360 Department of Foreign Affairs News Release

Canberra, 7 December 1975

No. M85

Portuguese Timor-Statement by the Foreign Minister, Mr Andrew Peacock

The Australian Government deeply regrets the course which events in East Timor have taken. It is tragic for the Timorese and a matter for serious concern to the countries of the region that the decolonisation process has broken down so completely.

While the Australian Government fully appreciates the gravity of the problems posed for the Indonesian Government by the breakdown of administration in East Timor, the continuation of fighting by the competing parties, and the movement of 40,000 refugees into its territory, we had hoped-and have pressed-that there would not be a recourse to the use of force by our neighbour. As recently as December 4 our Ambassador in Jakarta again made it clear that this was our view.

The present Liberal and National Country Party Government inherited the Timor crisis at the eleventh hour. We believe—and it is a matter of record, not of hindsight—that a more positive role by Australia in the earlier stages-a strong regional initiative, for example—was possible, desirable, and might have had very beneficial results.

Since coming to office we have co-sponsored and vigorously supported a draft resolution in the United Nations reaffirming the right of self-determination of the Timorese, urging the need for a peaceful settlement, calling for a revival of talks among the conflicting parties, and proposing that the Government of Portugal should request a United Nations visiting mission to East Timor.

While we appreciate the strains which events impose on the Fretilin spokesman, Mr Horta, we must reject any suggestion that Australia has 'betrayed' the Timorese, or is responsible in any way for the present recourse to force. It is the Portuguese who are the colonial power. Portugal's own internal disarray has been a major contributing factor.

In the absence of any attempt to ascertain the will of the East Timorese, the equating of Fretilin's cause with that of the East Timorese people cannot be accepted. Further, the Australian Government believes that Fretilin's earlier refusal to participate in talks with the other parties and its unilateral declaration of independence on November 28 have not helped either the peaceful resolution of the crisis or its own cause.

It is obvious that the initiatives open to the Australian Government are limited. The options have closed almost to vanishing point. We shall, however, continue our efforts to gain support for the United Nations resolution. We shall be ready to resume humanitarian aid as soon as practicable. We shall continue to consult closely with countries of the region to explore other possible regional initiatives. But there is unfortunately no way of recovering the opportunities that were allowed to slip away months ago.

[NAA: A1838, 906/30/14/3, i]