172 Submission to Willesee

Canberra, 20August 19751



Portuguese Timor: Report of Mr Fisher

Mr Denis Fisher of the Department's Indonesia Section returned to Darwin last night 18 August after spending two days in Portuguese Timor helping with evacuation plans and looking into the political situation.2

  1. Fisher sent a brief telegram from Darwin last night summarising some of his impressions and will be putting together a more detailed message later today. He will return to Canberra on 21 August. In his telegram ... Fisher invites our attention to an appeal which he was asked to convey from the Governor that the Australian Government 'make some sort of international approach' to try to forestall the civil war situation which Governor Pires believes to be shaping up in Timor.
  2. The following is based on Fisher's telegram and on telephone conversation with him from Darwin.

    General Impressions

  3. The situation in Dili is still one of stand-off with the Portuguese co-existing with UDT, which is in effective control of the city. Talks between the Governor and UDT leaders continue, but are making little progress. Fisher's freedom of movement in Dili and his air travel to Baucau and Same were guaranteed by UDT. The Governor also guaranteed his freedom of movement in Dili but it was the UDT guarantee that was the important one: it is clear that outside of Dili the Governor's writ no longer runs.
  4. Fisher's impression was that the situation may be somewhat worse than we had thought. Dili is reasonably quiet, but events in the mountains are not at all reassuring: FRETILIN and UDT are clearly engaging in a good deal of rather wild blood-letting and there has been burning of villages in many areas. (Fisher was not aware of FRETILIN-APODETI clashes, though we know that there have been some fairly serious ones.) While flying to Same (three­ quarters of the way across the island south of Dili) Fisher saw many houses and one entire village burning. The Portuguese have neither the manpower nor the authority to undertake any police or military action in the mountains (or, for that matter, in Dili where the police have sided with UDT). The Governor thus has to sit in Dili while UDT and FRETILIN sort themselves out. Fisher believes, however, that UDT is very much on top (except in the Aileu area) and that FRETILIN resistance can be no more than sporadic and of short duration. The Governor's fears of 'civil war' may thus be a little overstated. FRETILIN is clearly in a state approaching eclipse.
  5. The mood of the Governor is best summed up in his last minute summoning of Fisher to ask the Australian Government 'to make some sort of international approach to try to forestall a civil war'. Fisher's impression is that the Governor, marooned in Dili and far from Lisbon, is now clutching at straws.
  6. It appears that FRETILIN and UDT are in the process of wooing Timorese army units. No clear picture of army preferences has yet emerged though Fisher's impression is that the trend, here also, is towards UDT rather than FRETILIN. The 300 Portuguese military men are holding on in Dill and Baucau but the Governor is not inclined to risk trying to make use of the army. UDT's 'take-over' of the police in Dili means that UDT has at its disposal all of the police weaponry and ammunition; FRETILIN, according to the Governor, has virtually no arms.3


First Assistant Secretary

South-East Asia and PNG Division

[NAA: A1838, 3038/10/112, ii]