Former child soldier arrested in South Dagon

Sep 19, 2008 (DVB), A former child soldier who was allowed to leave the army when he was reported to be underage was arrested by authorities on his 18th birthday, his mother told DVB.

On the evening of 16 September, officials from the criminal investigation department and ward authority members came to Maung Win Sithu's house and arrested him, his mother Daw Cho Cho Lwin said.

"The first time they came, my son had not come back from work yet. The ward authorities and officials searched my house and when my son came back, they took him away," Daw Cho Cho Lwin explained.

"They said that they had to ask him about his time in the army at the office, but they didn't , they took him away on the pretext of a criminal investigation," she said.

"At first they said it would only be for a while and took the child away on a motorcycle and they told me, just wait for the news of your son," she went on.

"Whatever they are doing to try to connect the child with any case, it is being done dishonestly."

Maung Win Sithu was born on 16 September 1990, and so it was his 18th birthday when he was arrested, his mother said.

She said that she had not been able to find out any information on her son's whereabouts, but suspects that the army wants to recruit him again.

Maung Win Sithu was forced to join the army in May 2007 when he was 16 years old, his mother said.

Cho Cho Lwin said Maung Win Sithu had been recruited at the police station after he had had an argument with a police officer who had spilt concrete on him.

While he was sitting in the police station, a soldier approached him and took him away, gave him 5000 kyat in pocket money and some food and then handed him over to the army.

"My son had no intention of being a soldier and he is not that kind of child. He was feeding us," Cho Cho Lwin said.

"When I tried to get my child out of the army because he was underage, it caused some arguments."

As well as Maung Win Sithu, Cho Cho Lwin has two younger children , Maung Win Thiha, who is 16, and a four-year-old daughter , whom she cannot afford to send to school. Her husband Tin Hla has passed away.

Maung Win Sithu had been working in a sawmill and the family is dependent on his income, Cho Cho Lwin said.

Cho Cho Lwin said Maung Win Thiha had also been recruited as a child soldier at the age of 13.

"He was working at a poultry farm in Htaukyant and there was an army camp nearby, and he was taken to the army from there," Cho Cho Lwin said.

"He was not quite 14 at the time , he was 16 years old on 10 July," she said.

"He was there for more than a year and was sent to Karen state. [, ] I had to take him out."

Cho Cho Lwin said she was preparing to report the incident to the International Labour Organisation.

"We have to struggle for our survival and we are unable to attend school," she said.

"Even when we are working, they are making our lives a misery by doing this. They are causing a double disruption in our lives: we lose time and we have to talk a lot."

"If you really want to arrest someone, just come and arrest me."

Reporting by Aye Nai

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