243 Cablegram to Canberra

Jakarta, 27 September 1975


Portuguese Timor

I discussed Timor situation with General Moerdani for over an hour last evening, 26 September.

Possible Talks with Portugal

[matter omitted]1

  1. I added that one of the problems bedevilling the present situation was the intense suspicion of Portugal in Indonesia and of Indonesia in Portugal. Would it not be in Indonesia's own interests to explore thoroughly the possibility of a change of heart in Portugal and the possibility of talks? Even if the talks came to nothing Indonesia would have been seen to be doing its best to bring about a political solution. General Moerdani said he saw the logic in this position and would be prepared to put it to the President at the weekend. (He will be seeing the President again on Sunday.) However, the mood at the high level policy meeting with the President last Thursday had not been in favour of talks.
  2. Summing up Indonesia's attitude to the question of talks General Moerdani said that General Panggabean, himself and others were opposed to talks with Portugal and the parties because of their distrust of Portugal and the doubts about the practicability, nature and the outcome of such talks. He had however taken note of what I had said and would follow this up. I said that if there were no talks and if as seemed possible, given recent reports from the border area, Fretilin would gain full control of all of Portuguese Timor, what then? General Moerdani said Indonesia's 'official position' would be that Fretilin had gained control by force and with the connivance of leftwing Portuguese soldiers who had given them the arms to do so. Indonesia would not accept an independent Fretilin-controlled East Timor which came about in such circumstances.

    Present Indonesian Attitude

  3. On the situation in general, Moerdani said that the Indonesian Parliament (DPR) and its ASEAN neighbours were becoming impatient with the drift of events. Nobody really wanted a weak, independent East Timor on the southern fringe of the South East Asia region which would be an easy prey to outside interference. It would always be a trouble spot to Indonesia, Australia and other countries in the region.
  4. Moerdani went on to say that if Australia had agreed two weeks ago to cooperate with Indonesia in restoring law and order the problem might have been settled by now. I said that this was unfair and unrealistic. Australia could not have agreed to put combat forces into East Timor and we did not know what arrangements Portugal might have actually agreed to in any case. General Moerdani said that he realised this but Indonesia now found itself in a difficult position which was not of its own making and under pressure to settle the issue itself without help. Nobody wanted an independent East Timor, except Fretilin leaders, but nobody was prepared to take the sort of steps which would facilitate its integration into Indonesia. With the exception of Malaysia countries wanted Indonesia to make all the running. I referred again to the possible change in Portugal's attitude. I also said that this was natural as the choices facing East Timor really boiled down to independence or integration with Indonesia. General Moerdani conceded this but made it plain that Indonesia would welcome firmer public support for integration than we have been able to give.
  5. Moerdani then said 'the old man (President Soeharto) is still standing firm'. He said to him (Moerdani) last night that he did 'not want to carry the blame for the rest of his life' for Indonesian intervention in Timor.
  6. I asked Moerdani whether reported Fretilin mortar attacks across the border were genuine or whether they were designed to prepare the ground for counter action against Fretilin. Moerdani said that on three separate occasions on the 24 and 25 September Fretilin mortar fire had landed in Indonesia. Although this was 'definite' the President had decided that there would be no retaliation at this stage. On the other hand he had agreed to Indonesian forces being placed along the border. General Panggabean however had reacted very strongly (as you will know from cabled Antara report). Moerdani added that he believed UDT and APODETI would counter attack. They wanted to do so, however, with Indonesian armed forces given Fretilin's firepower but President Soeharto had still not agreed to this. Moerdani said that 'speaking as a soldier' he thought the President had been wrong. The longer the issue dragged on the more Fretilin might delude itself that it could sustain independence and the more it might attract support in the countryside. Simple people tended to 'go with the strength of the moment'. This meant that regrettably there might now be more casualties than there would have been unless Fretilin came to realise that in the longer run its position is untenable and decided to seek an accommodation with Indonesia.
  7. Moerdani told me that UDT and Apodeti group would take Ocussi and establish themselves there. This would mean that the whole colony could not be said to be under Fretilin's control even after the fall of Batugade. Indonesia would permit them to transit Indonesian territory for this purpose. Also on the military side, Moerdani said that 'one brigade minus' (I gather this means one and a half to two battalions) of Indonesian regular troops are now being moved to the border area. If Fretilin forces as distinct from mortars were to cross the border, then Indonesia wanted to be in a position 'to chase them all the way back to Baucau'. I asked whether the President had agreed to this. General Moerdani said the President had authorised the moving of the battalions to the border area but had 'not yet' authorised them to cross it.2

[matter omitted]3

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