Cablegram to Canberra

Jakarta, 19 October 1975, 10.55 p.m.


Portuguese Timor

I called on Malik today, Saturday 18 October. I regret to report that the outcome was pretty unhelpful. Normally he has received me alone and we have talked easily and frankly but on this occasion he was flanked by Djajadiningrat, Alatas and Adenan all looking fairly stone­ faced. I took this to have been deliberately contrived.

  1. I said that I wanted to talk about Timor. The Australian Government was concerned about the strains which could be placed on our relations by the way in which the Timor situation was evolving. If there was substance in the quite widespread media reports that Indonesia had resorted to large scale military intervention in East Timor then the Australian Government would be ‘extremely disappointed’ that Indonesia had found it necessary to adopt this course.
  2. I added that the Australian Government could not condone a resort to unilateral action in East Timor by Indonesia as the Prime Minister had said in his letter to President Soeharto of the 28 February.Although we had consistently seen integration as the best outcome of the decolonisation of East Timor we had always hoped that this would be achieved through political means.
  3. I have known Malik off and on for a number of years and have always got on well with him personally. This is the first occasion on which I have seen him react with some anger.
  4. As predicted in my O.JA24971 Malik first blandly denied direct Indonesian military intervention. His advisers remained poker faced, including Adenan who had clearly implied Indonesian involvement to Dan. Malik said that Indonesia had never wanted the situation which had arisen. It had sought and was still seeking a political solution. The restoration of order in East Timor was ‘the urgent priority’ if the ‘opportunity for proper decolonisation was to be reestablished’. It was Portugal, UDT and Fretilin which were in different ways responsible for creating a situation which was intolerable to Indonesia. It was to them that representation should be made.
  5. Malik then became obviously angry and agitated. He said the Australian Government was showing ‘weakness’. He had read in the Indonesian press only that morning that Tun Razak, a guest in our country, had been subject to demonstrations and abuse. While the Government, on the one hand, sought to assure Indonesia of its friendship and understanding it had, on the other hand, permitted the occupation of the ground floor of the Indonesian Embassy in Canberra and allowed regular anti-Indonesian demonstrations. Fretilin was given a free hand and Horta was allowed to use Australia as a ‘second home’. He used Australia to conduct anti-Indonesian propaganda and stir up Australian students. ‘Who is paying for Horta’s cables? What sort of a visa does he have which enables him to enter Australia at will?’ he asked rhetorically.
  6. Malik went on to say that anti-Indonesian demonstrations, the reports of Australians fighting with Fretilin forces, the reports of the supply of arms to Fretilin from Australia, the generally pro-Fretilin attitude of the Australian media, the concentration of Australian assistance in the Dili area, the facilities offered to Portugal and, by contrast the lack of concern for the real problems of 40,000 or more refugees in Indonesian Timor, must damage the Australian/Indonesian relationship and cast doubts on the strength of Australia’s stated wish for close friendship with Indonesia. Reverting to Razak’s visit again and linking it to what he called Australian support for Fretilin, Malik added we were risking isolating ourselves from our neighbours.
  7. I tried to sooth Malik down. I answered each of the above points as best I could and I quoted some of the helpful points Razak had made in his speech to the National Press Club about Australian policy in South East Asia. I also attempted to put our treatment of Horta and public opinion in Australia in a more balanced perspective. However, Malik said the Government, especially the Prime Minister, had been helpful in the past but more recently not enough had been done to support Indonesia and to prevent the growth of biased pro-Fretilin activities. Malik said ‘that the Australian Government should act more firmly’ to support relations with Indonesia.
  8. Malik then turned to what he called the ‘violation’ of airspace by Australian aircraft. (Unfortunately your O.CH2800222 had not been received by the time I saw Malik.) He also said that Indonesia had ‘firm evidence’ that ‘Fretilin agents’ were attempting to buy arms in Darwin and Melbourne as well as in Hong Kong and Macau. Malik said a ‘shipment’ of arms had reached Dili from an unknown source recently. This would only prolong the fighting. He asked that we check very carefully every plane that leaves Darwin for Portuguese Timor. He added that a small Australian aircraft had landed in Occussi about two days ago. What was its purpose? I said that I knew nothing of these latter matters but would report them to Canberra. The plane which landed at Occussi could have been Favaro’s.3
  9. Malik repeated that Indonesia could not escape the conclusion that the Australian Government had allowed a pro-Fretilin attitude to develop. Fretilin had established its position through the use of armed force and intimidation. Why were we not more critical of this? Why did we not press Portugal to invite Indonesia to restore peace since they could not do it themselves and the conditions for some arrangements for self-determination? Why did we not use our regular contacts with Fretilin to impress on them that they would not get away with their attempt to consolidate the position they had obtained by force and to exclude other parties from a settlement? Also their present anti-Indonesian attitude was doomed to fail. Their hope in the longer run lay in agreement with Indonesia.
  10. I said to Malik that I was sorry that he was adopting this attitude. As he knew well Australia was a very free society and the Government had public opinion and domestic pressures to contend with. Malik said that while we might think otherwise so did Indonesia. There was growing resentment of what seemed to be the increasing criticism of Indonesia. Only yesterday he had personally intervened to prevent student groups which had genuinely and on their own initiative sought to demonstrate outside the Australian Embassy from doing so. Indonesia was trying to help us. Why could we not try to be more helpful to them?
  11. Malik said that we should realise that developments in Portuguese Timor were of much greater importance to Indonesia than they were to Australia. Although it was close to us, what happened in Timor could not affect Australia’s stability. This was not true of Indonesia. In these circumstances ‘it was wrong’ to criticise Indonesia because of pro-Fretilin pressures in Australia. No other country in the region was doing so. I said it was not a question of pro­ Fretilin pressure. Rather it related to support for the right of the East Timorese to decide their own future. We got back to the impasse that Indonesia would accord them this right once peace and order were restored.
  12. I said that the issue was more complex than he was suggesting. We would welcome the association of Timor with Indonesia but it was not possible for us to agree to the issue being decided by force. Our attitude was in no way anti-Indonesian but we felt obliged to urge Indonesia to reconfirm its commitment to the principle of self-determination in East Timor.
  13. At this stage his mood seemed to change a little. Malik said that Indonesia still wanted to settle the issue on the basis of ‘the parties coming together’ in a political settlement and arranging some act of self-determination if it were possible to do so. Malik added that at his meeting with Antunes in Rome he intended to urge the Portuguese to continue to accept their responsibilities. He still seemed [to] nourish the hope however that Portugal could be persuaded to ask Indonesia to restore peace and order at that meeting and referred to the earlier proposals for a joint authority, including Australia and Malaysia, to supervise the restoration of peace and order. If this prospect arose again he hoped Australia would ‘adopt a positive attitude’. Malik repeated that no act of self-determination was however possible while Fretilin had control and ‘had the guns’.
  14. I said that the Australian Government would be glad to hear that Indonesia was still pursuing the option of talks with Portugal and an attempt to bring the three parties together with a view to arrangements for the people to determine their own future.
  15. I referred briefly to the possibility of United Nations involvement and the need to prepare for this contingency. Malik was unresponsive saying only that he did not see what the United Nations could usefully do.
  16. Malik had another appointment. In conclusion I said that our relationship was going through a period of some strain and that I hoped we could keep in touch and be frank with each other. Malik said ‘yes’ but repeated his belief that the Australian Government should do more to help Indonesia and to reduce assistance to Fretilin. We should give UDT and Apodeti and the plight of the refugees more weight.
  17. Before leaving I also raised two other matters (China and ASEAN) which are reported separately and the question of the five missing Aus[tralian] journalists. I said that we were very concerned about the whereabouts of the journalists and the absence of any official information about them as they had been in the Balibo area when fighting had flared up there. Malik said although they were in Portuguese Timor, Indonesia would do what it could to ascertain, through its contacts with Apodeti and UDT what, if anything, they knew about them. Malik said that a number of Australians in East Timor reportedly wore Fretilin uniforms. He hoped the journalists who were presumably with Fretilin forces had not been so dressed as, if so, they could have been mistaken for Portuguese supporters ofFretilin by UDT forces.4


[NAA: Al0463, 801/13/11/1, xv]

  • 1 Document 274.
  • 2 17 October. It reported a detailed discussion in the Department of Defence with the Indonesian Military Attache in Canberra regarding Indonesian accusations that a Caribou had violated Indonesian airspace on 2 October, and a Neptune had ‘buzzed’ Kupang on 3 October (see Document 265). Defence officials had pointed out that the Caribou, with Red Cross markings and on ICRC duties, had not entered Indonesian air space. The Neptune had been given Indonesian diplomatic clearance for a flight plan which included a slight change of course over Kupang, where it had experienced difficulty in contacting the control tower. This difficulty might have occurred because Kupang had not been informed by Jakarta in advance of the flight.
  • 3 On 20 October Tjan informed the Embassy that he had received a detailed briefing on the meeting with Malik, and that BAKIN and HANKAM were preparing a memorandum listing ‘Australian sins’. Besides those listed by Malik, it would include the presence of Australian submarine, HMAS Oxley, in waters near Dili early in September. Embassy officials denied Oxley had been near Dili on the relevant dates (Cablegram JA2535, 20 October). A comment at the end of the cablegram recalled information from the Indonesian Deputy Chief of Naval Staff to the Australian Naval Attache on 15 September that the vessel was not Oxley, and that Indonesia had been given full details of Oxley’s passage through the Lombok Straits and west along the north coast of Madura on the relevant dates.
  • 4 On 19 October Antara reported the meeting, and Woolcott’s official request for Indonesian assistance in the search for the journalists, who ‘Australia believed … had been detained by the Apodeti and UDT troops’. Malik had stated after the meeting that if requested Indonesia would send a team to search for them.