Myanmar Situation: Military Regime’s Conscription Move Will Only Deepen Humanitarian Crisis

The Myanmar military, which took control of the country in a coup three years ago, has introduced conscription.

The aim of this move appears to be to prepare for more fighting against rebel forces. This may not only prevent Myanmar from breaking free from its economic hardship, but may also heighten the crisis of civil war.

The conscription covers more than 14 million people — men aged 18 to 35 and women aged 18 to 27 — but women are exempt for the time being. About 60,000 people a year will be drafted to serve in the military for two to three years. If they refuse to be drafted, they will be sentenced to as many as five years in prison.

The first groups of draftees were gathered at military training facilities in such locations as Yangon, the largest city in Myanmar, at the end of March.

Since last autumn, rebel forces in Myanmar have been on the offensive against the military, capturing military bases one after another. The number of soldiers in the military, which was estimated at 300,000 to 400,000, has reportedly been reduced by half due to surrenders and desertions. The introduction of conscription was due to the fact that the military is no longer able to make up for the reduced number of soldiers through voluntary enlistments alone.

When the military announced the start of conscription in February, many citizens rushed to passport offices or moved away from their residences to hide in other towns in attempts to evade the draft.

If drafted, they will be sent to the front lines of fighting against pro-democracy factions and ethnic minorities. It is likely that many people certainly feel hesitant to fight against their fellow countrymen. It is no surprise that society is in turmoil.

Apart from conscription, the military is said to have also been forcibly taking people of the Rohingya, a Muslim ethnic minority that the military is persecuting, and forcing them to join the fighting. If this is an attempt at ethnic cleansing, it is unforgivable.

According to the United Nations, more than 2.7 million people have been displaced in Myanmar since the coup due to intensified fighting. Shortages of food and medical supplies have also become more serious, and it is estimated that 18.6 million people, or one-third of the population, are in need of assistance.

Many impoverished residents seem to have turned to crime, including cyber fraud.

The military’s ironfisted rule has only brought instability to the country.

It is essential for the military to first halt its violence in accordance with a U.N. Security Council resolution. It is also necessary to release Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been detained, and to start a dialogue with pro-democracy factions and ethnic minorities.

With the eyes of the world having turned to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine and conflicts in the Middle East, interest in the situation in Myanmar tends to wane.

However, Japan, which should bear significant responsibility for stability in Asia, should not overlook the crisis in Myanmar. It is necessary for Japan to assert to the Myanmar military that Japan’s assistance, which was suspended after the coup, will not be resumed unless the military stops its violence and repression.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 7, 2024)