194 Cablegram to Canberra

Jakarta, 28 August 1975


Portuguese Timor: Proposed Use of RAAF Aircraft

Ref O.CH2600651

I spoke to Moerdani 0030 28 August (AEST).

  1. He took a surprisingly hard line on proposal to use RAAF aircraft. He said that because of the obvious incapacity of the Portuguese to act he saw no point in the proposed talks at Atauro. It was unrealistic to talk about the Governor transferring the seat of government.
  2. Moerdani said that the presence of an Australian Air Force plane at Atauro would create speculation on the main island. Its presence could also be misinterpreted both in Indonesia and in Portuguese Timor. It would also draw us into a situation which we had sought to avoid in respect of our naval ships in Darwin. I said that this was not so. We would see transporting Portuguese officers to the island in the context of hoping to get mediation between the parties going. It would not carry the risk of any use of counterforce such as would be involved in using our destroyers in Dili harbour.
  3. Moerdani repeated that the proposed talks would achieve nothing and that there was no point in pretending that they would. While it was our decision to use an RAAF aircraft for this purpose Indonesia would prefer us not to do so.
  4. I asked Moerdani whether he thought this view would be shared by his colleagues. He said 'yes' and that he had also discussed it with the Acting Minister for Foreign Affairs, Professor Mochtar. (As you know Mochtar is also unhappy about the proposal but did not express reservations as forcefully or as explicitly as Moerdani.)
  5. Moerdani made a final comment which suggests that he may be getting a little frayed around the edges under present pressures. He said that speaking frankly he felt that the Portuguese 'trust the white races more than they trust us'. I took this to be a reference to the Portuguese seeking our assistance and operating from Australia to arrange mediation between the parties while at the same time declining Indonesia's repeated requests to be asked to do the only thing which they believe to be essential before humanitarian assistance can be resumed or talks between the parties started, namely to reestablish peace and order.
  6. I do not have the impression that a flight at the time proposed would be 'inopportune' unless the President has a sudden and unexpected change of heart or unless the Portuguese agree tonight or early tomorrow morning to Indonesia's request that they ask Indonesia, either openly or officially, to restore peace.
  7. I detect a tendency amongst the Indonesian authorities to be increasingly impatient with what they regard as Portugal's incapacity to act while remaining reluctant to ask Indonesia to do so. This also applies to what they regard as unproductive and essentially obstructive (to them) efforts to divert energies away from the real issue-the restoration of order-to proposals (the Atauro talks, the UN, etc) which they feel are bound to achieve nothing.
  8. I asked Moerdani whether, if we went ahead, he thought the proposed time of the flight would be 'inopportune'. He declined to make any comment on this. He said it was up to us. Incidentally I have assumed the times given in your O.CH260065 namely between 1130 and 1500 hours is Darwin time.
  9. My own view is that if we wish to fly the Portuguese officers to Atauro in an RAAF aircraft we should not necessarily be deterred by Indonesia's attitude, although it is clear that they would not welcome our action. Perhaps a compromise would be to arrange a charter flight for the Portuguese officers.


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