191 Cablegram to Jakarta, Lisbon and New York

Canberra, 27 August 1975


Portuguese Timor

The Prime Minister and Acting Foreign Minister, Mr Whitlam, made the following statement in the House of Representatives today 26th August:-


[matter omitted]

I return, therefore, to the conclusion that the first priority is to put an end to the killing and fighting and to restore order. This objective requires the active intervention of Portugal itself. It is a responsibility that cannot be shrugged off on to others such as Australia. We have no national obligations or interest in getting reinvolved in colonial or post colonial affairs in Portuguese Timor at the very time when Papua New Guinea's imminent independence is leading to the ending of our colonial role there. We have no ethnic or cultural ties with the Timorese which would suggest a role for Australia in substitution for Portugal in Portuguese Timor.

The other interested country in all this is, of course, Indonesia with whom we have been in very close touch on developments in Portuguese Timor in recent days. Indonesia has shared the Australian concern about the evident drift in Portuguese policies and, like us, ha[s] urged on the Portuguese the need to reassert Portuguese control in Portuguese Timor. We, for our part, understand Indonesia's concern that the territory should not be allowed to become a source of instability on Indonesia's borders. Portuguese Timor is in many ways part of the Indonesian world, and its future is obviously a matter of great importance to Indonesia.

Indonesian policy is to respect the right of the people of Portuguese Timor to self-determination and Indonesian leaders have often denied that Indonesia has any territorial ambitions towards Portuguese Timor. Nevertheless, Indonesia's concern about the situation in the territory has now led her to offer, if Portugal so requests, to assist in restoring order there. President Soeharto has made it clear that Indonesia would only wish to act at Portugal's bidding and that the objective would be the limited one of restoring conditions which would allow orderly self-determination to proceed.

The Australian Government has frequently stated its concern that the people of the territory should be able to decide their own future.

Whatever external efforts might accomplish, the hostility and mistrust between FRETILIN and UDT remains the main threat to future stability in the territory. This hostility and mistrust is indeed one of the most disappointing aspects of the situation in Portuguese Timor. The events of the last few weeks have dashed the hopes for Portuguese Timor which followed the change of Government and Portuguese colonial policy in Lisbon. In a little over a year, the situation in Portuguese Timor has become a very dangerous one, mainly-it must be said-because of the shortsightedness of some of the territory's aspiring political leaders.

It is a matter of record that none of the three major political groups in the territory has shown any genuine willingness to work with the others. Each demands that it alone be recognised as the sole legitimate nationalist group. None seems prepared to test its claims to lead the country through any conventional form of democratic process.

At the moment, it is not possible to predict how events will move or what constructive contribution Australia may be able to make. Our first task will be to be alert to opportunities for humanitarian assistance, but here there are real questions of practicability. We shall give what practical help we can to the Portuguese in their efforts to mediate and bring an end to the fighting. I repeat my call to the parties for a cease-fire and the ending of the bloodshed. As events develop it may be necessary for me to keep the House further informed.1


[NAA: A10463, 801/13/11/1, xii]