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Myanmar military begins basic training for draftees as resistance forces keep the pressure on


BANGKOK (AP) — Myanmar’s military has begun basic training at military bases and schools across the country for draftees called up under the country’s recently activated conscription law, state-run media reported on Tuesday.

The authorities activated the conscription law in February in a bid to to replenish the ranks that have been depleted in nationwide battles against ethnic minority armed groups and armed pro-democracy resistance forces opposed to military rule. The struggle began when the army seized power from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in February 2021.

Over the past five months, the army has lost territory in northern Shan state and in Rakhine state in the west, and is under growing attack elsewhere. It appeared this week that it may also lose the important trading town of Myawaddy, in Kayin state on the border with Thailand.

Opening ceremonies for training were held in various regional commands and military schools in Mon and Shan states and Tanintharyi, Magway and Mandalay regions, as well as in the capital, Naypyitaw, the state-run Myanma Alinn newspaper reported Tuesday.

It said the first batch of trainees were those who voluntarily reported to the army after the military government sent letters summoning them.

The conscription law’s activation has created fear, anxiety and defiance among young people and their parents. Some are leaving the country, while others are fleeing into border areas controlled by ethnic minorities or joining resistance groups.

Independent Myanmar media reported Tuesday that a few young people staged brief protests against conscription at three locations in Yangon, the country’s largest city. The protests on Monday were carried out as flash mobs to evade attacks or arrests by the authorities.

Under the law, men aged 18 to 35 and women 18 to 27 can be drafted into the armed forces for two years. The military has said about 14 million men and women of the total 56 million population of the country are eligible for military service and it will draft 5,000 people at a time and up to 60,000 people a year. Evading conscription is punishable by three to five years in prison and a fine.

Myanmar’s military is also reportedly tapping an unlikely source to fill its depleted ranks, turning to members of the the Muslim Rohingya minority, who seven years ago were the targets of a brutal counterinsurgency campaign incorporating rape and murder that saw an estimated 740,000 flee to neighboring Bangladesh as their villages were burned down.

Analysts say the move is meant not only to counter the army’s attrition though deaths, desertions and defections, but also constitutes a divide and conquers strategy meant to reignite tensions between ethnic groups in Rakhine.

Rohingya have lived especially in Rakhine for generations, but they are not officially recognized as an indigenous ethnic minority, instead being called Bengalis and described as illegal immigrants. They have been denied citizenship and other basic rights including freedom of movement, and are the targets of widespread social discrimination. The U.N. has estimated that 600,000 Rohingya are still living in Myanmar.

The main anti-military resistance force in Rakhine state is the Arakan Army, which is part of the movement seeking greater autonomy for the Rakhine ethnic group that dominates the area. Rakhine nationalists were among the leading persecutors of the Rohingya minority, but now the Arakan Army and the Rohingya have a common enemy in the military government to took power in 2021, making them uneasy allies.

Aung Kyaw Moe, a Rohingya who is deputy minister for human rights in the shadow National Unity Government, said last month that the military is creating a conflict between the Rohingya and Rakhine ethnic groups in hopes of regaining the military advantage in Rakhine.

“The military council is losing the battles nationwide. Especially in Rakhine, military camps are being abandoned almost every day, and the towns controlled by the military council are falling. In Rakhine, the military council is in need of a lot of human resources due to the depletion of the army. It seems that they have calculated that only by creating a conflict between Rakhine and Rohingya can the current situation be changed,” Aung Kyaw Moe said.