The Two Purwantos

Colonel Purwanto and Xanana 1983               Gatot Purwanto, Jakarta 2009

The name Purwanto is well known in the history of Indonesia’s military occupation of East Timor. In 1983, Colonel Purwanto, then direct commander of Indonesian forces in the territory, represented Indonesia in negotiations with Xanana Gusmao, the commander of the East Timorese resistance army, Falintil.

When a retired Colonel Gatot Purwanto made international news in late 2009 admitting he was a member of the Indonesian military team responsible for killing the ‘Balibo Five’ journalists in October 1975, most assumed this was the same Colonel Purwanto of 1983 negotiations fame.

Australian researcher Ernie Chamberlain believes there are two different Purwantos – though, confusingly, both were involved in different roles in the 1983 negotiations. He writes:

‘In recent weeks, in writing about Timor, a number of contributors have confused two ABRI officers ie Colonel Purwanto (Artillery) – the East Timor commander in 1983 (ie Danrem 164/Wira Dharma) and Major Stefanus Gatot Purwanto – a senior Kopassus detachment commander in Timor in the early 1980s.

‘Major (Kopassus) Gatot Purwanto did the “leg work” in late 1982 and early 1983 in preparing the March 1983 ABRI-Falintil ceasefire talks at Lariguto – while Colonel Purwanto (Danrem 164) was the Indonesian military’s principal in the discussions with Xanana Gusmao.

‘Colonel Purwanto (Danrem 164, Artillery) – somewhat “tubby” and “moustachio-ed”, is seen in the 1983 “Lariguto photographs” with Xanana Gusmao. Major Stefanus Gatot Purwanto – as a Colonel, became the ASINTEL Kolakops/Komandan Satgas Intel in Timor Timur in 1990 – and was dismissed/pensioned from ABRI following the 1991 Santa Cruz massacre.

Major General Sintong Panjaitan (right) in Dili after the Santa Cruz massacre, November 1991. Figure at left almost certainly Colonel Gatot Purwanto as a senior intelligence officer

‘Interestingly, in December 2009 during his interviews related to the film “Balibo”, retired Colonel Gatot Purwanto – aged 62, claimed that at the time of the “Balibo incident” in mid-October 1975, he had only been out of AMN Magelang – the ABRI officer academy – for three years:  “I was a first lieutenant at the time, just three years out of officer training school”, he recalled.  However, according to other reports, Gatot Purwanto graduated from AMN Magelang in 1968 (the same year as Wiranto – born in 1947). Also, in Hendro Subroto’s 2009 book on the career of Major General Sintong Panjaitan, a Captain Gatot Subroto is noted as a Kopassandha intelligence officer on operations in West Kalimantan in 1973. The foregoing suggests that perhaps Colonel (Retired) Gatot Purwanto’s December 2009 statement on his seeming ‘junior status’ at Balibo in 1975 requires some further examination.’

Chamberlain Notes on Indonesian military terms:

Danrem is the Komandan Korem ie the Commander of the Military Regency/Sub-Area Command (ie Timor Timor was Korem 164 – established March 1979). “Dan” is for “Komandan” and “Rem” is for “Resort Militer“.

ASINTEL is “Assistant for Intelligence” ie a staff officer on a headquarters responsible for the intelligence function.

Kolakops is “Komando Pelaksanakan Operasi” – ie “Executive Operational Command” – ie a special operational command set up in East Timor (commanded by a brigadier) to manage tactical field operations with the Danrem 164 (a full colonel appointment) being responsible for administration and territorial operations. Kolakops was founded in Timor in 1989 and functioned until 1993 – ie disbanded following the investigation into Santa Cruz. However the operational command appears to have continued covertly from outside Timor ie with “guidance” from Kopassus Group 3 Headquarters in Batujajar, West  Java. Of course, many of the Danrem Colonels in East Timor were Kopassus officers.

Komandan is Commander; Satgas is Satuan Tugas – ie Task Unit – so Satgas Intel – is the intelligence task unit – staffed almost exclusive in East Timor by Kopassus.

Kopassus is Komando Pasukan Khusus –  Special Forces . Originally known as RPKADResimen Para Komando Angkatan Darat, then changed to Kopassandha (Komando Pasukan Sandi Yudha) on 17 February 1971, before becoming Kopassus on 26 December 1986. Therefore, technically, young Lieutenant Gatot Purwanto was a member of  Kopassandha at Balibo in 1975, and also later as Major Gatot Purwanto in Kopassandha when engaged in the 1983 ceasefire machinations.


Ernie Chamberlain is a retired Australian brigadier, having served for 36 years – including as Australian Defence Attache in Jakarta in the mid-1990s. Since retirement in 1998, he has spent some years in Timor – including advising Defence Minister Roque Rodrigues and F-FDTL commander Taur Matan Ruak on defence policy and planning (2004-05).

He has written several privately-published monographs including:
The Struggle in Iliomar: Resistance in rural East Timor (2003, 2004, 2008).
Faltering Steps – Independence Movements in East Timor in the 1950s and 1960s (2005).
Rebellion, Defeat and Exile: The 1959 Uprising in East Timor (2007).
Faltering Steps: Independence Movements in East Timor – 1940s to the early 1970s (2007, 2008).
He has recently completed a monograph on the Timorese who served with SRD/Z Special Unit against the Japanese in Portuguese Timor during WWII.

4 Responses to The Two Purwantos

  1. Joana Ruas says:

    Obrigada por esta pesquisa relacionada com duas pessoas até agora confundidas. Muito gostaria de ter acesso às suas monografias para poder testar as minhas informações. Pena é que só agora tenha essa oportunidade. A minha cordial saudação a Ernie Chamberlain

  2. Ernie Chamberlain says:

    Gatot Purwanto – Further Information:
    Kopassandha Lieutenant (or Captain) Stefanus Gatot Purwanto was the operations officer of “Tim Susi” (commanded by Major Yunus Yosfiah) in August-November 1975 (Purwanto admitted this in a June 1999 interview). Tim Susi was the principal assault element in the attack on Balibo on 16 October 1975 in which the five Western journalists were killed.
    As a major, Gatot Purwanto was the commander of the Kopassandha Nanggala team 52 in Timor in 1982 – having earlier served in Timor with Nanggala 13 (in late 1976 under A.M. Hendropriyono). Major Gatot Purwanto facilitated meetings with Falintil that led to the March 1983 ceasefire meeting between Colonel Purwanto (Danrem 164) and Xanana Gusmao. Earlier in 1983, Major Gatot Purwanto had escorted a small group of Falintil on a “good will” trip to Jakarta.

  3. James Dunn says:

    One interesting point came to me in a conversation some time ago with a Timorese in the Indonesian administration at the time. He was standing at Dili airport with Purwanto in 1983 when Prabowo hurried past, apparently on his way to Jakarta. Purwanto stiffened and said that Prabowo’s sudden departure for Jakarta was bad news for him, and it meant that his (Purwanto’s) career was over, apparently a consequence of his meeting with Xanana.

  4. Ernie Chamberlain says:

    Stefanus Gatot Purwanto. In a previous comment, I stated that Gatot Purwanto appeared to be a 1968 graduate of ABRI’s Magelang Officer Academy (AMN) – ie the same class as Wiranto (based on an Indonesian magazine article). Hendro Subroto’s book (p.410) on Sintong Panjaitan however claimed Purwanto was a 1971 graduate. Regrettably, the AMN website, does not list class members before 1972. However, another informal site confirms that Stefanus Gatot Purwanto was an AMN 1971 graduate – not to infantry, but to the ABRI Signal Corps (ie Perhubungan). Apologies for the confusion. Regards, Ernie Chamberlain

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: