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130 Evatt to Bruce

Cablegram SL4 [1] CANBERRA, 26 February 1943


Your telegram S.36 20th February. Portuguese Timor. [2]

In view of facts of present situation we are entirely at a loss to understand the attitude of the Portuguese Government. Evacuees from Portuguese Timor now in Australia total 535, comprising 105 men, 179 women and 252 children. Approximately 400 are natives and half-castes. The remainder comprise Government officials, first and second class, and their families, and include eleven Roman Catholic Fathers and twenty nuns. All are virtually destitute and are being cared for by the Commonwealth Government. They have been removed from Timor to prevent their extermination by the enemy and the Portuguese Government must be made to realise that for security and military reasons it is quite out of the question to return any of them.

2. In earlier communications to you we have forwarded for information of Portuguese Government reports of the kind of treatment which Portuguese in Timor have suffered at the hands of the Japanese. [3] In addition it is now learned from messages received during period 12th to 20th February that a party of about 300 Portuguese including women and children and probably natives who did not comply with Japanese order of concentration some months ago are on the South coast of Timor where they are being attacked by armed natives. Some have already been killed and the whole party live in fear of the Japanese. They are in urgent need of food and medical supplies, through lack of which some children have already died, and are asking for help. At present it is not possible to evacuate them.

3. We cannot believe that this accumulation of evidence will fail to convince the Portuguese Government that- (a) The Portuguese Administration of the Colony has entirely broken down and is now completely non-existent. To pretend anything else is farcical.

(b) Portuguese officials and non-officials including women and children other than those who have been murdered or evacuated are fugitives from Japanese barbarity.

(c) It is idle to contemplate in present circumstances restoration of civil authority. Insistence on the return of officials to their posts can only result in sending them to death.

4. It is imperative that the Portuguese Government face the facts.

At the very least they should accept the proper responsibility for the care of their nationals which they have so far failed to discharge either vis-a-vis the Japanese or as regards those persons evacuated to Australia. Continued failure to meet this obligation would in our view be not only callous but also seriously detrimental to Portuguese prestige as the facts can hardly be concealed to the judgment of world opinion. Further, the Portuguese Government must expect that, if the present situation is allowed to continue, the facts and record of their weakness and evasion in handling their responsibilities in Timor will be placed before the peace conference when the war settlement of Eastern Asia questions arise for discussion.

5. Please impress the above considerations strongly on Portuguese Ambassador. [4] In view of information in your telegram S.32 Eden should be fully informed of position outlined herein. [5] Portuguese Government's indication of readiness to invoke armed assistance against the Japanese to restore evacuated Portuguese officials (your S.36) is most significant instance yet of growing Portuguese firmness and should be welcomed by United Nations.

6. See also my immediately following telegram. [6]

1 Sent through the External Affairs Officer in London.

2 The cablegram is on file AA:A816, 19/301/821. It reported that the Portuguese Govt still insisted that Portuguese officials and army officers should remain in Timor and that those already evacuated to Australia should return, if necessary by force of arms. For earlier correspondence on this subject see cablegrams SL71 of 16 November 1942 and S160 of 12 December 1942 on file AA:A2937, Timor (Portuguese), ii.

3 See cablegrams on file AA:A2937, Timor (Portuguese), ii.

4 Bruce reported on 9 March that he had seen the Portuguese Ambassador (Dr A. R. de Sttau Monteiro) and had 'impressed on him as strongly as possible the considerations set out in your telegrams'. On 14 April he commented that: 'Despite facade which Portuguese Government are trying to keep up I believe they hope that the S.W.P.A. will soon be in a position to evacuate the 300 Portuguese on the south coast of Timor. I doubt however whether they themselves are doing anything to alleviate the condition of these people, e.g., by appealing to the Japanese, or are likely to do so, although I have put it up specifically to the Ambassador.

'See cablegrams S50 and S70 on file AA:A816, 19/301/821 and cablegram S69 of 13 April (transmitting the text of a memorandum given to Bruce by Monteiro) on file AA:M100, April 1943.

5 Dispatched 15 February. On file AA:A816, 19/301/821. It reported that the Portuguese Govt was concerned at the situation in Timor but was reluctant to take a stronger line against the Japanese because of the vulnerability of the Portuguese colony of Macao.

6 See cablegram SL5 on the file cited in note 5. It set out in detail arrangements made for the care of Portuguese evacuees in Australia.

Last Updated: 11 September 2013

Category: International relations

Topic: History