1992 Xanana capture: Indonesian records

Xanana Gusmao moments after his capture. Dili, 20 November 1992

Indonesian video footage of the 1992 capture of East Timorese resistance leader Xanana Gusmao is the tip of an iceberg of still-secret Indonesian records about its military invasion and occupation of East Timor.

Aired on Australia’s Special Broadcasting Service program, Dateline, on 22 May 2011, the footage shows Indonesian preparations for the raid on a house in Dili where Xanana was known to be hiding, the armed raid and arrest and parts of a later exchange between Xanana and the head of the Indonesian military, General Try Sutrisno, who flew to Dili on news of the capture. The footage also shows Xanana’s belongings – including weapons and documents.

Questions arising
Several obvious questions arise from viewing this footage: What was the origin of the footage used by SBS and is other material available from that source; will this material be made available to East Timorese institutions for long-term preservation and access; given the relatively poor quality of the footage, does a better master exist; are the documents and weapons captured with Xanana still kept in Indonesia and if so, will they ever be repatriated to East Timor?

Xanana interrogation in Bali – more detail
A further pointer to Indonesian records of the Xanana capture can be found in a 2007 account of Xanana’s interrogation in Bali just days after his arrest in Dili.

Xanana with his interrogator, Lieut-Col. Nurhana, Bali, 1992

Nurhana Tirtaamijaya, an Indonesian military police commander in 1992 and Xanana’s principal interrogator, published in 2007 a personal account of his encounters with the prized political prisoner. Pak Nurhana’s account, while emphasising his claimed ‘victory’ over Xanana, also gives some insight into the sequence of events between the resistance leader’s arrest and his incarceration in Cipinang Prison.

Australian researcher Ernie Chamberlain has translated the Nurhana text. A small selection of images from the interrogation, including captions identifying participants, can be found on Nurhana’s website (scroll through images). See also:
Xanana & Nurhana : Xanana writing : Xanana with laughing interrogators : Xanana laughing

Tapping into Indonesian records
Pak Nurhana says the story he tells was once a State top secret. Hopefully, his preparedness to tell his story publicly means other knowledgeable Indonesians may be prepared to also release their Timor information.

The task of seeking, finding and securing primary records of Indonesia’s East Timor history is large and urgent. We hope this task will be taken up by the people who can best do this – interested and concerned Indonesians.

Thanks to Ernie Chamberlain for drawing my attention to the Nurhana article and, especially, for his translation.

Thanks to Sara Niner for the use of her Xanana capture image – taken from her blog item on the topic.

Nurhana Tirtaamijaya website

3 Responses to 1992 Xanana capture: Indonesian records

  1. Ernie Chamberlain says:

    Hi All, In the top photograph, I believe that the Indonesian officer on the right in a blue shirt is (then) Kopassus Major Mahidin Simbolon – who, in the mid-1990s, as a Colonel, was DANREM 164 in Dili. A “hard copy” Indonesian account of Xanana’s arrest can be found in in Butarbutar, B.S. & Kusaeni, A., TIDAR – Bhakti Tiada Akhir, 2005 – which included discussion on whether they should execute Xanana in Dili before revealing that he had been captured. Xanana was taken to Brigadier Theo Syafie’s home where Syafei (Kolakops Commander) telephoned the ABRI Commander (Try Sutrisono) in Jakarta and sought direction whether he should summarily execute Xanana ie “finish him off”. Sutrisno reportedly responded – “wait, I’ll get back to you later” (in Javanese). Sutrisnno didn’t ring back, so Syafei took Xanana to the Kolakops officers’ mess. Late that afternoon, Sutrisno arrived in Dili with a large accompanying contingent – and questioned Xanana (Governor Soares was reportedly also present). It was decided to treat Xanana as a “criminal” – so he was moved to a cell at the Dili police headquarters then flown to Denpasar (Bali) for interrogation. Regards, Ernie

  2. An english language report on the section of Butarbutar, B.S. & Kusaeni, A. book that describes Xanana’s capture can be found – . It includes Theo Syafei saying that he, as Udayana commander at the time, who proposed summary execution of Xanana.

  3. Hanoin says:

    The recent release of the video documenting Xanana’s arrest shown on SBS Dateline program and the answers Xanana gives to Try Sutrisno just makes me proud to be East Timorese. There is no shadow of a doubt that Xanana is a great leader and a man of strong convictions.

    As for the personal account by ABRI Colonel Nuharna Tirtaamijaya regarding the so called “Dialogue with Xanana” it must be said that I found it funny. It seems as his ESQ tactics did not last very long as Xanana went into counter-attack in defense of the idea of independence as evidenced by his publicly adopted posture at his trial and thereafter.

    As for Nuharna’s claim that Wiranto is ‘clean’ I would have laughed if not for the knowledge of the gross violations of human rights that were perpetrated against the innocent and defenseless people of East Timor under his watch.

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