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Exposed: The slaughter that Evans denied

Sydney Morning Herald - November 18, 1998

Hamish Mcdonald – Australia's ambassador in Jakarta was told by a key Indonesian army officer a few weeks after the massacre at Dili's Santa Cruz cemetery on November 12, 1991, that on the same day, Indonesian soldiers and intelligence agents had killed a further 20 to 25 Timorese around the city.

According to highly classified documents passed to the Herald, the ambassador was told that the Indonesian armed forces had initially lied to Parliament about the Santa Cruz death toll, had destroyed many bodies by burning and dynamiting, not included the follow-up killings in the death toll, and attributed blame along military faction lines.

The information was passed on privately to the ambassador, Mr Philip Flood, on December 24, 1991, by then Lieutenant-Colonel Prabowo Subianto, the controversial Special Forces officer and son-in-law of ex-president Soeharto, who was recently dismissed in connection with the violence in Jakarta in May this year when Soeharto fell. At the time, Mr Flood noted that the conversation had taken place on the basis its content would not be reported.

A later Australian ambassador, Mr Allan Taylor, retrieved the information from embassy files and with Mr Flood's concurrence, passed extracts on to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on May 10, 1994. On May 20, the department circulated it to several offices in Canberra, including that of the then Labor foreign minister, Senator Gareth Evans.

Around that time, the London-based journalist John Pilger was releasing a TV documentary on Timor, in which he reported Timorese, including Bishop Carlos Belo, alleging a "second massacre" had occurred at a Dili hospital, and claimed that Senator Evans was covering up Australian knowledge in the interests of joint oil development in the Timor Gap.

Yet, two weeks after the information was sent to his office, with a covering note from ambassador Taylor noting its relevance to Mr Pilger's claims, Senator Evans wrote in The Age on June 6, 1994: "As to Pilger's claim, in 'Death of a Nation', that a second massacre occurred in November 1991, it continues to be the case that – whether he likes it or not – the balance of available evidence is against this.

"Our assessment here is based on multiple sources of information, including contacts made over a long period, not only with Indonesian Government ministers and officials, but with East Timorese opposed to integration; with independent organisations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross; with local and international human rights groups; and with senior churchmen."

The original record by Mr Flood reports Colonel Prabowo saying that he and another senior officer linked by marriage to the Soeharto family, Wismoyo Arismunandar, suspected something wrong when then Armed Forces Chief, General Try Sutrisno, said one day after the massacre that about 50 had died, and the following day that there had been only 19 deaths.

Wismoyo had gone to East Timor and spoken to junior officers, reporting back to President Soeharto on December 11, 1991 that the armed forces report to Parliament was false. "He [Wismoyo] had told the president his assessment was that 54 people were killed in the shooting at Santa Cruz cemetery and a further 20 to 25 were killed by soldiers and intelligence agents in subsequent killings in/around Dili the same day," Mr Flood's Note said.

"Of the bodies surplus to 19, some had been burnt and some dynamited. Given the physical effort involved in loading bodies onto trucks and destroying them, many officers knew about this and it had been a relatively easy matter for him to get the facts of the situation."

Prabowo said he and Wismoyo could not find out who was responsible for ordering the troops to shoot, but half an hour had elapsed between the provocation – the stabbing of an Indonesian officer, Major Gerhan, by demonstrators marching to Santa Cruz – and the dispatch of two platoons from the Dili district military command to the cemetery. The troops opened fire upon arrival.

Mr Taylor's letter and extracts from Mr Flood's record of conversation with Prabowo – classified Secret Austeo (Australian Eyes Only) – were sent on May 10, 1994, to DFAT's then First Assistant Secretary in charge of South and South-East Asia, Mr Miles Kupa, who initialled it on May 20 and marked it for circulation to other department officials, the office of Senator Evans, and the Office of National Assessments.

The Indonesian investigation by Judge Djaelani of the Supreme Court, previously a military lawyer with major-general rank, found the shootings were a "spontaneous reaction [by soldiers] to defend themselves, without command, resulting in excessive shooting".