Ex-child soldier trial gets underway in Rangoon

Ex-child soldier trial gets underway in Rangoon

Prosecution lawyers representing a military plaintiff, who has filed criminal charges against a former child soldier, today submitted the names of four witnesses to a court in Rangoon.

The ex-child soldier, Aung Ko Htwe, now 26, was arrested on 18 August on charges of “inciting public unrest” after Lt-Col Myo Myint Aung lodged an official complaint over an interview he gave with Radio Free Asia’s Burmese-language which detailed his two years of service in the Burmese army.

Aung Ko Htwe told Radio Free Asia he was conscripted into the armed forces in 2005, but deserted his post in Shan State in 2007 alongside some fellow servicemen.

Today marked the first preliminary hearing in a trial that has been widely publicised. The Burmese military has long been criticised for conscripting underage boys to serve in the army, many of whom have faced front-line action against ethnic rebels.

The plaintiff also submitted to Dagon Seikkan township court today a recording of the interview.

Aung Ko Htwe’s lawyer Zaw Min Hlaing was subsequently allowed to question Lt-Col Myo Myint Aung, asking why he pressed charges. The plaintiff responded by saying that underage soldiers can be released from duty in several ways: for example, if their families submit a letter requesting their discharge; or petitioning from the UN’s Country Task Force on Monitoring and Reporting (CTFMR) or the International Labour Organization (ILO).

The defendant’s lawyer said that his family members had indeed tried those avenues but that the defence ministry did not respond to the requests.

Zaw Min Hlaing then requested bail for his client, to which the presiding judge replied that the matter would be decided at his next court appearance on 18 September.

Although Aung Ko Htwe was charged under Article 505 (b) of the Burmese penal code, which does not have a provision for granting bail; however the defence lawyer said he would request it again next week.

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Article 505 (b) covers the prosecution of anyone “who makes, publishes or circulates any statement, rumor or report with the intent to commit an offence against the state or public tranquility.”

Aung Ko Htwe faces up to two years in prison if convicted.

After the court hearing today, the former child soldier’s sister and other supporters demonstrated in front of the courthouse, demanding he be released and that the lawsuit be withdrawn.

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