Companion to East Timor - The capture of Xanana Gusmao

The capture of Xanana Gusmao

Previous operations to capture Xanana and other resistance leaders had focused on Ainaro, where Xanana was believed to be hiding. Gusmao had been making arrangements to stay with an East Timorese policeman named Augusto Pereira. According to a sworn affidavit by Pereira:

As a policeman it was easy for me to get food, medicine and bullets for the guerrillas. I gathered such goods from various peoples' houses and took them to my house where they were kept underground. My wife had a kiosk near our house and goods were hidden there… After I had collected these goods I contacted people who acted as go-betweens with the guerrillas. I wrote letters in code explaining that I had the required goods. The guerrillas would then come in at 6/7 pm to my house by taxi. Everything was very quickly loaded up and they left from the kiosk. The operation generally took between 5 and 10 minutes.

Xanana Gusmao had known my wife for many years and had heard about the work that I was doing. In 1990 he therefore write to me and told me that I could be trusted, therefore he would come and stay at my house. In our correspondence he used the code name Mau Huro. On 28 February 1991 Xanana Gusmao came to my house at 5 am. I had been to pick him up at Ainaro, about 100 kilometres from Dili, in a jeep. I brought him straight back to my house in Dili. Xanana wanted to meet members of the European Parliament who were coming to East Timor at that time. He had received a message from Jose Ramos-Horta that the group were coming to Dili. He had come to Dili to organize secret places where he would be able to meet the European politicians. He stayed in Dili for a week and then returned 1.5 months later.

Later in September 1991 he came to stay at my house again and was hidden in a secret room at the back of the house near the kitchen. I had created this room so whenever people came to the house they could meet Xanana secretly…

The clandestine movement then began to prepare two underground bunkers to hide Xanana when he came to Dili. One was at my house and the other in J's house [Name deleted] in Bairro Pite. J was one of the leaders of the clandestine movement. We dug out a large underground room three metres by three metres wide with a trench down which Xanana had to crawl to get into the room. There was a concrete roof on top of the bunker. We wanted to protect Xanana as we were fearful that he could be found when the Indonesians were searching my house. During 1992 Xanana regularly came back to my house each month. Before the bunker was finished at my house he stayed at Bairro Pite. In October 1992 my bunker was finished.

In September 1992 Xanana had a conflict with J because J was spending the money which had been sent to assist the guerrillas for his own personal needs. When Xanana returned to Dili in October 1992 he came straight to my house. In November 1992 Xanana came to Dili to contact overseas groups. A member of the clandestine movement told the Indonesians at this time that Xanana was in Dili. He told the Indonesians that he had been staying at J's house. The Indonesians searched J's house and found the bunker. J was beaten and questioned by the Indonesians at his house. He informed them that Xanana was hiding at my house. I was working as a traffic policeman that day. I was on the street controlling traffic in Dili when my neighbours came by taxi to inform me that the military were at my house and that they had arrested Xanana. I quickly returned home with my neighbour and saw that the house was surrounded by the military. My wife and children had been taken away by Intelligence to SGI headquarters.

The Indonesians saw me outside my house. I was put into a van and taken to SGI headquarters. On the way they abused me and called me a communist and traitor. I was beaten in the van. When I arrived at SGI I was still in my police uniform. I was told to take my clothes off. I was handcuffed and blindfolded. I was beaten and kicked by many people. I lost consciousness seven times. From 20 November 1992 I was interrogated for two weeks at SGI headquarters. I was questioned everyday and beaten and tortured with electric shocks and cigarette burns...2

Although he was humiliated and beaten into unconsciousness several times, Pereira had been named by Amnesty International and several groups overseas as a person in danger. Coming so soon after the international outcry over the Santa Cruz massacre, the Indonesian government could not risk another diplomatic disaster. Pereira survived his ordeal and left the country, eventually settling down in Melbourne with severe depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Xanana Gusmao later wrote to Australian authorities who were considering Pereira's refugee application, telling them about Pereira's role in the resistance.

Gusmao was tried under manifestly unfair conditions in February 1993.

He was sentenced to life imprisonment on 21 May 1993. President Suharto granted him clemency by reducing his sentence from life imprisonment to 20 years in prison. A presidential decree to that effect was signed on 10th August 1993 but would not be announced publicly until 13th August.3 Australian foreign minister Gareth Evans flew to Indonesia on 11th August, briefing reporters that he was there to lobby for 'an early grant of presidential clemency to Xanana.'4 He said, 'I did specifically mention to the vice president [Try Sutrisno] that it remains Australia's hope that the reconciliation process in East Timor will be assisted by (the grant of) an early presidential clemency to Xanana.'5 The clemency announcement was made on 13th August, and Xanana Gusmao was moved from Semarang to Cipinang prison in Jakarta.


2August Pereira, Sworn statutory declaration dated 3 February 1999. Used here with the permission of Augusto Pereira.

3P. Jacob, Suharto grants Xanana's appeal for clemency, Straits Times, 14 August 1993.

4T. Friel, Evans in clemency plea for Xanana, Sydney Morning Herald, 12 August 1993, p 9.

5Australia urges clemency for East Timor rebel, Reuters, 11 August 1993.