Videos appear to show Myanmar military training Rohingyas

Meanwhile, conscription law is driving Burmese youth to flee to Thailand and Malaysia. ‘We no longer feel safe,’ said one.
By RFA Burmese
2024.03.11
Videos appear to show Myanmar military training Rohingyas People who appear to be Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state undergo weapons training by junta military personnel on March 10, 2024.
Image from citizen journalist video

Videos have emerged on social media in recent days that appear to show junta personnel providing military training to ethnic Muslim Rohingyas at a site in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state, amid reports of forced recruitment around the country.

On Feb. 10, the junta imposed a military draft law – officially called the People’s Military Service Law – prompting civilians of fighting age to flee Myanmar’s cities. Many said they would rather leave the country or join anti-junta forces in remote border areas than serve in the military, which seized power in a 2021 coup d’etat.

The junta has sought to downplay the announcement, claiming that conscription won’t go into effect until April, but RFA has received several reports indicating that forced recruitment is already under way.

Two videos emerged on Facebook over the weekend showing junta troops training a group of people wearing full military uniforms in the use of firearms and around 30 armed people wearing fatigues inside of a military vehicle. They were posted to the site with a description that identifies the subjects as Rohingyas.

A third video, posted on March 7, shows junta Rakhine State Security and Border Affairs Minister Co. Kyaw Thura visiting a warehouse where hundreds of people, believed to be Rohingyas, are seated in military attire.

RFA was unable to independently verify the content of the videos.

Reports suggest the junta has been forcibly recruiting Rohingyas in Rakhine in recent weeks, and residents told RFA Burmese that the video shows members of the ethnic group receiving training at a site in the north of the state, although they were unable to provide an exact location.

They said that junta personnel have detained and enlisted around 700 Rohingyas for military training from the Rakhine townships of Buthidaung, Maungdaw and Kyaukphyu, as well as the capital Sittwe, since the Feb. 10 announcement, with the goal of forming a militia.

In Kyaukphyu, the training has progressed to using firearms, said a resident who, like others interviewed for this report, spoke to RFA on condition of anonymity due to security concerns.

“It is known that the current training phase involves firearms practice,” the resident said Monday. “Gunfire has been heard over the past two or three days, although the training regimen varies daily.”

Many of the detainees are living at Kyaukphyu’s Kyauk Ta Lone camp for internally displaced persons, or IDPs, where on Feb. 29 junta authorities forcibly gathered 107 mostly ethnic-Rohingya Muslims between the ages of 18 and 35 at the camp’s food warehouse, after collecting their personal information.

Former military captain Nyi Thuta, who now advises the armed resistance as part of the anti-junta Civil Disobedience Movement, questioned why the military regime is forcibly recruiting the Rohingya when it has refused to grant them citizenship.

"These people are being coerced and manipulated in various ways into fighting to the death for the junta, which is facing defeat in [the civil] war,” he said.

‘No way to escape’

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.

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.

ENG_BUR_ConscriptionWrap_03112023.2.jpg
People who appear to be Rohingya Muslims ride in the back of a military vehicle, March 9, 2024. (Image from citizen journalist video)

Myanmar’s military is desperate for new recruits after suffering devastating losses on the battlefield to the ethnic Arakan Army, or AA, in Rakhine state. Since November, when the AA ended a ceasefire that had been in place since the coup, 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.

On Feb. 28, the pro-junta New Light of Myanmar claimed that Rohingya had not been recruited for military service because they aren’t citizens. Attempts by RFA to reach Hla Thein, the junta’s attorney general and spokesperson for Rakhine state, went unanswered Monday.

Nay San Lwin, a Rohingya activist, condemned the coercion of members of his ethnic group into military service as a “war crime.”

“They wield power and resort to coercion and arrests,” he said, adding that he believes the junta’s goal is to “obliterate the Rohingya community.” “I perceive this as part of a genocidal agenda."

Earlier this month, the shadow National Unity Government, or NUG – made up of former civilian leaders ousted in the coup – warned that Rohingya were being pressed into duty by the military “because there is no way to escape.”

Kachin youth fleeing recruitment

Meanwhile, residents of Kachin state said Monday that young people in the area are increasingly fleeing abroad or to areas controlled by the armed resistance to avoid military service. The draft law says males between the ages of 18 and 35 and females between 18 and 27 must serve in the military.

A draft-eligible resident of Kachin’s Myitkyina township said that he and others like him “no longer feel safe” in Myanmar.

“Since the conscription law was announced, it has become quite difficult for us to realize our dreams,” he said. “It isn’t even safe to go out to a restaurant. We feel threatened daily.”

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People stand in line to get visas at the embassy of Thailand in Yangon on Feb. 16, 2024. (AFP)

But even for those who have left the country, life can be difficult abroad.

A young Kachin named Ma La Bang who recently relocated to Thailand said he doesn’t have a visa to stay in the country legally, and told RFA that people like him worry about being forced to return home.

"Young people living in Thailand without any visa feel insecure, and it is also difficult for them to get jobs,” he said. “They are struggling to get a visa and any legal status for residency right now.”

La Sai, the chairman of the Kachin Refugee Committee in Malaysia, said that Kachin youths have been flooding the country since the conscription announcement. 

Two weeks after the junta activated the conscription law, the number of people entering Malaysia from Kachin state has more than doubled, he said. “This kind of migration is also taking place at [Myanmar’s] Thai and Indian borders.” 

‘Sacrificing their futures’

Win Naing, a member of parliament for Kachin’s Moe Kaung township for the deposed National League for Democracy, said the future of Myanmar’s youth is being lost because of the law.

"The conscription law … has directly interfered with the opportunities of young people for education and employment,” he said. “The youth are being made to sacrifice their futures.”

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Myanmar military personnel participate in a parade on Armed Forces Day in Naypyidaw, March 27, 2021. (Reuters)

Junta spokesperson Major General Zaw Min Tun was quoted in pro-junta newspapers on Feb. 15 as saying that 50,000 soldiers will be recruited every year that the law is in effect. 

Based on Myanmar’s 2019 interim census, at least 13 million people are eligible for military service. Those who refuse face five years in prison.

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

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