Conscripts shot, killed company commanders
ALONG THE THAI-BURMA BORDER, Dec. 3, 2003�Two platoons of Burmese government troops have defected to opposition forces in the Shan States border region of the country, after killing their commanding officers, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reports.
One group of 13 soldiers led by Lt. Kyaw Win of the 132nd Light Infantry Division based in Mauk Mai, southern Shan State, surrendered to the rebel Shan State Army (SSA) Nov. 24. Another group of 13 soldiers from the 4th platoon of the 514th Light Infantry Division from Tone Long Camp surrendered to the SSA Nov. 26, RFA�s Burmese service has learned.
Defected Burmese government troops arrive at Loi Tai Leng Camp. Photo by Khin May Zaw The military is the single most powerful institution in Burma, having run the country without interruption for four decades. Military officers and their families enjoy privileges unknown to civilians, and desertion by such a large group of soldiers is unprecedented.
The first group of deserters shot and killed their company commander, Capt. Ye Min Maung, because they said he had treated his troops brutally. The group then fled the camp and surrendered themselves to the SSA. Most of those who surrendered were conscripts forced into military service by the ruling junta, a spokesman for the SSA said.
"The captain asked the privates to lie down and he started beating them," one of the deserting soldiers, Corporal Than Naing, told RFA. "And he said that you all don�t understand the army regulations. Then he asked whether he should take action against them.... Privates told him to take action. Then he asked everyone to stand up, and he punched them. Some privates couldn�t even have meals because they were in pain."
Than Naing said the repeated brutalizing of his troops led him to take action on their behalf. "I was taking aim from behind the firewood pile to shoot [Capt. Ye Min Maung] from behind," he said. "I took aim for about 15 or 20 minutes. I wanted to avoid shooting others. Finally, I shot him at his neck. He died immediately."
The second group also shot dead their commander, Capt. Tun Aye, before deserting with all its weapons and a field communication device.
Local villagers directed the group to the nearest SSA camp, where they surrendered. The deserters would be allowed to return to Burma if any wanted to go, the SSA spokesman said.
Members of the new Military Alliance. Photo by Khin May Zaw According to a 2003 report by New York-based Human Rights Watch, the ruling junta continues to press young boys into service. Thousands of boys, some as young as 11, have been forced into Burma's national army. Recruiters typically stake out railway, bus, and ferry stations, as well as streets, markets, and festivals.
Boys and young men who cannot produce identity cards are threatened with long prison terms or military enlistment. Those who resist recruitment are often beaten or detained. The government has denied any recruitment or use of child soldiers.
Once deployed, conscripts are forced to fight against Burma's ethnic minorities and other opposition forces, and to participate in human rights abuses against civilians, including rounding up villagers for forced labor, burning villages, and extrajudicial executions.
Soldiers who desert have few options open to them, and typically either join armed opposition forces or flee to neighboring countries.