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Britain's role in ousting Sukarno

INDEPENDENT (London) October 5


DOCUMENTS WHICH would reveal Britain's secret role in Indonesian politics in the Sixties that led to "one of the worst mass murders of the 20th century" and Jakarta's eventual annexation of East Timor are being kept under lock and key.

They would uncover the Foreign Office and MI6's role in helping General Suharto seize power. His regime, backed by military hardware from Britain and the United States, occupied East Timor in 1975 and killed up to one- third of the population.

The historian Mark Curtis believes Britain turned a blind eye to anti- communist massacres of 500,000 people that followed an abortive coup against President Sukarno in 1965, and may have aided the action that led to Suharto taking over the following year.

The Cabinet Office, which is in charge of "open government" policy, refuses to declassify documents at the Public Record Office at Kew and Churchill College, Cambridge. They are being held beyond the 30-year period when files are normally released. Officials cite "sensitivity" in refusing to release them.

Key documents are those of the British ambassador to Indonesia in the mid-Sixties, the late Sir Andrew Gilchrist. They include some of his personal papers. Most are open except those dealing with Indonesia. Gilchrist was a key advocate of a policy of destabilising President Sukarno.

The Independent requested the release of the Gilchrist documents in 1997. They have been reviewed but no more papers have been released.

Gilchrist arrived in Indonesia in 1962 as it was pursuing a policy of "confrontation" with Britain's former colony Malaya. By 1963, British, Malaysian, Australian and New Zealand forces were engaged in a low- level conflict with Indonesia in which British special forces and MI6 became involved.

As a result of this and the increasing power of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), Britain supported the anti-communist Indonesian military and Suharto's seizure of power. British intelligence contacted him in 1965, when he sent messengers to reassure the British that the army would not step up operations against them and to explore the possibility of ending the "confrontation".

These channels were put to good use after the abortive coup in October 1965 that triggered the rise of Suharto and the massacres.

Mr Curtis found in documents - some of which have since been reclassified by the Foreign Office - that when the Indonesian army set about eliminating the PKI, Gilchrist ensured that it knew Britain would suspend offensive operations so that it could concentrate on killing communists.

Carmel Budriardjo, a founder of the Indonesian Human Rights Organisation, said "the relationship became very close quickly" between Britain, America and the Indonesian military. Suharto was offered economic aid and the lifting of the embargo on sales of military aircraft by Britain.

Mr Curtis said that at the very least "Britain turned a blind eye to the bloody massacres and at most actively aided it. And I think there are still some question marks over the degree of that actively aiding".

Among classified papers is a letter to Gilchrist from the Foreign Office official Norman Reddaway, political adviser to the commander-in-chief, Far East. Just after the apparent communist coup attempt he arrived in Singapore. His brief was "to do whatever I could do to get rid of Sukarno".

Suharto took power in 1966 after the coup attempt linked to the PKI, whose involvement was the pretext for Suharto's elimination of it and the massacres. Sukarno's alleged involvement was used by Suharto to discredit and replace him.

The British were not alone in supporting Suharto's coup. According to open documents, one of Gilchrist's key contacts was Suharto's foreign minister, Adam Malik, later identified by the envoy as having given crucial advice to Suharto on how to "eliminate the PKI" and "undermine Sukarno's remaining power".

Malik's aide received a hit-list of 5,000 suspected communists from the Central Intelligence Agency. On 6 November 1965 the Americans fulfilled army requests for weapons "to arm Muslim and nationalist youth in central Java for use against the PKI".

Although President Suharto resigned in May 1998 after Indonesia's economic collapse and widespread civil unrest, the army still exerts enormous power in the country.

*** NOTICE: In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. ***

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