434 Cablegram to Canberra

Jakarta, 19 March 1976


East Timor: Self-Determination and Integration

Ref O.JA54151

In explaining the proposed act of self-determination outlined to us by Moerdani and himself, Tjan said that, to enable East Timor to be adequately governed, it was necessary to provide a proper authority as soon as possible. Indonesia could not provide the assistance required by East Timor at present because it had no proper standing there.

  1. Tjan indicated that there were differences of opinion within the Indonesian Government on the need for an act of self-determination. He said East Timor was now de facto part of Indonesia. Some people in HANKAM argued that Indonesia should present the world with a fait accompli by announcing the integration of East Timor without any act of self-determination.
  2. The result of the sort of act of self-determination Indonesia plans would be integration. It would not be the genuine act of self-determination we would like to see. But, as we have reported consistently, Indonesia will not settle for anything less than integration.
  3. All Indonesian troops would not repeat not be withdrawn from East Timor before such an act although some would be withdrawn at the request of the PGET. Indonesia argues that law and order would break down if the troops were withdrawn. It also argues that a United Nations force would not be acceptable, even if it were practical in United Nations terms.
  4. We do not know what the reaction in the United Nations would be to such a proposal but we assume that the continuing presence of Indonesian forces even if it is maintained that they are volunteers would cause problems; although probably less problems in reality than their premature withdrawal would create in East Timor.
  5. United Nations observation of the process of self-determination is, we consider, as much United Nations involvement as Indonesia would accept. United Nations supervision of the act is not a starter.
  6. We consider that if demands about the nature of an act of self-determination which Indonesia considers impracticable were made there is a possibility that those in the Indonesian Government advocating a fait accompli approach to integration could yet prevail although we doubt this. Another possibility in those circumstances could be for Indonesia and the PGET to seek to have an act of self-determination which was observed by ASEAN states.
  7. Australian interests as we see them here are now best served through a solution to the Timor problem which is recognised internationally and leaves as few as possible opportunities for the problem to be kept alive.
  8. Given that integration is inevitable it follows that the integration should be achieved in a manner which is recognised by other countries. We appreciate that our recent strong support for a genuine act of self-determination would create difficulties for us if the Indonesians proceed as we think they will.
  9. But, as we see it here, we shall be faced with a choice of recognising East Timor's integration into Indonesia or, by not doing so, of encouraging continued FRETILIN resistance to integration and possibly even the establishment of a Government in exile. The latter could have serious implications for our longer term relations with Indonesia, especially if it sought to promote anti-Indonesian activities as, for example, the RMS does in the Netherlands. It could be a destabilising factor in the South East Asian region.
  10. In preparation for that choice we would suggest that the Government should consider starting to place less emphasis on the need for a 'genuine' act of self-determination. Without abandoning the principle, the Government could, perhaps, acknowledge the difficulties of conducting a proper act of self-determination in a politically very backward and undeveloped society which recently experienced a civil war. Also we would recommend that we do not take a leading role in criticising, in the United Nations, a PGET proposal for an act of self­-determination along the lines set out in our reference telegram.
  11. In our discussions with Tjan we have, of course, reiterated the Government's policy of support for a proper act of self-determination.
  12. Grateful advice on any specific points you would like us to make to well-placed Indonesians on this matter.

[matter omitted]

[NAA: A10463, 801/13/11/1. xxi]