178 Cablegram to Canberra

New York, 22 August 1975


Portuguese Timor

Ref O.CH258274 1

At first sight, difficulties in the way of the possible intemationalisation of the Timor situation tend to present themselves rather than possible courses of action. Accepting this, an operation on humanitarian grounds appears at least theoretically to offer the best prospect of obtaining recognition of Indonesia's standing in Portuguese Timor, while avoiding apparent prejudice to the rights of the Timorese to choose their own future. Could Indonesia capitalise on the evacuation by making available the personnel to administer on the ground a United Nations relief effort?

  1. The Secretary-General would almost certainly feel that he needed some form of political mandate for a United Nations undertaking in relation to the territory. Pressures on him in relation to Angola, as well as other problems stemming from the former Portuguese territories, will make him even more anxious on this score.
  2. For any sort of physical undertaking by the United Nations in Timor the mandate would probably need to be provided by the General Assembly or the Security Council. The Committee of Twenty-four is not in this sort of business although it could of course be used, and I think fairly reliably controlled, to frame a recommendation for action by the Council, the Assembly, or some other body. It is doubtful, however, that it could itself do much more on the ground than to provide a visiting mission in the normal way. Such a mission, either led by Anwar Sani or despatched when and if he takes over as chairman of the Committee in late January/early February 1976, would not really seem to get Indonesia very far into the act.
  3. Conventional United Nations undertakings would probably be limited to either a peace-keeping force or an emergency relief operation.
  4. For either of these two purposes Indonesia's standing or presence would presumably depend on its ability to contribute and deploy resources in the territory.
  5. A peace-keeping force does, however, seem an unlikely idea. It smacks of a Congo operation, it would certainly raise the question of following suit in Angola, and would mean elevating the whole affair to a full-scale Security Council exercise. This would probably prove far too constraining for Indonesian purposes and would in fact limit the room to manoeuvre generally as well as risking great power [and] non-aligned interference where little or none exists so far. On the other hand the Indonesians would probably find that a military force was the resource which [they] could most easily deploy.
  6. The possibility of a United Nations relief force (perhaps on an extended rather than an emergency basis) might be more promising. Presumably Indonesia would not find it easy to contribute large amounts in cash or kind, but could it instead think of offering the administrative apparatus? With the exodus of Portuguese and other foreign nationals a case could no doubt be made for the United Nations introducing on an emergency basis what would amount to a substitute civilian administration in Portuguese Timor at least for the limited purpose of ensuring the maintenance of essential services and supplies. For linguistic and other reasons the Indonesians, with some Portuguese support, would probably be in a unique position to make a substantial contribution of personnel. Would it be realistic to look to a contribution from India (Goa) bearing in mind the helpful position India took on Timor in the Committee of Twenty-four in June?
  7. I regret the general woolliness of this response but without having some clearer idea of what the Portuguese and Indonesians might be able to agree on before beginning an exercise in the United Nations (and such prior agreement would seem essential) it is difficult to say anything very meaningful about the prospects of obtaining a United Nations mandate or recognition of an Indonesian role under it.
  8. The Indonesian Mission was approached by the Portuguese yesterday along what appear to be generally similar lines to the approach to Cooperreported in O.LB217.2 The Indonesians contacted us but have, however, wished only to discuss the question of provision of evacuation assistance. They were given a copy of O.CH2583113 and were very anxious and relieved to establish that Australia had also been approached by Portugal. They were reluctant to discuss what the Portuguese might mean by 'internationalisation' and I did not press.
  9. Anwar Sani has decided to return to New York from Lima over the weekend.


[NAA: Al0463, 801/13/11/1, xii]