Sylhet Today 24 PRINT

Junta forcefully recruiting Rohingya to fight rebels

Saleem Samad |  ২৫ ফেব্রুয়ারী, ২০২৪

Myanmar’s regime is accelerating its effort to recruit up to 50,000 personnel per year to replenish its armed forces under the reinforced Conscription Law.

Several media outlets have recently reported in independent and pro-resistance Myanmar media on the forcible recruitment of young men in urban areas.

Military junta chief Min Aung Hlaing activated, for the first time in a decade, a conscription law amid heavy regime casualties and desertions.

Following the announcement, the regime formed a central committee led by the Defence Minister to conscript over-18s into military service. Those who fail to comply face three to five years in prison.

The committee announced the formation of branches in each state and region to implement the law, led by the chief minister with the deputy regional military commander as the vice-chair.

The conscription branches will be established in rural areas and townships. The recruitment process will start in April, regime spokesman Major General Zaw Min Tun said.

The spokesman said around 6 million men and 7 million women were eligible for compulsory military service, according to the 2019 census.

He said 5,000 people will be called up each month and given training, with around 50,000 recruited per year. The conscription is not intended for only one, two, three, or four years and will be eligible for service for two years.

The junta also activated a Reserve Forces Law, allowing it to send veterans back to the front line. Under the law, all former military personnel must serve in the reserve forces for five years starting from the day they resigned or retired.

Conscription has sparked fear and anger among eligible citizens who have been called on to defend the junta that has brutalised them for three years.

It has also been criticised for legalising the junta’s practice of rounding up civilians for use as porters or human shields.

Desertions and defections plague Myanmar troops
The military government's forces have been stretched thin by the recent upsurge in resistance activity. They were already believed to be depleted by casualties, desertions, and defections, though there are no reliable numbers regarding their scale.

The army faces two enemies: the pro-democracy forces formed after the army takeover and better-trained and equipped ethnic minority armed groups that have been battling for greater autonomy for decades.

There are alliances between the resistance groups, as reported by the pro-rebel newspaper The Irrawaddy.

In September of last year, the Defense Ministry of the National Unity Government (NUG), the leading political organisation of the resistance that acts as a shadow government, stated that more than 14,000 troops have defected from the military since the 2021 seizure of power.

The military seized power and ousted the elected government headed by Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi on February 1, 2021. She has been kept in home custody to serve prison sentences for election fraud and other trumped-up charges.

Forced recruitment of Rohingyas
Myanmar’s military is forcibly recruiting Rohingya men from villages and camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Rakhine State, and it is feared they will be used as human shields, activists, and residents of the state warn.

Sittwe, the state capital of Rakhine State, has 13 IDP camps for about 100,000 Rohingya people who were displaced by ethnic and religious violence in the western state in 2012.

At least 400 Rohingya men have already been forcibly recruited from villages and IDP camps after Rohingya community leaders and administrators were pressured to compile lists of at least 50 men for each small IDP village and at least 100 for each IDP camp in three Rakhine townships – Buthidaung, Maungdaw, and Sittwe.

The junta is offering freedom of movement to Rohingya Muslims restricted to IDP camps as part of a bid to entice them into military service amid the nationwide rollout of a conscription law.

Junta forces have told Rohingya men that if they serve in the military, each one will receive a sack of rice, a citizenship identity card, and a monthly salary of 150,000 kyats (US$ 41), Rohingya residents of Rakhine State and activists stated.

Since taking the census on Monday, junta officers have repeatedly visited the camp, trying to persuade Rohingya residents to serve in the military with an offer of free movement within Kyaukphyu township, said another camp resident.

However, the conscription law only applies to Myanmar citizens, but the citizenship of Rohingya people has been scrapped after a draconian Citizenship Law of 1982 requires individuals to prove that their ancestors lived in Myanmar before 1823 and refuses to recognize Rohingya Muslims as one of the nation's ethnic groups or list their language as a national language.

Despite the compulsory military training schedule to begin in April, junta troops arrested at least 100 men from four villages in Buthidaung Township on 18 and 19 February, and they were transferred to a nearby military base for basic military training.

Nay San Lwin, co-founder of the Free Rohingya Coalition, describes that two weeks of training would make them vulnerable either to be captured or killed on the battlefront by the battle-hardened Arakan Army (AA) rebels fighting the military junta for more than a decade. Lwin said the junta’s military will use the Rohingya foot soldiers as human shields and porters.

Rohingya to defend IDP villages
Junta troops informed Rohingya community leaders that the AA had established armed fortified camps near the Rohingya villages and that residents would have to undergo military training to defend their villages.

The junta’s troops, who are fighting the AA, know the terrain of Rakhine State better than the AA does and have public support.

Since November, the military has surrendered Pauktaw, Minbya, Mrauk-U, Kyauktaw, Myay Pon, and Taung Pyo townships in Rakhine state.

The capital of Rakhine State, Sittwe, is besieged by government troops. Civil administration officials and their families have been evacuated to safe places by commercial flights, while other officials have been shifted by Naval vessels.

Rights campaigners fear that drafting Rohingya into military service could stoke ethnic tensions in Rakhine state, while legal experts argue that 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.

An estimated 1.2 million ethnic Rohingya refugees have been languishing in squalid camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, since 2017 after fleeing the genocide committed by Myanmar military forces.

Another 630,000 living within Rakhine State are designated stateless by the United Nations, including those who languish in camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) and are restricted from moving freely within Rakhine state.

  • Saleem Samad: Award-winning journalist.

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