221 Cablegram to Canberra

Jakarta, 10 September 1975


Portuguese Timor

For Acting Secretary; for Minister and Harry; for Cooper

Thank you for your O.CH2643751 and O.CH264372.2

  1. I consider we are now entering a more complex and potentially more difficult phase on Timor, which is going to call for careful handling by Australia. We are going to need to find the correct balance between our fundamental long-term policy interests as determined by the Acting Minister and the likely more immediate domestic pressures which might be generated in Australia.
  2. I believe that despite suggestions from Mochtar to the contrary, President Soeharto's position has hardened in recent days and we now face a situation of increasing Indonesian covert intervention in East Timor and increasing confusion-some of it deliberately manufactured-as well as a possible flare up of fighting in the colony.
  3. Information Minister Mashuri's statement of 9 September (our JA1724 refers)3 which was in fact drafted by State Secretary Sudharmono-who as you know very faithfully reflects the President's views-reflects this. So does Mashuri's belated approval of the use of Indonesia's propaganda machine which, on his orders, has been idle on Timor since last February/March.
  4. The President's attitude has probably been affected by the belief here that Santos was-and some Portuguese (e.g. Mota) are-planning to hand over power to Fretilin alone, the increasingly serious refugee problem in Indonesian Timor, Fretilin's messages to the ABC and the United Nations, John Penlington's report of his talk with Major Mota broadcast by Radio Australia, and the reports of foreign submarines in the Timor area.
  5. The pressure on the President, especially from HANKAM to approve greater intervention in Timor has grown. (Defence Minister Panggabean's Personal Assistant, Dr Sinaga, told us on 9 September that 'the tempo of the gamelan music had increased' and the players had to dance more vigorously.)
  6. Generally, I believe developments are now taking the second course, with variations to suit the situation, outlined in paragraphs 11-14 of our JA1615.4 We know that on 7 September the President agreed that if Fretilin declared independence, UDT and APODETI declarations in favour of integration would be published. These declarations have in fact already been announced (JA1733) in the absence of a Fretilin declaration but because Fretilin claimed that it controlled virtually all of Portuguese Timor. However, Tjan maintains that Fretilin only controls the area Liquica/Dili/Baucau (see JA1725). The rest of the territory is 'disputed'.
  7. The President has now also agreed that supporters of integration with Indonesia should be protected by 'volunteers' from Indonesia.5 As Fretilin's opponents are reinforced and rearmed a situation of confusion similar to that of two weeks ago is likely to develop. According to Tjan, who is now intimately involved in the planning of Timor policy and who must be taken seriously, the President on 7 September did not rule out the option-which was put to him-of using conventional Indonesian forces in support of the 'volunteers'. According to Tjan, only Generals Ali Murtopo, Moerdani and Yoga Sugama are aware of this. Mochtar and Mashuri and other Ministers are not.
  8. The operations described above represent one level of Indonesia's Timor policy. There is of course the second and more public diplomatic level--encompassing Acting Foreign Minister Mochtar's activities and the continuing negotiations with Santos. At this level Indonesia is seeking to keep the President 'clean' and to ensure that Indonesia's international standing is threatened as little as possible by the actions being taken by Indonesia or which Indonesia may take in Portuguese Timor.
  9. Extraordinary as it may seem to Australian Ministers familiar with our more institutionalised policy formulation processes, Indonesian policy on Timor is being formulated in a way reminiscent of Byzantine or mediaeval court-craft with the President in complete command but declaring only different parts of his game to different persons.
  10. This does not make the task of interpreting Indonesian policy particularly easy for foreign representatives here. This is especially so when the Acting Foreign Minister himself is either not fully informed of the actual plans and operations at the basic level of policy and is being used by the President to play a certain role; or he is an actor of quite amazing talent. This explains why we receive conflicting advice on Indonesian policy from General Moerdani and Tjan on the one hand, and Mochtar on the other hand. Examples of this are whether Indonesia wanted Santos to return to Jakarta, whether Indonesia is prepared to accept a United Nations involvement in Timor, and on the possibilities of cooperation with Fretilin.
  11. Despite these contradictions, Mochtar's activities are an essential and important part of Indonesian policy. He will still talk with Santos possibly on the basis of the draft memorandum and draft terms of reference for a joint authority on a 'take it or leave it' basis. He will also discuss Santos' proposals for talks between the parties and Portugal. Tjan said today 10 September, that Indonesia's attitude towards the proposed Macau meeting would probably be that the meeting was Portugal's business. All parties would have to be included in any decolonisation process which would need to be administered fairly by the Portuguese, not by Fretilin.
  12. The Indonesians will probably try to persuade Santos to say that Portugal is incapable of solving the Timor situation. If Santos does not oblige them, the Indonesians will attempt to 'prove' that Portugal cannot cope in Timor. This is of course an essential part of the 'no-man's-land' program (our JA16776). This would help them present publicly any future Indonesian intervention.
  13. Moerdani and Tjan still believe that Santos intends to hand over to Fretilin if at all possible. They see the invitations to Apodeti and UDT to attend a Macau meeting as window dressing following Indonesia's hostile reaction to a possible handover to Fretilin. Tjan has now developed a theory that the 10 August 'coup' attempt and all that followed are part of an elaborate plan, organised mainly by Major Mota, to create a situation in which power could be transferred to Fretilin.
  14. Tjan is not impressed by Horta's statements about cooperation with other parties and Indonesia. Mochtar is also unsure about the nature of Horta's role and the extent to which he can legitimately speak for Fretilin leaders in Dili. Incidentally, Tjan said that Her Tasning had been taken in by Horta and had been instructed not to pursue contact with him.
  15. I have described this situation at some length because of its complexity and because you need to know that it could be dangerous to make any judgements on the basis of what some Ministers say here or what the Indonesian Ambassadors in Lisbon, Canberra or New York might say.
  16. On one level a covert operation is under way to secure the incorporation of Timor into Indonesia with which the President and Acting Foreign Minister will not be publicly associated and of which the latter is probably even unaware.
  17. On another level the semi-public, diplomatic search for an accommodation continues.
  18. The President has not entirely closed off his options yet and if the covert operation were to come unstuck and Fretilin seem likely to hold on to power he might still, if he chose to do so, change course again and seek some accommodation with the moderate group in Fretilin although I think this unlikely. It would be a feat of great political dexterity for Indonesia, having dismounted from the dying horse of Apodeti to then dismount from the defeated change-mount of UDT only to mount the Phoenix of Fretilin rising from the political ashes in East Timor. In this situation we ourselves should not burn our bridges with any of the parties, including Fretilin.
  19. I am aware of public pressures on the Government to be seen to act constructively and your concern about the strains on our relations with Indonesia that Indonesian action of the type now embarked on might create, especially if prolonged. But in this confused and complex situation I can only recommend as I have before, that as far as we feel able to, we leave it to the parties principal-the Timorese, Portugal and Indonesia-to sort out the mess and that we remain as uninvolved as possible.
  20. After careful further consideration in the light of the situation as of today, 10 September, I think we should stay with the recommendations in paragraphs 23 and 24 of my JA1615, which the Acting Minister has endorsed.


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