Mass arrests in Myanmar spark fear over conscription laws

A junta spokesperson denied the arrests, saying troops only targeted resistance soldiers.
By RFA Burmese
Mass arrests in Myanmar spark fear over conscription laws Internally displaced people flee Za Yat Gyi city, Htantabin township in eastern Bago region on Feb. 9, 2024.
Badan Sai

Junta soldiers on a two-day spree have arrested young and internally displaced people, locals in Bago region told Radio Free Asia.

Since enforcing the People’s Military Service Law on Saturday, junta leader Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing announced conscription would begin immediately. Refusing to serve could result in a five-year prison sentence for young men and women across the country.  

This isn’t the first time the area has faced conscription efforts. Soldiers in January made rounds across several townships, trying to gain numbers through threats, fines, and incentives. 

On Monday, soldiers entered Htantabin township’s Za Yat Gyi city in eastern Bago, where locals fled conflict days before the arrests. It was the site of a battle a week ago when the Karen National Liberation Army and People’s Defense Forces fought with junta troops. Around 50 people were killed by junta artillery fire and more than 10,000 were forced to leave their homes amid heavy shelling.

The city was left mostly empty, but residents who chose not to flee were abducted from their homes, locals said. Junta troops stationed at Za Yat Gyi Hospital also detained young people in Htantabin township’s surrounding villages.

A local in Za Yat Gyi city who wished to remain anonymous for security reasons told RFA on Tuesday that he fled because people who have reached the age of 18 are being rounded up for military service.

“At the moment, the whole village is fleeing because the junta’s army entered the village and dragged people out. We are also hiding and fleeing,” he said. “They arrest women who are around 18 and 19 years old. Men at that age are also being taken to the trucks and forced to serve in the military.”

Since troops began raids, villages are nearly empty, he added. Internally displaced people from nearby villages were also targeted, although locals said they could not confirm the details of the arrests. 

Regime denies mass arrests

Junta forces set up blockades on roads leading from Za Yat Gyi to Htantabin city and conducted spot checks and arrests at Htantabin Bridge, according to locals. 

Bago residents near the Sittaung river and Kayin state border haven't been able to get to Taungoo city, roughly 290 kilometers (180 miles) north of Htantabin since the weekend because of blockades, they said.

Bago region’s junta spokesperson Tin Oo denied people were being press-ganged into military service. 

“As far as arrests are concerned, we are arresting organizations related to the People’s Defense Forces and organizations that support terrorists according to the law,” he told RFA. “We do not arrest innocent people without reason.”

No mass arrests occurred, and only three or four people were taken in for interrogation, he said.  

On Tuesday night, the regime-backed media announced the formation of a Central Militia Recruitment Team led by the Ministry of Defense. 

Translated by RFA Burmese. Edited by Mike Firn.




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