340 Submission to Peacock

Canberra, [18 November 1975]1


Portuguese Timor: Talks

On the Summary of Cables for 13 November you queried why Mr Malik should be awaiting news from Australia about FRETILIN's attitude to proposed talks with the Portuguese.

  1. . The proposal for round-table talks between the Portuguese and the three major Timorese political groups (FRETILIN, UDT and APODETI) flows from the Rome meeting between the Portuguese and Indonesian Foreign Ministers. The Portuguese agreed to take early steps to arrange such talks and to prevail on FRETILIN to attend, while the Indonesians undertook to use their influence with the pro-Indonesian parties, that is, UDT and APODETI, to persuade them to participate.
  2. The Portuguese afterwards proposed that the talks be held in Darwin between 15 and 20 November. But so far they have had no official replies to the telegrams they sent to the three parties proposing the talks. The press this morning reports that the talks will begin in Australia on 24 November and that FRETILIN has agreed to participate; but we are inclined to doubt whether this is true, for reasons which emerge below.
  3. There can be little doubt about the Indonesians' capacity to get UDT and APODETI to the conference table. But it is very possible that UDT and APODETI (and the Indonesians) will baulk at an Australian venue. We have been told as much in Jakarta. It has been suggested that Australia would not be accepted as neutral ground in view of the help given to FRETILIN by Australian organizations like the Australian Council for Overseas Aid (ACFOA) and the Australian Society for Inter-Country Aid-Timor (ASIAT) and because of the alleged pro-FRETILIN bias of the Australian press, the trades unions, some individual Australians and certain sections of public opinion.
  4. For corresponding reasons FRETILIN itself has always been disposed to favour an Australian venue for talks. News reports from Dili suggest that FRETILIN would prefer Melbourne to Darwin because, according to these reports, Melbourne is 'where there are many information media organs capable of reflecting the content and substance of the talks'. In other words, FRETILIN recognizes that talks held in Australia would stimulate further (and possibly major) Australian press and public interest in the issue of Portuguese Timor, and that that interest is likely to be sympathetic to FRETILIN and anti-Indonesian. For talks to be held in Australia would deepen Australia's official involvement in the Portuguese Timor problem. It is for this reason that the former Government was wary when the Portuguese first mooted the idea of talks in Australia in mid-September, although it recognized that if all the parties wanted the talks to take place in Australia, it could not refuse an Australian venue.
  5. It is uncertain whether FRETILIN would attend talks at which the other Timorese parties would be present. FRETILIN has previously maintained that it would not. Conflicting reports broadcast over Radio Dili suggest there could be a division within the FRETILIN leadership over the Portuguese proposal, with Ramos Horta and some others inclined to accept talks with FRETILIN's rivals and an opposing group against such talks. The Portuguese told our Ambassador in Lisbon on 12 November that they were sanguine that FRETILIN would participate in round-table discussions. We have informed the Portuguese that the previous Government's agreement to allow an Australian venue is on the basis that all parties want the talks to be held in Australia and that they all attend. We said that the previous Australian Government would not be agreeable to Australia's becoming the venue for talks between Portugal and FRETILIN alone.

Malik's Remarks

  1. Malik's public remarks (10 November) that he was awaiting news from the Australian Government on FRETILIN's attitude followed a discussion he had with the Australian Ambassador on 7 November.2 The following is the relevant extract from Mr Woolcott's telegram: 'I asked whether Indonesia believed that Portugal had the ability to get FRETILIN to the conference table. Malik said that Antunes had asked Indonesia to help in this respect and Indonesia believed that it could help indirectly by asking the Australian Government to get a message to FRETILIN. He said he would be grateful if I would formally convey this request to you. I said that the Government would not want to be regarded as the "friend ofFRETILIN". But Horta visited Australia frequently and we should be able to pass a message to him. Malik said that, in fact, he had Horta in mind when he made the suggestion. It was in the interests of all countries to bring FRETILIN to accept the need for talks.'
  2. On ll November, following Malik's public remarks, the Department confmned to Mr Woolcott that what he had told Malik on 7 November was correct, namely, that the Australian Government had no official contacts with FRETILIN and did not want to be cast in the role of the 'friend of FRETILIN'. We noted, however, that in recent discussions with Horta the Department had already impressed on him the need for FRETILIN to sit down at the table with the other Timorese parties and, further that, if a political settlement were to emerge, FRETILIN would need to give up a good deal of what it had won on the battlefield, and in effect return to the Macao program. We said that if Horta, or some other FRETILIN representative, returned to Canberra we should, of course, be prepared to speak to him again in these terms but that the Australian Government could not be regarded as having any special relationship with FRETILIN or as a channel of communication to it. There was no reason why the Portuguese should not continue to provide this latter service.
  3. Mr Woolcott has since spoken to Mr Malik in these terms, and this morning's telegrams indicate that the message has got through to Malik.
  4. In the Department we have considered carefully whether or not we should try to initiate some contact with the FRETILIN leaders in an effort to nudge them towards early participation in round-table talks. But, having considered the idea, we recommend firmly against it. From the beginning FRETILIN has shown itself anxious to enmesh Australia in the internal affairs of Portuguese Timor—first as a counter-balance to Indonesian pressures and second with a view to the Australian Government's becoming a kind of patron who might in due course be induced to underwrite an independent East Timor economically as well as politically. The previous Government considered that for Australia to allow itself to be drawn in in this way could have the most serious consequences not only for our future relations with Indonesia and, by extension, with the rest of the ASEAN world, but also for the disproportionate demands an independent East Timor, looking primarily, and perhaps solely, to Australia could place on Australian resources.
  5. All this may seem to take us a long way from the simple proposition that we might establish some contact with FRETILIN to try to persuade them to attend talks. But what if, having taken it on ourselves to sponsor FRETILIN attendance, the talks, as is likely, break down? We should find ourselves at the top of a slippery slope. The pressures on Australia to take over from Portugal an active mediatory role would be very considerable. In tum, as we have noted elsewhere, such a mediatory role could place us on a collision course with Indonesia and further reduce the range of all future policy choices.


  1. In summary, then, the Department does not favour initiating direct and official contacts with FRETILIN to persuade it to the conference table. The Australian Government should certainly continue to encourage the Portuguese and Indonesians in their efforts to get round-table talks under way, the Department should continue to urge the need for flexibility when Ramos Horta or, indeed, other Timorese leaders call on us, and the Government should continue to maintain the offer of an Australian venue for the talks. But otherwise we should leave the running to the Portuguese and the Indonesians and, so far as is possible, limit Australian official involvement.


[NAA: A1838, 3038/10/1/2, iii]