415 Telegraph Message to Canberra

Darwin, 4 February 1976


Please pass to Jakarta, UN New York and Lisbon: From Miller

  1. Following summarises situation as at 5 PM Darwin time Tuesday 3 February, and telephone conversations with Joseph of last two days.
  2. Winspeare arrived here in early hours of 2 February irritated with Portugal for having taken Timor to the Security Council, with Horta for having attempted to turn the sanctioned use of the Portuguese corvettes' radios into a de facto Fretilin radio, and with Indonesia for not having given him better access in East Timor. By the afternoon of 2 Feb he was talking of Horta as a 'clown', and of having come to Darwin to 'listen to maniacs'. Although his annoyance had moderated by today, it is clear that he does not expect to be offered a reasonable proposition to go to Timor to meet Fretilin leaders, and that he will not wait very long in Darwin for what he regards as an improbable and unwelcome proposition to materialise. He has come in order to be seen to be exhausting all the options.
  3. Winspeare told me today that this morning he had put it to Horta that, despite adequate radio facilities and the availability of the Portuguese corvette, and Winspeare's own willingness to travel, the fact was that Horta could not indicate to him a destination to which he could proceed. He said it was rapidly becoming time—today or tomorrow—for Horta, as the man who had invited him to Darwin and told him he could go from there to Timor, to acknowledge this situation in a written communication to Winspeare. In any case, by tomorrow Winspeare would have to say, in response to press questions, not that he was still investigating the situation, but that no communication could be made with Fretilin on Timor. He said that he had said to Horta that this was not Winspeare's fault and not Horta's fault: in his communication Horta could blame the Indonesians, if he liked. Winspeare said Horta had indicated he would draft something.
  4. Winspeare appears therefore to be thinking in terms of presenting his position as having been ready to go anywhere and to accept a 'reasonable' degree of risk on his own responsibility, provided only that 'someone tell me where I should go'. That this is to some extent a disingenuous presentation can be seen from Winspeare's comment to me that the PGET might as well have given him assurances of safety 'since there is nowhere for me to go'. On the morning of 2 Feb he refused to accept an assurance by Horta that he could go to Same, on the very reasonable grounds that he knew, from Jakarta, that Indonesia is 'consolidating its position' there.
  5. Up till this morning's conversation with Horta Winspeare's thinking had appeared to be to point to Fretilin as the lacking party, for not being able to designate an area under its control to which he could responsibly go, rather than to Portugal or Australia for not being able to prepared to take him to such an area: but his suggestion that Horta 'blame Indonesia' is of course more basic.
  6. Nevertheless Winspeare was put out to discover on the morning of 2 Feb that the Portuguese corvettes were forbidden to go closer than 12 miles to the Timor coast. He asked both the Portuguese and his headquarters in New York to take the matter up, and the Portuguese had an answer back from Lisbon this morning saying that the restriction had been a mistake and that Portugal would honour its undertaking to transport Winspeare to Timor, subject only to security guarantees being available from the PGET and Fretilin.
  7. During their call on him on 2 Feb the commanders of the Portuguese corvettes, in the presence of the Portuguese Consul-General in Sydney, had suggested that the problem might be resolved by the UN Mission borrowing a helicopter, together with 'ground' and flight crews, from Australia for use from a Portuguese corvette off Timor. Winspeare was not put out, however, when I told him this morning that the Minister was not attracted to this idea.
  8. In conveying the Minister's attitude I mentioned both the security consideration which was the reason for last week's ban on flights by Australian fixed wing aircraft,1 and the serious doubts of Captain Dadswell, the naval officer commanding Northern Australia (NOCNA), about attempting to operate helicopters off a corvette-sized ship in northern waters at this time of year.
  9. In mentioning the helicopter suggestion to me, with the wish that I obtain a governmental reaction to it, Winspeare had emphasised that he was not making a formal request, and repeated his assurance that he had no intention of embarrassing the Australian Government, or questioning the decisions of a member state which was not in the dock in the Security Council. On this occasion as on others he said he understood the factors, both internal and external, which the Government had to take into consideration. Winspeare said that he had in fact accepted the Government's view of last week that it could not allow flights into Timor on security grounds, and noted that a helicopter and crew, which would presumably be drawn from the Australian armed forces, would represent considerably more of an Australian Government involvement than merely allowing a charter would. Winspeare acknowledged that while a helicopter would have much greater flexibility as to landing site than a fixed wing aircraft, the basic security problem remained the same for a helicopter as for a fixed wing. Winspeare said he was not seeking to reopen the fixed wing question.
  10. Winspeare apparently suggested to Horta on 2 Feb that he might think in terms of getting a small boat-load of Fretilin leaders from Timor to meet Winspeare on board one of the Portuguese corvettes off-shore. This would clearly be more possible following the lifting of the Portuguese 12-mile limit than it appeared yesterday, but I think the suggestion was again at least partly disingenuous on Winspeare's part. While Winspeare would clearly be happier meeting Fretilin representatives on a Portuguese ship than after having made his way to a probable dangerous rendezvous in Timor, I doubt if he believes Fretilin any longer has any area of Timor sufficiently under its control to allow safe movement of its leaders to a coastal departure point and return.
  11. In regard to radio communications with Fretilin in Darwin, the Portuguese corvettes' radios, which NOCNA thinks have ample power for the purpose, have not so far produced any effective result despite protracted attempts and Bello's advice on frequencies, etc. NOCNA doubts that use of the much more powerful transmitters available to the Australian Government in Darwin would produce a different result, or that the failure to communicate has been caused by a technical fault in transmission from Darwin. However, this morning some 'noises' were heard which Winspeare says the Fretilin people on the ship say may have been an attempt at a message, although the Portuguese naval communicators are sceptical. This afternoon's Darwin newspaper quotes Bello as saying that the Indonesians are jamming the Fretilin frequencies. (Winspeare by the way seems to regard the message allegedly picked up yesterday by Telecom describing continued Indonesian bombardment of Betano as an old message, saying that it seems to be one of which he had been advised from New York some [d]ays ago.)
  12. Subsequently Horta made the approach to Winspeare, which Winspeare passed to me and of which I have advised Joseph by phone, for the confiscated radio2 to be released for use under supervision, perhaps on the Portuguese ship, to assist efforts to establish contact. Winspeare has been adamant that the Portuguese ships' radios will only be used for the United Nations Mission's purposes, and that he will not allow the ships to become a de facto 'Radio Fretilin'. (He apparently gave some assurances to this effect in Jakarta, apart from his concern for our own Government's position.)

[NAA: Al0463, 801/13/11/1, xx]