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Myanmar military starts basic training for conscripts

The army is facing international pressure to scrap conscription amid loss of key outposts
People gather outside the Thai embassy to get visas in Yangon on Feb 16, 2024, after Myanmar's military government said it would impose military service. Generals and ministers attended the opening ceremony marking the start of basic training for conscripts in Naypyitaw on April 8.

People gather outside the Thai embassy to get visas in Yangon on Feb 16, 2024, after Myanmar's military government said it would impose military service. Generals and ministers attended the opening ceremony marking the start of basic training for conscripts in Naypyitaw on April 8. (Photo: AFP)

Published: April 10, 2024 08:55 AM GMT
Updated: April 10, 2024 09:52 AM GMT

Myanmar’s ruling military has started basic training for conscripts amid growing calls for the junta to scrap the controversial policy.

Generals and ministers attended opening ceremonies marking the start of basic training in the capital Naypyitaw, the Bago and Tanitharyi regions, and in Mon state on April 8, according to junta-controlled newspapers.

The reports, however, did not provide the number of draftees undergoing the training.

The junta, which toppled the civilian government in February 2021, revived the 2010 military service law in February which mandates two-year military service for men aged between 18 and 35 and for women aged 18 to 27 years.

Those who evade conscription face a five-year jail term.

A junta spokesperson said the army plans to call up 5,000 youths per month.

Thousands of young men are fleeing to neighboring Thailand or have joined the opposition People’s Defense Force (PDF), an ethnic armed organization, to evade the conscription.

Hundreds of civil society groups have sent a letter to the United Nations Security Council urging it to pressure the junta into scraping the conscription law, while the PDF has warned of punishment for those enforcing the draft in villages and towns.

Tun, a teacher with a Church-run education program for youths in Mandalay, a major trading and communications center,  said many youths have left out of fear of being drafted.

“They don’t want to join the military so they left their dream of pursuing an education and went back to their homes,” Tun, who goes by one name, told UCA News.

A Catholic from Mandalay said many young people, including his nephew, have fled to Thailand.

“As local authorities collected lists of young men, their parents made arrangements to send them to Thailand quickly,” he told UCA News.

The junta is collecting details of youths in Naypyitaw, Yangon, Mandalay and the Irrawaddy region, where it still enjoys full control, according to local media reports.

One report said lists of new conscripts are being collected in the Irrawaddy division for a second round of basic training.

The junta has also turned its attention to Rohingya youths in western Rakhine state, who are being drafted to fight against the opposition Arakan Army which has taken control of several towns.

The junta has abducted and forcibly recruited more than 1,000 Rohingya Muslim men since February this year, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).

They are picked up during night raids, coerced with false promises of citizenship, and threatened with arrest, abduction, and beatings. They have to undergo two weeks of training before their deployment.

Many have been sent to the front lines in Rakhine state since November 2023. Many have been killed and injured, according to HRW.

A case is pending against the junta in the International Court of Justice that accuses the generals of committing genocide against the Rohingyas.

The junta revived the conscription law as it has been defeated by armed rebel groups since last October in northern Shan state, northern Kachin state, eastern Karen state, and in Rakhine state.

Rebel forces in Karen state took full control of Myawaddy near the Thailand border after seizing a military base last weekend.

The Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in Kachin has announced that it has taken control of Lwalje town near the Chinese border after the last group of troops fled into China on April 8, local media said quoting a KIA spokesperson.

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