217 Cablegram to Canberra

Jakarta, 6 September 1975


Portuguese Timor

For the Secretary

Your telegram O.CH2638431 suggests that the Santos mission has been not only fruitless, but misguided. While I agree with the point in paragraph 11 of the Secretary's telegram O.CH2637592 about the desirability of keeping the atmosphere of the negotiations between Santos and the Indonesians cordial, even if they should fail, I believe the Indonesians have already assessed that the Santos mission is nothing more than a stalling tactic and a charade. Tjan told us today that Indonesia would not be surprised if Santos proposes to Lisbon that Portugal simply hand over power to Fretilin. In the light of the London talks and the Macao agreement Indonesia would regard this as an act of duplicity.

  1. Indeed I find Santos' talk of a 'historical opportunity' and of a 'functioning nationalist group' surprising. Is it not a desperate rationalisation of Portugal's desire to get out of Timor? Is it not also an indication that Santos-because of his own political position and because of Portugal's domestic political situation-is unable to do anything constructive with Indonesia and that the Timor problem has really always been, at least in part, a reflection of Portugal's own political divisions. The whole issue is compounded by Portugal's suspicions of Indonesia-admittedly not without some justification-and its preoccupation with shedding 'honourably' its responsibilities in Timor.
  2. Even if Fretilin were to establish, by force, a measure of control throughout East Timor and could come to appear to the outside world to be an embryonic viable government-this remains unestablished despite Michael Darby's views and Fretilin's claims-this would be done in disregard to the London talks, the Macao agreement and the views of the two other parties in the colony. It would also ignore the problem of the more than 3000 refugees already in Indonesian Timor. This number is increasing daily.
  3. Tjan told Dan and Taylor today that General Moerdani had discussed the situation in detail with President Soeharto yesterday. They canvassed seven possibilities ranging from at one end an invitation from Portugal to Indonesia to intervene directly to at the other end United Nations involvement (in which Indonesia would participate). The President ruled out all options as either impracticable or undesirable except the option represented by the so-called OPSUS plan which Soeharto described as the 'classical way'.
  4. As elaborated by Tjan the OPSUS plan is now being implemented by Moerdani. The Indonesians are confident that they can prevent a Fretilin military victory. They will replace some of the refugees forced across the border by the Fretilin advance with well armed 'volunteers' who will provide backbone for UDT and other anti-Fretilin groups. (Moerdani told Tjan that with 500 men he could destroy all the ammunition depots in Portuguese Timor. It is not intended to do this yet.)
  5. As evidence that the Indonesian plan was now being implemented, Tjan mentioned that Moerdani had arranged for the seizure of the Portuguese aircraft and ships (mentioned in your recent messages).3 He also said they had seized a Portuguese helicopter. Tjan said that Moerdani had papers signed by the UDT leadership stating that Indonesia was holding these items on behalf of UDT.
  6. Tjan said that Moerdani would prefer Santos' return to Jakarta to be delayed so that there would be time for UDT (with Indonesian support) to demonstrate that Fretilin was not the only force to contend with in Portuguese Timor.
  7. Tjan indicated that the Indonesian operation could take some time. He said that the longer it takes the more difficult it will be for the Indonesian as well as for the Australian Government.
  8. I have just seen your O.CH2638684 which develops some of the views first put forward by Santos in your O.CH263843.
  9. Perhaps Santos should now be told frankly by the Acting Minister that:
    1. no country in this region wishes to see what he blandly calls a 'new neighbour' with whom countries in the region will 'have to co-exist for the indefinite future'. (All countries of the region adopt, for obvious reasons, a totally different attitude to PNG.);
    2. all of the ASEAN countries and the Australian Government believe that a weak unstable mini-state in the middle of the Indonesian Archipelago is not in the interests of the region itself or any of the countries in it;
    3. while all of these same countries had hoped that suitable arrangements would be made for the people of East Timor to decide their own future this has been rendered impossible-not so much by Indonesia-but by a failure of Portuguese colonial policy and the immaturity and resort to force by two small, Eurasian-dominated, political parties in the colony;
    4. ethnically, culturally and even by religion, East Timor has much in common with West Timor and although their colonial histories are different, there is no intrinsic reason why the indigenous people of East Timor would not be as free [and] well off within the Indonesian Republic as they would be as an essentially non-viable, independent State which would always be a hostage to Indonesia;
    5. Fretilin represents an important section of the relatively small Dili-based group of politicians who have assumed a degree of control over East Timor partly because the Portuguese Army allowed them to acquire the weapons to do so. (Portugal's own recent assessments have maintained that UDT was numerically stronger and had more support than Fretilin in Portuguese Timor.);
    6. and, far from being an 'honourable' way of 'fulfilling its decolonisation responsibilities', Portugal would simply be abandoning its responsibilities in a way calculated to create instability and incur the displeasure of all the countries of the region of which East Timor is a part.
  10. While Fretilin is not a communist party (our JA1665 refers)5 it has a pro-communist element and there is enough potential communist influence for it to arouse considerable concern in the ASEAN countries, which are in the process of adjusting to a communist controlled Indo China, if Portugal were now to seek to hand over power to Fretilin as the way out of its present problems.
  11. I have given such a high classification to this telegram because of the information in paragraphs 4 to 8 inclusive.6 Tjan must of course be protected absolutely.


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