436 Memorandum to Canberra

[Jakarta,] 25 March 1976

SECRET AUSTEO

East Timor

Attached is a record of some of the main points covered in a talk with Tjan on 16 March.

  1. Your attention is invited in particular to Tjan's comments on the problems flowing from the command structure for the East Timor operation and on the President's health.
  2. Dr Sinaga, Special Assistant to the Minister for Defence, in a recent conversation with us, confirmed that the command problems existed. Tjan has, of course, referred to them before.
  3. There are basically two criticisms of the Government's Timor policy attributed in local diplomatic gossip to 'sections of the Army'. One is that the large scale military operation should have been undertaken in late August last year. The other is that the military operations in December and since have not been conducted as well as they might have been.
  4. Those generals, including Moerdani, who in August were recommending strongly a quick action probably still believe that course of action would have been preferable to the one subsequently adopted. But they accepted loyally the President's decision against their recommendation. We have no evidence to suggest that, in so far as this opinion (i.e. in favour of a military strike in August) is still expressed, it is so in any more than an academic manner.
  5. In our view the second main criticism arises from the problem of the command structure. Not only has the operation been run by a relatively junior General in HANKAM (Moerdani) it has had (because of the Government's public policy) to be conducted in a more [covert] way than would be normal for an operation of its size. For both reasons some senior Army Generals have not been party to decision making on the operation. Naturally unhappy at this situation some of them have apparently seized on difficulties experienced in East Timor, especially in initial assault on Dili on 7 December, to criticise the way the military operation has been organised. But, as far as we know this criticism has not been levelled at the Government's policy to integrate Timor by force (albeit presented publicly in other ways). Despite Tjan's comments we consider the command problem remains. (See attached copy of the Military Attache's memorandum of 25 March to the Department of Defence.)
  6. Tjan's comments on the President's health were interesting.1 We have not, however, seen a reference to his throat problems before.

WOOLCOTT

[NAA: A10463, 801/13/11/1, xxi]