ASIA/MYANMAR - Possible introduction of compulsory military service leads to young people fleeing

Monday, 19 February 2024 civil society   military   youth   human rights  

Yangon (Agenzia Fides) - There is great concern in Burmese society, especially among young men and women, after the ruling military junta declared its intention to introduce military service as "conscription", without giving further details. "The lack of accurate information has caused fear in families," says Joseph Kung, a Catholic from Yangon, telling Fides about the fears of Catholic families who have sons and daughters of possible military age. In recent days, the junta has said it will enforce a law allowing men aged 18 to 35 and women aged 18 to 27 to be conscripted for two years. Currently, the junta faces widespread armed resistance that developed after the February 2021 coup. In recent months, the army has suffered casualties and defeats and has withdrawn from large areas, particularly in the border provinces (where ethnic minority armies are active), retaining control only of large cities. According to observers, this move by the junta could be a sign of weakness. However, given the deepening socio-economic crisis in which families find themselves, forced recruitment may not have the desired impact and, on the contrary, may lead to a strong wave of migration. "The law has no legitimacy because the regime is an armed group that has seized state power by force and it has no mandate to enact a law," noted U Kyaw Zaw, spokesman of the National Unity Government (NUG) in exile, and called on young people “of military age” not to heed the call. According to data from 2022, of Burma's approximately 54 million inhabitants, 2.2 million are women between the ages of 20 and 29 and 4.5 million are men between the ages of 20 and 34. It is possible that a large proportion of them will resist and try to escape the law: either by joining rebel groups (the People's Defense Forces or ethnic militias) or by leaving the country for Thailand, China or India. As observers tell Fides, thousands of young Burmese are currently trying to leave the country to avoid compulsory military service, mainly by applying for a visa to Thailand. According to experts, this country should immediately develop a plan to prepare for the possible influx of young people from Myanmar. Overall, both the security situation and economic instability are making life difficult for the Burmese population, leading to internally displaced persons (of which there are already 2.5 million) or migration across the border. (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 19/2/2024)