Myanmar’s military junta made military service mandatory for both young men and young women, state media reported over the weekend.
All men aged 18 to 35 and women aged 18 to 27 will have to serve for up to two years, while specialists like doctors aged up to 45 can be called on for up to three years.
During a state of emergency — in effect in Myanmar since 2021, soon after the junta took power from a democratically elected government led by Aung San Suu Kyi — these service periods can all be stretched to up to five years, state media reported on Saturday.
“The duty to safeguard and defend the nation extends beyond just the soldiers but to all citizens. So I want to tell everyone to proudly follow this people’s military service law,” junta spokesman Zaw Min Tun said in an audio excerpt. He called the new measures “essential because of the situation happening in our country.”
People refusing service could face jail time to match what their stint with the military would have been.
Saturday’s statement gave only limited details but said the Defense Ministry would soon “release necessary bylaws, procedures, announcements orders, notifications and instructions.”
Although a conscription law had nominally existed in Myanmar since 2010, it had not been enforced until now.
Ethnic minority groups and pro-democracy fighters team up
Since its 2021 power grab, Myanmar’s military has faced perhaps its biggest challenge in decades, in a country that’s long been known for instability and domestic insurgencies.
An alliance of three different ethnic-minority insurgent groups and pro-democracy fighters called “People’s Defense Forces” recruited since the coup have joined forces. In October last year they launched a coordinated offensive against the Tatmadaw, as the military is known, inflicting heavy personnel and territorial losses.
Recent efforts to broker a cease-fire ultimately proved short-lived.
The counteroffensive originated in Shan state, which Myanmar’s various central governments have barely controlled for decades, and which is Myanmar’s lucrative eastern gateway to neighboring China.
Myanmar’s government-in-exile has said defense policy should be federalized in future in the country, making its position more palatable to ethnic minority fighters who might once have sought independence or autonomy for their regions.
The Tatmadaw is struggling to recruit soldiers and is rumored to have begun forcing non-combat personnel to the frontlines.
Bangladesh border retreat highlights military’s struggles
The military’s struggles on the battlefield became particularly visible at the country’s border to Bangladesh earlier this week.
Rebel forces took control of a border guard post, prompting more than 300 military and security personnel — many of them wounded — to flee across the border into Bangladesh seeking sanctuary.
It was the first time that Myanmar’s government forces were known to have fled across a border in this manner during the conflict.
More typically in recent years, the Rohingya Muslims who make up most of Rakhine state’s residents in a majority-Buddhist country had been trying to flee across the border to escape Myanmar’s security forces.
India also announced on February 8, amid the clashes near the border to Bangladesh, that it was scrapping a free movement agreement with Myanmar.
The move was “to ensure the internal security of the country and to maintain the demographic structure of India’s North Eastern States, bordering Myanmar,” Home Minister Amit Shah said on social media. He added that although the process of scrapping the agreement would take some time, his ministry had also recommended the accord’s immediate suspension in the meantime.

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