96 Cablegram to Canberra

Lisbon, 24 February 1975

O.LB740 SECRET PRIORITY

Portuguese Timor

I saw Santos today and made the points in para 2 of your 38.1

  1. Santos said the report was inaccurate and that there was in fact no call for immediate independence. On the contrary Fretilin/UDT had proposed an interim period of eight years during which power would be progressively transferred to a transitional government to be followed by elections for a constituent assembly.
  2. Santos then read over to me the actual text of the cable from the Governor of Timor to Lisbon (and subsequently gave me a copy on an AUSTEO basis). Specifically Fretilin/UDT proposed the following agenda for discussion with the Central Government:
    1. Maintenance of the status quo with an enlarged advisory council for 2 years; followed by a 3 year period under a high commissioner, a transitional government including political parties (presumably Fretilin/UDT) and the same advisory council. Then a further 3 year period (which could be extended) again with a high commissioner and an enlarged transitional government and continuation of the advisory council.
    2. Elections for a constituent assembly within about 8 years.
    3. Relations with Indonesia. A policy of non-alignment and a pact of non-aggression and cooperation with maintenance of peace and good neighbourliness together with non-interference and cooperation in all fields and at all levels.
  3. Santos commented that he thought a transitional period of 8 years was unrealistic but was encouraged by the parties' apparent willingness to cooperate with Lisbon (and Indonesia) in working out a solution. I reminded Santos that the press report spoke of immediate independence with no reference to self determination.
    This was bound to strengthen the hand of those elements in the Indonesian Government who were reported to favour intervention in Timor. I asked Santos if he had yet consulted the Indonesians because it appeared to us that there was now an even more urgent need to do so.
  4. Santos said he has asked Soares to try to set up a meeting with the Indonesians in Paris next weekend which he would attend. Meanwhile he would have no objection if we were to let the Indonesians know the substance of the Fretilin/UDT proposal but he asked me to safeguard the text of the cable from Dili which was for our eyes only. (Text follows in my immediately following telegram to Canberra and Jakarta only.)
  5. I asked Santos would they be prepared to retain responsibility for Timor for the period envisaged above? He said they would if Indonesia and Australia agreed to cooperate and assist with Timor's economic development.

Comment

  1. Although Santos clearly has doubts about the feasibility of the Fretilin/UDT proposal he seemed relieved that the pressure for rapid decolonisation appears to have lessened.

COOPER

[NAA: A1838, 49/2/1/1, v]