Cablegram to Canberra

Jakarta, 19 October 1975. 10.15 p.m.


Portuguese Timor

The instructions in your O.CH2799651 and O.CH2799662 pose difficulties for us and before I act on them further I want to be sure that the issue to which I refer below has been fully taken into account by the Department and the Minister.

  1. It may be ironical but perhaps we are too well informed as a result of the confidence shown us by Tjan and Moerdani. We probably know things that only those two Indonesians know that we know. Her Tasning has not yet been informed of what is really happening in East Timor. Nor has Sani. Possibly even Malik is not aware of all the details.
  2. It would be difficult for us to make the representations in the form you suggest in CH279966 to Moerdani and Tjan. (Moerdani has in any case left for the United States.) Two invaluable sources of information to us and to the Australian Government which we have carefully nurtured could well dry up in the future.
  3. If we are to make the representations in the form you suggest at other levels, for example to the President or to Malik or to senior officials, we would place Tjan and Moerdani in a most difficult position vis-a-vis their Government. Moreover we would simply receive a bland denial that there had been large scale intervention.
  4. For the same reasons I am most concerned at the implication in your telegrams under reference that Ministers may feel obliged to make a public statement on Indonesian military involvement. So far Indonesia is continuing to deny direct intervention. Even if these denials lack credibility, Indonesia is likely to maintain them and beyond Dili and Australia and perhaps Portugal they will at least maintain doubt and confusion about the situation. Are we going to state publicly that Indonesia at the level of the President and the Foreign Minister is lying? In these circumstances such statements by Australian Ministers could presumably only be made on the basis of intelligence3 or on the basis of information given to us here in the strictest confidence and reported by the Embassy. The Government would presumably not want to risk exposing the former sources; nor would it, I hope, want to see the credibility and future use here of the Ambassador, Minister and Political Counsellor undermined. I would therefore suggest, to use a phrase current in Australia at present, that the Government ‘tough it out’ for the time being—or at least until Indonesia admits a degree of direct involvement—and cast any comments on Indonesian intervention it feels obliged to make in terms of widespread media reports of Indonesian involvement.
  5. Indonesia will of course say that it feels bound to assist refugees who want to return to their homeland and UDT andApodeti forces which have requested their help. They will probably admit to the presence oflndonesian ‘volunteers’ helping to undo a situation which they will say Fretilin has created by force and intimidation with arms given to them by the Portuguese Army. But I would not at this stage expect Indonesia to go beyond this publicly.
  6. I also have some doubts about the representations you suggest in paragraph four of your O.CH279966. If we press your views that Fretilin is capable of sustaining a substantial resistance, the degree of which Indonesia has underestimated we could court two reactions. First we are likely to be told that because our contacts are mainly through Dili, we may ourselves over estimate Fretilin’s strength. (One week ago it seemed that the Department was regarding Fretilin’s control as an established fact.) Secondly, such representations if taken seriously could have the effect of encouraging Indonesia to increase the level of its direct involvement to deal with an opponent stronger than anticipated. As already reported I have in any case already made these points to General Moerdani with the latter reaction.
  7. We can certainly put again forcefully to the Indonesians that they should be pursuing other options, including new rounds of talks and preparing for possible United Nations involvement. And we could also suggest the possibility of bilateral dealings with Fretilin, something which Moerdani has referred to obliquely once or twice. As you know we have done so on a number of occasions and at different levels in recent weeks. While our frankest contacts regard such activity by Indonesia as being mainly for ‘presentational’ purposes, the fact remains that if the going gets really tough on the ground in East Timor and the international reaction is harsher than Indonesia anticipates, the option to attempt a political settlement would still exist. I shall put this view firmly to Malik when I see him. So far the stumbling block to these options has been Portugal’s distrust of Indonesia and Fretilin’s belief that it can sustain independence in the face of combined UDT, Apodeti and Indonesian hostility.
  8. In these circumstances and until you have replied to this telegram I would propose to cast our representations here in the context of media reports. In other words, in representations we make, except to Moerdani (who is now away for at least a week) and Tjan (to whom we would prefer not to make them for the reasons given) we would prefer to say ‘if media reports of large scale Indonesian military intervention are true, then the Australian Government would be extremely disappointed, etc .. .’ I propose to adopt this line with Malik and unless otherwise instructed, with others with whom we discuss Timor, at least for the time being.
  9. I should add—although I am sure you are aware of this—that the Indonesians will be irritated by what they will regard as an attempt on our part to have our cake and eat it; to let the Australian public know that we disapprove of Indonesia’s action (which they see as being in our long term interests as well as their own and those of the region) but, at the same time, not to allow this to affect our basic relationship with Indonesia. I suspect this will not work.4


[NAA: A 1838, 3038/13112/4, i]

  • 1 See note 7 to Document 266.
  • 2 Document 268.
  • 3 Half a line has been expunged here.
  • 4 Whitlam wrote on the front page: ‘I find this convincing’.