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Child Soldiers Global Report 2001 - East Timor

Publisher Child Soldiers International
Publication Date 2001
Cite as Child Soldiers International, Child Soldiers Global Report 2001 - East Timor, 2001, available at: [accessed 29 November 2015]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Mainly covers the period June 1998 to April 2001 as well as including some earlier information.

  • Population: unknown
  • Government armed forces currently forming – expected strength:607
    – active: 3,000 (including 1,500 light infantry force)
    – reserves: 1,500
  • Compulsory recruitment age: no conscription
  • Voluntary recruitment age: 18
  • Voting age: not applicable
  • Child soldiers: none indicated
  • CRC-OP-AC: legislative and constitutional bodies still at formation stage
  • Other treaties ratified: legislative and constitutional bodies still at formation stage
  • New legislation being adopted for an independent East Timor will set 18 as the minimum age for recruitment. The reintegration of child soldiers, some as young as 12, who were used by both government and opposition forces during the conflict still presents a major challenge. The abduction and recruitment of children by anti-independence militia for the purposes of indoctrination has been reported.


Since 1975 armed opposition to Indonesia's presence the territory has been mounted by the Armed Forces of National Liberation of East Timor (FALINTIL).608 During the final years of occupation the Indonesian military established a number of local militia groups, ostensibly to protect pro-integration sections of the local community from pro-independence forces. According to an agreement concluded between Portugal and Indonesia on 5 May 1999 under the auspices of the UN, a popular referendum on the future status of the province was held.609 After an overwhelming vote for independence in the face of widespread violence and intimidation, pro-government militias went on the rampage, burning and looting property, killing hundreds of people and displacing hundred of thousands. An Australian-led International Force for East Timor (INTERFET) arrived in East Timor in 20 September 1999 to restore order. All Indonesian soldiers left East Timor at the end of October 1999 but pro-Indonesia militiamen remained active in refugee camps in West Timor, preventing East Timorese refugees from returning home, blocking access by humanitarian organisations610 and clashing sporadically with peacekeeping forces.611 The INTERFET force left East Timor on February 2000 and was replaced by a UN peacekeeping force, UNTAET.612


The East Timor Transitional Cabinet approved the establishment of the East Timor National Defense Force (ETDF) on 12 September 2000 after a review of a number of proposals. The new defence force will consist of a light infantry force of 1,500 regulars and 1,500 reservists with a phased approach to reaching that number over three years. Reintegrated FALINTIL members will be at the core of the force. Recruitment for the first battalion was completed on 28 January. The UN is responsible for guarding the security of the territory until the ETDF is fully operational.613 UNTAET has set about drafting new laws for the independent East Timor. The first regulation to be adopted by the new administration requires public officials to observe international human rights standards.

National Recruitment Legislation and Practice

In January 2001, a National Council on the Defense Force overseeing the development of East Timor's military capacity adopted a regulation which states that "Members of the Defense Force must be at least 18 years of age on recruitment into the Defense Force". Women may also be recruited into the new force. In addition, the new force will have to respect human rights law in peace time and during armed conflict. This regulation has been adopted provisionally for 2 months but it is expected that this age limit will be reconfirmed later on.614 Other regulations currently being discussed concern the Draft regulation on Firearms, Ammunition and Explosives.

Past Child Recruitment And Deployment (Pro-Independence Forces)

Both pro-independence and pro-integration armed groups in East Timor used children during the conflict. The age range on both sides was 10 to18 although most children involved tended to be between 15 and 18. Accurate figures for both sides are impossible to obtain.615 A comparative study has indicated that the treatment of children involved with pro-independence groups was significantly better than that of children involved with pro-integration militias.616

  • Armed Forces of National Liberation of East Timor (FALINTIL)

The number of children under 18 who served with FALINTIL is unknown as consistent records of names and ages were not kept. FALINTIL only began keeping a comprehensive list in 2000-2001 once demobilisation began but by this time many child soldiers had already been unofficially demobilised.617 Many anecdotal accounts of child involvement have emerged. In October 1999, a French journalist reported about 250 guerrilla members were living in one FALINTIL camp, among them girls wearing berets and teenagers in tracksuits carrying machetes.618

As FALINTIL refused to lay down its arms after the independence vote,619 reports of child recruitment have continued until as recently as February 2000. Its Deputy Chief of Staff, Commander Lere, said that "[o]lder people are leaving but many young people want to join FALINTIL." A UN military expert from New Zealand said that "[i]f they [FALINTIL] are taking young unemployed people off the street and giving them discipline and training, that is something positive".620 No information on the age of these more recent recruits is available.

Children seem to have joined FALINTIL voluntarily, often spurred by abuses committed by the other side and a belief in the cause of an independent East Timor. Children involved with FALINTIL almost certainly suffered fatalities and severe injuries during the course of the conflict and thousands are believed to have been detained or executed. Apart from child soldiers, many other youth were also involved in clandestine work through pro-independence associations which supported the work of FALINTIL. This involved for example, organising demonstrations or collection and deliveries of supplies.


Past Child Recruitment and Deployment

The Indonesian armed forces provided pro-integration militias – particularly KOPASSUS special forces – with training, arms and funding. It was estimated that in early 1999, militias comprised some 50,000 people – according to one authority, "a vicious rabble of local criminals, paid conscripts and Indonesian trans-migrants."621 Recruitment of under-18s was widely reported. There is little available information on numbers although the militias kept lists of recruits (including under-18s), because the relevant documents were destroyed or taken out of the territory.622 In September 1999 a journalist reported that most militia groups members were teenagers and in some cases children apparently not more than 12 or 13 years of age.623

Although some children may have joined voluntarily, it appears most were forcibly recruited.624 Recruitment was carried out among poor youths using violence, drugs and alcohol, and sometimes promises of money. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights reported that young East Timorese men were also forcibly recruited into the militia: "Parents were threatened and bribed to coerce the young men and the youths were harassed and intimidated into becoming members of the militia."625 Militia youth reportedly suffered injuries and fatalities, including execution by the militia. Militia commanders appeared to use fear, intimidation and praise to control and manage young recruits.626

The main militia groups during the conflict were as follows:

Aitarak ('thorn'): based in Dili and led by Eurico Gueteres who was a leading figure in Gardapaksi (Youth Guard for Upholding Integration), an organisation gathering youths trained to counter pro-independence youth groups. Children were seen in this group at checkpoints armed with home made weapons, some of them wearing the black T-shirt which marks Aitarak.627

Mahidi ('life and death for integration'): from sub-district Ainaro and led by Cancio Lopez da Carvalho. This militia was created in December 1998 and by April 1999 was between 1,000 and 2,000 strong. It forcibly recruited youths and other people from villages in the Ainaro district.

Besi Merah Putih ('red and white iron'): from district Liquiça and led by Manuel de Sousa. This militia was created in December 1998 and claimed by early February 1999 to have a membership of 2,890. Shortly after its establishment, this group recruited its members from among ordinary peasants, old people and boys under 18 years of age. According to some sources, recruitment was conducted through terror, intimidation, death threats and stigmatisation of "pro-independence" people.

Saka: based in the village Lai-Sorulai, from district Bacau, and led by Vice-commander Sgt. Joanico da Costa. This militia was formed in 1983. Nothing is known about child recruitment.

Halilintar ('lightning' or 'thunderbolt'): from Bobonaro district, led by Joao da Silva Tavares. This militia was originally formed in 1975.628 Nothing is known about child recruitment.

Current Child Recruitment and Deployment (Pro-integration forces)

Pro-Indonesian groups have reportedly abducted at least 130 East Timorese children from refugee camps in West Timor in October 2000 in order to train them as anti-independence activists. Pro-Indonesian groups are also reported to have subjected East Timorese children removed from the refugee camps with their parents' permission to orphanages in central Java to intimidation and indoctrination.629 Octavio Soares, nephew of East Timor's former pro-integrationist governor Abilio Soares, was quoted as saying "There is a plan for East Timor to come back to Indonesia even if it takes 20 years or more.... The plan is to use these children to help their cause".630



A programme run by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and funded by World Bank/USAID, the "FALINTIL Reinsertion Assistance Programme", was launched in January 2001. Its aim is to help reintegrate into civilian life former FALINTIL fighters who will not take part in the new defence force.631 FALINTIL commanders reportedly sent most under-18 soldiers back to their villages, but so far there has not been a programme to assist their demobilisation; the IOM programme is not available to youth who left earlier in 1999 and 2000. There is no support for youth involved in the clandestine movement although some local groups provide training for them.632

Most former child combatants from pro-integration militias remain in refugee camps in West Timor. Many others who returned to East Timor have been ostracised by their community. Village leaders were asked to promote reconciliation and reintegration from these youth but the success of programmes has varied.633

Programmes for children affected by armed conflict

In June 2000, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict stressed the need for programmes addressing the general psycho-social trauma of children involved in the conflict.634

607 UNTAET communication to CSC dated 3/2/01.

608 UN Doc. A/54/726, S/2000/59, 31/1/00.

609 Bassir Pour, A., "Le Portugal et l'Indonesie ont signe un accord sur l'avenir du Timor-Oriental", Le Monde, 7/5/99.

610 "Indonesiens Armee aus Osttimor abgezogen", Neue Zurcher Zeitung, 1/11/99; "New land route for Timor refugees", Associated Press, 12/11/99; "UN: East Timor refugees die as militia deny access", Reuters, 6/12/99; "Freedom on a knife edge", The Guardian, 31/7/99.

611 See for instance Paterson, H. "Timor peacekeepers, militia clash", Associated Press, 18/1/00.

612 Paterson, H. "Peacekeepers withdraw from E. Timor", Associated Press, 23 February 2000.

613 UNTAET communication to CSC, 7/2/01, op. cit.

614 Ibid.

615 Information provided by Lyndal Barry on 16/4/01.

616 Lyndal Barry op. cit.

617 Lyndal Barry op. cit.

618 Weber, O., "Timor-Oriental: dans les sanctuaires de la guerilla", Le Point, 22/10/99.

619 Dutter, B., "Timor worry over defiant guerrillas. The Daily Telegraph, 3/12/99.

620 Fawthrop, T., "Armed wing of East Timor struggle must now win the peace", Sydney Morning Herald, 9/2/00.

621 Report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the human rights situation in East Timor, UN Doc. E/CN.4/S-4/CRP.1, 17/9/99.

622 Lyndal Barry op. cit.

623 Jimenez, D., "Timor se convierte en un immenso campo de refugiados, El Mundo (Spain), 10/9/99.

624 Lyndal Barry op. cit.

625 UN Doc. E/CN.4/S-4/CRP.1, op. cit.

626 Lyndal Barry op. cit.

627 McCawley, T, "Murderous puppets", Asiaweek, 17/9/99.

628 For more information on these militia groups and other smaller groups see: Yayasan HAK, Terror, violence and intimidation: ABRI and the pro-integration militia in East Timor – Report on the human rights situation in East Timor for the period January to March 1999, Dili, April 1999 (this document is also available on the Internet:; East Timor International Support Center, Indonesia's death squads: getting away with murder, Darwin, Australia, 1999 (this document is available on the internet: ); "Voices of terror", Asiaweek, 4/6/99; Background: the Indonesian army and civilian militias in East Timor, HRW Report 1999; Sherwell, P., "The men behind the massacres", The Daily Telegraph, 12/9/99.

629 JRS-AP Information Update 19/3/01.

630 BBC 26/10/00.

631 UNTAET 7/2/01. op. cit.

632 Lyndal Barry op. cit.

633 Lyndal Barry op. cit.

634 UN document A/55/442, Report of the UN Special Representative of the Secretary General to the General Assembly, 2000.

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