73 Cablegram to Lisbon

Canberra, 29 January 1975

O.CH166709 CONFIDENTIAL ROUTINE

Portuguese Timor

The Joint Communique published on 22 January by UDT and FRETILIN could foreshadow important and possibly rapid developments in Portuguese Timor. It does not of course indicate when FRETILIN and UDT might hope to achieve their now common aim of independence, we imagine that FRETILIN continues to look to early independence, with UDT still favouring some continuing Portuguese presence for as long as possible. But there has clearly been a narrowing of the gap between the two groups.1

  1. The references in the Communique to the establishment of a transitional government, comprising FRETILIN and UDT, suggest that these two parties may have in mind a solution for the territory that would obviate the need for a plebiscite. Instead they could be thinking of the direct transfer of authority to a government (initially transitional) composed of their two parties as the self-proclaimed representatives of the majority of the people of the territory. You will recall that Ramos Horta in his recent discussions with officials in Canberra, hinted at such a Mozambique-type solution.
  2. We would not wish to intrude into a matter that is properly the domain of Portugal and the people of Portuguese Timor. Nor should we wish to appear to question the good faith of Portugal and its ability to effect decolonization in Timor. Nevertheless, important considerations of regional stability (and indeed of the welfare of the people of Portuguese Timor) are involved, and could turn on the question of how the process of decolonization is carried out. Specifically, the Indonesians who now seem to have subscribed to the need for an act of self-determination in Portuguese Timor, could easily revert to a more forward position should it appear that a FRETILIN stratagem were likely to succeed which would bypass an act of self-determination altogether. Such a course could be regarded by Indonesia as a direct challenge to Indonesia's interests, providing a pretext for Indonesia's direct intervention.
  3. For these reasons, we remain strongly in favour of a genuine act of self-determination in Portuguese Timor as an essential step in the resolution of the territory's future. This point has been made to the Portuguese and the Indonesians by both the Minister and the Prime Minister. It was also made to Ramos Horta during his most recent visit to Canberra.
  4. In our memorandum 53 (repeated 15 to Jakarta)2 we asked that you take an early opportunity to explore latest Portuguese thinking on Portuguese Timor. This was against the background of indications which had come to hand that Portugal might be thinking of a more compressed timetable for constitutional advance than we had earlier been led to believe. The establishment of a common front between UDT and FRETILIN gives added point to the approach to the Portuguese. We need an assessment of the significance of the alliance between UDT and FRETILIN, and whether it is likely to hang together. Was the agreement between the two parties worked up in collaboration with the Portuguese authorities? Do the Portuguese still see the need for political progress in Timor to proceed at a careful and deliberate pace? Or do they now envisage more accelerated development? A discussion with the Portuguese at this time should also provide an opportunity for you to re-iterate our strong concern that there be a genuine act of self-determination in Timor. In doing so, you should reiterate the points in paragraph 3 above.3

[matter omitted]

[NAA: Al838, 49/2/1/1, iv]