287 Cablegram to Jakarta

Canberra, 22 October 1975 5.19 p.m.


Portuguese Timor

Ref O.JA2498, O.JA24971

For Woolcott

Although the interview with Malik was a difficult one-and we are interested to note from the first paragraph of your JA.2498 that Malik apparently intended it to be difficult-we are glad that you have been able to speak to him about the Australian reaction to Indonesian military intervention in Portuguese Timor. That reaction should be kept in the context of the last two sentences in the third paragraph of the submission quoted in our CH.279965,2 which refers to the responsibilities of the political parties, including Fretilin and Portugal, for the situation which has developed in Timor.

[matter omitted]3

It would obviously be desirable to avoid an argument developing with the Indonesians over these points but while we appreciate that there are aspects of our policies towards Portuguese Timor which, with some justification, they may not like, we need to avoid difficulties with them which are based on lack of information on their part or distortions of fact.

  1. We are concerned that Malik should have mentioned that Indonesia had firm evidence that Fretilin agents were attempting to buy arms in Darwin and Melbourne as well as Hong Kong and Macau. The Government is on public record as saying that the export of arms to Portuguese Timor would not be permitted. We should be grateful if the Indonesians would tell us what the firm evidence is that they have in mind. All aircraft leaving Darwin for Portuguese Timor are already being searched (although we think that it would be impossible for the light aircraft which are used between Australia and Portuguese Timor to carry quantities of arms which could be significant, given the Portuguese stocks which have fallen into Fretilin's hands).
  2. We appreciate the difficulties you raised in JA.2497 and can confirm that they were considered by Ministers when they came to their decisions. In a sense, as is reflected in paragraph 5 of the submission quoted in our O.CH279965, the question is one of timing. In this connexion, we can confirm that Ministers will want to avoid expressions of disappointment about Indonesian action in Portuguese Timor as long as possible, and we think that your suggestion that (when the stage is reached that some such expression has become unavoidable) reliance should be placed on widespread media reports is a good one.
  3. Our O.CH279965 and O.CH2799664 indicate to you how the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister are now thinking about Portuguese Timor. We leave it to you to judge how and when that thinking can be conveyed to the Indonesians. We take your points in paragraph 3 of JA.249[7]5 about making representations to Moerdani and Tjan.
  4. We do not want you to 'press' the view that Fretilin is capable of sustaining protracted resistance against the Indonesians but merely at some stage to raise it again as a possibility which we suggest the Indonesians might take into account. It is for you to judge how and when this possibility might best be mentioned to the Indonesians. Again, timing will be all important. We should want to avoid the risk that your remarks be misinterpreted by the Indonesians as an indication of Australian support for Fretilin. We should also want to avoid a coincidence with the expressions of disappointment mentioned above. The development of the military situation in Timor will obviously affect the readiness of the Indonesians to entertain ideas about the range o[f] courses which might allow their interests in Timor to be furthered­ and perhaps the present moment is not propitious. There are other similar ideas in which, depending on how the situation develops, the Indonesians may see certain advantages. For instance, it is possible that once a sizeable area of UDT-Apodeti control were established in Portuguese Timor there might be advantages in and openings for pressing forward with talks between the Timorese parties at a time when Fretilin might be expected to be susceptible to the need for an accommodation in some way with Indonesia.
  5. It has been our belief, since the Prime Minister's first conversations with President Soeharto, that the Indonesians had been prepared for a reaction in Australia to Indonesian policy towards Portuguese Timor which, in a sense, would run parallel with the two or more levels on which the Indonesians themselves are conducting their policy. In other words, we have thought that the Indonesians had understood that it would not be possible for Ministers to remain silent if it became obvious that Indonesian forces were engaged in Portuguese Timor and indeed you have reported as much qu[i]te recently in JA.2432 (para 12).6 It might be worth taking Tjan over some of the ground covered on this point in your earlier reports.

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