68 Memorandum to Jakarta

Canberra, 13 December 1974


Portuguese Timor: Visit by Ramos Horta

Please refer to Canberra telegram CH148927.1

  1. We will be despatching separately the record of discussion between the Minister and Horta on 11 December. Again little new emerged. You might, however, wish to convey the following to the Indonesians. It draws on both the discussions with the Minister and those Horta had with Departmental officers on 5 December:-
    1. The main purpose of Horta's visit seems to have been to try to promote a political climate in Australia in favour of an act of self-determination in Portuguese Timor and-because FRETILIN (he claimed) had the greatest support within the territory- its probable outcome, independence. To this end Horta has engaged in a series of public addresses to sympathetic groups. He has combined this with lobbying of Australian members of Parliament and other political figures. He called on the Indonesian Embassy, on the Canadian and New Zealand High Commissions, and, on the Swedish and United States Embassies.
    2. In discussions with the Minister and Departmental officers Horta was anxious to seek some clarification of the reports that an 'understanding' had been reached between the Prime Minister and President Soeharto whereby Portuguese Timor should be incorporated into Indonesia over the heads of the Timorese. Horta was told that the Australian Labor Government stood firmly by self-determination and that we acknowledged that incorporation into Indonesia, which we should welcome, was nevertheless one of only several solutions that an act of self-determination might yield. Australia would be prepared to accept and support the outcome of an act of self-determination whether this led to independence, a decision to continue in association with Portugal, or to incorporation into Indonesia.
    3. Horta professed fears about Indonesian intentions and referred to reports of Indonesian military deployments etc. He wanted Australia to come out firmly and publicly against Indonesian 'interference'. We responded that Indonesian leaders had stated on a number of occasions that, while they saw incorporation of Portuguese Timor as the best solution, they would scrupulously respect the outcome of an act of self-determination. The Minister pointed out that Mr Malik had now clarified an earlier statement in which he had appeared to have ruled out independence as a possible option. As the Minister understood it, Indonesia accepted that there were three possible options for Portuguese Timor, although Indonesia also felt that on economic grounds Portuguese Timor might prefer a solution other than independence.
    4. We told Horta that Australia had very close and friendly relations with Indonesia. Indonesia would be aware that Australian public opinion would react adversely to any move aimed at forestalling or pre-empting an act of self-determination in Portuguese Timor. They would also know that it would have an adverse impact on official Australian/Indonesian relations. There was thus no need for Australia to make any public statements about the matter. In any event we would not favour an antagonistic and pugnacious public statement of Australian opposition to what, after all, was a hypothesis (i.e. an Indonesian takeover). This was not how good neighbours like Australia and Indonesia treated each other.
    5. We added that we believed Horta's fears were exaggerated. We had no reason to believe that Indonesia was thinking of any precipitate military move in relation to Portuguese Timor. Indonesia nevertheless had a legitimate worry that an independent Portuguese Timor would constitute a destabilizing influence in the region. We completely understood why Indonesia should wish to assure itself that external forces inimical to its interests should not be allowed to penetrate Indonesia via an independent Portuguese Timor. It seemed to us that Horta and his FRETILIN group should be doing more to allay Indonesia's fears, and to reassure the Indonesians about his intentions. In this connexion, we invited Horta to ponder the possible disadvantages of the associations he appeared to be developing with groups in Australia (albeit minority groups) and perhaps elsewhere which had evinced some hostility to President Soeharto's Government and might well be hoping to exploit Timor simply as a means of 'getting at Indonesia'.
    6. Horta responded to all this with a vigorous denial that his movement was Communist inspired, or indeed, that it shared any of the Communists' aspirations. He stressed that FRETILIN was a nationalist organisation which had received no financial or other support outside the country. He added that FRETILIN realised that an independent Timor would need to pursue a good neighbour policy which took full account of the interests of both Indonesia and Australia. An independent Timor, Horta added, would want to join ASEAN.
    7. Horta also pointed to the restraint he had exercised in his references to Indonesia during his several press conferences in Australia. (This is true.) He agreed with us that he should visit Jakarta again and spoke of doing so in January when he would hope to see among others, Lt. General Ali Mortopo. The Jakarta visit, however, would be one of a series of visits which he apparently intends to make and which might include visits to New Zealand, PNG and possibly the United Nations.
    8. We never succeeded in getting a wholly coherent picture from Horta of the way he sees developments unfolding in Portuguese Timor over the next few months. However, in his discussions with the Minister, he seemed to foreshadow a long gestation period (five years or so) during which Timor would continue under Portuguese sovereignty. To Departmental officers, he mentioned the possibility of 'local elections' early in 1975 to be followed by territory wide elections in 1976. He also mentioned to the Minister the Governor's idea for a consultative council to be established fairly soon and to be composed of representatives nominated by the various political groups in Portuguese Timor. This body, which would apparently have an advisory function, would presumably function in the period pending the 1976 elections. FRETILIN, however, as well as the other groups, apparently has difficulties with the formula proposed by the Governor for sharing seats in this interim Council.
    9. At one point in his discussions with Departmental officers, Horta seemed to be suggesting a 'Mozambique solution' by which he meant that Portugal would come to accept that it should eventually hand over power to FRETILIN as the (self-appointed) major nationalist political force in Timor, and dispense with the need for a separate act of self-determination by way of elections or some form of popular consultation. We responded that such a procedure was hardly likely to be regarded as a convincing act of self-determination in Australia, or indeed in Indonesia. Whether or not Horta got the message, in his discussions with the Minister he dropped all reference to this 'Mozambique formula' but reiterated that a plebiscite would not be appropriate in Portuguese Timor. He indicated that this view was shared by the other political groupings. He went on to speculate about the possibility of a U.N. visiting mission substituting for a plebiscite.
    10. The Minister was cautious in responding to Horta's overtures about Australian aid. He said we could not give money or budgetary support but would be willing to consider some technical training. Departmental officers had earlier indicated to Horta on 5 December that Australia would prefer to provide aid on a trilateral basis with Indonesia and Portugal rather than to undertake a direct bilateral program.
    11. Horta asked officials whether Australia intended to re-open its Consulate in Timor. He was told that the matter was under consideration but that we could not hold out any prospect of an early move to re-establish the Consulate. (For your own information we have reservations about such a move at this time, although we recognise that the pressure particularly of consular work could force our early re-consideration of the matter.)
    12. Horta has also invited a group of Australian MPs to make a private visit to Portuguese Timor. He envisages a joint Government-Opposition group. This matter is still being considered within the Government. We are concerned that, should a parliamentary group go to Portuguese Timor, it not be manoeuvred into positions which might be interpreted as anti-Indonesian or anti-Portuguese. If a group does visit Portuguese Timor, we should wish it to be strictly a fact-finding exercise.
  2. As you will appreciate the foregoing is a very frank account of our discussions with Horta, and we should be grateful if the Indonesians could be asked to protect the information accordingly.2


South-East Asia Branch

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