153 Report by Taylor and Curtin

July, 19751



Prospects and Conclusions

  1. Our conclusions flow from impressions and observations formed very close to a very unusual and uncertain political situation. We are aware that there may be some differences between the views of the Administration in Dili and the Government in Lisbon, but we believe that an understanding of the approach of the Administration in Dili, as the authority putting the decolonisation program into effect, is important. The Administration is in close contact with the policies and mood of the Armed Forces Movement in Lisbon.
  2. Our main conclusion is that there are at present no good grounds for belief that the Timor problem will be resolved smoothly. Indonesia is in no way resigned to acceptance of an independent East Timor, yet the Macao program and the general trend of Timorese political development is clearly moving in just that direction.
  3. But there is a long way to go and there are many uncertainties. How will relations between FRETILIN and UDT be sorted out? How might APODETI, perhaps working from within the decolonisation machinery, become obstructive? How will Portuguese/Indonesian relations develop? What of political and budgetary developments in Lisbon? When and how will it dawn on the people that the Portuguese are going?
  4. The Timorese can hardly be expected to come quickly and calmly to terms with what to them is an astounding turnabout in Portuguese policy. There are many other questions yet to be asked and answered. Nobody in the Administration believes that the Macao program is going to be a straightforward one. The decolonisation process, even if it takes only three to five years, and so long as it is not cut short by Indonesia, will almost certainly be a tortuous and difficult one. There will be many alarums and excursions along the way. The lines of the program are now being firmly set, but the point-of-no-return (towards independence) has not yet been reached.
  5. The Portuguese government can say that it has adopted a very correct position on the process of decolonisation (not the same as for the African colonies), ensuring that there is no formal commitment in advance to 'independence' as the result of the people's decision on self-determination, and that APODETI has, on paper at least, the same opportunities as the other recognised parties. The Portuguese say that they want Indonesia also to adopt a correct line; a more constructive and less underhand approach. Nevertheless, the Portuguese believe that even such an approach would be most unlikely, on its own, to produce a majority in favour of joining Indonesia. (We should add that even if the degree of understanding between the Portuguese and Indonesian governments is a little stronger than appears in Dili, we were able to detect very few signs that the Portuguese were doing anything on the ground to inform the people that one possible legitimate outcome of a process of self-determination would be a decision to join Indonesia. The Portuguese, arguing that they cannot be expected to hand the territory over to the Indonesians 'on a plate', believe it to be their responsibility to give the Timorese every opportunity to choose to be independent.)
  6. Short of the use of force (not necessarily an outright invasion) by Indonesia, there seem to be two ways in which 'integration' could be achieved. First, by the Portuguese providing considerable assistance: for instance, by making it absolutely clear that they were leaving Timor, by telling the people that 'integration' would be the best guarantee of the future political and economic security of the territory, and by allowing the Indonesians a fairly free organisational hand in the territory. At this stage this does not seem likely. The other way would be through a serious breakdown in the political process and a collapse of Timorese morale leading to a reluctant acceptance that there was no realistic alternative to joining Indonesia. The seeds of such a breakdown certainly exist, but at this stage there are no sound grounds for saying that one will occur. Much will depend on FRETILIN's attitude towards participating in the decolonisation process, and on whether and how APODETI (and possibly FRETILIN) seeks to disrupt it. Indonesia's actions, of course, will be very important; and Portuguese reactions also.
  7. In the event of a breakdown in the decolonisation process, especially if this were in some way inspired by Indonesia, the Portuguese might well decide to hand responsibility for the territory over to the United Nations. This is a possibility which the Portuguese believe should act as a deterrent to Indonesian interference.
  8. One element of uncertainty is whether Indonesia could find it possible to acquiesce in an independent East Timor governed by essentially moderate and conservative political forces (for example, UDT and even the less 'radical' arm of FRETILIN) which were prepared to offer reasonably firm assurances of regional good-will and cooperation. Could East Timor come under the protective wing of the countries of the region, and blend in with the region? The Portuguese are clearly hoping that the Indonesians will give serious thought to this.
  9. While there is no doubt that Portuguese Timor is sorely in need of economic assistance, we have some doubts, in present circumstances, about the wisdom of more than a very small Australian aid program. Australian aid would very probably be exploited by the pro-independence parties in support of their platforms.
  10. We recommend that visits by Jakarta and Canberra-based officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs should continue. There is no doubt that the best information about events in Portuguese Timor can only be gained on the spot. Such visits should be short and not more frequent than once every ten to twelve weeks.
  11. It is our firm recommendation that Australia should remain as uninvolved as possible.

[NAA: A1838, 49/21111, vii]