370 Cablegram to Canberra

Jakarta, 10 December 1975


Portuguese Timor

I saw Malik this morning 10 December. I handed him a copy of the Minister's Statement of the 8 December,1 copies of which had already been given to the Foreign Ministry and which he read without comment in my presence.

  1. I said that as he would know the Australian Government was strongly opposed to the use of force in Timor and that force was not the appropriate way to solve the problem. Malik said he knew this was Australia's attitude and that it had been put to him on a number of occasions both under the former Government and the present Government
  2. Malik said that while accepting this Indonesia still wanted 'the understanding of its friends'. The action which it had felt obliged to take would in the long run be better for everybody. Portugal had shown it was quite unable to act. The civil war would have continued for longer and with more casualties if Indonesia had not agreed to step up its assistance. Indonesia had now done what Portugal should have done in August but which it had been unable to do itself.
  3. I told Malik that Australia was keen to resume assistance, particularly humanitarian aid, to Portuguese Timor as soon as possible. In this context I mentioned that a barge with food was already in Darwin. We also hoped that Indonesia would respond positively to the ICRC's request that Red Cross personnel return in safety to Portuguese Timor. I also asked whether, in the event oflndonesian agreement, Indonesia would have any ideas on whether ICRC operations should be based in Kupang or Darwin.
  4. Malik was quite responsive. He said there 'was a need' and Indonesia would have 'no objection' to the resumption of genuine humanitarian assistance as soon as the safety of personnel could be assured. Malik also said that he hoped to be able to give the ICRC an answer about the return of their personnel in 24 or 48 hours. He would also have no objections at least to their return to Dili. He said that unless there was a FRETILIN counter-attack, which he did not expect, security could be guaranteed in Dili by the de facto APODETJJUDT Administration and the Indonesian volunteers. I asked when aid might actually be resumed. Malik said he would need to check this but he hoped 'soon'. We should follow this up with the Ministry. He did not express a firm view on whether ICRC operations should be based in Kupang or Darwin but did comment that Kupang was 'closer'.
  5. I asked Malik for his views on the situation in Dili and in fact in East Timor. I also referred to reports in the Australian media of brutality and the killing of women and children. Malik said that the situation in Dili was 'calm'. Reports of indiscriminate killing were 'nonsense'. He assumed they were based on FRETILIN propaganda which he said seemed to have a receptive audience in Australia.
  6. Malik said that the Portuguese enclave of Ocussi had declared its support for APODETI without bloodshed or any significant FRETILIN opposition. Malik added that FRETILIN was now divided and a considerable number, including soldiers, had 'come over' toAPODETI. Some FRETILIN soldiers who had done so had expressed shock that their military commander and Horta had left Timor shortly after predicting an imminent attack and saying they would fight to the last drop of blood. Malik said he expected FRETILIN resistance to crumble rather than consolidate.
  7. I then outlined our approach to the United Nations. (Harry's telegram O.UN46972 which arrived shortly before I saw Malik was helpful and timely but I had not at that stage seen O.UN4698.3) Malik said that any resolution calling upon Indonesia to 'withdraw' its forces would be strongly opposed by Indonesia. He said that Sani had been instructed to say that Indonesia had no troops to withdraw. I said to Malik that, frankly, I thought he was putting Sani in a difficult position as this would not be believed in the United Nations. Malik said that the only Indonesian forces in East Timor now were 'volunteers' who had responded to the request of the four anti-FRETILIN parties for assistance. Naval and air forces had already been withdrawn.
  8. Malik said he hoped Australia would not support a demand for Indonesia to withdraw its forces. He said that if Indonesian 'volunteers' withdrew a chaotic situation would again arise. There could possibly be a hard-core FRETILIN counter-attack and more fighting. A settlement would only be further delayed. In any case Indonesia would not withdraw them.
  9. I said we attached importance to an act of self-determination being conducted in East Timor. Malik said he wanted to make it clear that there would be an act of self-determination or free choice with which the United Nations could associate itself. FRETILIN supporters could take part in such an act provided they had laid down their arms. Malik repeated that he expected many FRETILIN supporters now to see that the best course for all was to co-operate with Indonesia. I asked him whether Indonesia would accept a United Nations presence before, during or after order had been restored. Malik said a United Nations mission or observer group would be 'welcome at any time'. The only problem would be guaranteeing their safety outside Dili and other major centres such as Bacau. Fighting could still be going on in the countryside.
  10. Malik said that Indonesia would not repeat not accept a United Nations force or administrative group. I said that Indonesia had been prepared to accept something along these lines in August. Malik said that this was so but the situation had changed. Malik also added that there was now 'no chance' oflndonesia acting in a way which might enable FRETILIN to resume control of Dili or which would invite more fighting and casualties. In all the circumstances, the best and only practicable solution even in humanitarian terms lay in what Indonesia was doing. This provided the 'quickest road to a peaceful settlement'.
  11. I asked Malik when he thought an act of self-determination could be held. He replied it would depend on a number of factors but he thought 'within six months'.
  12. I asked Malik whether he was worried about the effect of its Timor policy on Indonesia's international standing. He said 'no not in the long run'. He repeated the well-known argument that Indonesia's long term security, territorial integrity and stability must be its first consideration. He said that so far only two countries, Mozambique and Guinea Bissau (is this correct?) had recognised East Timor. He also said that generally the criticism of Indonesia with the exception of Mozambique, Guinea Bissau, China, Algeria and to a lesser extent Tanzania, had been fairly restrained so far. Anyway Indonesia would ride it out if it got worse. He added that he was also aware of strong criticism in Australia of Indonesia. While Indonesia had sought and still wanted Australian support and understanding, Malik said he was aware that the Australian Government's attitude was much influenced by public opinion, especially during an election campaign. I did say that while the Government would want to limit as far as possible the damage to Australian/Indonesian relations Indonesia needed to accept that there would be widespread criticism in Australia of Indonesian military intervention, whether or not there was an election campaign in Australia. Malik agreed but added that it was unfortunate that outside of the other countries he had mentioned, it was only in Australia, which Indonesia looked upon as a good neighbour and a friend, that criticism of Indonesia was so strong.
  13. Mainly to change the subject, I asked Malik whether Indonesia still regarded Portugal as having sovereignty over East Timor or not. He said 'de facto, no, but de jure, yes'. He said Portugal had been foolish to break off relations with Indonesia because this limited scope for further consultations with Indonesia. Perhaps that was what it had wanted. But Indonesia still recognised Portugal's de jure sovereignty although APODETI/UDT were now in de facto control of Dili and most other major populated centres. The APODETI/UDT Administration would itself need to cooperate with Portugal in the future.
  14. I said the Australian Government, if it was confirmed in office, would be anxious to assist in bringing about a peaceful settlement of the issue. Malik said that he would welcome Australian cooperation, with the other ASEAN countries, in any moves which might help in bringing about a settlement. However any settlement would need to take account oflndonesia's interests and Australian attitudes would need to be in accordance with attitudes of the other four ASEAN countries if any regional initiative was to be taken.
  15. As I left Malik said that Indonesia's policy on Timor had not changed. It was important that the issue should be settled quickly because it was not in the interests of either Indonesia or Australia for damage to be done to their wider relations.


[NAA: AI838, 906/30/14/3, ii]