Military conscription poised to start in Myanmar’s Yangon

Draft-eligible youths are avoiding census takers and parents are terrified for their children.
By RFA Burmese
2024.03.15
Military conscription poised to start in Myanmar’s Yangon People walk near the Hledan Center in Kamaryut township, Yangon region on April 26, 2023.
RFA

In the clearest sign yet that a military draft will soon go into effect in Myanmar, junta authorities are summoning draft-eligible youths and taking information door-to-door throughout the largest city of Yangon, residents said Friday.

The move comes after the junta announced last month that it would implement a law passed in 2010 that requires selected young men and women to serve in the military, which is trying to replenish its ranks after suffering a series of battlefield defeats against rebel groups fighting them since the military seized power in a 2021 coup.

In reaction, many young people have fled Myanmar’s cities, saying they would rather leave the country or join anti-junta forces in remote border areas than serve in the military.

“We reject their authority under martial law,” said a 28-year-old resident of Yangon’s Mayangone township who said he would never serve in the military. 

After initially being required to provide personal information at his ward administration office, he is now avoiding authorities. Like others interviewed for this report, he spoke on condition of anonymity due to security concerns.

The junta has claimed that conscription won’t go into effect until April, but RFA Burmese has received several reports indicating that forced recruitment is already under way across the country.

The junta has announced plans to recruit 5,000 people monthly under the conscription law. Those who fail to comply with the military service call-up face up to five years in prison.

‘Summoning has commenced’

All townships in Yangon have initiated enforcement of the country’s conscription law, according to official records.

Based on data from the ministry, township-level militia recruitment teams are screening young residents and requiring them to fill out eligibility forms by ward. Those within the specified age range are then being summoned to ward offices to be tallied, residents told RFA.

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Police patrol on a street in Yangon on July 19, 2023, on the 76th Martyrs' Day, which marks the anniversary of the assassination of independence leaders including general Aung San, father of the currently deposed and imprisoned leader Aung San Suu Kyi. (Photo by AFP)

Authorities are selecting three to five people from smaller wards and five to 10 people from larger wards, said one resident of Yangon, who also declined to be named.

“The township general administration, in collaboration with the immigration office, examined their census records, focusing on people aged 24 to 30,” he said. “The summoning process has already commenced across the entire Yangon region."

Those selected are being assured that they will be assigned to serve solely within their respective townships, and will not be sent to the front lines after completing their training, he added.

Operational procedures vary among townships, residents said, with youths being summoned to ward offices in some and door-to-door inspection by authorities in others. In areas with limited numbers of draft-eligible residents, authorities have proposed a lottery system to choose from among the middle-aged, they said.

A 27-year-old mother of a newborn in Dagon Seikkan township said that her husband was included in the census.

"I am a breastfeeding mother, so I would have to be left with my baby” if her husband is drafted. she said. “If he is selected, it would feel like our world is collapsing.”

Attempts by RFA to contact Htay Aung, the junta’s attorney general and spokesperson for Yangon region, went unanswered Friday.

However, on Tuesday, Soe Thein, the junta’s chief minister of Yangon region disclosed during a meeting in the city that militia recruitment teams and census teams had been established “down to the ward and village” level, calling on authorities to emphasize precision in their work.

‘State of utter chaos’

Parents of draft-age young people are also terrified. One woman in Yangon said her neighborhood is “in turmoil.”

“The actions of the junta are deeply troubling and are taking a toll on the mental well-being of our children,” she said. “Parents are grappling with how to navigate this situation and uphold their values.”

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People gather by a jetty to cross the Yangon river on boats in Yangon on January 28, 2023. (Photo by SAI AUNG MAIN / AFP)

RFA received reports that similar summonses are being issued in the capital of Naypyidaw, where draft-eligible residents are being required to register at township general administration offices for military service.

Than Soe Naing, a political commentator, said the implementation of the draft law reflects the “dire state of the nation.”

“Some young people are seeking to leave the country, while others are heading to liberated areas [under rebel control],” he said. “It is a state of utter chaos.”

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

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