427 Cablegram to Canberra

Lisbon, 16 February 1976


Portuguese Timor

Ref 0.CH3205041

Crespo's proposal for a conference under UN auspices may seem unrealistic at this stage, but it reflects the Portuguese view that the PGET is essentially a group of Indonesian stooges and that, if the Indonesian presence were withdrawn, the Timorese would, if given a real choice at this point of time, opt for independence rather than integration. The Portuguese are well aware that neither of these conditions is likely to be fulfilled-as Crespo observed 'the withdrawal of a few "volunteers" will not change anything'. But the Portuguese will be satisfied if it can be shown that the UN's objectives in Timor-i.e. self-determination-have been frustrated by Indonesia in the interests of realpolitik. Having put Indonesia in the dock, the Portuguese are now concerned to secure a verdict of guilty. They are certainly not looking for ways and means of letting Indonesia off the hook

  1. It follows therefore that the Portuguese would be most unlikely to accept a deal with Indonesia over their prisoners. The prisoners issue is clearly an important element in Portuguese thinking, but their antipathy to Indonesia is too deep seated for them to condone Indonesian policy in Timor just to recover some prisoners. Whilst some key Portuguese officials (e.g. Santos and Cruz) have all along been pretty cynical about Indonesian intentions, Foreign Minister Antunes was outraged by Indonesia's military intervention. As we reported at the time, Antunes returned from the Rome talks convinced of Malik's good faith, that Indonesia genuinely wanted a political settlement, and that Indonesia could and would 'deliver' UDT and APODETI for round table talks. When all these hopes proved illusory, culminating in Indonesian military intervention, the Portuguese (and Antunes in particular) felt that they had been duped and humiliated by Indonesia. They are thus in no mood to be cooperative or helpful in seeking a solution designed to accommodate Indonesian interests. If the UN is prepared to condone or whitewash Indonesia's actions in Timor so be it, but Portugal will not assist in the process.
  2. It is probably not sufficiently understood that Timor represents a national humiliation for the Portuguese. Unlike the former African territories, where the prospects for peaceful and orderly decolonisation were never very bright, Timor was the one Territory where, given time and freedom from outside interference, a genuine act of self-determination under Portuguese auspices seemed possible. In frustrating these hopes the Portuguese see Indonesia as the villain who created APODETI, connived in the UDT coup, and subsequently carried out a systematic campaign in Timor culminating in direct intervention, one of the main effects of which was to highlight Portugal's impotence even to maintain a presence in her own Territory. Against this background one can at least understand the bitterness reflected in Portuguese official statements on Timor. The fact that Portugal finally took the problem to the UN was a further admission of Portugal's inability to cope with Indonesian pressure.
  3. Despite Portuguese attitude towards Indonesia, I should place on record that in my numerous talks with Portuguese Ministers and officials, they have always shown a lively appreciation of the difficulties which the Timor problem poses for Australia, and of the importance for us of maintaining good relations with Indonesia. While they would obviously have liked us to have adopted a more partisan and pro-Portuguese position, they have at least understood and respected the reasons why Australia does not wish to become directly involved in the Timor problem.


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