222. Letter From the Ambassador in Indonesia (Allison) to the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Robertson)1

Dear Walter: I attach a memorandum of a conversation we had today with Kalb of the New York Times2 who just returned from Sumatra where he saw Simbolon, Hussein and the leaders of the Banteng group, the core of the Sumatran resistance to the Central Government. Kalb’s impressions, other reports of continued and in some cases growing defiance in the outer provinces together with growing evidence that Sukarno either fails to realize the extent and strength of this defiance or has developed a hitherto uncharacteristic inflexibility, convince me that we are, unless the situation changes some, going to have to decide whether we can afford to continue to ignore the leaders in the provinces. I would not suggest at any point in the foreseeable future that we take a stand against Sukarno and risk the emotional ire that this would arouse from his supporters through the archipelago, particularly the millions among the Javanese who regard him as almost divine. But the defiant groups in the outer provinces are the principal source of political strength of the political leaders in Djakarta who oppose the introduction of Communists into the Indonesian Government. To the extent that Indonesia is vital to the U.S. it seems to me vital also that this non- and increasingly anti-Communist group not be defeated.

Furthermore, I assume that the most vital part of Indonesia from a strategic standpoint both of the raw materials (oil, rubber, tin) and geographical location (small boat trip from Malaya) is Sumatra. Communists have, in the regiment centered in Siantar under the command of Col. Makmour3 and some 1800 armed laborers who are under Communist domination, the beginnings of an armed base. The rest of Sumatra is under control of army commanders clearly anti-Communist who have the backing of the majority of their troops and of the local population, according to the best evidence available to us. Recent reports from South Sumatra have been disturbing in their indication that the Central Government is trying to infiltrate into South Sumatra troops who will oppose and if possible unseat the commander there. After the unseating of Simbolon in North Sumatra [Page 373] with the results described above, this might be catastrophic, if successful.

The Dutch and British Embassies are afraid that conflict may break out in South Sumatra. The PKI and the left-wing PNI have been urging the Central Government to take strong action against Barlian.4 According to some good sources, Prime Minister Ali and Air Force Commander Suryadarma have been among those advocating the use of armed force against the Sumatran rebels.

. . . . . . .

Kindest personal regards.

Sincerely yours,

John Allison
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 756D.00/4–857. Top Secret; Official–Informal.
  2. Bernard Kalb.
  3. Lieutenant Colonel A. Wahab Macmour, commander of the East Sumatra regiment, one of the four regiments of the North Sumatra command.
  4. Lieutenant Colonel Barlian, territorial commander in South Sumatra, assumed control of the province on March 9.