442 Record of Conversation Between Peacock and Panggabean

Jakarta, 14 April 1976



Following opening pleasantries the Minister referred to the importance Australia placed on its relations with Indonesia. He referred to the increase in Australia's economic assistance to Indonesia in the next three year aid programme. He foreshadowed advice on the Second Defence Cooperation Programme from the Australian Defence Minister in the next few weeks.

  1. Panggabean1 said that that was good news, but he wanted to talk about Timor.
  2. Panggabean said he was sorry to have to say that he did not understand why Australia did not give assistance to Indonesia in solving the Timor problem. Indonesia supported the idea of self-determination. APODETI was formed by a spontaneous action of the people. It was not formed by Indonesia. APODETI, UDT (which initially favoured union with Portugal), TRABALISTA and KOTA joined together without Indonesia influencing them.
  3. Panggabean noted that FRETILIN had not attended the Macau Meeting because it had not wanted to accept UDT as representing the majority of the people. Portugal accepted FRETILIN's position and took no action. Then followed the FRETILIN/UDT clash, FRETILIN's counter offensive on 18 August 1975 and their Unilateral Declaration of Independence. Indonesia took no action until the end of September.
  4. Panggabean claimed that up to that time Australia had done nothing but assist FRETILIN. It never blamed FRETILIN and never helped the other parties. As the situation developed Indonesia could not remain passive. He wondered whether the threat to Indonesia was 'from the north or the south'. Australia was now the base for FRETILIN; its headquarters were moving there. He referred to the activities of Messrs. Scott and Fry and to the petition to the United Nations by 55 MPs.2 Indonesia had never harmed Australia. There was more talk about Timor in Australia than there was in Indonesia. Perhaps all this was because Australia was a democracy, but what about the Minister's 4 March statement?
  5. The Minister explained that with the democratic system in Australia, the Government was unable to direct public opinion or the attitudes of various groups. His party had not been in Government at the time of the events Panggabean referred to. The Minister pointed out that he had considered the FRETILIN boycott of the Macau meeting as disastrous and had said so publicly. He had never supported FRETILIN, nor had the Labor Government. He had publicly deplored the civil war and FRETILIN's Unilateral Declaration of Independence. At no stage had the Australian Government supported or recognised any party to the dispute. Panggabean said he found this difficult to understand.
  6. The Minister explained that Mr Scott and Mr Fry did not represent the Government's views. Mr Scott was a constant critic of the Government. Mr Fry was a member of the Opposition. Mr Peacock said he would not tolerate the cessation of aid to Indonesia or the breaking of diplomatic relations as some critics demanded. Australia's relations with Indonesia were far more important than their difference over Timor.
  7. The Minister said that, after 7 December, Australia had two other options in relations with Indonesia. First, to ignore mounting domestic pressure and say nothing about the Indonesian troops in East Timor. This approach would have ignored one of the lessons of Vietnam, namely, the need to have public support for foreign policies. The Government's aim was to have close relations with Indonesia. Arousing anti Indonesian feeling would not help. The second option would have been to adopt the idealistic approach and break relations with Indonesia. Mr Peacock repeated that Australia's relationship with Indonesia was far more important than the Timor issue, and referred to the 24% increase in aid as an illustration of this point. Australia had selected the most difficult diplomatic course in relation to Timor. It could not endorse the use of military force in another country or the use of coercion in an act of self-determination.
  8. The Minister stated the four elements in Australia's Timor policy. These were a cessation of hostilities, the withdrawal of Indonesian forces, the restoration of international humanitarian aid through the IRC, working through the Indonesian Red Cross, and a genuine act of self­-determination. He welcomed indications that Indonesia was starting to meet these criteria.
  9. There had been differences between the two countries before. We must not get Timor out of proportion. It should not be allowed to cripple our overall relationship. The increased aid was tangible evidence of the importance Australia placed on the relationship. The Minister said he could have waited until the domestic situation in Australia was more favourable before announcing the increase. He would live with the criticism, however.
  10. Panggabean said 'I understand. But you undermine us'. Mr Peacock disagreed. Panggabean said Indonesia had never interfered in Australian matters, why should Australia meddle in those of Indonesia? Yet 'everything (sic) in Australia is against us'. The 'simple people' of Indonesia did not understand why friends did not help one another. Indonesia was a developing country and needed Australia, but Australia also needed Indonesia.
  11. Panggabean asked what Australia wanted Indonesia to do, 'but don't make the situation more difficult'. Indonesian 'warriors' were in East Timor at the request of the PGET. Order and peace had to be restored before there could be an act of self-determination. He accused the Portuguese of distributing weapons to FRETILIN and continuing to pay the troops even when they fought with FRETILIN. What would have happened if Indonesia had done nothing?
  12. The Minister reiterated the difference of principle between the two Governments. Australia's position was that there should be no outside interference. But events had overtaken that. Now it was important that the Timorese should determine their own future.
  13. Panggabean agreed. He said 'leave it to the people'. Indonesia could not force them. Anyway such action would be against the Constitution. Until 28 November 1975 the President had been against Indonesian involvement in East Timor. Panggabean referred to Indonesia's colonial experience and said he could understand Timorese bitterness. 'We are not colonialists'.
  14. The Minister disagreed that Australia was 'undermining' Indonesia's policy. Panggabean replied that it must be 'our simple thinking'.
  15. The Minister said that Australia would welcome a PGET visit to Australia. If the Indonesians thought that a one-sided view was being put before the people in Australia, why not allow PGET representatives to come? Certainly though they would have to expect some demonstrations or difficulties if they did. He referred to elements in Australian society (leftist unions and some students) who would react strongly against attempts to limit FRETILIN activities or restrict their movement, in and out of the country. The recent Moratorium had been a 'flop and a fizzle'. It had proved right to allow FRETILIN spokesmen to enter Australia for it. If they had been refused entry this would have become a far greater public issue. Activities by FRETILIN members, by radicals and by others such as the 55 MPs who signed the petition would create more media interest if attempts were made to suppress or restrict them. The Government was walking a tight-rope in Australian society. But rather than undermining Indonesia, it had averted greater public criticism of Indonesia. The Cabinet had had nothing to do with the Parliamentarians' petition.
  16. Panggabean asked 'why didn't you tell us this earlier?' He hoped that those parties critical of Indonesia would not increase in number.
  17. The Minister said it didn't pay to dwell on the past. He did not want to exacerbate differences but the press was a problem. For instance he might be asked difficult questions at his Press Conference that afternoon, the answers to which could be headlines. He would have to say that there were differences between the two countries, but he would stress the total picture and not concentrate on Timor. He said that he welcomed the frank exchange with Panggabean on these differences.
  18. Panggabean said that Australia was the best friend of Indonesia, even better than the USA. Such a free and frank discussion was not possible with anyone else, for example, the English or the French. 'We must talk frankly to enable adjustments to be made'. Mr Peacock said that this would probably be the last time Australia and Indonesia would have to talk like this for a while. Panggabean repeated his request that Australia should not make the situation more difficult than it was. Panggabean commented 'we need each other. Let us know what you think we should do-we will adjust'.
  19. Mr Peacock said that it would help the Australian Government greatly if the ICRC returned to Timor.It could work with the Indonesian Red Cross. Australia did not necessarily want it to be associated with the Australian Red Cross, or to be based in Darwin. It could even go to Kupang.
  20. Panggabean stressed the need for stability in the region. He feared it would be upset if links between the OPM, RMS and FRETILIN were developed. Already there were signs of contacts between them.
  21. In response to a question about the situation on the ground in East Timor, Panggabean said that Timor was now controlled by pro-Indonesian factions; FRETILIN forces [were] of small brigade size (3-4 battalions); the maximum size FRETILIN force yet met was one company; these forces were spread over 13 districts and, therefore, there was only about one company in each district; there was 'no more' central control of FRETILIN; the FRETILIN surrender rate was high and still rising; and in the very near future FRETILIN would lose its 'strategic potential'.
  22. As to equipment held by FRETILIN, Moerdani explained that there had been two to three small sized brigades before UDT action in August. These brigades had spread out after August and he did not know how many of the soldiers were left. There were also militia, but there was no way of knowing exactly how many. Oecussi had been used by Indonesia as a yard stick to estimate FRETILIN strengths. There, a company of 180 well-trained soldiers had a total of 850 weapons of which about 650 were in the arsenal. Oecussi was the third largest garrison after Dili and Balibo. On the basis of this information Moerdani estimated there had been 9,000/10,000 weapons available to FRETILIN. Of these, Indonesian volunteers had captured 6,400 to 6,500 which left about 3,500 to 4,000, some of which may have been buried or thrown away. Initially, FRETILIN had had 3.84 tons of ammunition, but there was no way of telling how much was left. It would probably be sufficient for years of guerilla warfare. Some ammunition came in an unidentified ship about the time the Macdili went to Dili on 24 August (but not on board the Macdili). The cargo most likely included .30 and .50 machine guns. At least three had not been captured yet. (The ship was of 300 to 400 tons and could have been the one Syddell referred [to]. He added that he did not want to get sidetracked discussing the credibility of Syddell.)
  23. Moerdani said that on 3 March, the last big FRETILIN garrison had ceased fighting. FRETILIN remnants might take 4 to 6 months to reorganise as a military unit. Meanwhile they had the capacity to harass and shoot up small villages, but this should not be taken seriously by Australia. Pro-Indonesian forces could have taken out FRETILIN remnants by napalm (not with chemicals which they did not have) but restraint was preferred. By May/ June, at the end of the rainy season, the remnants would have to come out of the hills to get food and water. The villages only produced enough for themselves and Moerdani hoped that an active anti-FRETILIN attitude would develop in the villages.
  24. The Minister asked if the hard-core FRETILIN remnants could be won over by the PGET peacefully.
  25. Moerdani noted that it was already being done, but there were problems. It was hard to communicate with them. The Indonesians, whom they trusted more than their fellow Timorese who fought them in the civil war, could not speak the language. The remnants did not believe they would be properly treated. Also less than 150,000 people in East Timor were used to travelling outside their own area. Most did not want to move. Panggabean added that the overall level of intelligence in the territory was very low. Moerdani said that in the area FRETILIN still controlled there were about 120,000 people. They were afraid. FRETILIN had built flimsy barracks to house people who had left their villages and told them that the Indonesians would kill them if they met them.
  26. Moerdani said it would make his task in the field easier if the international community would 'get offlndonesia's back' so integration could be accomplished quickly. The PGET had suggested that one, two or three representatives from each of the district councils should meet in Dili to decide East Timor's future. Indonesia would support the PGET as much as possible. The method of selecting these representatives would probably not meet with international approval. It was important that the means of selection was understood in Australia—'the only white country nearby'. How could anyone expect an intelligent vote in a backward society like East Timor? Moerdani asked.
  27. The Minister asked whether some form of electoral choice could be arranged in the more sophisticated centres, such as Dili and Baucau. Australia did not wish to prescribe a particular form of act of self-determination, but it must carry conviction internationally. Moerdani said that Baucau was too small for some form of election, but it might be possible in Dili. There was a problem, however, in that in some places the people might even elect an Indonesian­—he would not, of course, seek election, but the people would not understand that.
  28. A system of one-man-one-vote was impossible, Panggabean argued. Mr Peacock said he understood the problem. He referred to the variety of methods of conducting acts of self­-determination throughout the world.
  29. Turning to the question of the five journalists from Australia killed in East Timor the Minister asked about the security of Balibo. The issue of the journalists was still important in Australia. He would like a member of the Embassy to go to Balibo and talk with officials of the PGET there and others who might be able to throw light on how the journalists died. Moerdani said Balibo was secure. He had invited the Ambassador to go with him. Panggabean invited Mr Peacock to go to East Timor. Panggabean asked if Australia would accept an act of self-determination which was not based on one-man-one-vote.
  30. Mr Peacock said he would be under pressure not to. But [that] efforts could be made to explain the nature of the Timorese society. It would be helpful if an elective process were adopted somewhere. Australia was looking for the Timorese to determine their own future uncoerced. The Ambassador referred to the importance to the PGET of ensuring its legitimacy.
  31. The Minister repeated the 'cardinal principles' of Australia's position. These were that the Timorese determine their own future (he noted that Indonesia agreed with this position); and that the overwhelming majority of Timorese be involved. How this should be done was not for Australia to say.
  32. Pangabbean asked if the Australian United Nations delegation could be asked to include in its Security Council statement that 'one-man-one-vote' was not feasible in Timor. The Minister did not comment on this. He said Australia would be looking for consultations between the parties to the dispute.
  33. Pangabbean concluded by saying 'we rely on your support. No other country can give us support. It is also for Australia's benefit. If we can't rely on Australia—who?'
  34. In a lighthearted exchange as the Minister left Panggabean said that he was glad Indonesia was not a democracy like Australia.

[NAA: A1838, 3038/10/1, xlv]