99 Cablegram to Canberra

Jakarta, 2 March 1975


Portuguese Timor

Ref 0.CH180260, O.JA80081

Tjan (CSIS) made no comment on the UDT/Fretilin proposals. In a long conversation he made the following main points:

  1. It was his assessment based on intelligence reports from the Governor of East Nusatenggara 'and his men' that if a referendum were held in Portuguese Timor, Apodeti would muster enough support to win. This conflicts with a view that was expressed to us some weeks ago by a BAKIN source (our JA7445 para 8 refers2). He was therefore pleased to see that Air Marshal Soedarmono had referred to a referendum in his Antara statement on 27 February (our JA7981 refers). About 60 percent of Portuguese Timorese lived in the west and the north, close to the border with Indonesia. All were Catholic, as were the Indonesians living near the border. There were thus religious, family and traditional ties between the majority of Portuguese Timorese and Indonesian Timorese.
  2. Because of their backwardness and conservatism, Portuguese Timorese would undoubtedly choose to continue under Portuguese rule, if given a completely free choice between continuing Portuguese rule, independence and union with Indonesia. If this were to happen, the Indonesians would be quite happy. However, the Portuguese wanted to be rid of Portuguese Timor, thereby leaving only two choices. Because of the current movement towards communism of the UDT/Fretilin coalition, the majority of the population would choose union with Indonesia in preference to a UDT/Fretilin type government.
  3. Tjan said that Indonesia was as serious as Australia about the right to self-determination and freedom. However, if the independence of another party threatened one's own freedom, that was another matter. The right to protect oneself from threats was the moral basic right. Indonesia saw an independent Portuguese Timor as a certain threat to her own security and therefore would not allow it. He said that Australia's belonging to ANZUS was an indication that Australia too believed in warding off threats. He repeated (our JA7901) that a military action would be the last resort. However, he added that if the Soviet Union could do it in Hungary and Czechoslovakia and the United States in Vietnam, Indonesia could do the same in Portuguese Timor. International criticism would not matter. For Indonesia, security was paramount.
  1. Tjan said that the problem at the moment was that Apodeti was 'out'. It was not being given a fair chance or in fact any chance at all. He had received information from 'his men' in Indonesian Timor that there were some hundred[s] of refugees now in Atambua. Some Apodeti support[er]s had in fact been killed in Portuguese Timor. Terror was reigning. The 'NCO's campaign' (our JA7445 para 63) was concentrating on the five kingdoms nearest the border, which supported Indonesia. It was important that the Apodeti side of the story be put before the world and this was one of the reasons for the stories appearing in Antara and the Indonesian press. Some of the detail of these stories may be questionable but their overall message was fact. He expected that they would continue. Tjan made this point in reply to our expression of concern about the Antara reports (your CH1808724).
  2. Tjan said that though Australia and Indonesia had many similar regional interests, their way of perceiving regional problems was different. Portuguese Timor was closer to Indonesia than Australia and Australia had not shared Indonesia's bitter experience with Communists.
  3. If Australia made too much noise about Portuguese Timor, some might begin to think that Australia itself had interests in seeing an independent Portuguese Timor (perhaps, he said, because of oil[)]. We repeated to Tjan that Australia had no interests in Portuguese Timor and would welcome it if the Portuguese Timorese freely chose to join Indonesia.

[matter omitted]

[NAA: Al838, 49/2/1/1. v]