215 Cablegram to Jakarta

Canberra, 5 September 1975

O.CH263843 SECRET PRIORITY

Portuguese Timor

New York UN for the Minister

Our immediately following telegram contains the text of a message received from Dalrymple in Darwin covering a discussion last night (4 September) with Dr Santos. Dr Santos had some hours earlier returned from Atauro.

  1. Dalrymple has since rung from Darwin to report that Dr Santos has conveyed through him a new proposal regarding a meeting with FRETILIN representatives. This proposal is that he should meet Xavier and other FRETILIN leaders in Canberra on 20 September, and that Australia should offer facilities to allow such a meeting. It seems that Santos has been convinced by discussions with Mr Michael Darby (an Australian associated with the present relief operations in Timor and who returned last night from Dili) that FRETILIN is about to take over the whole territory and that the concept of negotiations with both FRETILIN and UDT is thus no longer relevant. Darby had apparently brought a letter allegedly from Xavier to Santos proposing the Canberra meeting on 20 September.
  2. Dalrymple informed Santos that the approach now being suggested by Santos was at variance with the Australian Government's approach to the Portuguese Timor problem. He said that he doubted whether the Australian Government would wish any negotiations to take place in Canberra. Santos's response was to the effect that the Australian Government would surely perceive that a new situation now exists: that is, that FRETILIN is now in or near complete control of Portuguese Timor and that it would be in our own interests in terms of our future relations with an independent East Timor to facilitate a meeting between the Portuguese representatives and the FRETILIN leadership.
  3. Dalrymple gained the distinct impression from Santos, that he saw in the FRETILIN proposal an 'historical opportunity' for Portugal to hand over power in Timor to a functioning nationalist group in a way which would enable Portugal honourably to fulfil its de-colonisation responsibilities.
  4. We have discussed the foregoing with the Acting Minister, who has decided that Santos should be informed that there is no possibility of the Australian Government's agreeing that Canberra, or indeed anywhere in Australia, might be used as a base for negotiations with the Timorese. Rather he feels that the thrust of our policy should be to convince Santos that talks with the Timorese political parties should be held in Portuguese Timor itself, either at Atauro, or, if FRETILIN refuses to come there, in Dili, or perhaps off-shore between Dili and Atauro on board the Macdili as was being suggested by Dr Santos in his first discussion with Dalrymple. The Acting Minister is most concerned that Santos should not delay too long before returning to Jakarta. (We have no news of Santos's plans to go back there-and have so informed the Indonesian Ambassador here.) We are advising Dalrymple accordingly.
  5. A second request conveyed by Dalrymple from Dr Santos was that the Australian Embassy in Jakarta intervene with the Indonesian authorities to ascertain what has happened to two small Portuguese boats which were sent from Atauro to Kupang some days ago but have not been heard from since. Similarly, the Governor's Dove aircraft which flew to Atambua 1 some days ago with a message for UDT has not since been heard from. According to Dr Santos the flight had been cleared by the Indonesian authority. So where was the Dove now?2
  6. We have asked Dalrymple to inform Dr Santos that in our view it would be more appropriate for the Portuguese Embassy to approach the Indonesians on these matters.
  7. But we are likely to agree to a request from Dr Santos that a RAAF aircraft fly him to Atauro over the weekend (possibly on Sunday morning) for further discussions with the Governor.
  8. With reference to Santos's view that FRETILIN is now in a near complete control of Portuguese Timor (paragraph 3 above), we have had a report from the Australian Favaro, that Bacau has fallen to FRETILIN. But intelligence we have suggests that both Santos's view and Favaro's report may be false. Aerial observation yesterday revealed no movement on the DiliĀ­—Bacau road and adjacent areas, no threat to Bacau, no sign of any offensive operations and not much fighting at all going on.3

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