219 Cablegram to Canberra

Jakarta, 7 September 1975


Portuguese Timor

Acting Foreign Minister Mochtar summon[ed] me today, Sunday 7 September

  1. He said that Indonesia had heard on Radio Australia that Fretilin had proposed talks with Portuguese officials in Canberra on 20 September. Indonesia also believed that Santos was now planning to regard Fretilin as a de facto government in East Timor to which Portugal could relinquish its powers. This had been confirmed by reports from Indonesian intelligence sources and from the Indonesian Embassy in Canberra.
  2. Mochtar appeared to be quite angry and spoke from notes which, I noticed, were in his own handwriting. He said that Indonesia now regarded Santos as a 'man completely without honour'. Indonesia had had 'enough nonsense' about 'Portugal's moral obligations' to Timor. It was now clear that Santos' sole concern, and probably Lisbon's also, was to get 'off the hook'. Portugal, through Santos, was in fact now creating a de facto situation of a sort which Indonesia could itself have created weeks ago had it sought to do so. Mochtar added that all this confirmed his earlier suspicion of the Santos mission. But what worried him now was the way in which Australia was apparently being misused by Santos and Fretilin and inadvertently drawn into the political situation in a way which could be contrary to Indonesia's interests.
  3. Mochtar then said we would be receiving an official Note from the Indonesian Government tomorrow (8 September) after he had cleared it with the President tonight. (Mochtar said he and General Moerdani would be discussing Timor with President Soeharto tonight.)

[matter omitted]1

  1. I said that if the President approved a Note in these terms Indonesia would I believed be over-reacting. There was no doubt about the direction of the basic thrust of our policy on the Timor issue or about the paramount importance which we attach to our relations with Indonesia. The Government was under considerable domestic pressure to act and so the government had concentrated its activities in the humanitarian assistance field to avoid undue political involvement. Mochtar interrupted to say that this was so but we were being 'drawn in'. I said it was not the Government's wish that its endeavours in the humanitarian field should be misused or misinterpreted. Moreover, the Government would not allow Canberra or indeed any other site in Australia to be used as a base for discussions between the Portuguese and Fretilin. Our view was that any such talks should take place on Portuguese soil or on a ship. Mochtar said that he accepted this as long as the talks were not held on an Australian ship, but he felt we were being inadvertently and unintentionally used by the Portuguese and he hoped that the Australian Government would 'take Indonesia's views under serious consideration'. The Acting Minister said he believed he was making 'a reasonable request'.

[matter omitted]sup>2


  1. A situation now seems to have arisen in which the Indonesians feel that we could be allowing ourselves to be drawn too far into the situation in a way which they would see as being helpful to Portugal and to Fretilin but contrary to their own interests. I shall do my best to counteract this impression.
  2. It seems to me that Fretilin could now well 'win' in East Timor. But there would be thousands of refugees in Indonesian Timor including some UDT and Apodeti leaders. In these circumstances we are likely to face a period of instability in East Timor during which Indonesia will seek to quarantine it, if it is under de facto Fretilin control, from external involvement including Australian involvement. At the same time Indonesia will mount covert operations from across the border, combined with attempts both to keep Apodeti in being and to persuade the more moderate elements inFretilin that their only logical long-term future lies with Indonesia.
  3. In this situation our best long-term interests will, as I have suggested (para 24 of my O.JA16153 ) and as the Acting Minister has agreed (para one of your O.CH2637594 ), I believe be served by strict Australian non-involvement outside of humanitarian assistance, understanding of Indonesia's concerns and interests and by efforts to blunt, as far as possible, the stimulation of hostility towards Indonesia within the Australian community.
  4. While I am not too concerned about Mochtar's tone, it does reflect a feeling here that we have become too involved in what is essentially an Indonesian/Portuguese problem and that we have been too accommodating to Portugal because of our own reading of domestic pressures and public opinion. (The Indonesian Embassy in Canberra has apparently minimised the strength of the latter pressures in its reporting to Jakarta.)
  5. We shall cable full text of Note when it is received tomorrow.5


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