437 Cablegram to Canberra

Lisbon, 31 March 1976



Following from Minister for External Co-operation, Vitor Crespo, on 31 March.

  1. Crespo thought the Winspeare report1 was 'realistic', although it was regrettable that he did not have more to say about the actual situation on the ground.
  2. Portugal realised that with every passing day their capacity to influence the situation was becoming progressively less. Portugal had no further economic interests in Timor. Such links as remained were historical and cultural. But they did have an obligation to the Timorese to do what they could to maintain their right to self-determination. For this reason, Portugal would not compromise on the two principles of an Indonesian withdrawal and an internationally acceptable act of self-determination. The modalities proposed by the PGET (in effect the Indonesians) were clearly unacceptable.2 It was not that Portugal was opposed to integration¬≠—what it did oppose was a stage-managed act of self-determination by Indonesia.
  3. TAsked what he thought of the idea that each village should send a representative to a consultative assembly (O.UN53123) Crespo said any consultation under PGET auspices was unacceptable to Portugal (and he thought to the UN also). What was needed was an interim administration (not necessarily under Portuguese authority) which would be answerable to the United Nations. (Crespo was not very clear on this point but he seems to envisage the Committee of 24 as playing a role in this.)
  4. Crespo said that he had had recent reports suggesting that FRETILIN was by no means finished as a political and military force. (He did not disclose his source.) I said it was difficult to imagine how FRETILIN could maintain any sort of political organisation without communications, and still less a military force without external supplies. On the latter point Crespo believes that FRETILIN has managed to retain control of the very considerable quantities of small arms and ammunition left behind by the Portuguese. He also thought that FRETILIN, whilst they could not abandon the goal of independence, were now prepared to consider some accommodation with the other parties all of whom seemed to want a measure of economic and cultural autonomy from Indonesia. He recognised however that in present circumstances political autonomy was simply not on.
  5. Portugal was not greatly concerned whether China was president or not during the forthcoming debate in the Security Council. But they would be firmly opposed to a delay until May (para. 3 of O.UN53124). Portugal wanted the debate to take place as soon as possible.
  6. Crespo did not think that China's interest in the Timor question was as great as some of their public statements might suggest. (Crespo has been Portugal's contact man on establishing relations with Peking on which I am reporting by separate telegram.)


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