483 Cablegram to Jakarta

Canberra, 16 July 1976



Personal for Woolcott

The following is the text of a working draft1 which you may find useful background.


The Government has been aware throughout the Timor conflict of the anguish and strong feelings within the Australian community. A wide variety of views has been expressed. All points of view cannot be satisfied but the Government has sought to pursue a consistent policy based on those principles to which it believes most Australians are attached.

Since coming to office last December, it has sought an end to the fighting in Timor; the withdrawal of Indonesian forces; a genuine process of self-determination for the people of East Timor; and the resumption of international humanitarian aid for the area.

We see no need to change or to resile from any of these principles.

Indeed, it has been in the support of these principles that we have taken a strong and independent line which has often brought us into public argument and disagreement with Indonesia.

The problem had its genesis in the failure over the years of Portugal to plan for a reasonable and phased process of decolonisation in East Timor. Inevitably history caught up with East Timor and one result of the country's lack of political development was that sudden and traumatic choices were thrust upon countries in the region.

In the fighting which erupted in East Timor thousands of innocent people were killed or forced to flee their homes and, indeed their country.

As the Government has made clear on many occasions, it deplores what happened. It deplores the whole course of events since early August 1975 when UDT and FRETILIN first took their struggle for political power into the streets, and when Portugal's weakness and irresolution led it precipitately to abandon the territory. Seen in its historical context, Indonesia's direct intervention in December was the last in a most unhappy chain of events.

Indonesian spokesmen have spoken of East Timor as a potential Angola. They may have been right or they may have been wrong. But, however understandable was Indonesia's concern about the effect of instability in East Timor on its own security we continue to believe that this intervention from outside has been an unfortunate and tragic feature of the Timor situation. The Government made it clear that it could not condone this resort to force. We made it clear, both inside and outside the United Nations. We registered our opposition with Indonesia at the highest level.

It has been a prime objective of our policy to see the cessation of the conflict. We note that the fighting has died down and it appears now that whatever fighting still continues it is of a minor and sporadic nature. The conflict did not leave Australians unscathed. We need hardly be reminded of the tragic deaths of the five journalists employed by Australian television networks. The Government is still pursuing its enquiries into their deaths.

The central issue in the past year has been the right of the people in East Timor to determine for themselves how and by whom they wish to be governed. We realise and we have said that the right of self-determination does not mean that there must be elections, referenda or parliaments in our own image. We recognise, and indeed we support, the view that any expression of self-determination must accord with the traditional practices and forms of government of the people themselves. We have been assured publicly and repeatedly by the PGET authorities and the Indonesian Government that a genuine act of self-determination has taken place.

Indonesia yesterday announced the integration of East Timor as its twenty-seventh province. It seems likely that the fact of integration will soon be accepted by many governments. Nevertheless, and without wishing to doubt the Indonesian authorities in their expression of view, I do not believe that Australia, nor many other countries, can be quite so sure about how extensive and representative the exercise of self-determination has been.

It is true that Australia was invited to observe part of the self-determination process and to send representatives to witness the steps in this process--one on May 31 and the second on June 24. On both occasions we gave very serious thought to the idea of attendance, but in the end did not accept the invitations. We did not accept because we believed that the United Nations ought in some way to have been involved in the self-determination process. It is the body which is the focus of the world conscience and concern about self-determination issues. It is the body able to give an independent view. It is the body which ought to have played an active role in East Timor.

To be fair to Indonesia it has invited and continues to invite the United Nations to send representatives to East Timor to form a definitive view on recent developments there. We are very disappointed that the United Nations has let pass several opportunities to play an active and independent role in East Timor. We, ourselves, have made many representations to the United Nations and have sought to influence other govemment[s] to do the same. In recent approaches to both Mr Winspeare-Guicciardi and Dr Waldheim, Secretary-General of the United Nations, we have urged that the Secretary-General authorise his Special Representative to pay a second visit to the territory.

The Secretary-General has been concerned that were his Special Representative to visit Timor again, he should be able to visit all areas of the territory, including such areas as might be under FRETILIN control. We accordingly informed the Secretary-General that were FRETILIN able to name an accessible venue in East Timor for a meeting with Mr Winspeare­-Guicciardi and all parties had given firm assurances of safety, Australia would be prepared to consider a request from the United Nations for help with transport.

It is not clear to the Government whether in fact FRETILIN's wish or ability to nominate a site for talks was fully tested. Certainly Indonesia and the PGET have asserted to the Secretary-General that FRETILIN did not control any areas. The Indonesian Government and the provisional authorities have also said that the Special Representative would be able to visit all thirteen provinces, and that he would have freedom of movement within those provinces. The Government regrets, in all these circumstances, that further efforts were not made to explore the willingness and capacity of all parties to agree to those conditions which would have allowed a further visit by Mr Winspeare-Guicciardi to proceed.

In short, therefore, these responses to our representations have been very discouraging. But we still believe that it is not too late for the United Nations to be involved in East Timor again and to play a constructive role in observing and testing the claims of the rival groups about the support each commands in the territory. After all the United Nations is still seized of the matter. The matter is still on its agenda.

We have noted that the ASEAN Foreign Ministers at their meeting in Manila late in June formally agreed in their final communique2 that they too believed that the United Nations had not finished its job and that its Representative ought to make a second visit to the area.

The Government has consistently supported international efforts to provide humanitarian aid to the victims of the fighting and disruption that followed. We remain willing to do this and would actively and generously support any further move[s] by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to provide assistance to the area.

But we continue to be disappointed that, in spite of our persistent efforts, the ICRC has not yet returned to East Timor. There have been difficulties on both sides - on the side of the ICRC as well as that of Indonesia and the PGET. Australia's own efforts have been focused on the need for the ICRC to return without preconditions, whether these be laid down by the PGET or the ICRC. The Government has offered an immediate cash contribution of dollars 250,000 for urgent expenditure on relief supplies, including if need be for purchase of supplies in Indonesia.

Again, we must register our regret that Australia's efforts to break the impasse have not so far succeeded. It is still our hope, however, that conditions will be established to enable the resumption of international relief operations in the territory.

Looking to the future, we must hope for reconciliation in Timor. We believe it important that the remaining FRETILIN forces be offered some prospects other than simple defeat. We urge that Indonesia adopts a policy of compassion and reconciliation towards those of FRETILIN who remain in the field. At this stage we believe it is a humanitarian necessity to seek such reconciliation. Nobody derives any advantage from the continued divisiveness that the fighting in Timor has generated.

[NAA: A10463, 801/13/11/1, xxiv]