How UK helped topple Sukarno

By SIMON MANN, Herald Correspondent in London

Britain's intelligence services manipulated the world's media in the mid-1960s as part of a plot to overthrow Indonesia's president Sukarno, whose fall triggered the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of communist sympathisers.

The BBC, the Observer newspaper and Reuters news agency were all duped into carrying stories that had been manufactured by British agents. The dirty tricks campaign, formulated in the face of a growing communist influence within Dr Sukarno's government, was orchestrated from London, the Independent on Sunday reported.

According to Foreign Office documents, a letter marked secret, from a British propaganda expert to the British ambassador in Jakarta, Sir Andrew Gilchrist, boasted of the media campaign to destabilise the left-leaning Dr Sukarno by suggesting his rule would lead to a communist takeover, the report said.

One planted story "went all over the world and back again", wrote the propagandist Mr Norman Reddaway to Sir Andrew, while other information was "put almost instantly back into Indonesia via the BBC".

The misinformation included suggestions that Indonesian communists were planning the mass slaughter of citizens in Jakarta. Instead, Muslim youth groups and the armed forces massacred between 500,000 and 2 million communist sympathisers in 1965 and 1966, after former president Soeharto seized power in the bloodiest episode in modern Indonesian history.

The Independent, said Mr Reddaway's letter also bragged that newsmen "would take anything from here, and pestered us for copy".

He had been sent to the region to bolster British efforts to overthrow Dr Sukarno and embarked on an extensive campaign of placing stories with various correspondents and also with the magazine Encounter, which, it later emerged, was being funded and controlled by the CIA.

The letter also suggested that the Observer had been persuaded to accept the Foreign Office "angle" by reporting a "kid-glove coup without butchery".

Last month Indonesia's President Abdurrahman Wahid gave his backing to a judicial inquiry into the massacres of 1965-66, promising to punish those found guilty.

Mr Denis Healey, the Labour minister in charge of defence at the time of the campaign, yesterday admitted that the intelligence war in Indonesia had spun out of control.

The papers relating to the time were uncovered by Dr David Easter, a historian at the London School of Economics, whose research is to be published this week in the journal Intelligence and National Security.

Dr Easter said these destabilisation operations included supplying arms to separatists in the Indonesian provinces of Aceh and Sulawesi.

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