Youth in Myanmar resist forced service with junta | WORLD
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Youth in Myanmar resist forced service with junta

As the regime struggles to contain armed resistance, citizens flee conscription or join rebel groups

Members of the resistance group Karenni Nationalities Defense Force in Myanmar Getty Images/Photo by STR/AFP

Youth in Myanmar resist forced service with junta

A stampede broke out at a passport office in Mandalay, Myanmar, on Monday, killing two women ages 39 and 52. Since the military junta in Myanmar activated a conscription law on Feb. 10, citizens have flocked in droves to passport offices and the Thai embassy in Yangon, hoping to obtain travel documents that would allow them to flee the country also known as Burma.

In neighboring Thailand, the Buddhist University in Chiang Mai has already stopped accepting applications from Burmese students after saying it received too many, Radio Free Asia reported. Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin also warned Myanmar citizens against entering his country illegally.

The junta is struggling to fend off the nationwide armed resistance against its rule after it seized power in a coup three years ago this month. Myanmar’s army will start calling up 5,000 people each month beginning in April after the Buddhist Thingyan New Year festival.

Under the conscription law, men ages 18-35 and women ages 18-27 can be drafted for two years. Medical doctors, engineers, and technicians have a higher age limit—45 for men and 35 for women—and they can be drafted for three years. Nearly 26 percent of the nation’s population of 54 million is eligible for conscription, and citizens who evade military service can face up to five years in prison.

Myanmar’s military has fewer than 100,000 troops, Khun Bedu, the chairman of the ethnic resistance group Karenni Nationalities Defense Force, told reporters. With troop numbers depleting, the junta and pro-junta militias have already begun forcibly enlisting civilians in certain regions.

The National Unity Government, Myanmar’s shadow government, called the junta’s conscription unlawful, saying the junta is forcing civilians to “serve as human shields in a horrific war of its own making against its own people.”

Some draft-eligible citizens not fleeing Myanmar are joining the resistance instead. Dave Eubank, an American who leads the Free Burma Rangers, said some residents want to join his Christian aid organization, which provides medical support to ethnic resistance forces in Karenni state.

Eubank estimated the junta now controls only about one-third of the country, including major towns and some of the main border crossings, as the resistance is “slowly winning.”

In Rakhine state, the fierce fighting between the ethnic Arakan Army and junta forces led more than 300 border guards and soldiers from Myanmar to flee to neighboring Bangladesh earlier this month. A rebel alliance’s capture of Laukkai town, a key area in Shan state along the border with China, last month also dealt a big blow to the junta, which sentenced three army generals to death for the town’s surrender.

Last week, the Karenni Nationalities Defense Force and the Karenni Army defeated army soldiers stationed in the town of Shadaw. Eubank and his team assisted the surrendered soldiers and their family members, whom the resistance spared, to a makeshift clinic his organization had set up in the jungle, where the wounded would receive treatment.

During the fighting, the military launched airstrikes within just dozens of yards around them. The group had only trees for cover. “But we all lived, a miracle,” said Eubank.

Near the clinic, the wife of a surrendered police officer was too weak to keep walking. Eubank carried her on his back the rest of the way. One of the defeated soldiers had lost excessive blood, but a member of Free Burma Rangers offered his own blood for the transfusion to save his enemy’s life, Eubank recalled.

Amid the intensifying conflict, Eubank and his team continue to share the gospel, telling others, including junta troops, about Jesus’ love.

Eubank sees the junta’s losing fight to hold onto power as “a really hopeless mission.” The slower the regime’s collapse, “the bloodier it is for everybody,” he noted.

These summarize the news that I could never assemble or discover by myself. —Keith

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