Revealed: How UK spies incited mass murder of Indonesia’s communists

Newly declassified papers show shocking role played by Britain in slaughter

By Paul Lashmar, Nicholas Gilby and James Oliver

A propaganda campaign orchestrated by Britain played a crucial part in one of the most brutal massacres of the postwar 20th century, shocking new evidence reveals.

British officials secretly deployed black propaganda in the 1960s to urge prominent Indonesians to “cut out” the “communist cancer”.

It is estimated that at least 500,000 people – some estimates go to three million – linked to the Indonesia Communist party (PKI) were eliminated between 1965 and 1966.

Recently declassified Foreign Office documents show that British propagandists secretly incited anti-communists, including army generals, to eliminate the PKI. The campaign of apparently spontaneous mass murder, now known to have been orchestrated by the Indonesian army, was later described by the CIA as one of the worst mass murders of the century.

As the massacres started in October 1965 British officials called for “the PKI and all communist organisations” to “be eliminated”. The nation, they warned, would be in danger “as long as the communist leaders are at large and their rank and file are allowed to go unpunished”.

Britain launched its propaganda offensive against Indonesia in response to President Sukarno’s hostility to the formation of its former colonies into the Malayan federation which from 1963 resulted in a low-level conflict and armed incursions by the Indonesian army across the border. In 1965 specialist propagandists from the Foreign Office’s information research department (IRD) were sent to Singapore to produce black propaganda to undermine Sukarno’s regime. The PKI was a strong supporter of both the president and the Confrontation movement.

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