213 Cablegram to Canberra

Lisbon, 4 September 1975


Portuguese Timor

The following is the outcome of Cousins' discussion today with Major Mota, now the Head of the Timor Office within the Presidency of the Republic.

Arms and Munitions

  1. Mota's account of stocks of arms and munitions in Timor followed closely reports you have had from military and civilian evacuees. He said exact figures could only be obtained directly from records with Governor Pires but thought that there were approximately 15,000 semi-automatic G-3 rifles of Belgian or German manufacture. There were also 81mm and 60mm mortars. His total figures were approximately 12-15 of each. Each unit had also been supplied with small numbers of Bazookas. There was also some older small artillery but none of the Timorese forces knew how to operate it. There was however, a substantial stock of artillery ammunition and this could be used as explosives.
  2. Mota explained that the relatively large number of weapons and large stocks of ammunition dated back to the pre-25 April period when there were over 3000 Portuguese troops in Timor. The troops had been progressively repatriated but materiel had not. He estimated that even with continued wastage of ammunition through sporadic firing (as recent reports spoke of), the ammunition in UDT and Fretilin hands could last up to three or four months.
  3. The bulk of the ammunition was in Dili and therefore in Fretilin hands. There were also however sizable dumps in Baucau, Los Palos and Bobonaro.
  4. Mota discounted as insignificant civilian arms and ammunition (mainly for hunting) and police force stocks. On fuel, Mota said that the colony always had six months supply of petrol and diesel fuel. This was principally in Dili.

    Military Assessment

  5. Mota's military assessment of the situation was that Fretilin was now in a strong position and reports suggested that it was on the offensive. His personal view was that, despite the apparent lull of the last few days, Fretilin would continue the struggle and would not be satisfied until all of the UDT leaders, especially the 'Mestico' ones, had been wiped out. Fretilin had control of the central corridor of Dili-Aileu-Maubisse. It was now advancing both west and east. Mota did not expect much Fretilin success in their westward movement, as this was not a 'traditional' Fretilin area and the owners of the coffee plantations in the Emera-Liquica area were capable of mobilising support against Fretilin. Mota was more confident however of Fretilin success in its advance on Baucau. The people of the Baucau/Los Palos area were mainly Fretilin supporters and UDT had only gained the upper hand there because the Timorese unit in each centre had come out in support of UDT. Their latest reports were that Fretilin forces were already in the mountains behind Baucau. With Fretilin's control of the major fuel and ammunition dumps in Dili and its ideological commitment, Mota gave Fretilin a good chance of success in the east but doubted that Fretilin could gain the upper hand in the border area because of lack of support amongst the population and of Indonesian 'assistance' to UDT and APODETI. Their information at this stage however was that the Timorese unit (and its ammunitions) at Bobonaro had so far remained neutral.

    Strategy for Peace Operation

  6. Despite the amount of ammunition and arms, Mota thought any operation to restore peace could be carried out fairly quickly, possibly only two or three days. The main element would need to be surprise. An operation involving paratroopers could quickly gain control of Dili and the other main centres where there were substantial ammunition stocks (see above). In a surprise attack Fretilin would no doubt withdraw to the interior but in doing so would be able to take little ammunition or fuel with it from Dili. Within a few weeks, Fretilin would be relying, basically, on traditional weapons to maintain guerrilla warfare.

    Political Aspects

  7. Mota said that for ideological and domestic reasons Portugal could never invite Indonesia to intervene. They still hoped to get the two parties together in a united front so that elections could be held. The Macao timetable would now be impossible to maintain. Portugal had to consider a much shorter time as it would now be impossible to send troops back to Timor. Agreement between the parties however would be very difficult. His personal plan, which he had conveyed to President Costa Gomes, was that agreement to a ceasefire should be reached as soon as possible and elections be proposed for two or three months time so the people could choose between independence and integration with Indonesia.1

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