166 Cablegram to Canberra

Jakarta, 14 August 1975


Portuguese Timor

I spent an hour with Head of BAKIN, General Yoga Sugama, today 14 August.

  1. Yoga began by saying he wanted to speak frankly about Timor. He wanted to make it plain that the UDT action had come as 'a complete surprise' to him. BAKIN had received intelligence indications of possible action by FRETILIN and-he added somewhat ingeniously-by APODETI. He wanted to stress that what was happening in Timor at present had 'nothing to do with Indonesian forces'. Yoga referred to a recent editorial in the Canberra Times which had stated that Indonesia was directly involved in the reported coup as a result of the recent visit of the UDT leaders to Jakarta. He also said that the Front for an Independent East Timor had alleged that Indonesian forces were involved in the coup and that Ramos Horta had been quoted as saying the UDT action was a 'CIA/BAKIN plot'. None of these allegations were true, Yoga said, adding 'I hope you will believe me'.
  2. The UDT could have only staged a coup with the acquiescence of the Army and Police. He considered Majors Mota and Jonatas were behind the coup. They wanted to get the Army out of Timor. The refugees on their way by ship to Darwin were mainly army dependants.
  3. Yoga said that it was inconceivable that an unarmed group of politicians could take over from the Administration, the Police and the Army without the backing of groups within the Administration and the Army itself.
  4. UDT had now broken the Macao Agreement. FRETILIN and APODETI must be expected to react to UDT's move and a chaotic situation would probably arise.
  5. Yoga said that it was his assessment that 'the situation was going to get worse' unless the Portuguese Government reacted promptly to stop 'this UDT provocation'. The Portuguese Government was unlikely to do so because of its own domestic problems. All it had done so far was to send Major Soares to Timor.
  6. Yoga said that he believed UDT's next move would be to attempt to 'proclaim some sort of independence'.

    UDT did not want to share power and while its main hostility was towards FRETILIN it was also hostile towards APODETI. Yoga said 'I hope we do not have to act but if we do act we must do so before it is too late and we shall do so'. In these circumstances 'Indonesia would want Australia's understanding'.

  7. Yoga then put to me a series of his rhetorical questions. 'What would Indonesia do if it got worse? What if UDT proclaimed independence? What if this unilateral declaration of independence was recognised by the Soviet Union and some of its friends? How would Australia react then? How would we advise the Indonesian Government to behave?' Yoga said that the situation was 'far too close for comfort'. Timor was surrounded by Indonesia. If it were to flare up now, would we really 'think it was right for Indonesia to do nothing', especially after Indonesia's prolonged and continuing struggle for national unity and stability.
  8. I outlined Australian policy as best I could, given the new situation and differences in emphasis in Government attitudes. I told Yoga that latent fears of Indonesia in Australia would be stirred up by Indonesian intervention and that, as the Prime Minister had told the President, Australia could not condone the use of force in Timor.
  9. Yoga said that Indonesia did not want to use force and did not want to act. The majority of the people in Timor should decide its future. But events in Portugal itself and the latest developments in Dili seemed now to preclude this. If Indonesia had wanted Portuguese Timor it could have taken it years ago. The present situation had been forced on Indonesia by events in Portugal and in Timor. It was now highly unlikely that the Portuguese Government could stay long enough to allow the decolonisation process to develop properly.
  10. I asked Yoga if, hypothetically, it came to a choice between an assessment by the President and his key advisers on the one hand that Indonesia's national interest required intervention on Indonesia's part in Timor and, on the other, their concern about Indonesia's international image, its support for the principle of self-determination and concern about the likely reactions in Australia, the United Nations and, possibly, in some other countries to Indonesian action, which would prevail? Yoga repeated that Indonesia did not want to interfere in Timor but if it came to that choice, the answer would unquestionably be that Indonesia would put its assessment of its national security first.
  11. At this stage Yoga said 'I hope we do not have to act, but if we do have to and decide we must do so before it is too late, then we shall do so. We want the understanding of our friends, especially Australia, but would go ahead without it if we had to.'
  12. Yoga added that if we saw a majority of the people accepted a UDT administration, then Indonesia would also accept it, even if UDT proclaimed independence. (Yoga was speaking rather tongue in cheek at this stage, since his other remarks made it clear that he did not envisage a situation in which APODETI or FRETILIN would accept a unilaterally declared UDT independence.)
  13. I asked Yoga what the Indonesians really knew about the present situation. Yoga said that the Indonesian Consul was cut off and the airport was closed. The last communication they had received from the Consul was that the Administration was unable to give any assurance of protection and that a number of APODETI supporters had sought refuge at the Consulate. However, Yoga said that BAKIN was getting intelligence information out now and had three men on the ground in the border area who were in touch with BAKIN.
  14. I said that when Minister1 had asked for an appointment with him on my return from Bali, he had been told that Yoga also wanted to see me. Was he talking to other representatives in these terms? Yoga told me he would brief the ASEAN and Japanese Ambassadors in broadly similar terms, but less frankly. In Australia's case, they wanted understanding and advice from a good friend. They did not expect reactions from the ASEAN countries or Japan, whatever course Indonesia adopted. Yoga said he had also talked to Janes, the Head of the New Zealand JIB, who happened to be visiting Jakarta and he intended also to brief the American Ambassador.
  15. I said that, speaking frankly, this range of people suggested that Indonesia was, in fact, preparing the ground for some possible future action. Yoga smiled and said 'not for the time being' but added that 'if chaos develops we will move to pre-empt it and we will look to Australia for understanding'.
  16. I then asked Yoga if he could tell me frankly under what conditions Indonesia would intervene in Timor. Yoga said that Indonesia will intervene if there was a breakdown in law and order and the victirnisation of APODETI supporters. Indonesia would also intervene if it appeared that the Soviet Union was about to recognise an independent UDT regime. Indonesia would also intervene if it came to the conclusion that the OPM and/or the RMS movements were going to involve themselves in the situation in Timor.
  17. Yoga added there is 'too much at stake for us'. We cannot permit 'an Angola situation on our doorstep'. A breakdown in Timor, killings and the efflux of refugees could put Indonesia in the sort of situation that India had found itself in in respect of refugees from Bangladesh. If the Soviet Union involved itself in the issue Indonesia would also be in a position not unlike that which Kennedy had found himself in at the time of the Cuba crisis. I questioned both these analogies, especially the latter. Yoga said he was only using them as illustrations. What he meant by the reference to Cuba was that the Soviet subversive and political activities in Timor could be almost as dangerous to Indonesia in the political field as Soviet missiles in Cuba had been seen to be to the United States in the military field.
  18. I suggested to Yoga that he was exaggerating the likelihood of Soviet involvement. I also suggested that the Soviet Union would give much more weight to the importance of its relations with Indonesia than to the possible advantages to it of interfering in Portuguese Timor. Yoga contested this. He said that the Soviet Union would attach very considerable importance to establishing a strategic foothold in Portuguese Timor. UDT, while originally essentially Catholic, conservative and pro-Portuguese, had a pro-Soviet left wing element in it which was strongly opposed to FRETILIN which it regarded as under Maoist influence. Yoga added that if Indonesia were to intervene in Timor it would need to do so before the Soviet Union recognised its 'independence', otherwise Indonesia could be branded as an aggressor by the Soviet bloc.
  19. (You might consider it worthwhile seeking the comments of our Ambassador in Moscow on this assessment of Yoga's.)
  20. I asked Yoga whether he was briefing me with the authority of the President. He said that he had discussed the Timor question fully with the President on Tuesday and he and General Panggabean would be seeing the President again later today. He would keep in touch with me. He was sure that because of the relations of confidence between the President and the Prime Minister the President would both want to know Mr Whitlam's views on the situation and to have 'the benefit of his advice'. He would also want to keep him informed of Indonesia's attitude. That was one of the reasons he was seeing me now. I said that it seemed we could be moving into troubled and uncharted waters and we would certainly want to be kept informed, even if our assessments and approaches to the problem differed.


  21. I have reported Yoga's views at length and where I can recall them verbatim because of the importance of the issue and the fact that Yoga is in effective charge of Indonesian policy on Timor.
  22. I think we must make the assumption that if the situation in Timor continues to deteriorate-and BAKIN's present assessment is that it will-then Indonesia will intervene.
  23. The President will, of course, make any final decision on Indonesian intervention and he will, as I have said, be reluctant to take it, although it is clear to me that BAKIN and probably HANKAM now favour this course.
  24. We could therefore face a testing time in our relations with Indonesia and the way we respond to Indonesian intervention in Timor, if it occurs, will prove an important test of the maturity of our foreign policy.
  25. This situation has come to a head due to unanticipated events in Lisbon and in Timor itself. I think we need to accept that our efforts to persuade Indonesia that an independent Timor need not be detrimental to their interests have been overtaken by these events. There would also seem little chance now of a protracted period of Portuguese disengagement from the territory which will permit orderly arrangements for the people of Timor to decide their own future.
  26. Indonesia will, of course, seek to minimise opposition, especially in Australia and the United Nations, to intervention on its part. But it will not be deterred by such opposition. If Indonesia does intervene I think we should do our best to contain the damage to the Australian/ Indonesia relationship and act to limit a recrudescence of latent hostility to Indonesia in Australia. As we agreed at the Heads of Mission meeting in Canberra last month, even if Indonesia were openly to move against Portuguese Timor we would need to do our best to minimise the damage to the long-term Australian/Indonesian relationship. This should continue to be the foremost consideration in our policy making.
  27. We should also seek to emphasise the point publicly that we are not a party principal and that it is not in Australia's interests to become deeply involved in this matter. While it is not for us to be apologists for Indonesia it is certainly not in our interests to be in the vanguard of Indonesia's critics. There are also no inherent reasons why integration with Indonesia might not prove more workable for the Timorese inhabitants than independence or continuing factional friction.
  28. I am fully aware of our consistent and public support for self-determination which is both enshrined in the Government's platform and in our general stance at the United Nations. But Portuguese Timor is now a complex and unclear situation and in the final analysis we need to make a pragmatic, practical, hard-headed assessment of our real long-term interests. There is no doubt in my mind that our relations with Indonesia in the long-term are more important to us than the future of Portuguese Timor, especially when the situation in the latter is as confused as it is, and the Portuguese seem to be losing control of the situation. I know I am suggesting that our principles should be tempered by the proximity of Indonesia and its importance to us and by the relative unimportance of Portuguese Timor but, in my view, this is where our national interest lies.2


[NAA: A10463, 801/13/1111, xi]