188 Cablegram to Canberra

Lisbon, 25 August 1975


Portuguese Timor

Director of Political Affairs (Cruz) called me to the Ministry at 7.30 p.m. to hand me a third person note. Speaking to the note, Cruz said that the situation had further deteriorated, that the Macdili had been unable to embark refugees, that the port area in Dili was being shelled by FRETILIN, who generally appeared to be gaining the upper hand. In present circumstances the Indonesian Consul in Dili considered that it was impossible to evacuate the refugees.1

  1. The Portuguese authorities believed that the situation called for all out action of a humanitarian character including 'the immediate presence of the naval forces of Australia and Indonesia as a means of dissuading the parties to the conflict'.
  2. Asked what he meant by 'all out action of a humanitarian character' Cruz said they had in mind that, if naval forces could secure the port area of Dili, at least the evacuation could proceed. (Cruz said that the evacuees were now likely to include as well as Europeans, a considerable number of indigenous people and Chinese.)
  3. A note in similar terms had just been presented to the Indonesian Ambassador, and a similar appeal was currently being addressed to Waldheim in New York.
  4. If the Portuguese appeal for humanitarian assistance failed, the President had decided to wait 24 hours and then ask Australia and Indonesia to intervene militarily and restore order.
  5. Asked why the Portuguese did not immediately request Indonesia to intervene (as they had offered to do) Cruz said that they were afraid that if Indonesia intervened alone, there would be a massacre of FRETILIN forces. Moreover, a unilateral request to Indonesia would be interpreted by FRETILIN as a 'sell out' and could result in some 50 Portuguese troops besieged in the interior (and possibly including 2 Australians) also being massacred.
  6. Cruz said that they had no illusions about their appeal for humanitarian assistance. They expected this to fail (a) because the UN would not move fast enough (b) even if Australia were willing, our warships were still in Darwin and were therefore not immediately available, and (c) Indonesia was unlikely to respond to an appeal for humanitarian assistance only. Thus Cruz believes that an appeal to Australia and Indonesia to intervene militarily is inevitable, and that only Indonesia is in a position to respond. But we should all have no illusions about how the Indonesians were likely to behave once they had intervened. For this reason Cruz said that they were anxious if at all possible to try to make Indonesia accountable to the international community for its actions in Timor.
  7. I thanked Cruz for the frankness with which he had set out his Government's views. I said I would pass them to you immediately, and that if you had any views to put forward before the expiration of the 24 hour deadline and before the decision to approach Indonesia (and Australia) were implemented, I would get in touch with him.
  8. I have just seen Jakarta's O.JA1427.1 I note the Indonesian view that Portugal did not want to be accused of complicity with Indonesia by requesting Indonesia to intervene unilaterally, but it is clear from what Cruz has said that the real Portuguese fear is what might happen after Indonesian intervention. The Portuguese foresee a bloodbath in Timor unless there can be some supervision of Indonesian actions on the ground.2

COOPER [NAA: A10463, 801/13/11/1, xii]