Letter from Furlonger to Feakes

Jakarta, 3 July 1974


Indonesia: Clandestine Operation in Portuguese Timor

Harry Tjan told Jan Arriens on 2 July that he intends to submit a paper to the President this week recommending that Indonesia mount a clandestine operation in Portuguese Timor to ensure that the territory would opt for incorporation into Indonesia. The paper will include a list of the specific actions that would be possible or required. These would include working through Catholic priests (some of whom are trained in Flores) and other indigenous contacts that exist between Kupang and Di1i. Tjan observed that in view of the rudimentary nature of political development in Portuguese Timor effective manipulation should not prove difficult. He mentioned that Indonesia had a clandestine operation of some sort going in Portuguese Timor during confrontation. The recently established political party favouring incorporation into Indonesia provided a ready-made starting point.

Tjan also discussed the possibility of diplomatic cooperation between Australia and Indonesia, a subject he apparently discussed very informally with Wilenski in Yogyakarta last week. As Tjan sees it, Australia’s role could be to ‘neutralise’ unfavourable opinion in other countries towards an Indonesian takeover; to prevent untoward repercussions in Papua New Guinea; and to take initiatives (or persuade others to) in the United Nations for the international formalisation of a transfer.

We have sent by bag (memorandum No. 738 of28 June 1974) a copy of a paper produced by the CSIS on Portuguese Timor which suggests the possibility of a period of ‘home rule’ for Portuguese Timor and warns of the risks for Indonesia of an independent Portuguese Timor. Tjan said that this paper, which is of a purely background nature, has been put up to the President. It was after talking with Wilenski that it occurred to Tjan that there might well be scope for more than a diplomatic initiative alone. He discussed the subject with Ali Murtopo on 1 July, who would appear to have directed Tjan to draft a paper setting out the operation.

Tjan’s extreme frankness indicates that the Indonesians are confident that we would favour an independent Portuguese Timor as little as they do. (Tjan appears to have gained this impression from Wilenski.) His remarks also reveal a fascinating glimpse of OPSUS at work using the Catholic network.

The information was elicited by some leading questioning in which Arriens stressed that in his personal view Timor would scarcely be a viable state, that he was aware of marked concern in Indonesian circles about the potential dangers of an independent Portuguese Timor, and that it seemed to him a relatively simple matter to do something about it. Tjan then revealed his intentions, but at no stage sought Australian cooperation. Nor was there any suggestion that we should be privy to Indonesia’s activities in exchange for diplomatic cooperation.

It is interesting to note the Indonesian preoccupation with Portuguese Timor which is now coming through to us-from Ali Murtopo, at the discussions1 last week (Arriens sent a report to McLennan),2 and now with Tjan. It is true that all these discussions were initiated on our side, but the Indonesians clearly decided to take the opportunity offered by them to try to take us along on a realpolitik approach to the problem; and they are speaking surprisingly frankly. We are, in effect, being consulted. They clearly expect a response from our side: a failure to do so soon will be taken by them, I fear, as tacit agreement.

Although I recognise that there are sometimes evolving situations where policy is best left grey and obscure, I doubt that that is desirable in this case. In some respects now, I imagine, and certainly in some quarters, the Portuguese Government may be regarded as internationally more respectable than the Soeharto Government. It seems to me that, whilst we would doubtless prefer Indonesia to control the whole island, independence cannot be ruled out in all circumstances, and that the nature and extent of our support for Indonesia would need careful consideration. What domestic problems the Government would have to take into account you would be better able to judge than I.

The Indonesians will expect the Prime Minister to be able to discuss the whole question but the prospects of a productive discussion would, I think, be enhanced if some of the issues involved could be identified more clearly in advance. Any guidance you can let us have would be very helpful3

[NAA: A11443, [1]]

  • 1 Half a line has been expunged here.
  • 2 See Document 11.
  • 3 A handwritten marginal note by Woolcott, dated 11 July, reads: ‘I think our policy should be one of discouraging a weak non-viable independent state and of encouraging (or at least simply favouring) association with Indonesia. But we shall need to go along with the freely (and fairly) expressed will of the people-and put this to the Minister. I think Sec. should see’.