186 Cablegram to Jakarta

Canberra, 25 August 1975


Portuguese Timor

RefO.JA140J,1 O.JA14052

You may find following Departmental comments useful:

  1. Discussion[s] with the Prime Minister indicate that in his view we should not repeat not be in a position where we could be held to be approving in advance Indonesian intervention without a Portuguese request or in effect giving a signal to undertake it. On the other hand, we should equally not wish to be made responsible for blocking Indonesian intervention if the Indonesians for their own reasons have decided they must undertake it. We need to avoid being used to further their own views by Indonesian advisers to President Soeharto (as you suggest in para 8 of your telegram 14083 ). Equally in dealing with the press we need to be careful in our indications about how closely we are in touch with the Indonesians and in any reference to the Indonesians' consulting us about or giving us warning of intervention or seeking Australian understanding of it. For similar reasons we should be reluctant to give non-attributable background briefing as suggested in your JA1405 in advance of Indonesian intervention or at least before we kn[e]w it was an imminent certainty. We agree with the substance of the background briefing which you suggest, although we should in addition need to express the hope that the people of Portuguese Timor would still be able to decide their own future after Indonesian intervention. (We note Tjan's remarks in your O.JA1408 para 5.)
  2. Ceasefire and mediation (reference your O.JA14044 ). We see no particular problems in appealing to the parties to cease fighting in Portuguese Timor; and in the course of public comment over the next few days we should expect the Acting Minister to stress the importance of bringing the fighting in Portuguese Timor to an end. But a formal call for a ceasefire raises the question of making a ceasefire effective and may lead to pressure for Australia's participation in machinery to bring a ceasefire about. We doubt, moreover, whether even a co-ordinated appeal for a ceasefrre by regional countries would have much effect on the Timorese parties. We have some difficulties with your idea of helping, together with Portugal and Indonesia, in mediation between the Timorese parties. Would not our agreement to do so imply that our interests in Portuguese Timor were as important as those of Indonesia and Portugal? So far as mediation is concerned, the best course seems for the moment to be to await the outcome of Santos's mission, which, as we understand, is designed to mediate between the parties. Certainly it remains to be seen, as you suggest, whether he will be able to reach Dili. Also we recognise the danger that his mediation efforts could precipitate virtually immediate independence for Portuguese Timor, which in tum could precipitate Indonesian action.
  3. We are uncertain of the connexion between Santos's mission and the reported Portuguese decision to request a good offices committee from the United Nations. In any event we should be grateful for your continued reporting on Indonesian attitudes towards United Nations' involvement. We understand the Indonesians' fear of intemationalisation. But if they were to intervene in Portuguese Timor would they see some virtue in United Nations' involvement after the event, which would allow the United Nations, for instance, by noting the Indonesian action to lend respectability to it?
  4. Reactions to Indonesian involvement. The fighting in Portuguese Timor seems to have been started by the Timorese themselves without outside encouragement; and the Portuguese have publicly admitted that they are no longer capable of controlling the situation in Portuguese Timor. The international context for Indonesian intervention could therefore be regarded as favourable. On the other hand Indonesian intervention now, as you recognise in para 3 of O.JA1240,5 might not be a quick, neat military operation but would mean their involvement in an already complicated situation with the risk of Indonesian casualties. The numbers of combatants involved in the fighting in Portuguese Timor seems, however, to be relatively small. We expect tomorrow a new no assessment of the likely Indonesian capacity to bring the situation in Portuguese Timor fairly rapidly under control.6

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