189 Cablegram to Lisbon

Canberra, 26 August 1975

O.CH259518 SECRET IMMEDIATE/PRIORITY

Portuguese Timor

Ref O.LB246 1

For Cooper, Lisbon; for Woolcott, Jakarta; for Campbell, New York UN; for Minister, Lima

The Prime Minister has considered very carefully the Portuguese request for further help with evacuation. We should be glad if you would inform the Portuguese in advance of 24 hour deadline of the following reply to their request.

  1. While recognising that Australian interests in Portuguese Timor are not of the same order as Indonesia's and Portugal's, the Australian Government, as the Prime Minister said in his statement today in the House, will be alert to opportunities of contributing humanitarian assistance, but there are real questions of the practicability of such assistance given the breakdown of law and order, in the absence of which humanitarian activities cannot proceed effectively.
  2. Australia has two naval destroyers at its disposal in Darwin.
  3. Australia notes that, while the Portuguese authorities call for action of humanitarian character, they also refer to the presence of naval forces as a means of persuading the parties to the conflict (cf. Cruz's remarks to Cooper in paragraph 3 of O.LB246). It seems that the Portuguese authorities envisage that any Australian naval vessels sent to Portuguese Timor in response to their request would be involved in acts of force in Timor by landing at Dili and securing a perimeter against possible attack aimed at disrupting an evacuation. Our own information confirms that such a situation would have to be expected.
  4. As the Prime Minister said in his statement of 6 August,2 the Australian Government is opposed to Australian military involvement in Portuguese Timor. One of the first policy decisions of the Government was to determine that Australia would not intervene again in land wars in South East Asia, and this applies as much to the civil war in Portuguese Timor as to the earlier civil war in Viet-nam. Australian policies therefore would preclude involvement in the circumstances at present obtaining in Portuguese Timor.
  5. In addition to assistance already given, however, Australia stands ready to provide humanitarian assistance in Portuguese Timor as soon as circumstances permit and its provision does not involve engagement in such acts of force. The Australian authorities are actively examining what possibilities may be open to them. In particular, they are in touch with the ICRC.

2. For Woolcott. Please inform Indonesians and report any comments.

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