346 Cablegram to Canberra

Jakarta, 27 November 1975


Portuguese Timor

I spent an hour privately with General Moerdani on 25 November.

  1. I found Moerdani somewhat tense and nervous on this occasion and he appeared to be under some strain.

Indonesian Policy

  1. He said he was worried about the way in which the Timor situation was developing. Indonesia was having 'the worst of both worlds'. It was involved in East Timor and being criticised in Australia, but nowhere else, for this.1 On the other hand the Government was denying this involvement and the 'covert' involvement itself had not so far been sufficient to bring the situation there to a speedy conclusion. Time was slipping by and Indonesia's denials of involvement were less likely to be believed-particularly in Australia. However the President was, as recently as the weekend, still unwilling to agree to large scale Indonesian intervention or to admit involvement. I told Moerdani that the President had also told me very recently that there was 'no change' in Indonesia's Timor policy. Moerdani said the President continued to believe that Indonesia's objectives could be secured by steady pressure.
  2. General Moerdani said he and General Yoga were 'trying to find a way to convince the old man' that Indonesia 'ought to move in'. Regional countries favoured the incorporation of Portuguese Timor with Indonesia. He did not believe they would criticise Indonesia if it took direct action with the apparent exception of Australia. They would not want to see the situation drag on. This would in the end only result in great loss of life on the way to the inevitable outcome. Tun Razak had again put this to President Soeharto at their recent meeting in Medan and urged that the sooner the situation was resolved the better even if this involved more direct Indonesian action. (Moerdani attended the Medan talks.) I said while Australia shared Indonesia's objective we could not condone the use of force or disregard the principle of self­-determination. Moerdani said I had told him this before. In these circumstances the best we could do would be to let events take their course and keep as quiet as possible.
  3. General Moerdani would not be drawn on the details of troop movements on the ground in East Timor. This is understandable. In August and September close personal contacts like Moerdani and Tjan had taken us more fully into their confidence than could reasonably have been expected, presumably on the grounds that the Australian Government should know what was really happening and that it would do its best to be understanding towards Indonesia. They are now worried, particularly since the Minister's statement of the 30 October,2 that the information which they had given us in the strictest confidence could possibly be used against them to condemn Indonesian involvement.
  4. The nearest Moerdani went was, however, to suggest that any Australian journalists in the Bobonaro/ Attabae area were in danger and Dili could become dangerous before the end of the year.

Relations with Australia

  1. Moerdani said that he understood the domestic pressures in Australia and our attitude towards humanitarian assistance. The fact remained that however well-intentioned our food aid to Dili, it was having the effect of prolonging the civil war and delaying the crumbling of Fretilin. It was only when Fretilin crumbled—politically or militarily—that the present situation could be brought to a conclusion.
  2. Moerdani said that there were some signs of this now. UDT and Apodeti forces were operating much more effectively than they had done in the past. There were also signs that Fretilin's morale was cracking. 200 Fretilin troops had recently deserted and 80 quite well trained Fretilin soldiers were now fighting with UDT forces.
  3. Moerdani said that when he had returned from America on 7 November he had detected 'some suspicion and hostility' towards Australia in 'certain circles' here. I asked who was in these circles. Apart from saying some officers at HANKAM and BAKIN he would not be specific.
  4. I said that I had the impression myself at the beginning of November that attitudes towards Australia were becoming cooler. I had thought this was due to the coincidence of a number of developments, including the union bans on Indonesian ships, the pressure we had had to maintain in order to obtain answers on the five Australian journalists in Balibo, reports in the Australian media that Australia was supplying substantial quantities of arms to Fretilin from disused wartime airstrips in Northern Australia, reports in the Australian media that the Indonesians had complained about the violation of Indonesian airspace and that the Australian Air Force and Navy were conducting espionage activities against Indonesia, reports in the Indonesian press that white soldiers, presumably Australians, were fighting with Fretilin forces and a general feeling based in part on the Australian media that many people in Australia adopted an anti-Indonesia, pro-Fretilin attitude. I said that we had worked hard to blunt this trend. We had strongly and publicly denied the ill-informed press reports.
  5. My own feeling was the situation had improved in the last two weeks. There was a better understanding of the domestic pressures in Australia and a recognition that many of the media reports, both in Australia and Indonesia, were misleading and mischievous. Moerdani said he had personally sought since his return to contribute to that improvement. One manifestation of this was the reversal of the decision not to allow the C 130 carrying Red Cross supplies to land in Kupang. I also said it was possible that some persons out of frustrations might have been seeking to put pressure on Australia in this way.

The Five Journalists

  1. General Moerdani said he did not want to 'sound hypercritical' [sic] but he wanted to express his sincere regrets about the deaths of the five Australian journalists. I said that I was glad he had raised this matter as I had intended to raise it with him. We had asked BAKIN for the remains of the fifth body if at all possible. I said that for reasons of legal proof of death and funeral arrangements this was necessary. At present we could not be completely certain for which one of the five deceased journalists there were no remains. General Moerdani said he would be seeing General Yoga and he would follow up this as soon as possible.


[NAA: Al0463, 801/13/11/1, xvi]