230 Cablegram to Jakarta

Canberra, 15 September 1975


Portuguese Timor

Jakarta for Woolcott; Port Moresby for Acting Minister; New York UN for Minister and Harry; Kuala Lumpur for Parsons; Lisbon for Cooper

Ref O.JA1815 1

As this is the second time Mochtar has complained to you about aspects of Australian actions over Portuguese Timor and Indonesian complaints were set out in bout de papier,2 we think that you should take an early opportunity to speak to the Indonesians in low key and at an appropriate level making the points set out below and indicating that you are speaking on instructions. You should emphasise to the Indonesians that what you are saying represents no change in Australian policies or departure from what you have told them already. You will appreciate that some of Mochtar's comments, particularly those in paragraph 5 of your JA1815, verge on the undiplomatic.

  1. There can be no question of Australia's being a 'dupe of Santos' enabling him and FRETILIN to gain time in East Timor. Santos's mission to Timor might indeed have taken much longer but for Australian assistance. Australian Ministers hurried Santos to Darwin on Tuesday 2 September when he wanted to take his time getting there: and we provided an aircraft to take him direct from Darwin to Jakarta on Wednesday 10 September in order to save time.
  2. It seems to us that, whatever the timetable for Santos's talks might have been, developments on the ground in Portuguese Timor would have proceeded quite independently and with their own momentum. One cannot argue that the time taken by Dr Santos in Atauro contributed to the extension of FRETILIN's control. This could (and can) only be prevented by activity on the part of UDT and APODETI or some other party.
  3. Australian assistance to Santos has been limited. We could scarcely have done less and were under a good deal of pressure to do more. Santos pressed, for instance, to make Darwin the base for his operations; and there were also requests that Canberra should be a site for negotiations between Portugal and FRETILIN.
  4. The Indonesians themselves are not without responsibility for prolonging Santos's mission by making it difficult for him to make contact with the UDT and APODETI, for instance by seizing the Dove aircraft.
  5. Just as the Australian Government takes careful account of the domestic political and constitutional contexts in which the Indonesian authorities have to work, so should the Indonesian authorities take careful account of domestic and political factors in assessing Australia's actions and policies. The Government has resisted domestic pressures to intervene in Timor by mediating between the parties or sending a fact-finding mission there. The Government has also resisted suggestions that we take some initiative in the United Nations. Its attitude in these matters shows full understanding for Indonesia's position.
  1. You might also take up some of the specific points in the bout de papier which the Indonesians gave you on 9 September. You might say that the Australian Government agrees with the thrust of points I, II and III in the Indonesian paper, namely that for the Portuguese simply to hand over authority in Portuguese Timor to FRETILIN would not constitute an acceptable process of decolonisation allowing the people of Portuguese Timor to decide their own political future. You might say that the facilities which Australia provided to Dr Santos were designed to help him organise negotiations with the three parties in Portuguese Timor and not just with FRETILIN: and you could refer also (with reference to the first point under the heading note in the bout de papier that the Australian Government was happy to facilitate Santos's return to Jakarta for further discussions with the Indonesian Government.
  2. While your telegrams O.JA18183 and O.JA1815 provide us with a good deal of information about Santos's talks in Jakarta, we are uncertain of the exact state of negotiations between the Indonesians and the Portuguese now that, as we understand it, Santos has left Jakarta to go back to Lisbon. As we read the situation a major stumbling block in the negotiations has been Santos's refusal to negotiate with UDT while UDT still hold Portuguese prisoners. Although Mochtar apparently regards this as an 'impossible' condition for the talks, we believe that the Portuguese were sincere in advancing it and feel strongly about the fate of their military prisoners in Timorese hands.
  3. It is not easy to see where we go from there. From the Indonesians' point of view their reaction, summarized in paragraph 7 of your O.JA1793,4 is understandable. We take it that you did not pursue the possible initiative outlined in our O.CH2655485 with Mochtar, and, in all the circumstances, that may be just as well. All the same, it seems to us that the Indonesians should not overlook the danger, in the light of what FRETILIN is putting to the United Nations and what Major Mota is saying in Lisbon, that Portugal might now merely dump the problem of Portuguese Timor in the lap of the United Nations, even making some complaint about the Indonesians in doing so. This would mean internationalisation in circumstances embarrassing to Indonesia and indeed to others and could lead to rather unpredictable consequences. Another danger is that the Portuguese might simply transfer power to FRETILIN. Although it is difficult to see how more time can be found, it still seems to us that that is what is chiefly needed. The Indonesians may fear that time will consolidate FRETILIN's position but assuming that UDT and APODETI remain active and given Indonesian relations with them need this be the case?

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