238 Submission to Whitlam

Canberra, 19 September 1975


Portuguese Timor

Your attention is invited to the attached article by Mr Bruce Juddery in the Canberra Times of 17 September. At the end of his article Juddery refers to the danger that Indonesian military intervention in Portuguese Timor could lead to a bitter war continuing for up to 10 years with very bad consequences for relations between Australia and Indonesia. He alleges that our policy on Portuguese Timor ignores this danger.

  1. The danger which Juddery describes is one which we all along had in mind considering Portuguese Timor. In a major submission of [13] December 1974 to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, 1 the Department commented: 'There are grounds for regarding the outlook in Portuguese Timor as ominous ... the terrain is very rugged with an obvious potential for guerrilla warfare. Some thousands of men receive continuing military training and it would be easy for outsiders to introduce arms. An armed revolt in Timor would be very hard to put down and might drag on for years ... It seems unlikely that political development in the territory will take place without incident. It would be prudent to expect disturbances and periodic bouts of violence as the various political groups increase their activities and try to extend their influence into the up-country villages and isolated mountain areas . . . The Indonesians have so far shown no appreciation of the risks that, if they occupy Portuguese Timor, they might face armed opposition capable of sustaining guerrilla warfare for many years-with all this prospect implies by way of openings for outside intervention in the territory.'
  2. Against the background of these fears the Department asked the Joint Intelligence Organisation (nO) for an assessment of the Indonesian capacity to pacify Portuguese Timor by military means. On 10 February the no provided us with an assessment which concludes as follows:-

    'It is assessed that the Indonesians could handle an insurgent type resistance for these reasons:

    1. the insurgents would lack a sanctuary from which to draw support in the form of training, rest, weapons etc. The Indonesians would be able to substantially isolate the island.
    2. It is unlikely there would be strong international support, either moral or material, for the insurgents.
    3. The Timorese do not appear to have a strong will to pursue a protracted insurgent campaign against the Indonesian army. The level of education and political consciousness is low.

    The Indonesians would parallel expected resistance with the type they experienced in Dutch New Guinea and which they have managed to contain.'

  3. We renewed our request to the Joint Intelligence Organisation more recently and on 26 August the no provided us with a further assessment concluding as follows:

    'In view of the probable lack of material support for the resistance from outside the island, and the broad experience that the Indonesians would bring to bear in dealing with disturbed political situations and dissident movements, we expect that the Indonesians would be able to secure, control and pacify the regions that they chose to occupy in strength. This would include the more populous areas.

    'While any resistance movement would not be able to challenge or seriously threaten Indonesian control, the size and strength of the resistance movement would be related to the skill of Indonesian political intentions and programs. The nationalist impulses at work in Portuguese Timor are likely to continue despite the present break-down.'

  4. These assessments reflect the belief that the FRETILIN leaders have neither the military competence [n]or the political effectiveness of some guerrilla leaders elsewhere and that they will not receive substantial outside support. We shall certainly need to keep these questions under review. Clearly if it looked as if the Indonesians, by their actions in Portuguese Timor, were being drawn into a major guerrilla war lasting some years, we should have to consider reviving with the Indonesians the ideas we have previously expressed to them about the possibility of their living with an independent Portuguese Timor over which they would exert a preponderant influence. But in our view the occasion for doing this has not yet arisen. Nor should we hope that if we were to revive these ideas with the Indonesians we should have much effect on them or that such ideas would be well received.2


First Assistant Secretary

South-East Asia and PNG Division

[NAA: Al838, 3038/10/l/2, ii]