195 Cablegram to Jakarta, Lisbon, Lima and New York

Canberra, 28 August 1975


Portuguese Timor

Personal for Minister, Woolcott, Cooper, Harry

In deciding to provide an RAAF aircraft to carry the Portuguese officers to Atauro (our O.CH2600651 ) timing and dangers to the aircraft and its passengers between Darwin and the island had to be taken into account.2 There were also other difficult policy questions to resolve. Although inconclusive you may find it useful to have an indication of Departmental thinking on those questions, which have implications for decisions Ministers may have to take on other matters relating to Portuguese Timor as the situation develops there.

  1. On the one hand, the Australian national interest requires that, if the Indonesians do decide to intervene in Portuguese Timor, they should do so with as great a degree of international acceptance as possible. Hence our interest in some form of accounting to the UN for intervention (our O.CH2600023 and O.CH2589044 ) and in a continuing Indonesian public commitment to self-determination in Portuguese Timor, a commitment which we trust would be repeated in any Indonesian public announcement about intervention. At the least any intervention would be reported to the United Nations if only to the Secretary-General rather than to the Security Council. But the best prospect for international acceptance of an Indonesian intervention in Portuguese Timor would be for it to take place at the invitation of the Portuguese. They still play a big part politically and in any action that might be taken by others.
  2. On the other hand, while Australia is not a party principal in Portuguese Timor it would scarcely be possible for the Australian Government, having regard to public opinion in Australia and the principles which inform its foreign policies, not to help in such ways as it could in facilitating negotiations between the parties in Portuguese Timor at the request of the Portuguese Government. Though Portugal is no longer able to exercise control it is the entity still legally and internationally responsible for Timor. If the Government had failed to respond to a Portuguese request for help it would have seemed to be hindering an attempt to restore order and find a political solution in Timor and indeed to be contributing to the continuation of the bloodshed there. We should have hoped that the Indonesians would appreciate arguments along these lines, especially against the background of the Prime Minister's statement of 26 August on Portuguese Timor and his subsequent conversation with the Indonesian Ambassador. 5 In the same way, if Santos comes here we shall have to offer him assistance.
  3. We realise that, while the prospects of a successful negotiation between the Timorese parties under Portuguese auspices are at best doubtful, so long as the Portuguese see or profess to see some prospects in such negotiations they are likely to delay their approach to the Indonesians. Here we need to take into account that certain of the activities of the Indonesians themselves (see O.UN365()6) could be interpreted as rendering Indonesian armed intervention less necessary and improving prospects for a negotiation between the Timorese parties.
  4. But do the Portuguese need to see the Santos mission as necessarily precluding a request to Indonesians to assist in restoring law and order? Could not such a request be made before the Santos mission actually enters on its attempt to arrange negotiation? How indeed will the mission be able to operate, once on Atauro, without some degree of order in Dili? In a sense there has already been an Indonesian intervention, which seems to have enabled the Indonesians to negotiate a temporary ceasefire between the contending parties in Dili if only for the purpose of evacuation. Could not these negotiations be enlarged to cover wider political questions? Having had initial success, the Indonesians would seem well placed to slip into a wider role. And could not the Portuguese be encouraged formally to request Indonesia to initiate such a process which could, if successful, be enlarged and formalised to accommodate the Portuguese legal standing and role and perhaps subsume the discussions which the Portuguese hope to initiate at Atauro. Certainly, one consequence of this would be that the Indonesians would achieve some degree of acknowledged status in Portuguese Timor.
  5. Foregoing ideas could be discussed at your discretion with Indonesians and Portuguese.
  6. We note the useful outline in Lisbon's O.LB2567 of Portugal's thinking. It seems to us that the Portuguese will want to get out of Portuguese Timor with the least measure of international disapproval they can. But there must, however, be some residual fund of international goodwill towards the Portuguese because of the accelerated decolonisation the new regime has introduced, despite the bloodshed which has occurred in Angola and Portuguese Timor. The question is whether from the Portuguese point of view it is better for the Portuguese in their withdrawal from Timor to have Indonesian intervention occur, if it is to occur, at the invitation of the Portuguese or without it. Departmentally, our thinking is that Portugal's international interests would be best served if an Indonesian intervention were to occur as a result of a Portuguese invitation.
  7. Finally, without labouring the point, it might be mentioned that the thinking reflected above continues to lead the Department to the view that the best way out in Portuguese Timor will be by means of cooperation between the Indonesians and the Portuguese. We hope, therefore, that the Indonesians will make use of the Santos visit to explore the possibility of cooperation with the Portuguese, who, we think, are now showing a certain impartiality in their approach to the problem of Portuguese Timor and that the Portuguese for their part will see that cooperation with the Indonesians may enable them to extricate themselves from Portuguese Timor.

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