144 Cablegram to Canberra

Lisbon, 9 June 1975


Portuguese Timor

I saw Alves today. He apologised for having to cancel my appointment last Friday owing to the Angolan crisis (see our immediately following telegram).

  1. Alves said that, so far as Portugal was concerned, the London agreement with the Indonesians still stood i.e. 'the three to five years' timetable for decolonisation would be adhered to.
  2. On the Macao meeting, the Portuguese were proceeding on the assumption that it would take place as scheduled from 15-18 June. The Portuguese delegation would be led by Alves, accompanied by Almeida Santos and Campinos (Secretary of State for F.A.). If the Timorese party representatives refused to attend they had been warned that the Portuguese Government would have no alternative but to impose its own decolonisation timetable.
  3. In reply to a question, Alves said that the Timorese leaders lacked any real political case. They had a few westernised ideas about freedom and independence but they did not yet have much grass roots support, nor would they necessarily emerge as the territory's future political leaders. (In short Alves' views closely coincided with para 5 of your O.CH2269981). Hence, Portugal was prepared to soldier on for the next three to five years until a meaningful act of self determination could take place. There was no analogy between Timor and the situation in the African colonies.
  4. Alves said the Timor budget was relatively modest-about $A10 million. Portugal could bear this burden for a few more years but they were hoping for some assistance from countries such as Australia, Indonesia and Japan. In this context I mentioned the inclusion of Jackson in our delegation to Dili later this month, but emphasised that it was no more than a preliminary survey and that any Australian assistance would necessarily be modest.
  5. Asked about the Portuguese Government's ideas for the future, Alves said they were thinking in terms of a consultative body consisting of a Portuguese high commissioner, two representatives of the administration, and a representative from each of the three political parties. The high commissioner would however have a casting vote in the event of a deadlock. They would like to establish such a body as soon as possible. They were also thinking in terms of elections for a 'constituent assembly' about next October. This body would consist of about 20 elected representatives (two from each district) and two to be appointed by each of the three political parties and would begin to draft a statute defining the territory's future constitutional status. (Alves was not very specific on this point but the main purpose of such a body would presumably be to develop a local political consciousness.)


  1. From what Alves said it seems clear that, at least for the present, the Portuguese are not going to be stampeded by their own left wing into any hasty decisions about the pace of decolonisation in Timor. I told him that his views were very much in line with our own thinking. In the light of New York's UN31092 I did not raise the question of para 6 of the Committee of 24's draft decision on Timor.


[NAA: A10463, 801/13/11/1, ix]