182 Cablegram to Canberra

Jakarta, 24 August 1975


Portuguese Timor

Ref O.JA1399 1

It might be helpful if I attempt to summarize main aspects of Timor situation as of Sunday midday as seen from here.

  1. Indonesia, in particular President Soeharto, has behaved with restraint and prudence in the situation so far.
  2. As of this morning, 24 August, President still does not want to authorise Indonesian intervention unless Portuguese Government, in the circumstances of its own inability to restore peace and order, agrees with this course. Another factor would be the acceptance that it is already too late for the UN to take effective action. Additional restraining factors, apart from possible Australian, American and international reactions to unrequested, unilateral Indonesian intervention, is that Indonesian forces could be involved in action against both FRETILIN and UDT forces, which would inevitably involve Indonesian casualties in present charged situation.
  3. I have also now spoken to Lieutenant-General Benny Moerdani-one of the few significant figures in the situation here whom I have previously not contacted and he-although a well-known 'hawk'-repeated that the President would not authorize intervention without Portugal's response to Indonesia's offer to restore peace and order. Benny Moerdani also enquired about Radio Australia report this morning that Governor Pires had called on 'international forces to intervene' adding that virtually the only international forces in a position to do so promptly, would be Indonesian.
  4. Indonesia probably cannot stand by for very long while killing continues unabated and especially if it starts to involve APODETI and its supporters, particularly indigenous Timorese supporters of integration. If Indonesia does intervene, even without a Portuguese request for assistance,-and we could be moving towards that situation if Portugal does not respond soon-they will be able to make a number of points to justify this, namely:-
    1. APODETI has so far tried to stay out of the conflict;
    2. although it was rejected and Indonesia probably knew it would be-APODETI did propose a referendum in Portuguese Timor at the Macao meeting;
    3. FRETILIN boycotted the Macao meeting and is apparently largely responsible for the present mortaring and shelling in Dili;
    4. UDT precipitated the coup and the consequent problems while APODETI and Indonesia have held their own hands;
    5. Indonesia has offered to assist the Portuguese in restoring law and order and has shown restraint during the present critical period, while awaiting Portugal's response;
    6. Indonesia's public position in support of arrangements for the people of Timor to determine their own future-and, as far as the President is concerned, his private position also-should stand up quite well internationally;
    7. the present situation is due not so much to Indonesia or APODETI (despite some excesses in February and March, especially on the part of APODETI, which were curtailed partly as the result of Australian influence) as it is to a failure of Portuguese control in the face of precipitate action by UDT and FRETILIN, the leaderships of both of which are largely non-indigenous.
  5. Sudharmono and Benny Moerdani have both given me the assurance, for what it is worth in this rapidly evolving situation, that if Indonesia does decide to 'move' then 'Australia will be informed in advance'. Moerdani said that we should get at least 2 hours' notice.
  6. The current situation raises again the question of whether the Prime Minister wants any views communicated to the President, either directly or indirectly. We would also appreciate guidance on Australian reaction to Indonesian intervention on the one hand, in response to Portuguese agreement that they should do so in an attempt to restore law and order if this is forthcoming and, on the other hand, stand-by guidance in the event that Indonesia does feel obliged to intervene without a Portuguese request or acquiescence. As of now I still do not expect this latter contingency but much will depend on what happens in Portugal and on the ground in Timor.
  7. If the Prime Minister does decide on some personal message to the President in the situation as it is now, I would suggest that he be guided in part by paragraphs 15 and 21 of my O.JA1389.2 We come back I think to the following essential factors;
    1. it is Indonesia's policy to incorporate Timor. Indonesia had hoped this could be achieved over a period of time in an internationally accepted manner;
    2. the present situation, which is not really Indonesia's fault, despite tendencies to blame them in some quarters, seems to render improbable Portuguese reassertion of its authority or effective action by the United Nations;
    3. the President will even at this stage only decide to intervene with considerable reluctance and, if he does so, we should not place ourselves in the vanguard of Indonesia's critics. Rather we should show as much understanding as we can of Indonesia's position and we should do what we can to assist in the humanitarian field in the restoration of peace and order; and finally
    4. we should keep in mind that there is no inherent reason why integration with Indonesia would in the long run be any less in the interests of the Timorese inhabitants than a highly unstable independence or continuing factional fighting.


[NAA: Al838, 3038/13/2/1, i]