252 Cablegram to Canberra

New York, 7 October 1975


United Nations: Portuguese Timor

We have kept in mind in recent weeks the possibility that at some stage consideration of the Timor problem by the Committee of Twenty-Four might be of assistance to Portugal and Indonesia (despite Jakarta's rejection of the idea) in devising acceptable international procedures for decolonisation.

  1. Any prospect of assisting in the 'solution' of the Portuguese Timor problem through the United Nations has receded. While it is becoming clearer that consideration will be given to the territory during UNGA 30 only FRETILIN seems to be able to capitalise on the United Nations. If a hand-over to FRETILIN were to become the most convenient way out for them, the Portuguese might also benefit from United Nations involvement this year.
  2. The Indonesians, as matters stand, seem likely only to be disadvantaged as a result of action at UNGA 30. This would certainly be the case if the Fourth Committee were to take up the call by Mozambique for Portugal to negotiate with FRETILIN the modalities for the decolonisation of Timor. The Indonesians ought already to be working to head-off the possibility of a draft resolution in these terms. It seems clear the FRELIMO has mistakenly identified itself with FRETILIN, and there is of course an element of hostility in the Mozambique statement reminiscent of the antipathy towards Indonesia of a number of African delegations at the time of the West Irian dispute. Mistaken or not, however, Mozambique has a definite standing in relation to the dispute as a former fellow colony of Portugal. (It is fortunate for the Indonesians that Guinea Bissau, Cape Verde and Sao Tome and Principe have not sought this year to make general debate statements.)
  3. The degree of support which the Mozambique position is likely to attract is not yet clear to us and it would perhaps be risky to take too many soundings without having a reasonable idea of the reactions of Indonesia and Portugal as well as your views on our own position. Salim volunteered a first reaction to us yesterday 6 October which, while generally critical of Indonesia and reflecting the discomfort he has shown in recent weeks over the circulation of FRETILIN messages,1 did not indicate commitment to the precise terms of the Mozambique position. Salim made three points in some haste. First, that the Indonesians had really missed their chance to play the role of liberators in Eastern Timor at a time when the Portuguese were still there as colonial power. Second, that Indonesia would have to accept United Nations support for the application of the right of self-determination and independence to Timor-an apparent disavowal of the Committee of Twenty-Four position negotiated at Lisbon. Third, he asked why Indonesia could not agree to a visiting mission-the implication being that he had tried this thought out with Sani some time previously.
  4. We are uncertain how to interpret last week's statement by Guyana which called on those wishing to intervene in an attempt to redirect the course chosen by the East Timorese to desist from violating the right to self-determination of the people of the territory. On the face of it, and given the close links between the Missions of Tanzania, Guyana and Mozambique, the omens are not good. On the other hand, Guyana Ambassador Jackson, with whom we have close relations, has denied separately to the Indonesians and to us that Guyana had intended to criticise Indonesia. Jackson claims that the comments on Timor were made in the context of Guyana's criticism of intervention by the Great Powers in the affairs of Angola.
  5. In any event, it is high time that the Indonesians set about protecting their own position at UNGA 30. As we have reported for some time, they seem to have hoped that the question could be kept out of the United Nations indefinitely. It seems increasingly likely that the Fourth Committee will discuss the situation even if talks between the Timorese parties have got under way.If there are no talks and Indonesian help to the anti-FRETILIN forces increases, so will the attention given to the territory. Until recently, a regional initiative, meaning in fact a draft resolution or consensus statement, would probably have been acceptable to the Africans and other groups provided the Portuguese were not active in seeking a more radical draft. It was, of course, recognised in the Committee of Twenty-Four in Lisbon that there was a degree of regional collusion between Indonesia, India and Australia.
  6. The possible substance of any draft resolution has, however, already been complicated by the Mozambique statement. Whereas a week or so ago the Indonesians could probably, at the level of their diplomatic and public activity, have secured support for a resolution recommending talks between Portugal and the three Timorese parties, such a call might now be unacceptable to a number of influential delegations. A resolution might now have to reaffirm the right to independence as well as the right to self-determination. Australia's role and recent activities might well come under discussion, including the question of our unwillingness to provide an Australian venue for negotiations. The communique of 23 September of the Portuguese National Decolonisation Committee, hoping for a negotiating venue in Australian territory, has been belatedly circulated as a General Assembly document dated 2 October.
  7. While the exact circumstances in which the Fourth Committee debate will be held are not yet clear, we believe we should begin in the very near future to take some discreet soundings with the Indonesians, Portuguese and other relevant delegations. Consideration of Timor here will develop its own momentum in the coming weeks however unrealistic and inconvenient this may seem. Even if the Indonesians simply decide to let the General Assembly run its course and to stand aside, possibly by abstaining on or even opposing a draft resolution, we shall need to give full and timely consideration to the issues of principle involved for Australia.
  8. We should have in mind also, in the light of the continuing messages from FRETILIN, the possibility of an appeal being made to the Security Council on its behalf.

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