151 Cablegram to Canberra

Lisbon, 3 July 1975


Portuguese Timor

Following comments may be helpful in context of next week's ASEAN Heads of Mission meeting.

A major area of potential disagreement between Indonesia and Portugal is the London 'understanding' on Indonesian assistance to APODETI.

  1. Lisbon's agreement to 'discreet' measures by Indonesia probably does not coincide with Jakarta's understanding that they will be permitted to create circumstances which will make integration 'a foregone conclusion'. Any testing of this understanding by the Indonesians could have important implications.
  2. Lisbon would accept integration if the people choose it. Indonesian help for APODETI, in a discreet way, would be tolerated e.g. probably financial support, training in Indonesia etc. The Portuguese Government however has built up a myth about the purity and idealism of its decolonisation and a thinly disguised or overt Indonesian operation within Timor's borders would not be condoned (even though, at the same time, an open invasion would not be resisted militarily).
  3. In their relations with Indonesia, the Portuguese are torn between their new-found 'affinity and brotherhood' with the Third World and their ideological progressivism. Ideologically, the two military regimes are poles apart and any Indonesian testing of the London agreement by overt action would be likely to bring the latter sentiment to the fore. If pushed in this way by the Indonesians, a pro-independence position would be very difficult for the Portuguese to avoid. Political pressures in Lisbon would then be for independence. If in addition pressure came from black Africa, especially the former Portuguese territories, the Portuguese would not want to see the whole of their decolonisation policy compromised by events in Timor. (Portugal's relations with Africa have a greater priority than relations with Indonesia.)
  4. For the time being, however, policy-making on Timor is in the hands of moderates (Santos, Alves, Campinos-the more radical Major Mota being at the moment in the minority).lf the decolonisation process they have designed proceeds without any problems, this is likely to remain the case. You should be aware, however, that Timor is one of the few policy areas that remains in the hands of moderates in Lisbon. The trend is against the moderates and any change in policy-makers on Timor could only be for the worse from the Indonesian point of view. (This is something the Indonesian Charge has mentioned to us.) You should also be aware that Almeida Santos' Ministry (and presumably his own position) will be dissolved at the end of the year after Angolan independence. Timor and other residual issues will then pass to the Foreign Ministry.


If events proceed smoothly Portugal will probably be prepared to stay in Timor for at least another three years. Earlier suggestions of up to eight years no longer seem realistic. (This appears to have been born[e] out by reports of the new draft law on Timor.) The actual time, despite whatever timetable is now agreed on, will probably depend on the gravity of Portugal's economic situation and the amount of assistance it receives in Timor from third countries. Timor policy is likely to remain in the hands of the moderates for the foreseeable future, unless decolonisation ceases to proceed smoothly, or unless overt action by Indonesia projects the issue into more prominence in Lisbon. 1

[NAA: A10463, 801/13/1111, x]