This site brings together the publications of Dr. Sara Niner about people & politics in Timor-Leste.

04 February, 2011

Unpublished Photo of Xanana Capture 1992

1992 Xanana Capture Dili

I believe this photo is unpublished and records Xanana's 6.00am capture in Dili on 20 November 1992. It looks like it is in one of the internal rooms of the Araujo family home in Lahane (up behind the market) where Xanana had been hiding. This photo was apparently fished out the ashes of a military building in Dili in September 1999 and has finally made its way to me. It is clearly a highly posed shot, especially considering Xanana is smiling directly into the camera (a coded message to the viewer perhaps). Xanana has recorded that that he knew they were coming to arrest him and had already decided not to resist. I am trying to identify the Indonesians in the photo and wonder if anyone can help me. Some background follows which explains who I think might be in the photo.

Kopassus Major Mahidin Simbolon, backed up by 30 or so troops, arrested Xanana (he was later promoted to Colonel, skipping the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, for his actions here). Brigadier Theo Syafei (local operational commander in East Timor) has also taken credit for the arrest and in 2005 relayed a discussion over whether they should execute Xanana before revealing they had captured him. Syafei took Xanana to his home and phoned Armed Forces (ABRI) Commander Try Sutrisno and asked him if he should kill Xanana. Sutrisno replied, "Wait, I 'll get back to you later" but didn't. Syafei took Xanana to the Officer's Mess and later that afternoon Sutrisno arrived in Dili and questioned Xanana.

Xanana records that he suggested to Sutrisno and his contingent (of 20 Generals Xanana says) they hold a dialogue with the representatives of the people of East Timor. Questioning where these people were Xanana boasts he dared them to carry out a referendum and find out.

Read all about it in the full biography available from Australian Scholarly Publishing.


  1. Marvellous photo, Sara; sorry I can't help identify the other faces.
    Intrigued by your sentence: "This photo was apparently fished out the ashes of a military building in Dili in September 1999 and has finally made its way to me."
    Makes me wonder, not for the first time, who is holding materials like this privately in Timor Leste, are they able to look after them and will they one day make these materials available for future generations through Timor's emerging archival institutions like the Resistance Archive or the forthcoming Institute of Memory and National Library.

  2. Dear Sara,

    I am surprised that you also got this pic.

    if you wish to have the master video about this. just call me at +670 7250761 or email

    my profile:

  3. Thanks I will email you Gil. Apparently the man in the blue shirt with the radio is Simbolon.Still looking for the names of the others.

  4. Great. Thanks you for publishing this thus-far unknown picture. Allow me to share in my facebook page.
    Aboeprijadi Santoso (journalist, formerly with Radio Netherlands)

  5. Dear Dr. Niner:

    This is an amazing, never-seen-before picture that says a thousand words. Only if we knew who the photographer and/or the people in that direction were. I was particularly drawn to your "a coded message to the viewer perhaps".

    Thank you for your amazing scholarship on a person and movement I still struggle to understand.