266 Submission to Willesee

Canberra, 17 October 19751


Portuguese Timor

Jakarta telegram JA.24322 received last night (15 October) contains more detailed information about the stepping up of plans for Indonesian military intervention referred to in the Department's submission of 14 October.3

[matter omitted]4

  1. no assessments are being studied to take into account the further details provided by Tjan. The most recent assessment has been based on an area smaller than that sketched by Tjan. In our view, the assessment casts doubts on the effectiveness of Indonesian logistics for an operation aimed at the quick surrender of territory all the way to Dili. However, in this Department's view, this analysis may have to be revised in the light of what appears to be the clear determination of the Indonesians to put into the effort whatever may be required by way of additional forces.
  2. In any event, it is clear that the Indonesians are now beginning a major operation aimed at taking over Portuguese Timor. They are quite firm about achieving this objective. Our Embassy believes that there is no prospect of their turning back. President Soeharto will go on escalating Indonesian involvement to the point where success is achieved.

A no 'Current Outlook' dated 16 October is attached.


  1. It thus seems inevitable that we will have to reach difficult policy decisions on how best to react to escalating Indonesian military intervention. Tjan says that the Indonesians will be dressed as anti-FRETILIN forces (and that the tanks will be unmarked). But the nature and extent of Indonesian involvement will soon become apparent. In tum, this involvement will evoke criticism from the press and sectors of public opinion in Australia and pressure on the Government to condemn the Indonesian intervention.
  2. The Australian Embassy in Jakarta reports that Indonesia expects unfavourable criticism from Australia and for the Government to react critically 'against the future of Portuguese Timor being decided without the wishes of the people of the territory being ascertained'. But the Indonesians hope that the Australian Government will make every effort to understand the Indonesian position (paragraphs 10-13 of JA.2432). Indeed in a later telegram Jakarta reports General Moerdani as expressing the hope that, if Australia cannot offer public support for Indonesia, it would at least remain silent.5 We nevertheless believe that we should be working towards a public expression to the Indonesians of our extreme disappointment that the situation in Portuguese Timor has developed in such a way that the Indonesian Government has apparently found it necessary to seek to resolve the issue by force, and that we remain firm in the belief that the people of Portuguese Timor should be allowed to decide their own future. While stating our disappointment at the Indonesian action, we should also seek to attach responsibility, where it is due, to the political parties, including FRETILIN, for having failed to keep the decolonization process on a peaceful path. We could also express our regret that the Portuguese have failed to keep the situation under control. In any event, whatever censure we have to direct at the Indonesians, we should seek to prevent, so far as we can, long-standing damage to our relationship with Indonesia.
  3. We believe that we should keep the Indonesians informed of such statements as we intend to make. We should seek to impress upon them that, as a matter of firm principle, we have to speak up for the right of the people of Portuguese Timor freely to decide their own future. While we will not be doing anything physically to prevent Indonesia from doing whatever she believes she has to do, we must go on record to repeat our opposition to the use of armed force. We would hope that the Indonesians would understand this position, and that they will equally understand that our attitude is in no sense 'anti-Indonesian'. We should urge the Indonesians themselves publicly to reaffirm their commitment to the principle of self-determination in Portuguese Timor. We should say that their decision to intervene militarily in Portuguese Timor has precipitated the inevitable strains on our relationship about which we have been warning them for the past twelve months, but that the Australian Government recognizes the overall importance ofthe long-term Indonesian-Australian relationship and will be doing its best, in difficult domestic circumstances, to contain the damage to that relationship.
  4. In other words, we should react to Indonesian intervention along the lines of policy approved by you in July when responding to Mr Woolcott's dispatch on Portuguese Timor.6
  5. There are still some acute difficulties in the course of action now proposed not only in domestic terms but also in our relations with Indonesia. To the extent, for example, that Indonesia continues to deny involvement of its troops well after the extent of this involvement has been exposed, it will be the Australian Government that would be publicly disputing Indonesia's claims. Still we do not believe it will be possible to remain silent beyond a certain point, which point would be essentially a matter for judgement in the light of day-to-day developments.

Australians in Portuguese Timor

  1. Another serious matter for consideration is the presence of Australians in Portuguese Timor. There are a number of journalists, some outside Dili, and the ACFOA team arrived in Dili on 16 October, after having been given the normal consular warning that the Australian Government could not guarantee the party's safety in Portuguese Timor. There are in addition other Australians working on humanitarian aid projects. We do not believe that we need take steps today to initiate a withdrawal or to suspend further charter flights into Dili. However, depending on the timing of Indonesian deployments, the security situation inside Portuguese Timor could deteriorate rapidly. We will therefore begin planning immediately with the Department of Defence on the possibility of a further evacuation of Australian citizens from Portuguese Timor. Planning might need to be put into effect as early as next week.
  2. It is recommended that you agree that we proceed as proposed in paragraphs 7-11 in relation to public reaction to the inevitable exposure of Indonesian intervention, and in accordance with paragraph 12, in regard to possible evacuation of Australians from Portuguese Timor.7

ALANRENOUF - Secretary

[NAA: Al838, 3038/10/1/2, ii]