303 Record of Conversation Between Feakes, Joseph, Curtin and Horta

Canberra, 28 October 1975


Portuguese Timor

Mr Horta said that he was aware that Portuguese Timor would find it difficult to attract attention during the Australian 'political crisis'. However 'Australia' knew that Indonesia had intervened in Portuguese Timor. He thanked the Department of Foreign Affairs for its 'diplomatic efforts' and said that Australia had done 'far more than Portugal'. The Portuguese television team had evidence of Indonesian intervention on film. This would be shown in Europe, and perhaps also Australia.

  1. Fretilin had done its best to talk to Indonesia and was prepared to send a delegation to find out 'what they want of us'. Fretilin was not a threat to Indonesia and was not a 'communist' organisation. Fretilin was in fact a 'nationalist movement' and the 'moderate wing' was in full control. Indonesia did not want to come to any understanding with Fretilin. Rather it wanted the situation to 'continue to deteriorate'.

[matter omitted]

  1. Fretilin had responded to the Portuguese call for talks. There had, however, been no Portuguese reply to the Fretilin message of acceptance. Mr Feakes asked whether Fretilin would attend talks which UDT and Apodeti also attended. Mr Horta said it would be up to Portugal to talk to UDT and Apodeti. When the Portuguese had worked out an 'agreement' with UDT and Apodeti, Fretilin would talk to them. However, Portugal was doing nothing to promote talks.
  2. Mr Feakes said that the Australian Government would like all three parties to take part in talks and work towards a return to something like the Macao Agreement. Mr Horta said this could happen if Indonesia kept out. 'Some kind of Macao-style agreement might then be possible'. The 'superiority' of Fretilin would have to be recognised, but the other parties would be permitted to function. The old UDT leaders had no 'credibility'.

[matter omitted]

  1. Mr Feakes asked how Fretilin saw the future. Mr Horta said that everything depended on Indonesia which would eventually take over through a 'full' military operation. Fretilin would eventually run out of ammunition and Indonesia would move in.It might take only two to four weeks, but Fretilin might hold out until the end of the year. The wet season would not greatly hold up the Indonesian advance.
  2. Fretilin would 'go to the mountains' when the Indonesian advance became unstoppable. Then things would get serious and the fighting would go on 'for years'. Moreover, Indonesia having failed to respect East Timor's sovereignty, Fretilin would not feel obliged to respect Indonesia's sovereignty. Fretilin would organise the Indonesian Timorese against the Indonesian Government. There had already been a minor rebellion in the Lakmanas region where some Indonesian Timorese had joined Portuguese Timorese refugees in expressing their displeasure with the Indonesian authorities.
  3. Mr Horta said that Fretilin would be prepared to sign a military agreement with Indonesia allowing Indonesia to patrol the land and sea boundary of an independent East Timor.
  4. Mr Feakes said that the Australian Government hoped for a political solution. Could Fretilin drop its reservations about talking to UDT and Apodeti-a roundtable discussion, involving the three parties and Portugal and perhaps also Indonesia? Mr Horta said that Indonesia had made it clear that it would not talk to Fretilin. Mr Feakes noted that this was in relation to bilateral (lndonesia/Fretilin) talks proposed by Fretilin.
  5. Mr Horta said that the 'real UDT' was in Dili. It was against 'integration'. What would Indonesia's reaction be to the 'real UDT' taking part in talks? Mr Feakes said that the Indonesian Government would expect the UDT group now in the border area to take part in talks. Mr Horta again suggested that there was doubt as to the identity of the UDT party. The UDT people based on Portuguese (rather than Indonesian) Timor should be accepted; they remained loyal to the UDT platform of independence.

[matter omitted]

  1. Mr Joseph asked whether Fretilin would be prepared to allow the Portuguese administration to be re-installed. Mr Horta said that there was 'no way' Fretilin would give up all it had won. Would UDT have done this if it had come out on top? Mr Feakes said that if Fretilin did want talks to succeed it would have to make some concessions. Mr Horta replied that there would be a Portuguese High Commissioner who would be the titular commander of the armed forces. But the Timorese army would remain under arms and the fact would be that it would be a pro-Fretilin army. Mr Joseph said that the army had been politically neutral before August 1975; now it was not. How could a Portuguese decolonisation program operate with a Fretilin army exercising actual control of the territory? Mr Horta simply repeated that the army was 'ninety-nine percent pro-Fretilin'. Mr Curtin asked why the army had taken two weeks to react against UDT in August. Mr Horta said that it had simply obeyed theorders of the Governor. The Central Committee of Fretilin had not called on the army to act until Lt Col Gouveia had prepared 300 men for an assault on Fretilin in Aileu.
  2. Mr Joseph said that UDT seemed to have been a little surprised by the extent of its success after 10 August. The situation could perhaps have been restored by the Governor. Why had he left for Atauro? Mr Horta said that the Governor had made a mistake in not asking the army to restore order immediately.
  3. Mr Joseph said it was unlikely that Indonesia would be able to accept a solution based on a Portuguese High Commissioner and a Fretilin army. What was Fretilin prepared to give up? Mr Horta asked whether Fretilin was expected to acquiesce in a return to a '1974 situation' with Indonesia free to intervene as it chose. Mr Joseph suggested that this had not amounted to very much interference.
  4. Mr Joseph asked whether Mr Horta wished to comment on the deaths of the five Australian journalists. Mr Horta said he had been with the Australians in Balibo on 11 October, just before the fighting broke out. They had been staying in a house 'opposite' the house in which their bodies had allegedly been found. This latter house had been used for the storage of fuel. It was not the sort of place the Australians would have sought refuge in. Mr Curtin asked about the distance between the two houses. Mr Horta said it was about 100 metres.
  5. Mr Horta said he believed the journalists had been shot. He said that Radio Kupang had announced that the Australians had been taught a lesson because they were 'communists'. Australia was said to have been trying to destroy Portuguese Timor, Papua, the Australian aborigines, etc. The broadcasts had been repeated many times.1

[matter omitted]

[NAA: Al0463, 801113/1111, xv]