371 Cablegram to Canberra

Lisbon, 10 December 1975


Portuguese Timor

Ref O.JA35681

I would not define the Portuguese position in precisely the terms used by Jakarta in para 10 of their reftel. The Portuguese certainly blame Indonesia for breaching the Rome Agreement (by their resort to force) and they also see UN involvement as now essential to any orderly decolonisation process. But by rejecting FRETILIN's UDI and the integration declaration of the pro Indonesia parties, and by reaffirming their (albeit symbolic) sovereignty in Portuguese Timor, it cannot be said that Portugal's reference to the UN was a means to 'disengage itself from its responsibilities in Timor'. Portugal has said all along that reference to the UN would be a last resort and only to be undertaken when they were convinced that the search for a political solution was beyond their means. They clearly regard Indonesian military intervention in this light.

  1. The Indonesians have accused the Portuguese of breaching the Rome Agreement. But the Portuguese believe just the opposite. Antunes returned from Rome believing that he had achieved an understanding with Malik to restore the Macao decolonisation process and convinced that Indonesia could 'deliver' UDT and APODETI so far as round table talks were concerned. Moreover Antunes thought he had made it clear that, as a possible venue, Bali was simply not on, and Malik appeared to accept this. When therefore the pro Indonesia parties after a delay of some weeks finally proposed Bali the Portuguese concluded that Indonesia was not seriously interested in talks. (As Cruz remarked to me at the time both sides behaved in a very 'oriental' way at Rome.) In this context it is worth noting that Villas Boas (who accompanied Antunes to Rome) has told Cousins that Antunes was 'shocked and surprised' by Indonesia's decision to intervene. (Please protect Villas Boas.) It also helps to explain the subsequent relatively strong reaction by the Portuguese Government to what they regard as Indonesian duplicity in Timor.
  2. In retrospect, I think that those of us who have lived with the Timor situation for the past few months have all been so mindful of the overriding importance of our long term relations with Indonesia that it has in my view inhibited us too much in what we have said to the Indonesians. Had we, for example, pressed the Indonesians much harder on the question of talks, and made it clear that public opinion in Australia and elsewhere simply would not understand any failure of our joint efforts to get the parties together, we might have headed off the tragic sequence of FRETILIN's UDI followed by Indonesia's almost inevitable intervention. As it was, Indonesia's decision to intervene seems to have been at least partly based on an incorrect assessment of the Portuguese position in respect of the FRETILIN UDI based on their Ambassador's interview with Crespo.2
  3. As for the future there is some small consolation in the fact that, even at this late stage, Portugal is still prepared (unlike in Angola) to cling to its sovereignty in Timor long enough to implement an act of self determination, if it receives enough international backing for its position. Now that it has restored 'law and order', Indonesia could presumably afford to withdraw in the knowledge that any act of self determination, even under UN or regional supervision, would now be unlikely to yield a pro FRETILIN result. In any event this is a risk Indonesia must take if President Suharto still wants integration to be effected by 'legal' means.
  4. One final point, I think it would be a mistake to attribute much influence to the Balibo affair in assessing Australian media reaction to Indonesian intervention. The Indonesians are themselves committed to the principle of self determination for the people of Timor and Australian public opinion is unlikely to settle for less.


[NAA: Al838, 3038/11164, ANNEX]