Skip to main content

Historical documents

262 Cablegram to Canberra

Jakarta, 15 October 1975


Portuguese Timor

We are surprised that you seem to accept the view that FRETILIN control is an established fact (paragraph four of O.CH277826).1 While for the present FRETILIN does hold most of East Timor, this assessment is2 inconsistent with what we have been told here and reported to you about Indonesian intentions.

  1. As far as the Indonesian Government is concerned, the only acceptable solution now to the future of Portuguese Timor is integration with Indonesia. President Soeharto wants this integration to occur with as little harm to Indonesia's international reputation as possible. He is still looking to Indonesia's regional friends, including Australia, for help and understanding in this regard.
  2. We should face the fact that at this stage there are no signs that he is not prepared to escalate Indonesian involvement in the territory to the extent he considers necessary to prevent FRETILIN consolidating its hold on Portuguese Timor and to achieve integration, even if this should lead to international criticism of Indonesia.
  3. As we reported in JA21613 and JA23764 President Soeharto has recently authorised a significant increase in Indonesian involvement (JA2376 would have crossed with your CH277826). The stepped-up operation begins today, as you know. Tjan has now given the following additional details about it.
  4. All Indonesian forces operating in Portuguese Timor will be dressed as members of the anti-FRETILIN force. They have been assembling in Atapupu. Initially an Indonesian force of 800 will advance will then move towards Dili through Ermera. Another 800 will advance to Suai and proceed towards Dili through Same, Maubisse, and Aileu. An amphibious force, including some unmarked tanks, will land at Maubara and proceed on land to Liquica and on towards Dili. Further troops (to take the total up to 3800) will eventually go to Atsabe to support the other troops. APODETI and UDT troops will also be involved. The present intention is not to attack Dili but according to Tjan to force FRETILIN in Dili to surrender by isolating it. The airport is likely to be put out of action. For the time being, Indonesian and anti-FRETILIN forces will not be concerned with major operations in the western part of Portuguese Timor. Logistic support for the operation is acknowledged as difficult and helicopters may be used.
  5. It is of course clear that the presence of Indonesian forces of this order will become public. The Indonesians acknowledge this. The President's policy will be to deny any reports of the presence of Indonesian forces in Portuguese Timor. What they will do if a tank is captured or an aircraft is shot down or a sizeable number of prisoners are taken remains to be seen. It is possible they will be said to be 'volunteers' or 'Timorese deserters' acting in response to UDT/APODETI calls for assistance and to enable refugees to return to their homes in East Timor.
  6. We are not in a position to assess the likelihood of success for the Indonesian operation. The Indonesians are confident. They estimate the FRETILIN armed force at 5000, including reservists. If difficulties arise Indonesia will, we assess, escalate its involvement to overcome them.
  7. There is, therefore clearly a substantial difference between JIO's foreshadowed assessment of the situation and BAKIN's. I consider-as I have suggested before-that in these circumstances it would be unwise to base our policies on assessments which may tum out to be false. We will know how successful present Indonesian plans have been in four to eight weeks. If these plans go well Tjan said Portuguese Timor would be fully integrated by next April. JIO assessments have been wrong in the past. So have BAKIN's. They are after all assessments and it would be prudent to see how the situation develops over the next few weeks before jumping to conclusions.
  8. Meanwhile Indonesia will continue to portray its policy in as favourable light as possible on the diplomatic and public presentational level. Foreign Minister Malik's agreement to talk with his Portuguese counterpart is part of the pattern.
  9. Meanwhile Indonesia will continue to portray its policy in as favourable light as possible on the diplomatic and public presentational level. Foreign Minister Malik's agreement to talk with his Portuguese counterpart is part of the pattern.
  10. On the basis of the Townsville talks, President Soeharto will assume that the Australian Government will make every effort to give Indonesia what support and understanding it can. The Prime Minister's Statement in the House of Representatives on 26 August5 confirmed this assumption. An example of the Indonesian Government's confidence that the Australian Government understands and is sympathetic with its objective of integration is the extent to which it keeps us informed of its secret plans.
  11. The Indonesian Government is aware of the different views in Australia on relations withIndonesia and on the Portuguese Timor issue. It expects criticism in Australia. It expects the Government to react critically against the future of Portuguese Timor being decided without the wishes of the people of the territory being ascertained. But there is no doubt in my mind that the Indonesian Government's fundamental assessment of our position is predicated on the talks between Mr Whitlam and President Soeharto in Townsville. Particularly important to the Indonesians was the Prime Minister's view expressed in the Record as follows:-'He wished to reaffirm, however, that we strongly desired closer and more cordial relations with Indonesia and would ensure that our actions in regard to Portuguese Timor would always be guided by the principle that good relations with Indonesia were of paramount importance to Australia'.
  12. While the way in which the situation has evolved-the collapse of Portugal's decolonisation policy and UDT and FRETILIN's resort to force-was not foreseen in Townsville, the President would I believe make the assumption that if the two main strands of Australian policy, namely understanding of Indonesia's position and support for integration, on the one hand, and support for self determination on the other, were to become irreconcilable-as they appear to have become-then the Australian Government would attach more weight to the former consideration than the latter.
  13. Indonesia is committed to ensuring APODETI and UDT wrest control from FRETILIN. I do not think they will tum back now.
  14. I am seeing General Moerdani, who is just back from Timor, tonight, and Malik, who is at present in Bali, on his return on Friday and shall report further tomorrow.


[NAA: A1838, 49/2/1/1, viii]

  • 1 Document 257.
  • 2 One and a halflines have been expunged here.
  • 3 Document 246.
  • 4 Document 258.
  • 5 Document 191.
Last Updated: 17 June 2013
Back to top