426 Cablegram to Lisbon

Canberra, 13 February 1976



Ref O.LB7231

We can understand that Timor has been a very difficult problem for the Portuguese with their procession of governments and foreign ministers throughout most of 1975. But what we find hard to understand is why, when the Portuguese think of an initiative, it is almost invariably unrealistic where it is not simply unhelpful. The idea for a conference of the Timorese factions, under United Nations auspices, is both unhelpful and unrealistic. The idea might have proved a good one when it was first being mooted in early December (LB615),2 but since then FRETILIN'S military position has [c]rumbled and the PGET has been able to extend its control to virtually all the main towns. FRETILIN resistance is likely to have collapsed into isolated, uncoordinated, and possibly not very effective, guerilla operations. In this situation, it is hard to see the Indonesians or the PGET's agreeing to anything which might serve to breathe new life into FRETILIN.

  1. It is more than likely, of course, that the Portuguese recognise all this, but that they are determined to keep the Timor issue alive in the UN as a means of embarrassing the Indonesians. We wonder, however, whether the objective is to get the Indonesians to withdraw or rather to maintain pressure on Indonesia to release the 23 Portuguese prisoners. It is possible to see an arrangement emerging whereby Portugal moderates its attitude in the United Nations, while Indonesia induces the PGET to give up the prisoners? It would seem that the release of the prisoners would at least go some way towards reducing tensions between Indonesia and Portugal.
  2. We would be grateful for your comments as well as Jakarta's.3

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