BACK DOOR Newsletter on East Timor      home   June news

"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." Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers
See also:

BD: Peoples' Participation [section on Children & Youth]
BD: War Crimes & Crimes Against Humanity
BD: 'Refugees' & Missing Persons
BD: FRETILIN - Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor
BD: Pro-autonomy Movements / Pró autonomia Movimentos
BD: Sexual & Other Violence as a weapon of war


Child Soldiers Global Report 2001 - East Timor Chapter

Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers
PO Box 22696, London N4 3ZJ
United Kingdom
Telephone number: +44 20 7226 0606
Facsimile number: +44 20 7274 0230



GOVERNMENT ARMED FORCES CURRENTLY FORMING – EXPECTED STRENGTH[1]: 3,000 active (including 1,500 light infantry force), 1,500 reserves




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 in the territory has been mounted by the Armed Forces of National Liberation of East Timor (FALINTIL).[2] 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.[3] 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 organisations[4] and clashing sporadically with peacekeeping forces.[5] The INTERFET force left East Timor on February 2000 and was replaced by a UN peacekeeping force, UNTAET.[6]


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.[7] 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.[8] 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.[9] 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.[10]

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.[11] 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.[12]

As FALINTIL refused to lay down its arms after the independence vote,[13] 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”.[14] No information on the age of these more recent recruits is available.

“I had to find information for FALINTIL. I had to listen to other people talking and report on this… when I did this I was afraid… I also brought water and vegetables to FALINTIL in the fields behind the village… I was afraid of the Indonesians. I was most afraid in the afternoon when I did my duties…” Former Pro-independence Child Soldier, 12 years old (Source: Lyndal Barry)

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.”[15] 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.[16] 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.[17] Although some children may have joined voluntarily, it appears most were forcibly recruited.[18] 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.”[19] 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. [20]
“The first time they took me from my house we had to rape a woman and then kill anything we could find like animals and people. They ordered us to rape. We did this together. Everyday we were taken by them by car to burn houses, kill animals and harass people ... They beat me with a piece of wood everyday. The first time they beat me was the most difficult. They killed many people but I don’t know where they put the bodies. They screamed and shouted when they had killed people and showed off their machetes covered in blood and said ‘Eat the People’.” Former Militia Child Soldier, 16 years old. (Source: Lyndal Barry)

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.[21]

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.[22] Nothing is known about child recruitment.

“The militia came in April 1999 after they had attacked the church (the Liquica massacre on 17 April). I was shocked and afraid because they came here with machetes covered in blood. They said “If you don’t come with us them we will kill you”…. (Then after joining) ….. I had to drink (palm wine). They also drank blood. The older ones took capsules ….. they went crazy (afterwards)” Former Militia Child Soldier, 17 years old. (Source: Lyndal Barry)

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.[23] 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”.[24]



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.[25] 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.[26]

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.[27]

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.[28]

[1] UNTAET communication to CSC dated 3/2/01

[2] UN Doc. A/54/726, S/2000/59, 31/1/00

[3] Bassir Pour, A., “Le Portugal et l’Indonésie ont signé un accord sur l’avenir du Timor-Oriental”, Le Monde, 7/5/99.

[4] “Indonesiens Armee aus Osttimor abgezogen”, Neue Zürcher 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.

[5] See for instance Paterson, H. “Timor peacekeepers, militia clash”, Associated Press, 18/1/00.

[6] Paterson, H. “Peacekeepers withdraw from E. Timor”, Associated Press, 23 February 2000.

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

[8] Ibid.

[9] Information provided by Lyndal Barry on 16/4/01.

[10] Lyndal Barry op cit.

[11] Lyndal Barry op cit.

[12] Weber, O., “Timor-Oriental: dans les sanctuaires de la guérilla”, Le Point, 22/10/99.

[13] Dutter, B., “Timor worry over defiant guerrillas” The Daily Telegraph, 3/12/99.

[14] Fawthrop, T., “Armed wing of East Timor struggle must now win the peace”, Sydney Morning Herald, 9/2/00.

[15] 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.

[16] Lyndal Barry op cit.

[17] Jimenez, D., “Timor se convierte en un immenso campo de refugiados, El Mundo (Spain), 10/9/99.

[18] Lyndal Barry op cit.

[19] UN Doc. E/CN.4/S-4/CRP.1, op. cit.

[20] Lyndal Barry op. cit.

[21] McCawley, T, “Murderous puppets”, Asiaweek, 17/9/99.

[22] 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.

[23] JRS-AP Information Update 19/3/01

[24] BBC 26/10/00.

[25] UNTAET 7/2/01. op. cit.

[26] Lyndal Barry op cit.

[27] Lyndal Barry op cit.

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

See also:

BD: Peoples' Participation - A collection of recent media releases, reports and articles [section on Children & Youth]

BD: War Crimes & Crimes Against Humanity - A collection of recent press releases, petitions, articles and news

BD: 'Refugees' & Missing Persons - A collection of recent information, reports, articles and news

BD: FRETILIN - Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor / Frente Revolucionaria do Timor Leste Independente - A collection of recent speeches, documents, statements, news and reports

BD: Pro-autonomy Movements / Pró autonomia Movimentos - A collection of recent information, reports, articles and news

BD: Sexual & Other Violence as a weapon of war - A collection of recent articles and news

BACK DOOR Newsletter on East Timor      home   June news
Website:  Email:
Postal address: BACK DOOR GPO Box 59 Canberra City ACT 2601 Australia
Receive FREE weekly email Web-updates: email and include the words "Subscribe BACK DOOR" in the message header. more info