214 Cablegram to Jakarta

Canberra, 5 September 1975


Portuguese Timor

For Woolcott (Kuala Lumpur: for Parsons only; New York UN: for Sen Willesee and Harry only; Lisbon: for Cooper only) from Renouf

Thank you for your O.JA16151 which I have discussed with the Acting Minister. He agrees with your comments under the heading 'Australian position', from paragraph 19 onwards.

  1. We have repeated the telegram to Senator Willesee in New York and to Parsons in Kuala Lumpur and Cooper in Lisbon. Within the Department, it has been given a very limited distribution. Copies have also been sent to the Minister for Defence, Tange and Jockel.
  2. ....2we have confirmation of the planning you describe in paragraph 12 et seq of your telegram and there [are] also the press reports referred to in your JA1609.3 You appreciate the considerable stresses and strains which developments such as are being planned by the Indonesians will place on our relations with Indonesia and on current Australian policies towards Portuguese Timor. The longer it takes for the Indonesians to achieve their aims, the greater will be the stresses. Timing is therefore of considerable importance to us. Do you know when the OPSUS plan is likely to be launched? We should also be interested in any indications the Indonesians may give on the likely duration of fighting in Portuguese Timor once their plan gets under way. Is it the two months mentioned in another context (cf. O.LB2824 )?
  3. Because of the difficulties which prolonged Indonesian intervention in Portuguese Timor would cause for Australia, the other possible solutions of the problem of Portuguese Timor become more attractive to us. In paragraph 15 of your telegram, you mention that Indonesia considers that the United Nations will be unable to act effectively over Portuguese Timor. In the short term at least, we are inclined to question that assessment. Few countries and none of the Permanent Members of the Security Council are likely to have much interest in Portuguese Timor, and this may enable the United Nations to take action over the problem. The following paragraphs reflect my discussion of your telegram with the Acting Minister and the Minister for Defence.
  4. There are various courses possible in the United Nations. As a first step the Security Council might designate, or ask the Secretary-General to appoint, someone to go to Portuguese Timor to talk to the parties principally involved and to report to the Council. Some sort of United Nations peacekeeping force could be despatched to Timor or there could be a Good Offices Committee designed to negotiate a ceasefire. Both might be possible: the peacekeeping force might follow the Good Offices Committee. The latter might be selected by the Security Council or appointed by the Secretary-General.lt might consist of representatives from selected countries or it might be made up of Secretariat members. Whether these measures would produce a solution to the problem of Portuguese Timor is another question, but at least initially we would by no means exclude the possibility that the United Nations would be able to take some action on the problem.
  5. We recognise that whatever course is followed in relation to Portuguese Timor it will have substantial disadvantages as well as advantages. This comment applies as much to United Nations involvement as to any other course. But as we interpret the trend of events, they are leading in the direction of Portugal's referring the issue to the United Nations, and it would seem only prudent that Indonesia, ourselves and other interested parties should begin some contingency planning.
  6. Nor, indeed, do we share Indonesia's conviction that United Nations involvement would necessarily be detrimental to regional interests. The Indonesians, for example, have indicated strong opposition to the idea of a Good Offices Committee. But they did so, in our view, without giving adequate attention to the possibilities that such a committee might provide for Indonesia to establish its status and credentials in Portuguese Timor.
  7. If we were to go somewhat further down the road of United Nations consideration of Portuguese Timor, there are other possibilities which might be opened up, including the possibility of designating Timor as a United Nations Trust Territory (under Chapter XII of the Charter) with several regional countries being designated as Administering Authority but with Indonesia doing the actual work. The example of Nauru offers a possible precedent: the Administering Authority for Nauru was the Governments of the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Australia, but the other two Governments had Australia act for them in actually running the place.
  8. If the issue of Portuguese Timor finds its way into the United Nations Australia would certainly have to participate in any debates and show a forthcoming attitude towards proposals which emerged aimed at restoring peace and the process of orderly decolonisation of the territory. We should hope for Indonesian understanding in this: the Australian community would expect no less of an Australian Labor Government.
  9. But the foregoing is not meant to imply any suggestion that Australia itself would initiate action to size5 the United Nations of the Timor issue or encourage the Portuguese to do so.It is simply that we believe that Australia and Indonesia should begin to think about possible scenarios if, as seems likely, the Portuguese decide to refer the issue to the United Nations. Naturally we should wish in that event to co-ordinate very closely with the Indonesian delegation.
  10. We should also wish to avoid a situation where United Nations involvement takes place in an anti-Indonesian context. With this thought in mind, we consider it important that, if the Portuguese refer the question of Portuguese Timor [to] the United Nations, they should not do so in terms which are critical of or an embarrassment to Indonesia. There is perhaps little that we can do to dissuade them from criticism of Indonesia in their reference to the United Nations, given Portuguese suspicion of Indonesia. It may, however, be worthwhile putting it to the Indonesians that, if their further negotiations with Santos fail, it would be worthwhile trying to keep the atmosphere of the negotiations fairly cordial and hopefully express some understanding to the Portuguese of their intention to refer the matter to the United Nations.
  11. Finally, I should mention that we agree with your reasoning in paragraph 22 about the difficulties in Australian participation in the proposed Joint Authority.

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