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Myanmar Junta Activates a 14-Year-Old Conscription Law to Try and Regain Territories

The Junta has also issued orders to military-owned garment factories to mass-produce uniforms.
A protest poster calling Myanmar Junta leaders 'traitors'. Photo: 	Maung Sun/CC BY-SA 4.0

New Delhi: Even as the Brotherhood Alliance is continuing to snatch newer areas from Myanmar’s Junta, the military has activated a 14-year-old conscription law to be able to draft civilians between the age group of 18 and 45 into the forces.

As per news reports, the Junta has issued orders to military-owned garment factories to mass-produce uniforms. The order came just days after the Junta’s announcement on February 10 to activate the law it had brought in 2010.

As per the People’s Military Service Law, young men between the age group of 18-45 and women between 18 and 35 may be conscripted into the military up to five years. Those who evade the call or help someone do so can be imprisoned for up to five years.

According to The Irrawaddy, “The call-up (to civilians) will begin after the Thingyan holiday in April with up to 5000 people drafted in each intake.”

The news report quoting an unidentified employee of a government-owned garment factory in Yangon told the news outfit that the unit has begun producing uniforms from February 16.

Aside from the three Yangon-based units, the order has been received by military-owned factories in Mandalay, Bago and Magwe regions.

Uniform for militia too

What is significant is, these factories are not only producing military uniforms but also “militia uniforms”. An employee from one of the three Yangon-based military-owned garment factories had told The Irrawaddy, “Fabric rolls arrived on Feb. 14 and 15 and we started production on Feb. 16. We are making two types of garment – army uniforms and militia uniforms. We have to make over 10,000 sets of uniforms. They are likely intended for the first intake.” The news report also said, “The military-owned garment factory in Bago’s Pyinpongyi is also making militia and military uniforms.”

“The defense ministry has instructed military-owned textile and garment factories to supply over 100,000 sets of army uniforms for conscripted recruits and militias,” it added.

Support in Northern Shan

It is not clear which militias are to align with the Junta to fight the three militias that form part of the Brotherhood Alliance or other groups within the country resisting the military rule with arms. As of now, the Pa-O National Army (PNA), active in the southern Shan State, is said to have already begun using the conscription law to compulsorily draft young men and women into its forces.

PNA controls the Pa-O self-administered areas comprising Hopong, Hsi Hseng and Panlong townships in the southern part of the Shan State, located close to Thailand’s cities like Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, etc. After signing a peace agreement with the earlier military regime in the 1990s, the PNA, which has been fighting for self-rule since 1949, has begun militarily protecting officially the three townships of southern Shan State governed by Pa-O National Organisation (PNO). The present PNA leader Aung Kham Hti is close to the Junta chief Ming Aung Hliang.

UN condemns move

On February 21, reacting to the Junta’s activation of the conscription law, Tom Andrews, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, called it a “further sign of the Junta’s weakness and desperation”.

Andrews, in a statement, said, “Young people are horrified by the possibility of being forced to participate in the junta’s reign of terror. The numbers fleeing across borders to escape conscription will surely skyrocket.”

As per the UN, nearly 2.7 million people have been internally displaced in Myanmar of which almost 2.4 million were after the February 2021 takeover of the country by the Junta after rejecting the election results that had re-elected the Aung San Suu Kyi government.

Aside from internal displacement, several have fled to Myanmar’s neighbouring countries too, including some of India’s north-eastern states.

China asking Myanmar to resume its border trade

The pro-democracy Brotherhood Alliance, formed in mid-2019, comprises the Arakan Army (AA), the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance (MNDA) and Taang National Liberation Army (TNLA). Together, as part of the Operation 1027 started this past October, these militias have gained control of a large swathe of areas key to the China-Myanmar border trade in the northern Shan State. The Brotherhood Alliance is widely seen to have China’s backing, with China brokering a ‘temporary’ ceasefire between the Junta and Alliance forces on January 11. The two sides met at China’s behest in the Chinese city Kunming for two days in January.

Though Junta-Brotherhood Alliance fights have continued, the China-brokered ceasefire has led to silencing of guns and bomb-dropping by both sides considerably, particularly in the northern Shan State, thus creating a situation to restore Myanmar-China trade.

On February 19, the governor of China’s Yunnan province which borders Myanmar’s Kokang region taken over by Alliance forces, met Junta chief Ming Aung Hliang and the minister for commerce, Htun Ohn, in the capital, Naypyitaw, to discuss restarting the trade route between the two countries.

The Chinese leader had asked the trade between the two countries to be carried out in their local currencies. According to the Myanmar government’s data, the border trade value between the two countries had increased substantially to stand at $1.82 billion in the 2022-23 financial year.

Myanmar conducts border trade with China in the townships of Muse, Lweje, Hinshwehaw, Kampaiti, and Kengtung. The Muse border saw a majority of the trade worth $1.58 billion.

Currently, the Alliance forces control the entire belt except Muse. Some townships along the Muse-Mandalay highway are also under the control of the militias which have started levying a parallel tax from the goods trucks passing by it.

While China shares a 2,127-km-long border with Myanmar, India’s border with that country is 1,643 km. While Chinese border trade with Myanmar has grown over the years, India’s border trade with Myanmar is a dismal 1% of its total trade with that country.

India’s Look/Act East Policy has been aimed at expanding such border trade. India has, therefore, been pumping in huge investments in building adequate infrastructure in both Bangladesh and Myanmar, and connecting them particularly to the northeastern states that share long boundaries with these countries.

However, the recent taking over of certain border townships along Manipur and Mizoram by the armed militia not known to be India-friendly may likely come in the way of India expediting its border trade with Myanmar through ports and roads it has constructed.

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