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Conscription in Myanmar will drive refugee crisis – UN

14 March 20240 comments

Myanmar’s military has announced plans to introduce enforced conscription to make up for recruitment shortfalls and battlefield losses.

Troop losses have been mounting in the conflict against armed mostly minority ethnic groups fighting to overturn the 2021 military coup.

Observers say the move will park a fresh exodus of people fleeing the war-torn nation. 

Starting in April, the military says, all men aged 18 to 35 years and women from 18 to 27 years must serve at least two years in the armed forces.

Doctors and other professionals in especially short supply in the military’s ranks may be drafted until they are 45 years old.

The plan is to call up approximately 60,000 recruits by the end of the year.

Melbourne-based Myanmar refugee and former doctor Nay Ko, 30, says that most people of his generation would do whatever it took to avoid the draft.

“Most people I know still in Burma will not join the military. They will try to move to the remote areas or to another country,” he said.

The 2021 coup that removed the democratically elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi has seen Myanmar descend into brutal civil with the military fighting a loose network well-armed ethnic minority armies and new militia groups intent on removing the military regime from power.

The military has become increasingly stretched across the country, as the ethnic armies have forced the military to retreat from dozens of towns and bases since October, mainly in the east.

The six-month-old co-ordinated campaign, called Operation 1027, has handed the ruling generals their worst string of defeats of the war.

Observers say the conscription law is an indication of the military’s desperation as it faces continuing and significant military losses.

These losses have meant a depletion of its manpower. But commentators say the intake of recruits is unlikely to stem the military’s losses.

The new recruits may not be effective fighters in the short term. If deployed on the battlefronts, they could end up as cannon fodder,” he said.

And the move could backfire if resentful soldiers start to pose a threat from within, and by driving more young people to join the resistance groups.

The military has said the draft will start next month with an initial batch of 5,000 conscripts but observers says it may have already begun.

The United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, Tom Andrews, spoke of reports of young men being effectively “kidnapped” off the streets by the military and forced to the front lines.

The not-for-profit New Myanmar Foundation also says it has heard of soldiers and police raiding teashops across the country in recent weeks in search of young men and women to press them into service.

Journalists, human rights activists and others who are targets of the military have been fleeing the country since the coup.

The conscription plan could spark a flood of people leaving the country, mostly for Thailand.

In his statement, Mr Andrews warned that the numbers leaving Myanmar would “surely skyrocket” because of the draft.

He warned of a “mass exodus”.

“People living in urban areas have been attempting to normalise their lives amidst the post-coup abnormality to some extent.

“However, the conscription law gives the signal that no one, even those outside conflict zones, is exempt from the repercussions of the military coup and is safe,” he said.

Faced with a recent surge of visa applicants, Thailand’s embassy in Myanmar has capped the number of people allowed to apply for an entry visa per day at 400.

But even after doubling that daily limit to 800, application places have filled up for weeks ahead.