369 Cablegram to Canberra

New York, 9 December, 1975


Portuguese Timor

Consultations with Portugal and Indonesia by the President of the Security Council began today, 9 December. Informal consultations of the Council are to be held 10 December. Several Members (Richard, as Chairman, U.S., Japan, Italy, Sweden, France) are looking to Australia for a lead on action by the Council which would be constructive and feasible.

  1. As the debate in Fourth Committee 8 December amply demonstrated a call only for a ceasefire would be regarded by the majority as inadequate even as the first step, unless accompanied by a call for withdrawal.1 Call for a ceasefire would appear to accept Indonesian intervention as necessary, if not legitimate. We must accept the likelihood that the Fourth Committee tomorrow and within the next two or three days the Plenary and the Security Council will have urged or called upon Indonesia to withdraw its forces without delay.2
  2. The Portuguese representatives here told the 'Vinci group'3 (which I also briefed) today, that Lisbon has no plan for reintroduction of Portuguese army or police (O.LB6154) and I can detect no sign of any intention to return any of the Administration from Atauro to the mainland of Timor. The Portuguese, while insisting on their sovereignty and seeking the termination of Indonesian intervention, seem to have few constructive ideas, though they are beginning to promote the idea of negotiations under the aegis of the UN and the possibility of a UN peace­ keeping force. My impression is that should the Indonesians by any chance move out they would expect FRETILIN to resume control of Dili, though they are well aware that the situation will be irreversibly changed by even a few days of a strong Indonesian presence.
  3. I assume that, in the absence of any effective resumption of responsibility by Portugal for law and order, and until such time as the APODETI-UDT Administration can maintain itself, if this is indeed a possibility, the Indonesian Government will not be disposed to respond to United Nations calls for withdrawal. I take it that while we support the need for withdrawal in principle, we would not wish to see any withdrawal which would leave in East Timor not a vacuum but a kaleidoscope of violence and reprisal.
  4. Our immediate diplomatic problem and task has been to do what we can to reduce the pressure on the Indonesians. Campbell's skilled and pertinacious negotiation in the Fourth Committee has kept the 'ASEAN plus' group together and a relatively mild resolution seems to be emerging which will (A) avoid condemnation of Indonesia (B) avoid recognition of the so-called democratic republic (C) link withdrawal of forces with the programme of self­-determination. The Indonesians have been given time to restore order and to set in train their plans for organising the act of self-determination, to which they are committed.
  5. But according to Antara Malik has given a pledge that Indonesian forces will be withdrawn when law and order have been re-established. To prepare for that time, and to avoid the simplistic approach of some Council Members (Tanzania, China, USSR, Byelorussia) that Indonesia should simply withdraw its forces and restore authority to the 'legitimate representatives of the people' in Timor, i.e.FRETILIN, there may well be suggestions for a UN peacekeeping operation or assistance with administration pending self-determination on the model of Spanish Sahara.5
  6. Our second and urgent task, therefore, is to develop sensible and constructive proposals for the Security Council, to supplement the call for withdrawal for which we shall now be voting in the Assembly.
  7. Any UN presence in Timor will raise some problems for Indonesia, but Jakarta, before its intervention, had agreed to accept a visiting mission after order had been restored. I feel our Embassy should discuss urgently with Malik whether the Indonesian Government would be prepared to acquiesce [in a] proposal in the Security Council to send a small force to Dili, or by the Assembly (Committee of 24) to send a UN civilian and police group to assist on the Spanish Saharan model in preparations to consult the people. It should, I feel, be stressed to the Indonesian Government that while we are being as helpful as we can in seeking to avoid unjust criticism of Indonesia and impractical or unhelpful UN action, we could not protect Indonesia from international condemnation if it ignores completely calls by the Assembly and Security Council to permit UN participation in arrangements for self-determination.
  8. An immediate question is, of course, how any United Nations force or administrative unit could be composed. Australia did not respond positively to earlier Indonesian suggestions that we might contribute towards a regional effort to restore and maintain order, but in the present emergency it would not seem beyond the bounds of possibility, even before the election, that Australia offer a small contribution to a UN presence in the Dili area following the withdrawal of Indonesian volunteers. Malaysia might also be sounded out, if the Indonesian Government still regards Australia and Malaysia as appropriate. It might conceivably be worth considering a small element from Brazil, if no Portuguese are available.
  9. In any event I should appreciate urgently your guidance as to whether you agree that we should be active in the Security Council to anticipate the problems which would be raised by the adoption of a resolution calling for Indonesian withdrawal. I should also appreciate authority in the period of consultations, to discuss at least as a hypothesis, the possibility of an Australian contribution to UN action.


[NAA: Al838, 906/30/14/3, ii]