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Military draft seen as threat to ethnic armed groups

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) ––The enactment of a military draft law, making most adult Burmese subject to serve in the armed forces, is likely to create more tension between the junta and the ethnic armed groups, according to ethnic leaders and observers.

The junta’s law No. 27/2010 orders all Burmese between specified ages to register for service in the armed forces. The law was approved by the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) on Nov. 4, 2010.

For ordinary military service, men between age 18 and 34 and  women between 18 and 26, if called up, are subject to serve up to two years.

For service in technical positions, male professionals, including doctors, engineers and mechanics, between age 18 and 44, and females 18 to 33, are subject to serve in the military for up to three years.

All categories are subject to serve up to five years, if the government declares an emergency.

All local draft committees are subject to submit a list of potential draft candidates to regional or state authorities on Jan. 1 each year.

Religious personnel, house-wives, the disabled, people who are determined to be not suitable to serve in the military, and people with other exemptions from the recruitment central committee would not be required to serve in the armed forces, the law said. 

People who are eligible to serve must inform the regional recruitment committee before Dec. 31 each year.

The law said government employees, students, people who need to look after elderly parents, patients who are receiving treatment in the drug rehabilitation centres and prisoners could postpone serving in the military with the approval from the relevant authorities.

Karen National Union joint secretary Saw Hla Ngwe said that the military conscription law would bring more problems between the junta and the ethnic armed groups, and the junta’s ultimate intention was to launch major attacks against the ethnic armed groups.

With the enactment of broad conscription, ‘Many problems will occur’, said Saw Hla Ngwe. ‘I think their intention is to support the military dictatorship and kill ethnic people. Many forced military recruitments are likely to occur’, Saw Hla Ngwe said.

‘I think the junta has many problems in recruiting. There are many deserters. Troops of the junta are injured in the front lines. And the junta is widely criticised because they recruit child soldiers. That’s why they are introducing this conscription’.

An officer in the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO) also said on the condition of anonymity that the intention of the junta is to reinforce the army and problems are inevitable.

If the junta could achieve genuine national reconciliation, ethnic people would be interested in the military draft, he said.

All Mon Region Democracy Party chairman Naing Ngwe Thein said, ‘To be honest, I think it’s impossible. It can bring many problems. We are not fighting wars with foreign countries. So, introducing conscription is unnecessary. On the other hand, the civil war has not ended. In Mon State, people are very rare to join the army. I don’t know whether people in other states want to join the army or not. I think the junta wants more troops. But, it’s very rare here for people to go into the army’.

To avoid serving in the military, many young people might leave the country, some observers said.

An analyst who specializes in Burma, Bo Bo Kyaw Nyein, said he believes one of the purposes of the law was that the junta is trying to recruit citizens to work as unpaid porters for the military in times of national emergencies.

‘The law does not mention that it is inclusive of the whole country. So, the adoption of the law may depend on the situations of the regions’, he said.  ‘The law can be imposed in any township, district, division or state in times of national emergencies. For instance, when the mainland is peaceful but fighting breaks out in Karen State, the law could be adopted in only Karen State’.

Section 412 (a) of Chapter 11 of the 2008 Constitution says: ‘If the President, learns that or if the respective local administrative body submits that there arises or is sufficient reason to arise a state of emergency endangering the lives, shelter and property of the public in a Region or a State or a Union Territory or a Self-Administered Area, after co-coordinating with the National Defense and Security Council, may promulgate an ordinance and declare a state of emergency’.

Under the law, if men between the age of 18 and 45 and women between 18 and 35 fail to serve in the armed forces without approval of the authorities, they could face a prison sentence of up to five years or be fined.

Professionals and people with PhDs, or people who meet the specified qualifications, can be recruited as high-ranking officers, according to the draft.

National League for Democracy (NLD) Vice Chairman Tin Oo said that the junta should have sought national reconciliation before introducing mandatory military conscription.

“The most important thing people in our country need is national reconciliation and mutual trust’, he said. ‘Then we can discuss whether to enact those kinds of laws. Currently, they are enacting the law although we don’t have wars with foreign countries. If the objective of enacting military conscription was to equalise the military and civilians, it would be good. But, we need to take more time’, Tin Oo told Mizzima.

Burmese observer Htay Aung noted that the law was enacted before the convening of the new Parliament and the issue was not discussed in the last National Convention.   

“You know, the junta has cheated the people many times’, he said. ‘Even in the socialist era in Burma, a law needed to be approved by the people. The law should have been discussed in the National Convention. But, the junta is trying to cheat us. And they are enacting the law without the approval of Parliament. That shows the junta’s dishonesty. I think they have a hidden agenda’.

Enacting broad conscription without reducing the number of permanent troops showed that the junta’s real intention is to increase the power of the military, Htay Aung said.

On the other hand, he said, in some democratic countries universal conscription is enacted to reduce military expenses. He said one unintended consequence is that if many young people receive military training and understand more about military affairs, they might be willing to oppose the military. But, the real intention of the junta is to oppress the ethnic armed groups by using the people, he said.

‘They will try to shape the people to become soldier-like and to obey orders’, said Htay Aung.

The junta needs about 600 troops to serve in a battalion, but many battalions now have only about 200 troops.

On Nov. 4, the junta established a law governing the military reserve army, stipulating that military personnel who resign or retire from the army must serve in the reserve army for the following five years.
Last Updated ( Tuesday, 11 January 2011 20:22 )  

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