23 May 2024

Yangon, Myanmar – Myanmar’s embattled junta is pressing ahead with military conscription, state media said Tuesday, with video footage showing new recruits being marched to training centres across the country.

The military is struggling to crush widespread opposition to its rule following its 2021 coup that ended an experiment with democracy and plunged Myanmar into turmoil.

In February the junta said it would enforce a law allowing it to call up all men aged 18-35 to serve in the military, sending thousands queueing for visas outside foreign embassies in Yangon.

Junta number two Soe Win visited Yangon on Monday and was briefed on the “systematic selection” of those being called up, the state-owned Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper said.

The first batch of recruits began training in April, according to state broadcaster MRTV, which did not say how many had been signed up.

Recruits from the second batch have begun arriving at their training camps, according to a montage broadcast by MRTV last week.

The images showed dozens of men, purportedly at different locations across the country, walking in lines to training centres, some led by soldiers or marching bands.

Groups of women and soldiers formed tunnels to greet some of them with flowers or place garlands on their necks.

One group of men were wearing identical T-shirts with “Natmauk” on the back, the images showed.

Natmauk is the home town of Aung San, who spearheaded the independence struggle against British colonial rule and is revered by Myanmar’s military, which he founded.

His daughter, democracy figurehead Aung San Suu Kyi, has been detained by the military since the coup and jailed on charges critics say are designed to remove her from politics.

– 13 million eligible –

After arriving at their training centres the second batch of recruits “took a medical test and were issued with food, military equipment and a stipend,” MRTV said.

It did not say how many men were included in the second batch.

The military service law was authored by a previous junta in 2010 but was never brought into force.

It allows the military to summon all men aged 18-35 and women aged 18-27 to serve for at least two years.

The service term can last up to five years during a state of emergency, which the junta has extended multiple times since its coup.

Around 13 million people will be eligible to be called up, a junta spokesman has said, though the military only has the capacity to train 50,000 a year.

Local media have reported cases of young men being pulled off the streets in Yangon and other cities and taken away to undergo military training.

The junta has denied the reports.

The 2021 coup re-ignited conflict with established ethnic minority armed groups and birthed dozens of newer pro-democracy “People’s Defence Forces” now battling the military across Myanmar.

The conflict has displaced around 2.7 million people, according to the United Nations.

Rights groups say the junta has burned villages, carried out extrajudicial killings and used air and artillery strikes to punish communities it suspects of opposing its rule.

Agence France-Presse