Myanmar’s Mothers Describe Agony as Embattled Junta Snatches Sons for Military Service

April 11th, 2024  •  Author:   The Irrawaddy  •  6 minute read
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Daw Khin Myint trembles with emotion as she describes the young men lined up at No.1 Advanced Military Training School in Yangon’s Taikkyi Township beneath a banner reading “We welcome good citizens of the country to serve in the military.”

Her son was in the queue of individuals aged 18-35 called up for mandatory service. The new draftees were forcibly recruited under a newly activated conscription law that covers millions of male and female citizens.

The conscription nightmare haunting parents across the country has come true for Daw Khin Myint, who like other mothers has cried every day since her son was forcibly enlisted.

“I even wanted to kill myself [rather than seeing my son drafted],” Daw Khin Myint said, her voice cracking with emotion.

She said the day the ward administrator informed her that her 27-year-old son, who had been working to support his parents, was on the military service list was the saddest of her life.

“I don’t agree with this. They are doing it against our wishes,” she said.

“If he serves in military, he will probably be killed.”

Military officials took her son for a medical checkup on March 27, saying he would be sent back home after a blood test. Instead, like others he was transported straight to No. 1 Advanced Military Training School.

On discovering that her son was in the first batch of military training scheduled for the opening week of April, the heat of summer paled in comparison to her inner torment.

“I was worried. I can’t eat or sleep,” Daw Khin Myint told the Irrawaddy through tears.

Military defeats piling up

More than three years after its coup, Myanmar’s military is facing heavy casualties from a series of major defeats to revolutionary forces across the country. To replenish troop numbers, it activated the People’s Military on February 10.

The law was originally passed by former military dictator General Than Shwe on November 4, 2010, but had never been activated by subsequent military or civilian administrations until now.

Current regime spokesman General Zaw Min Tun announced that 50,000 conscripts will be recruited each year in batches of 5,000, with training beginning in April. To realize that plan, civilians were recruited in March.

The Irrawaddy has learned that most recruits in the first batch are men aged 24 to 30.

Daw Wine Mya Than is another mother now frantic with worry after her son’s name appeared on the conscription list. A resident of Thandwe Township in southern Rakhine State, she said local junta officials had threatened to arrest her and her husband if their 24-year-old son failed to turn up for military training.

Her son is still a student and she dreads the thought of him being sent to the front line.

“If he serves in the army he will have to go into battle. This is the same as asking him to die,” Daw Wine Mya Than told The Irrawaddy.

“It’s like I am living in hell.”

She said unlike the Arakan Army-controlled north, there is no place to run in southern Rakhine State since junta forces limit freedom of movement.

“Even if we pay money like others [as bribes to escape conscription], we couldn’t afford it,” she added.

Junta officials have begun recruiting conscripts in Thandwe, Gwa and Sittwe townships in southern Rakhine.

Young people in big cities like Yangon, Mandalay and Naypyitaw have also been summoned to military training schools and military units. In many places, junta administrators are selecting conscripts randomly or by lottery from lists of eligible citizens, creating opportunities for officials to extort money from those desperate to avoid military service.

According to junta social media channels, training for conscripts is now taking place in Naypyitaw, Mandalay, Bago, Tanintharyi and Magwe regions, Shan and Mon states, Hopong Township in Pa-O Self-Administered Zone, and training schools of regional commands.

Daw Kyi Pyar is another mother suffering sleepless nights. Her only daughter turned 18 just a few days after the conscription law was activated. The law covers women aged 18 to 27 but the junta says females will not be among the first batches of conscripts. That hasn’t stopped the Yangon resident in her 50s crying every night as she thinks about her daughter’s future.

“I feel as if they [the military] have launched the call-up because they need people to die in battles,” Daw Kyi Pyar said.

Parents don’t want to sacrifice their precious children to a terrorist military, she added.

“The military issued the conscription law against the people’s will and in their own interest.

“Their [junta members’] children will be removed from the mandatory military service list,” Daw Kyi Pyar told The Irrawaddy.

She vowed to send her daughter to a liberated area if she was forcibly enlisted as a conscript. The family has decided that her husband would enter mandatory military service in her place.

“It is not for them [the military] that parents take care of their children,” she said.

Fleeing conscription to join the resistance

As the Myanmar military begins forcing civilians into military service, large numbers of young men are seeking refuge in liberated areas, according to the Mother’s Embrace Foundation.

Both the Mother’s Embrace Foundation and the New Myanmar Foundation are aiding individuals who want to avoid conscription.

Mother’s Embrace said that of the 600 individuals it has helped since the conscription law was activated, 400 have joined the People’s Defense Force (PDF) under the parallel civilian National Unity Government (NUG).

“Many chose not to flee abroad as refugees but to join the PDF,” said U Than Myint Aung, founder of Mother’s Embrace Foundation.

Currently, 80 to 100 individuals are contacting the foundation every day seeking information on how to avoid mandatory military service. Some are fleeing with their whole families, aware that the military is taking fathers in place of sons who don’t show up for service, U Than Mying Aung told The Irrawaddy.

He said people who want to avoid conscription should act now, as the military would continue recruiting civilians to make up for heavy troop losses on the front lines.

“Decide early. It may become difficult to get out later,” U Than Mying Aung warned.

An army defector has urged the National Unity Government to open a channel for conscription-age individuals who are unable to escape to liberated areas.

“People could be given a code before they go into military service. If they get the chance, they could then contact us and verify themselves with the code so we can help them,” said Captain Htet Myat, who joined the Civil Disobedience Movement in June 2021.

Meanwhile, training for the first batch of conscripts appears to be well underway.

Pro-junta Telegram channels are currently posting photos of training camps daily. The junta held ceremonies for the start of training across the country on April 8.

Mothers like Yangon’s Daw Khin Myint anguish every day while the pro-junta channels spread propaganda that the trainees are eager and happy to serve their country.

After crying throughout our interview, Daw Khin Myint was asked what she wanted most in life.

“I want to bring my son back home,” she answered through tears.

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