165 Submission to Willesee

Canberra, 13 August 1975


Portuguese Timor

Although the situation remains very fluid, the trend of events in Portuguese Timor is a little clearer. The administration, the military and UDT in Dili seem to have established something of a stand-off situation while negotiations proceed. The possibility of a reaction by FRETILIN or by the Timorese military to the recent events remains the main threat to calm.

UDT and the Portuguese

  1. Lisbon in telegram LB177 has reported that UDT has asked the Portuguese to grant independence and to imprison FRETILIN leaders. The Portuguese in both Dili and Lisbon have said that is unacceptable. But it may be that UDT's position is not as extreme as these earlier reports suggest. The Portuguese Ambassador in Canberra says, for example, that he understands from the Governor in Timor that UDT's call for independence means 'something less than independence', and indeed is to be regarded more as a bid for a 'special place' in the negotiating process with the Portuguese, and especially more special than the place accorded to FRETILIN.
  2. We agree with the assessment that UDT does not really want independence yet. Indeed a UDT 'press release' picked up in Darwin this morning lists UDT demands as follows:-
    1. Immediate departure from Timor of 'communist' members of the administration and 'communist' members of FRETILIN. (b) Continuation in office of Governor Pires.
    2. Meeting with moderate members of FRETILIN 'to work together to constitute a movement for independence'.
    3. Access to Dili to be controlled by UDT.
    4. 'After movement for independence has been created, the Governor is to continue his plan of work in Timor without any more confrontation with the Timorese people so that Indonesia clearly understands our intentions.'
  3. The press release is signed by Joao Carrascalao as 'UDT Operations Commander'. Previous messages have been in the name of Lopes da Cruz, the UDT President, and the appearance of Carrascalao, one of the more impressive politicians in Dili, may indicate that a calm and very capable hand has come upon the scene. The press release points the way towards a restoration of order, under the Portuguese, and also towards renewed contacts between FRETILIN and UDT. The demands that 'communists' (which we take to mean half a dozen FRETILIN activists and a similar number of prominent AFM personalities, including Majors Mota and Jonatas) be removed may be difficult, but the tone of the UDT messages is clearly much calmer now. The reference to the Governor is interesting: clearly UDT had feared that Lisbon might be thinking of replacing him.

    Portuguese Special Emissary

  4. The other major development is the report from Lisbon that a Major Antonio Joao Soares from President Gomes' office is to be sent to Dili as a special Presidential emissary. He is likely to leave Lisbon on 13 August, presumably arriving (if possible, via Darwin) on 14 or 15 August. Major Soares has told our Embassy in Lisbon that the greatest danger at the moment lies in the possibility of conflict between UDT and FRETILIN though he was hopeful that cooperation between moderates of both parties might be possible. Soares said that he would have an 'open mandate' from the President to 'report and recommend'; the Macao decolonisation program could be regarded as flexible. No decisions would be taken until his return. 1
  5. The Portuguese Ambassador in Canberra believes that UDT will welcome Soares' visit. The Ambassador made the point that Soares came from the President's office and thus would not be regarded by UDT as being tied to what they regard as the 'communist' government of the Prime Minister. The Ambassador has several times emphasised to us the importance of the position of the President in decolonisation policy, including Timor.
  6. The Ambassador offered some further comments on the apparent shakiness of the Portuguese military position in Dili at the time of the UDT action: the Timorese military have very recently suffered a pay cut (in line with Lisbon economy measures) and the Governor was awaiting the arrival of a contingent of replacement Portuguese military. He was thus rather doubtful about the loyalty of the Timorese military and the Portuguese military were short-staffed. Hence the order for evacuation of dependents and non-involvement of the military in Dili.

    Indonesian reactions

  7. Our reports on Indonesian reactions remain uneven, but the overall picture still seems to be one of uncertainty as to how to handle the situation. We do know that there has been renewed activity along the border, though not in any large-scale sense. The situation remains one of which Indonesia could well be tempted to consider taking advantage in some way. It may be worth noting that 17 August is the anniversary of the proclamation of Indonesian independence and some celebrations had been planned by APODETI.
  8. Jakarta in telegram JA1139 has reported that General Yoga has decided to send a 'special team' to 'the area' to investigate, arriving 13 August. The President has agreed that the situation would be reviewed when the team returns. We assume that the team will travel to Atambua near the border with Portuguese Timor from where the Indonesians have remained in close touch with events in Portuguese Timor especially in the border areas. Our impression is that the Indonesians have not received as much information on events in Dili as they would have wished.
  9. High Indonesian officials have commented to our Embassy that the 'undemocratic and opportunistic['] UDT action has left APODETI as the only 'responsible and democratic' group in Portuguese Timor; but we do not believe that the Indonesians are under any illusions about the strength of APODETI throughout the country, though its strength in some areas may be increasing.

[matter omitted]2


First Assistant Secretary

South-East Asia and PNG Division

[NAA: Al838, 3038/10/1/2, i]