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Secret Intelligence And Escape Clauses: Australia and the Indonesian Annexation of East Timor, 1963-76

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In September 2000 the Australian government declassified thousands of pages of documents concerning the Indonesian invasion and annexation of East Timor in 1975. Some 68,000 pages of documents were released. About 2,600 pages of diplomatic documents were withheld, along with Cabinet papers, intelligence materials, and Defence Department records. The documents cover only the period from early 1974 to mid-1976 and do not document the Indonesian war and its human costs. What they do document is the process whereby Australia acquiesced in the Indonesian annexation of East Timor. Above all, they show that secret briefings by the Indonesians kept the Australian government closely informed of Indonesian intentions and operations at every step. In the light of these secret briefings and related documents, it is clear that Prime Minister Gough Whitlam's claim that he wanted to see a "genuine act of self-determination" by the East Timorese is and always was hollow. This was a fig leaf covering his desire to see East Timor incorporated into Indonesia as West Papua had been in the 1960s. Its patina of moral responsibility and legal respectability were his alibi or, as Richard Woolcott put it in late 1974, "escape clause," if and when Indonesian actions led to accusations of Australian complicity with Jakarta. Mr. Whitlam was complicit. The record is clear.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2001-06-01

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