Myanmar Junta Begins Summoning Civilians for Military Service

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Myanmar Junta Begins Summoning Civilians for Military Service

The conscription drive has prompted the assassination and resignation of junta administrators, and the flight of thousands of prospective draftees.

Myanmar Junta Begins Summoning Civilians for Military Service
Credit: Depositphotos

Myanmar’s military junta is moving to enlist its first batch of civilians into the armed forces, amid reports that its recently announced conscription drive has driven thousands into hiding or into the ranks of the resistance.

In a report published on Friday, Channel News Asia noted that summons letters have now been sent to “eligible candidates in various parts of the country.” It reported that the letters have been issued in a variety of formats, but each carry the same message instructing recipients to register for military service, and warning that “failure to report will result in prosecution.”

On February 10, the military administration announced that it would begin enforcing the People’s Military Service Law, which was passed in 2010 but has never been implemented. Under the law, men between the ages of 18 and 45 and women aged 18-35 can be drafted into the armed forces for two years, a period extendable to five years during national emergencies. Evading conscription is punishable by three to five years in prison and a fine.

The conscription order was a reaction to the downturn in the military’s battlefield fortunes over the past six months, and came 10 days after Myanmar army chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing vowed to “crush” all opposition to the junta’s rule. The junta subsequently announced that it would begin conscription in April, with an initial batch of 5,000 draftees.

On March 14, The Irrawaddy reported that the junta had begun collecting the personal details of residents of Yangon and Naypyidaw who were eligible to be drafted into the military. A week later, it reported that “administrators have already started selecting persons randomly or holding draws from lists of those eligible to be drafted.” Officials also reportedly began setting up conscription lotteries in Ayeyarwady Region during March 16-18.

The order immediately prompted chaos and panic among the eligible population, given the military’s well-documented history of treating civilians and convicts as disposable labor, to act as minesweepers and combat porters. Thousands have fled to Thailand or to border areas under the control of resistance groups, or will soon seek to do so.

Channel News Asia quoted one 31-year-old draftee, who gave his name just as Kyaw, as saying that he would most likely flee the country to avoid service or arrest. “The moment I learnt that my name was on the list, I knew I had to migrate. If I get enlisted, I will be doomed,” he told the news outlet. “Everybody knows what would happen if you are conscripted. We are given the following choices: ‘Self-sacrifice or flee’. I would rather be a beggar in a foreign land.”

The order has also prompted retaliatory attacks by resistance forces on officials seeking to implement the conscription order. Last week, Myanmar Now reported that two junta-appointed village administrators were shot dead in as many days in Magwe and Mandalay regions after making announcements about plans to begin implementing the conscription law. The fact that some officials are using the conscription law to extort money from civilians in order to exempt them from service will only increase the anger against them.

Other officials have resigned in order to avoid falling victim to attacks. More than two dozen administrators stepped down in a single township in Rakhine State over the regime’s efforts to enforce the conscription order, Myanmar Now reported, citing one local source as saying they did so “because they feared for their lives.” There have also been reports of people committing suicide after their names have come up in conscription lotteries.

This chaos is only likely to deepen as the military begins to move toward forcing civilians into the ranks across the country. Indeed, the shambolic implementation of an already deeply unpopular law – a predictable reflection of the corruption and callous disregard that has always governed the military’s approach – now seems set to expand the post-coup conflict to the few regions of the country that have remain untouched by it.