167 Cablegram to Canberra

Jakarta, 15 August 1975


Portuguese Timor

I had a very frank and interesting discussion lasting over an hour with Malik this morning, 15 August.

  1. Malik told me that he had spent several hours yesterday afternoon discussing Timor with the Minister for Defence, General Panggabean, and the Head of BAKIN, General Yoga Sugama (Yoga's views were fully reported in our O.JA1201).1 Malik said that following these discussions he, General Panggabean, General Yoga and General Ali Murtopo (and possibly others whom he did not mention) discussed the Timor situation with President Soeharto this morning. Malik said that HANKAM and BAKIN (Yoga, but not Ali) had argued for Indonesian intervention in Timor. He, Malik, had argued strongly against it. Malik said that the President had agreed with him that Indonesia should not repeat not intervene, at least for the time being. This confirms what we have known for some time, namely that Ali Murtopo is a 'dove' on Timor. It would have been Ali rather than Malik who would have been more likely to have influenced the President in coming to this decision.
  2. Malik said that he had argued while the DDT action was a 'provocation' it would be wrong for Indonesia to 'stop one provocation by another provocation of its own'.
  3. Malik said that he had persuaded the President that Indonesia's first step must be to persuade the Portuguese Government in Lisbon to assert its control in Timor. The UDT did not have sufficient support to stand against Portugal if the Governor and the local Administration backed up a Government decision in Lisbon to reassert its authority.
  4. Malik said that they would be putting these views strongly to Major Soares in Jakarta today where he is en route to Dili. I asked Malik how he would get to Dili in present circumstances. Malik said that they would take him as far as the border and if necessary provide transport for him to make his way to Dili.
  5. I said there seemed to be some evidence that the Administration and the Army has stood aside and virtually allowed UDT to take control in Dili. Could they now be persuaded to dislodge UDT and assert their strength? Malik said that UDT really only controlled Dili and, in any case, Indonesia had to succeed in persuading Portugal to do so. He had reports that the left-wing group of FRETILIN was already preparing in the hills near Dili for counteraction and APODETI was also preparing in the border area for counteraction. These developments had to be arrested. If the Portuguese Government was unable to reassert its control Indonesia should offer to assist the Administration to do so. Malik also said at this point that it would be in Australia's interest to see Portuguese control reasserted and said that, if asked, we should consider helping also. I said that I had no very recent policy guidance from Canberra but I did not believe we would wish to become involved to this extent. Malik also said that it was most important that Timor be isolated from external influences and that there should be naval patrols-possibly joint naval patrols with Australia-to prevent arms being smuggled into Portuguese Timor by sea. (He did not respond to my question as to who might seek to smuggle arms into Timor.)
  6. Malik asked me what Australia's attitude to the situation was, as Yoga had done yesterday, and I would suspect that there is a tendency for the disputing parties to suggest to the President, either that friendly regional countries would or would not object to Indonesian intervention depending on their own attitudes. So I told Malik that, as far as I knew, our policy had not been redefined in the new circumstances which had arisen. However, I was sure that while we would not want to be involved ourselves we would not want to see wide-spread disorder develop in Timor. Nor would we want to see the people of Timor denied the opportunity of working out arrangements to determine their own future, if such arrangements could still be worked out. I also said that I did not believe the Australian Government could condone the use of force in the present changed circumstances. Malik said he was pleased to hear this because the HANKAM people (I have not seen General Panggabean since my return from Bali) were strongly urging the President to sanction intervention. Malik also said that it had been planned that APODETI should declare its own independence and wish to merge with Indonesia on August 17 and that army intervention would be used if necessary from Indonesian Timor to back this up. Malik said that he had argued strongly against this course of action and the President had instructed that this plan not repeat not be followed. Malik said he had been in touch with APODETI leaders and they had agreed not to take this action.
  7. Malik said that he had argued to the President that if Indonesia were to use force at this stage it would create hostility towards Indonesia within Timor itself and it would inevitably do some damage to Indonesia's standing overseas. The people of Timor were not ready yet for independence or for integration with Indonesia.
  8. I said that I had formed the impression in recent months that it was decided Indonesian policy to achieve the incorporation of Indonesian Timor within Indonesia, despite public support for the principle of self-determination. Since we were speaking frankly, was this so? Malik said 'yes', but added that integration should and could in his view be achieved on the basis of the Macao Agreement (that is through elections in 1976).
  9. I said to Malik that BAKIN believed there was a danger that the UDT would declare independence unilaterally and the Soviet Union would recognise it. I added that I had told Yoga that I found this improbable. Malik said he did too adding that this aspect of the situation had been discussed between him and Yoga with the President this morning. Malik said that he had strongly asserted, partly on the basis of previous discussions with the Soviet Ambassador, that the Soviet Union would attach much more importance to its continuing relations with Jakarta than with involvement with an unstable, self-proclaimed government of a mini-state. He believed the President had agreed with him rather than Yoga on this matter although Yoga had stuck to his guns.


  10. Malik has sometimes in the past proved an unreliable source so I questioned him as closely as possible. He repeated categorically that the President agreed with his presentation after what Malik described as a fairly intense session, during which Yoga and Panggabean had put strongly the case for early intervention.
  11. On this occasion I am inclined to accept Malik's presentation. This would mean that the situation is less potentially explosive than it appeared after my discussion with Yoga yesterday. However, the danger remains, especially if Portugal is unwilling or unable to reassert its authority and if there is a breakdown of law and order or wide-spread strife in Timor. Moreover, Malik is leaving the country on 19 August to go to Lima2 and the General Assembly.
  12. As I said in paragraph 24 of my O.JA1201, the President will make any final decision on intervention. He is a thoughtful, subtle, cautious man but quite capable of taking decisive action once he has made up his mind. For the time being he seems-if Malik's account is accurate-to have decided on pressing Portugal to reassert its authority and wait to see how events in Timor unfold. This does give a breathing space and you might well consider the merits of our also urging on Lisbon the need to reassert Portuguese control over the situation in Dili. If Malik has conveyed the situation to me accurately, and I will do my best to check this with Yoga or Ali, then it seems that the immediate danger of intervention has receded. But much will still depend on events in Lisbon and in Timor itself.


[NAA: AJ0463, 801/13/1111, xi]