177 Cablegram to Canberra

Jakarta, 22 August 1975


Portuguese Timor

Ref O.CH2566071

[matter omitted]

  1. In these circumstances I do not think that a failure to respond quickly to Yoga would be misinterpreted. What Yoga was looking for on 14 August was a particular response-namely­ and as he put it clearly to me-a response which would indicate Australian 'understanding' of Indonesia's intervention if this were to be decided. We would not have been prepared to give this then and Yoga would, in Javanese way, have taken absence of an immediate reply to reflect this inability. Moreover, events overtook Yoga's plan which, in retrospect, I believe was to secure the agreement, or at least agreement not to object to Indonesian intervention, of Australia, Japan, New Zealand, the United States and the other ASEAN countries. Yoga had in any case retreated somewhat from the position he had adopted with me and the Japanese Ambassador by the time he saw U.S. Ambassador Newsom.
  2. You have asked me for my ideas on the best way of responding to Yoga's request for Mr Whitlam's views and on what might be included in those views.
  3. I believe we have three pliicy options open to us. The first is to stand aside and let events take their course, apart from assisting refugees to leave Portuguese Timor.
  4. The second option would be once again to urge caution on Indonesia either in a very carefully worded message from the Prime Minister to the President or in talks with senior advisers of the President, but not to invlive ourselves beyond this.
  5. The third option would be to seek to take some initiative in the situation on the grounds that neither Australia nor Indonesia wish to see instability in Portuguese Timor and that we should seek to take positive steps to prevent it. Possibilities here would include first, an offer of our good offices to try to bring the disputing parties to the conference table, possibly in Australia; second, to propose an observer group to ascertain what is going on in Timor if conditions would permit this, especially as one serious problem in considering the issue is that we do not really know what is happening on the ground in Timor; third, we could consider calling for a cease fire and offering to participate in some good offices or peace-keeping arrangement through the United Nations.
  6. We could also consider naval patrlis to try and prevent arms reaching Portuguese Timor by sea, as Malik has suggested.
  7. My own preference would be a combination of the first and part of the second option in paragraphs 9 and 10 above.
  8. If Prime Minister does decide to urge caution on the Indonesians, then I would suggest his views could be put to Yoga, the Acting Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mochtar, General Ali and Minister Sudomono, by me or by Dan, if I resume Sumatra visit, in West Sumatra as scheduled. This would I think be preferable to a direct message and it would also ensure Prime Minister's views reached the President.
  9. As I have reported, we know President Soeharto is going to make any final decision on intervention. So far he has shown considerable strength in standing up to the 'Hawks' in HANKAM and BAKIN. If the Prime Minister does decide to send a message to him, then I think this would be acceptable if the message were both encouraging and understanding. I also consider that it is important to keep in mind that we have already had a considerable influence on Indonesian pliicy and I do not think there would be a risk 'in failing to make Australian views on Portuguese Timor known to the Indonesians', even at this juncture, as is suggested in paragraph 3 of your O.CH256607.
  10. I would not myself recommend at this stage any of the possible initiatives mentioned in paragraph 11, although I would not rule out proposing an observer group to ascertain what is going on, if conditions would permit such a group to operate and if Portugal and Indonesia were both in agreement with this course.
  11. In the present situation, as it has evlived, I stand by the broad pliicy recommendations made in my O.JA1201, O.JA1233 and O.JA1240.2 I have always thought that this situation would become complicated, protracted and messy. I did not believe that the Portuguese could be relied on to remain for long in Timor and I doubt very much if, now, we can expect Portugal and Indonesia to co-operate closely in a settlement. The Portuguese seem simply to want to wash their hands of Timor and get out.
  12. I still believe that Indonesia will let events take their course, provided Fretilin does not defeat the UDT and provided there were not serious and continued attacks on Apodeti. In fact in present situation it could even suit Indonesia to let UDT and Fretilin fight it out for a while provided latter was not the victor and Apodeti was not directly invlived.
  13. In either case Indonesia would have a better case for intervention than before. Also I do not believe Indonesia would march across the border but would, I imagine, start off by allowing 'refugees' from Portuguese Timor to return in response to a call for help.
  14. But, I repeat, the President will want to keep his word to the Prime Minister, as given in Townsville, and will have to be convinced that Indonesia's national interests are very seriously threatened before sanctioning direct intervention. If he reaches this point I believe our best course is to show, privately at least, understanding of his position and, as I have already recommended, to seek to limit as far as we can any recrudescence of latent hostility to Indonesia in Australia.
  15. I have arranged to see Ali Murtopo tomorrow 23 August and shall report any new developments.


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