211 Submission to Whitlam

Canberra, 4 September 1975


Portuguese Timor

The discussions with Dr Santos on 1 September deadlocked on two fundamental questions. First, the Portuguese were concerned to shed some of the responsibility for inviting Indonesian intervention in Timor on to Australia. They thus pressed for the proposed Joint Authority to be established prior to Indonesian intervention and maintained that it should be the Joint Authority and not Portugal which should take the responsibility for inviting the Indonesians in. This was unacceptable to Australian Ministers.

  1. Secondly, the Portuguese pressed for some national Australian contribution to the proposed intervention force. Ministers explained that Australia could not involve itself militarily. We were prepared to make only a civilian humanitarian contribution. If pressed, however, and if this were the only factor preventing the clinching of an agreement, we assume that Ministers might reconsider the question of an Australian service contribution provided that this contribution was seen to be tied to humanitarian tasks.
  2. The discussions with Dr Santos did not permit more than a cursory review of other aspects of the proposal for a Joint Authority. But it seems clear that the Portuguese envisage a substantive role for the Authority in directing and controlling the Indonesian task force, while telegrams from Jakarta suggest that the Indonesians see the Joint Authority as assuming Portugal's colonial responsibilities in Timor including the function of implementing and supervising the decolonisation process once peace and order have been restored. Neither function is acceptable to us. We are also concerned that Australian participation in the Joint Authority could lead us into a position where we were acting as either a guarantor of Indonesian good behaviour or as an accomplice to a dubious act of self-determination. Indeed, as suggested in our earlier submission of 30 August, in addressing the whole question of our participation in the Joint Authority, we need to guard against a situation in which we help towards a solution of the immediate problem but only at the cost of creating a much larger problem for our relations with Indonesia in the months and perhaps years ahead.
  3. In the light of the foregoing the Department has been giving consideration to possible alternative regionalisation arrangement. As a precedent (one hesitates to describe them as a 'model') we have gone to the Viet-Nam Peace Accords signed in Paris in January 1973. These accords provided, inter alia, for an agreement negotiated bilaterally between the United States and the DRV, for the convening of an international conference to guarantee and generally to place an international stamp of approval on the US/DRV agreement, and for an International Commission of Control and Supervision which among other things was to supervise the cease fire in Viet-Nam. Indonesia, of course, was a member of the ICCS.

    Bilateral Agreement between Portugal and Indonesia

  4. Could there not be a bilateral agreement between Portugal and Indonesia governing the despatch of an Indonesian peace-keeping force to Portuguese Timor? This agreement could cover the composition and purpose of the peace-keeping mission, the modalities of its operations, and the need to restore conditions allowing orderly progress to self-determination. The exact wording of the agreement would need to be negotiated by Indonesia and Portugal, but a fair start has been made in the areas of agreement already reached in relation to the draft Memorandum of Understanding prepared in Jakarta last week.

    Regional Conference

  5. Once the agreement had been negotiated by Indonesia and Portugal, an international conference could be convened of Portugal, Indonesia and other regional countries (including most of the ASEAN countries, Australia and New Zealand and perhaps an independent PNG) which might endorse (N.B. not guarantee) the Indonesia-Portuguese agreement including the commitment of self-determination. From the Portuguese point of view, such endorsement by a regional conference could help meet Portugal's objective of sharing the responsibility for inviting an Indonesian force into Portuguese Timor.
  6. The other side of the coin, of course, is that Australian participation in such a conference would mean that we would incur some of the onus for the invitation to the Indonesians. But it would be a responsibility one step removed, so to speak. The conference would merely be endorsing an agreement negotiated between two of the parties principal, namely, Portugal and Indonesia. It would mean we should be less engaged than if we were a signatory to the present Memorandum of Understanding which the Portuguese maintain we and the Malaysians should need to sign. The participation in the conference of other regional countries would help dilute Australia's own participation.
  7. The absence of representatives of the Timorese political parties from any conference could draw considerable criticism in Australia. We see no easy way around this. It might be argued that Portugal, as the colonial authority, has the responsibility to represent and protect the interests of the Timorese, so that the parties themselves need not attend the conference. But such arguments would not convince critics in Australia. All that can be said is that the Timorese parties would be no less unrepresented than if the approach being discussed by the Portuguese and Indonesians were adopted.

    Multinational Supervisory Body

  8. The agreement negotiated by Indonesia and Portugal (and endorsed by the regional conference) could provide for the establishment of supervisory machinery made up of representatives of regional countries to monitor and report to the participants of the regional conference on the military aspects of the Indonesian peace-keeping mission. In other words, Indonesia would be accountable to the conference for its military actions in Portuguese Timor, thus going some way to meet Portugal's concern that there should be some restraint on the methods used by the Indonesian task force and some protection of Timorese forces and personalities. While this aspect could contain the seeds of future problems with the Indonesians, we believe that President Soeharto is sincere in wishing to avoid excesses by his troops in Timor. In any case, on this issue, Australia should be prepared if need be to incur Indonesia's displeasure by drawing to the attention of the Government in Jakarta any excesses resorted to by Indonesian forces in Timor.
  9. It follows that we feel that Australia should be prepared, if invited, to be one of the members of the multinational supervisory body. It might be logical to use service personnel in such a body much as we have agreed to provide service personnel to serve on a number of United Nations truce supervisory or observer bodies. But if the Government is unprepared to commit service personnel, it might be possible to create a civilian observer body.
  10. We should need to resist any move to broaden the terms of reference for any supervisory body beyond a purely monitoring function related to the solely military aspects of the peace-keeping mission. This limitation of the role of the supervisory body may well be acceptable to the Portuguese, whose reservations to the draft Memorandum of Understanding drawn up last week in Jakarta suggest a concern that Portuguese sovereignty in Timor should not formally be supplanted in Portuguese Timor, and indeed that the Portuguese Governor should not be impaired in his function as the chief executive in the territory. We doubt, however, whether the Portuguese have the power or the will to re-establish their sovereignty except in a formal sense.
  11. In practice, of course, we should expect that following the establishment of an Indonesian military presence on the ground, there would be a quite rapid drift of power and authority from the Governor to the Indonesian military commander-a process which could well be reinforced should pressures develop in Portugal's own policy to divest itself of its remote Timor responsibilities.
  12. Clearly no Australian interest would be served by impeding these processes. But we need to guard against being manoeuvred into a situation where, as a participant in some supervisory or observer body, we were required to give an official imprimatur to political practices by Indonesia which Australian public opinion would find difficult to accept. Hence the need to focus any supervisory o[r] monitoring machinery on the military aspects of the peace-keeping operation.
  13. Portugal and Indonesia should be encouraged to report or notify the agreement to the Secretary-General of the United Nations. We should not, of course, wish to draw the parallel with the Paris agreements-and indeed the less said about that in presentation of the proposals the better. But, of course, editorial comment would quickly see the similarities and we should just have to bear with this.

    Conclusions and Recommendations

  14. The foregoing is no more than a skeleton of a possible new regional approach. It has disadvantages compared, for example, with a straight Portuguese-Indonesian agreement. But we assess that such a simple bilateral agreement is unlikely. It is also possible that the problems attached to unilateral Indonesian intervention are likely to be greater than if Indonesia intervened under some regional cover which could help legitimise the Indonesian operation and neutralise opposition. It would enable Australia to support the Indonesian move and portray the Indonesian move in the context of preservation of regional peace.
  15. If it were agreed that some regional initiative were worth exploring, the proposal sketched in this letter has several distinct advantages over the current Portuguese-Indonesian approach involving the establishment of a Joint Authority with a more or less open-ended mandate to assume Portugal's colonial responsibilities in Timor.
  16. Thus our alternative proposal would not commit Australia to a continuing political role in Portuguese Timor or imply any sharing of Portugal's colonial burden. Australian participation in the suggested international conference could expose the Government to criticism on grounds that it was a party to a sell-out of the Timorese. But our responsibility for inviting the Indonesians in would be of the second-remove sort. Moreover, Australia should have been seen to have been acting in concert with other like-minded regional countries and we should certainly be less engaged than if we were a direct signatory to the Memorandum of Understanding as the Portuguese are now demanding. Participation in the proposed multinational supervisory machinery would also involve Australia more than we should have liked, but at least that involvement would be concentrated on monitoring the military activities of Indonesia's peace-keeping mission (about which we should be prepared to speak our mind) rather than the more difficult political aspects.
  17. Some of the ideas discussed above were touched on with the Portuguese when Australian officials met them over lunch on 1 September. We believe that they might be explored further with the Portuguese team following Dr Santos's return from Atauro. But before we did this, we should need to invite Indonesian views.
  18. I should add, of course, that with the lull in the fighting in Portuguese Timor the moment for Indonesian intervention might well have passed: that is, with the fighting dying down apparently of its own accord, and with a Portuguese special envoy hoping to engage the parties in peace negotiations, it is difficult to see any pretext for Indonesian intervention which could be 'sold' to our domestic opinion. But the Department's feeling is that the breach between Fretilin and UDT is now irreparable so that any cease-fire might be short-lived. Timor, in short, is displaying all the characteristics of a South East Asian Angola. If so, the next lapse into political chaos may be the moment for Indonesians to move. So much better if Indonesia is seen to be acting not as a neo-colonialist but as the agent of a group oflike-minded countries seeking regional peace.
  19. If you are attracted by these ideas you may wish to discuss them with the Minister for Defence. It might then be considered whether we might put the ideas to the Indonesians perhaps with the safeguard that they represented Departmental thinking only. We should need to represent the ideas not as a dampener of their own initiative but as a possible variation of it.1


[NAA: Al838. 3038/13/10/1, i]