Countdown to an Indonesian Coup

West5Sunday, 22 January 1950. Turk Westerling was the most casually dressed warlord the press men had ever met. Reuters and Australia’s The Herald had a man each at this exclusive interview with Indonesia’s public enemy number one. No guards, no guns, just an old-fashioned colonial bungalow somewhere outside sweaty Bandung and a tough, sun-tanned Dutchman crushing the life out of one cigarette and lighting another.

Westerling wore a white polo shirt and khaki trousers. One journalist noted the brown socks and street shoes. The other jotted shorthand about the expensive gold watch and the gold ring set with a black stone.

The Turk had spread himself all over the international press with his threats to the new United States of Indonesia government. The country was independent, the Dutch had gone home, and everything was supposed to be peace and liberty. Then Westerling (‘a mystery man‘ according to local politicians) came out of nowhere and tore the place apart. The news agencies wanted a closer look.

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The Turk Westerling Affair

westerlingThe Frenchman in the passenger seat pointed out the house. It was early evening in the Friesland village of Marshum and the house windows glowed warm and yellow through the falling snow. François Brigneau had been hunting Westerling for days.

Brigneau was a Paris-Presse journalist with a shelf full of awards and a murky past. His wheelman was a handsome journalist called Henri Gault. In a decade’s time Gault will invent the term nouvelle cuisine. Right now he is a cheerful Paris-Presse restaurant critic with enough time on his hands to drive Brigneau round Holland looking for a mysterious Dutch adventurer. Until yesterday they were not having much luck.

“Where is Westerling?” Brigneau asked his contacts.

“Who is Westerling?” said his contacts innocently.

Turk Westerling was the most notorious man in the Netherlands.

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