top of page

Myanmar Has Enforced Military Conscription Amid Deadly Civil War

Written by Anoushka Patel

Edited by Eliza Dorton and Annika Lilja


Image by Martin Sojka (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Passport offices and embassies in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, have been inundated with crowds numbering in the thousands trying to escape to neighboring Thailand and Singapore. 


Across Myanmar, civilians are desperately searching for ways to flee their homes after it was announced the military junta will impose a mandated conscription law, which will come into effect in mid-April. The law has been dormant in Myanmar since 2010.


The law, announced on February 10th, will mean that men between ages 18 to 25 and women between ages 18 to 27 will be forced into completing at least two years of military service. Maj-Gen Zaw Min Tun, the Myanmar government’s military spokesperson, stated that the conscription will not begin until after the Thingyan festival marking the Burmese New Year, which is due to fall between the 13th to the 16th of April. The initial batch of recruits will allegedly be approximately 5,000 people, with the military’s intention of eventually recruiting around 60,000 men annually.


This has been a huge cause for concern for young people in Myanmar, who are suffering under the leadership of the military, which took over the country after a bloody coup in February of 2021. More than 6,000 people were reported killed because of the fighting in the first 20 months of the civil war, and the UN estimates around 2.6 million people have been displaced.

 

Young people have been at the forefront of the resistance ever since they had their education disrupted by the coup, which was compounded by school shutdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021, the junta suspended 145,000 teachers and university staff over their vocal opposition to the military takeover, and schools in opposition-held areas have been destroyed by air strikes. This led to students protesting the military by leaving school and joining one of the resisting ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) that have been united in fighting to overthrow the military dictatorship. 


In some ways, the conscription law can be seen as a sign of hope for the resistance that they have weakened the military might of the junta. In October 2023, the military was dealt a serious blow when several non-state ethnic insurgent groups formed an alliance that overran dozens of military outposts along the border with China and India. The success of ethnic resistance groups in carrying out Operation 1207 in November 2023, rooting out the feared Chinese fraudster family that had effectively taken over the lawless town of Laukkaing, has inspired Burmese civilians to continue supporting the resistance forces as fighting continues into its fourth year. 


The military has also been showing signs of fatigue, with the depletion of its military might leaving only 130,000 members by the end of 2023. Their failure to replenish army numbers by recruiting retired veterans, army-affiliated family members, and even prisoners has highlighted the desperation of the junta to keep a tight grip on the country, and the conscription law is a short-term solution for what will inevitably spell the end of military rule. 


However, for many people still trapped in Myanmar, the situation remains precarious. Many young people are fearful of being caught by the military and forced into the army, with reports of people being kidnapped and detained in broad daylight. According to a nineteen-year-old Burmese woman, she is reluctant to go outside of her house or travel back to her hometown, in case she becomes a target for the military. “So many youth, including me, left their schools as a civil disobedience movement since the 2021 coup. A lot of young people are trying to move out with all they have to either study or work abroad... There have been many rumors... apparently a couple was abducted by the junta on Valentine’s Day.”


The enforcement of the conscription law is the latest action by the junta to exacerbate regional instability and burden neighboring nations with influxes of migrants, who are fleeing the country. It is sure to solidify the junta's status as a cause of chaos within Myanmar and across the region.


 

Sources:


Hein, Y.M. (2024) Myanmar’s fateful Conscription Law, United States Institute of Peace. Available at: https://www.usip.org/publications/2024/02/myanmars-fateful-conscription-law 


Ng, K. (2024) Myanmar: Young people attempt to flee ahead of Conscription Order, BBC News. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-68345291 

Ratcliffe, R. and Soe, A.N. (2024) ‘they have lists of everyone’s names’: Myanmar conscription law unleashes wave of fear, The Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2024/feb/28/myanmar-military-conscription-law-details 


Foreign, C.& D.O. (2024) Three years since the military coup in Myanmar: Foreign ministers’ joint statement, GOV.UK. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/three-years-since-the-military-coup-in-myanmar-foreign-ministers-joint-statement 

Comments


bottom of page