "The Indonesians clearly wished the UN to legalise their 'anschluss'." Waldheim's view is that, "A process similar to that employed in West Irian could be considered if the Indonesians would accept it." (Caution will be wise until confirmation of such suggestions is obtained. In March 1975, Bill Squire, the then head of FCO's S.E. Asian Department, noted the potential for such a strategy: see Document-01. In August 1975, Australian Government documents show, Australian officials also considered just such a strategy). (Note 18)

Document 28
May 20, 1976
Subject: East Timor
British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Internal Memorandum

On May 31, 1976 in Dili, thirty-seven hand-picked members of what Indonesia described as a "Popular Representative Assembly" unanimously voted to petition President Suharto asking for integration with Jakarta. Few Western governments sent observers. Murray Simons, S.E. Asian Department (SEAD) Head, summarises FCO's position, observing that the Indonesians may use that event to "acquire a veneer of respectability for a speedy takeover… by associating distinguished foreigners with the 'act of choice'… The Americans and Australians dislike being manipulated but would be likely to go." He notes that SEAD is trying to "avoid the necessity of choice" by encouraging all European Economic Community Governments not to attend.

Document 29
June 4, 1976
Subject: My telegram No 174: Timor
British Embassy in Jakarta, Confidential Telegram

British Ambassador to Jakarta, John A. Ford, urges the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to back a UN role in Indonesia's East Timor takeover. The Indonesians, he concedes, "have once again proved inept stage managers. From our point of view the most serious consequence may be the loss of an opportunity for the UN to come to terms with what has happened." He adds that, "From this end we shall continue to urge the Indonesians privately to be flexible." Others, he says, are doing likewise.

Document 30
June 11, 1976
Subject: Invitation to attend Second Stage of "Self-determination" by the People of East Timor
British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Internal Memorandum

Two weeks after the staged integration ceremony in Dili, Indonesian officials held another ceremony in Jakarta where hand-picked East Timorese representatives presented their petition for integration with Indonesia to President Suharto. In this memo Murray Simons, Head of S.E. Asian Department, deplores "the element of blackmail" in an Indonesian Government invitation to attend the ceremony. "Partly at our instigation," Simons notes, no European Economic Community country sent representatives to the "'act of self-determination' " in Dili on May 31, 1976. "W e do not want to fall out with" the Indonesians, as "could happen if they got wind of the fact that ... we ... acted as 'whippers in' for countries declining their invitation." Though tacitly supporting Indonesia's takeover of the territory, Simons observes that "There is an important UK point here, connected with our attachment to the proper conduct of self-determination exercises; we have Belize and the Falklands in mind."

Document 31
July 19, 1976
Subject: Your Telegram no 138: Timor
British Mission to the United Nations, Confidential Telegram

In this telegram the UK Mission to the UN states its alarm at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's proposed "formula" on the July 17 Indonesian incorporation of East Timor. The Mission is alarmed that any FCO statement that "the question of recognition does not arise" could "be taken to mean that we accepted that the consultations conducted by Indonesia over the last two months amounted to a satisfactory exercise ... This would be damaging to us at the UN, and might have wider implications in respect of our own disputed territories."


1. A UN police investigation into the 'Balibo Five' deaths opened in August 2000. In February 2001, UN police applied for three arrest warrants in this case, one of those being for General Yunus Yosfiah. No warrants were granted but the case remained open. Indonesia's authorities declined, repeatedly, to allow the UN access to any of the 8 persons in Indonesia whom the UN wished to interview regarding this case. In December, 2005, or January, 2006, a Coroner's inquest will reopen in New South Wales (NSW), Australia, into the death of British citizen Brian Peters. Peters was the only one of the 'Balibo Five' who resided in NSW. The other four were based in Melbourne, Victoria. Inquest and British House of Commons information is at : <http://www.pressgazette.co.uk/article/230605/mps_demand_justice> Please note, however, that while Britain's Foreign and Commonwealth Office appeared to describe those deaths as "murder" in 2000 and 2003, the FCO asserted in June 2005 that it had not made any such assessment.

2. The release of the FCO's 17 Balibo Files in 2002 appears to have been under the 'Open Government' scheme (introduced in 1994 by the then Conservative Government). The FCO's Balibo Files are available to the public at The National Archive (TNA), formerly the Public Records Office, at Kew, UK. Its website is: <http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk>

3. Britain's Freedom of Information Act came into force on January 1, 2005. It is too early to say how well that Act is working. For further information, see Britain's Campaign for Freedom of Information website at: <http://www.cfoi.org.uk>

4. Those requests concern the British Government's understanding of the role of various key Australian, British, East Timorese and Indonesian figures in 1975 and in 1998-1999. Figures of concern include Allan Taylor, Richard Gozney, Tomas Goncalves, Joao Tavares and Yunus Yosfiah. In 1975, Mr Taylor was a leading recipient of Indonesian advance information on their plans for the takeover of East Timor; in 1976, he was the main author of the main cover-up report on the Balibo deaths; in 1998-1999, he was Prime Minister Howard's main advisor on East Timor. In 1975-78, Mr Gozney was an official in the British Embassy in Jakarta (see Document 22); in 1998-1999, he was head of the Assessments Staff in Britain's Cabinet Office. On Goncalves' role in 1975 and 1999, see Professor Des Ball. "Silent Witness: Australian intelligence and East Timor", in Pacific Review (Taylor & Francis Ltd., 2001, Vol 14, No 1): 47-48. Mr Tavares, the commander-in-chief of all East Timor's militas in 1999, currently faces a number of Serious Crimes Unit indictments over crimes against humanity commited then. On his role in 1975 and 1999, see ABC TV. "A Licence to Kill", March 15, 1999: <http://www.abc.net.au/4corners/stories/s20270.htm>

Yunus Yosfiah was a KOPASSUS Captain in 1975, in that capacity he led the attack in which the 'Balibo Five' died; he was Indonesian Information Minister in 1998-1999, in that capacity he presided over very important press reforms See: "No Turning Back: Indonesia's press strives to maintain its hard-won freedom" (Committee to Protect Journalists, June 1999): <http://etan.org/et99/june/1-5/1cpj.htm>; Australian intelligence leaks in 2002 show that Yunus Yosfiah helped to organise the funding for East Timor's militias. See: "Australia's bloody East Timor secret" (Sydney Morning Herald by international editor Hamish McDonald, March 14, 2002): <http://www.jsmp.minihub.org/News/15_3-5.htm>

5. Munster and Walsh. Documents of Australian Defence and Foreign Policy, 1968-1975 (Sydney, 1980): 193. That book, famously, is one that the Australian Government tried to ban.

6. Personal communications with Hugh Dowson by the former First Sea Lord (in 2004 and 2005).

7. FCO memorandum of July 18, 1975, released to Hugh Dowson in 2005.

8. Sir Michael Palliser, in personal communications with Hugh Dowson (in 2004 and 2005).

9. James Dunn. Timor: A People Betrayed (Jacaranda Press, 1983): 250. Pages 229-252 of that book are entitled: "Murder at Balibo".

10. Jill Jolliffe. Cover-up: the inside story of the Balibo Five (Scribe Publications, Australia, 2001): 5. Jolliffe has specialised in journalism on East Timor since 1975, and has researched the 'Balibo Five' killings since the day that those killings took place.

11. Had the British newsmen been held captive, rather than killed, matters might have been handled very differently. In mid-1975, then Foreign Secretary James Callaghan prevented the execution of imprisoned Briton Denis Hills by flying to Uganda for talks with dictator, President Idi Amin; in late December, 1975, Britain's Ambassador was withdrawn from Chile in response to the torture there, in November 1975, of British doctor Sheila Cassidy. Callaghan served as Britain's Foreign Secretary from March 1974 until 1976. Then, following the resignation of Prime Minister Harold Wilson, he was elected as Labour leader and became Prime Minister.

12. 1973 had marked the 600th anniversary of the Anglo-Portuguese alliance.

13. Kenneth O. Morgan. Callaghan: A Life (Oxford University Press, 1997): 443-444. Belize, formerly British Honduras, became self-governing in 1964. On December 13, 1975 Callaghan was asked by Kissinger whether a handover of Belize to Guatemala was feasible. It was not, he was told. Callaghan continued to resist U.S. pressure on the matter. Relations between Guatemala and Britain over Belize almost reached war footing in 1976-1977.

14. K. O. Morgan. Ibid: 460-462. The Falkland Islands / Las Malvinas dispute was a major issue for FCO in 1974-1975, when Argentina made strong representations about their claim. In May, 1975, Callaghan sent Prime Minister Harold Wilson a 17-page report on Falklands issues. Callaghan stressed the benefits of British co-operation with Argentina, on energy and conservation, and also the need for Argentina to be made aware that an invasion of the Falklands would be repulsed by British forces.

15. The FCO's 17 Balibo Files show that HMG had similar concerns over the Spanish claim to Gibraltar.

16. These words from the FCO text should be treated with extreme caution until verification is obtained. The role that Waldheim, an Austrian, took in West Bosnia in 1943 as an officer in Hitler's forces after Hitler's March 1938 anschluss remains as one of the many serious questions about Waldheim's career at the UN and elsewhere. See also Sue Rabbitt Roff. Timor's Anschluss (Edwin Mellen Press, 1992): 123. It was "impossible", in Roff's view, for the Australian Government to participate in Dili on May 31, 1976, due to the publicity in April 1976 over claims made about the 'Balibo Five' deaths by Jose Martins (a key East Timorese defector from the pro-Indonesian side).

17. UDT: União Democrática de Timor: Timorese Democratic Union party. UDT was formed in 1974. From January - May 1975 UDT was in coalition with Fretilin. Apodeti: Associacão Popular Democrática Timorense. Popular Democratic Association of East Timor. Formed in 1974, Apodeti was, at that time, associated with the ABRI policy of East Timorese integration with Indonesia.

18. Australian Government, documents. Ibid: documents 174 and 175.

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