Scores of captive Muslims forced to undergo military training at displaced camp

Junta authorities threaten to kill the 107 mostly ethnic Rohingyas if they refuse.
By RFA Burmese
Scores of captive Muslims forced to undergo military training at displaced camp The Kyauk Ta Lone camp for displaced people in Kyaukphyu, Rakhine state, Myanmar, is seen Oct. 4, 2019.
Ye Aung Thu/AFP

Junta authorities are holding more than 100 mostly ethnic Rohingya Muslims captive at a camp for the displaced in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state and threatening to kill them if they refuse to take part in military training, residents said Wednesday.

The military is desperate for new recruits after suffering devastating losses on the battlefield to the ethnic Arakan Army, or AA, in Rakhine. On Feb. 10, the junta announced it would implement a conscription law that has seen draft-eligible civilians flee Myanmar’s cities, saying they would rather leave the country or join anti-junta forces in remote border areas than fight for the military, which seized power in a 2021 coup d’etat.

On Tuesday, a group of around 80 junta troops and police arrived at the Kyauk Ta Lone camp for internally displaced persons, or IDPs, in Rakhine’s Kyaukphyu township and forcibly gathered 107 Muslims between the ages of 18 and 35 at the camp’s food warehouse, after collecting their personal information.

Junta personnel told the captives that they would be “beaten to death” if they refused to take part in military training and threatened to “remove their families from the camp” if they attempted to escape, according to a resident.

The Muslims were also banned from using mobile phones and threatened with punishment if they spoke with the media, said the resident who, like others interviewed for this report, spoke to RFA Burmese on condition of anonymity due to security concerns.

Another resident with knowledge of the situation told RFA that junta personnel said the 107 Muslims were on the camp’s “first list for military training” and expected to undergo verbal instruction on Wednesday.

“The IDPs are not allowed to go outside at all … [and they] are surrounded by junta troops,” he said. “I found out that [on Thursday] they will be given guns and undergo [physical] military training."

RFA attempted to contact camp officials and other residents on Wednesday for comment on the recruitment drive at Kyauk Ta Lone, but was unsuccessful, as their phones had been powered off.

Camp recruitment

RFA reported last week that the junta had offered freedom of movement to ethnic Rohingya Muslims restricted to Kyauk Ta Lone and other IDP camps in Rakhine state as part of a bid to entice them into military service amid the nationwide rollout of the conscription law.

But rights campaigners say the junta is drafting Rohingya into military service to stoke ethnic tensions in Rakhine, while legal experts say the drive is unlawful, given that Myanmar has refused to recognize the Rohingya as one of the country’s ethnic groups and denied them citizenship for decades.

Some 1 million Rohingya refugees have been living in Bangladesh since 2017, when they were driven out of Myanmar by a military clearance operation. Another 630,000 living within Myanmar are designated stateless by the United Nations, including those who languish in camps and are restricted from moving freely in Rakhine state.

A boy walks down a lane in Kyauk Ta Lone camp in Kyaukphyu, Rakhine state, Myanmar, Oct. 3, 2019. (Ye Aung Thu/AFP)

Kyauk Ta Lone is located 6.5 kilometers (4 miles) from the seat of Kyaukphyu township and is home to more than 1,000 people from 375 families.

While many identify as Rohingyas, others claim to be Kamans, who are recognized as one of the country’s ethnic groups but were forced to vacate the urban areas of Kyaukphyu in 2012 amid racial conflict in Rakhine state. The state’s population mostly belongs to Myanmar’s ethnic Rakhine Buddhist minority.

The latest census, taken in 2020, documented no Kamans living in Kyaukphyu township, which suggests that some Rohingyas living in the camp are identifying as Kaman to avoid social and political repercussions.

Draft for citizens only

Ro Nay San Lwin, a Rohingya activist, told RFA that because the conscription law stipulates that only citizens are eligible to serve in the military, it is “illegal” to recruit those without citizenship status.

"The mandatory conscription law only applies to citizens and [the junta] doesn’t recognize Rohingyas as citizens,” he said.

Only some of the residents of Kyauk Ta Lone hold documents identifying them as citizens of Myanmar, while others have not been registered.

Ro Nay San Lwin said that the junta wants to train the Rohingya to fight against the AA to bolster its defense of territory in Rakhine state, which it has hemorrhaged since November, when the ethnic rebels ended a ceasefire that had been in place since the coup. 

In the past three months, the military has surrendered Pauktaw, Minbya, Mrauk-U, Kyauktaw, Myay Pon and Taung Pyo townships in the state, as well as Paletwa township in neighboring Chin state.

“Although the ongoing situation is unrelated to the Rohingya issue, the junta is trying to reduce pressure on itself by using Rohingyas as human shields and creating communal conflict between ethnic groups,” he said.

Attempts by RFA to contact Attorney General Hla Thein, the junta’s spokesperson for Rakhine state, for comment on the situation there went unanswered Wednesday.

Pro-junta mouthpiece Myanma Alin has reported that no Muslims are being listed for military service in Rakhine state.

International Rohingya organizations have called on the U.N. Security Council to take action against the junta to prevent further oppression of the ethnic group in Myanmar.

Translated by Aung Naing. Edited by Joshua Lipes and Malcolm Foster.


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