271 Cablegram to Canberra

Lisbon, 17 October 1975 4.20 p.m.


Portuguese Timor

I asked Cruz this morning if he had had any advice from Atauro about the press report that Australians were actively assisting FRETILIN forces. Cruz replied 'no' but that Macao had reported that the statement had been issued at the request of the Government of Timor. I said that there now seemed little doubt that the statement had been authorised by Pires.1 If the allegations about Australian involvement were true, I could understand Pires reporting the facts to Lisbon and perhaps suggesting that Lisbon should take the matter up with the Australian Government. What I could not understand was why Pires had instead chosen to release the information in the form of a press release. This seemed not only irresponsible but positively mischievous. Cruz agreed and said they were as puzzled as we were as to why Pires had acted as he did. Cruz undertook to get in touch with me as soon as they received an explanation from Pires.

  1. Cruz asked me about this morning's reports of an Indonesian 'invasion' of Timor. Were they true? I said that since we had no official observers in the area we, like Portugal, were dependent on press and radio reports which of course had been officially denied by the Indonesians. We were however concerned about the whereabouts of five Australian T.V. personnel and we were making urgent enquiries in Jakarta about them. Cruz said they likewise were concerned about the two Portuguese T.V. men who were reported to be in the area.2
  2. Cruz said they had heard 'absolutely nothing' from their Embassy in Jakarta about allegations of Indonesian military involvement in Timor which had added a new dimension to the situation.
  3. I asked Cruz if the reports turned out to be true, would it prejudice the prospects for the Rome talks? Cruz replied: 'Probably. I don't see how Melo Antunes could go to Rome to negotiate with Indonesia over Timor if meanwhile the Indonesians had decided to resolve the question by force.After all, the Portuguese Government had enough domestic problems without inviting further criticism by going to Rome. As it was, pro FRETILIN supporters were planning a demonstration in front of the Foreign Ministry at 1500 hours today, and such pressures on the Portuguese Government would undoubtedly increase if Indonesia had in fact decided to pursue its objectives in Timor by military means'.
  4. Subsequent midday radio reports from Dili speak of invasion by Indonesian troops involving '199 armoured cars, 3 helicopters, and bombardment by 9 naval vessels', and quotes a FRETILIN spokesman as criticising 'the silence of the Portuguese Government in the face of the Indonesian attack and the violation of territory still under Portuguese sovereignty'.


  1. As seen from Lisbon, Indonesia may now be on the way to winning the war in Timor but of losing the diplomatic battle. Despite President Soeharto's restraint, as Indonesian military involvement becomes more and more obvious Indonesia is likely to be accused of aggression in Timor and of violating its professed support for self determination. (However, as Jakarta has made clear, the Indonesians have taken this into account and presumably are prepared to ride out the international consequences.) As for the Portuguese, Indonesia's action may provide Lisbon with an excuse to abandon Timor to its fate on the ground that Indonesia has preĀ­-empted any possibility of self determination for the people of Timor.


[NAA: A1838, 3038/11/64, ANNEX]