Cablegram to Canberra

Lisbon, 16 September 1975


Portuguese Timor

Canberra (for Secretary and Acting Minister); UN New York (for Minister and Harry); Jakarta (for Woolcott); Kuala Lumpur (for Parsons)

Santos came to see me this afternoon. He said he wanted to give me a resume of his trip because it was important that we should understand what Portugal’s objectives were.

  1. Santos reviewed his first visit to Jakarta and his discussions in Canberra which did not produce anything essentially new. He expressed however his appreciation for all the help he had received from the Australian authorities. He then discussed the new situation created by FRETILIN’s ‘victory’ and the opportunity which this provided for a political solution. He said he had made it clear to FRETILIN that a political solution was their only hope because either directly or through UDT Indonesia would see to it that a pro-integration consensus emerged in Timor. (Santos is well aware of Indonesia’s covert activities in Portuguese Timor.)1 Santos was convinced that he would be able to get FRETILIN to negotiate with the other parties, because FRETILIN was ‘terrified’ of Indonesian intervention and they could not possibly run Timor on their own.
  2. Asked about contacts with UDT, Santos said that the Indonesians had effectively torpedoed them by their retention of the Dove aircraft on the specious ground of lack of fuel. However, he was sure that UDT could be persuaded to release their Portuguese detainees and that eventually both UDT and APODETI would agree to talks. The venue was not important and some compromise could be worked out.
  3. Santos then turned to his second visit to Jakarta. He said that, unlike the first visit, the atmosphere was completely different. The Indonesians were cold, highly suspicious, and seemed convinced that he had already sold out to FRETILIN. (Incidentally he expressed his dislike for Mochtar.) They pressed him to go to Atambua for talks with UDT, and when he refused unless Portuguese detainees were released, the Indonesians accused him of being more concerned about a handful of Portuguese than some 20,000 refugees. Santos frankly admitted this was so and pointed out that no government could be expected to negotiate under duress, that Portugal had not created the refugee situation and that, in any event, since UDT now professed to want to join Indonesia2 the refugees were obviously in good hands. Santos said if Indonesia could persuade UDT to release the detainees and agree to a mutually acceptable venue, he would be prepared to talk both to UDT and APODETI. If not he would have to return to Lisbon.
  4. Since the Indonesians were not disposed at that time to agree Santos saw no point in remaining in Jakarta. However, before leaving he pressed the Indonesians to support him in his efforts to get a political solution. He said he even urged the Indonesians to keep up their covert activities and thus maintain the pressure on FRETILIN who, Santos was convinced, would soon come to realise that they could not go it alone. In a couple of weeks, if not sooner, they would be ready to negotiate, and meanwhile Indonesia could assist his ‘plan’ by persuading UDT to talk. Santos said he left the Indonesians in no doubt that the object of the plan was to create a political environment in which progress towards integration with Indonesia could be made. Integration was in the best interests of all concerned but it had to be done in a way that would be internationally acceptable. Once normal political conditions were restored, the UDT refugees would start to return, Indonesia could start putting in the aid and logistic support of which it was capable, and the FRETILIN rank and file (as distinct from its present leaders) would soon come to realise that the logic of the situation pointed to integration with Indonesia. Thus although there was at present a probable majority in favour of independence the situation would soon change in favour of integration.
  5. Santos said that the President and the new Foreign Minister (Melo Antunes) had endorsed his plan, but his problem was to convince the Indonesians of his bona fides. He said he intended to talk to the Indonesian Ambassador (and would do so in my presence if I wished) and he would be grateful if I could do my best to assure the Ambassador that his plan offered the best way out for all of us. (I said I thought he should see the Indonesian Ambassador alone and Santos agreed.)
  6. As for the venue for the proposed talks, Santos said he was flexible. His preferences were Macao, Bangkok (where they had an Embassy) or Singapore in that order, but he would not insist on any of them.
  7. As for the future administration of Timor, Santos seems to envisage a Portuguese presence, plus the political parties and ‘some administrative help from Indonesia and Australia’. I said I saw no prospect of Australian involvement in the administration of Timor. Santos said he was thinking primarily of humanitarian aid. I said that was a different matter and I would not rule it out.
  8. If the plan failed, Santos said they would have no alternative but to refer it to the United Nations. On this aspect, I said that before implementing any such decision, it would be important, in our view, to consult with Indonesia. Suharto had not excluded altogether the possibility of a UN role in Timor, and the success of such an exercise would be greatly enhanced if it were done with Indonesia’s prior knowledge and hopefully with their blessing. Santos should bear in mind that Indonesia was a very influential member of the Committee of 24 which would probably be involved in one way or another. Moreover, our soundings indicated that the countries of the region were most unlikely to take any position contrary to Indonesia’s on Timor. This could be important in the UN context.
  9. Santos noted what I had said but I got the impression that if his ‘plan’ failed, it would mean that they had also failed to win over the Indonesians in which event consultation about UN tactics would be academic. It is clear however that Santos sees a referral to the UN as a last resort and to be undertaken only when Portugal has decided that there is nothing more they can do to influence the situation on the ground in Timor.3

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

  • 1 The Embassy in Jakarta doubted his knowledge of the extent and details of these activities, and reported Indonesian assurances that at no time had Santos urged them to ‘keep up their covert activities’ (paragraph 5). Santos had given no hint that he knew of them in discussions with the Embassy (Cablegram JA1894, 17 September). Lisbon replied (Cablegram LB325, 18 September) that while he might not have been aware of details, his knowledge of the existence of covert activities had been one of the factors leading to his conclusion that Fretilin could not possibly win.
  • 2 On 3 September Berita Yudha reported the signing of a Proclamation of Integration by leaders of the anti-Fretilin forces in Timor (see note 3 to Document 214). On 15 September Antara reported that the UDT leaders had written to Soeharto indicating their desire for Portuguese Timor to join with Indonesia.
  • 3 Canberra replied (Cablegram CH.268387, 17 September) welcoming the hope offered in Santos’s new approach, particularly his emphasis on integration with Indonesia as being in the best interests of all concerned in Portuguese Timor. It asked for indications of further steps proposed by the Portuguese to contact the parties, and the timetable for further discussions. It instructed Cooper to seek an interview with Antunes to ascertain how far Santos’s views were shared by other elements of the Portuguese Government. The Embassy in Jakarta was instructed to inform the Indonesians of Santos’s advice and Canberra’s views. The Embassy in Jakarta gave a more qualified welcome. Cablegram JA1958 (19 September) suggested it would be difficult to persuade the Indonesians that Santos’s change of attitude was genuine; they had been exasperated by his shifts of position during his visits. It also questioned whether Fretilin could be persuaded to co-operate. Meanwhile, Lisbon reported that Santos had spoken in similar terms to the Indonesian Ambassador in Lisbon (Cablegram LB331, 19 September).