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A mentally-handicapped boy adopted by sister after both parents died has been recruited by a notorious Burmese army unit in Mandalay division.
The 17-year-old from Dike Oo, in Burma’s central Bago division, was taken a fortnight ago by troops from the Light Infantry Division (LID) 99, based in Mandalay’s Meikhtila town. Sein Toe and a friend had been returning from temporary work in a bakery when they were approached by troops at Tharzi railway station close to Meikhtila, his sister, Phyu Phway, told DVB.
Tharzi station is a common hunting ground for troops who are required by army policy to recruit a certain amount of personnel for each battalion. Use of child soldiers is illegal under Burmese law, but the government is thought to be one of the world’s leading recruiters.
“At the [Tharzi] railway station, the boys were checked for identification by soldiers wearing the LID 99 insignias,” Phyu Phway said. “They both had their ID cards with them. The boys were told by a soldier that the army will send 100,000 kyat [US$100] and a bag of rice home if they join the army.
“His friend [Maung Gwan] refused and he was let go on the grounds that he is a tenth grade student, but my brother agreed to go with them. I was told about this by [Maung Gwan].”
Sein Toe has been afflicted by an illness that his sister says stunts mental and physical development, although nothing has been officially diagnosed. Another sister died several years ago, and the condition forced Sein Toe to leave school at a young age.
Phyu Phway said that he had gone to Meikhtila to make some extra income for the family wheile she was pregnant. “He is my only sibling and I just want him back. I don’t approve of him [becoming a soldier].”
Officials at Tharzi railway station were not available to comment, but a resident in Tharzi said the report mirrored a similar incident on 25 June involving soldiers from the LIB 420, which largely operates under LID 99.
“There were two boys who were apparently running from the soldiers who tried to forcibly recruit them from [Tharzi] railway station,” he said. “They were shaking in fear. One of them was rather tall and the other was short. When asked what happened they replied that they were running from the soldiers – they said slipped away from them.”
Phyu Phway is seeking assistance from the Guiding Star legal advocacy group to bring her brother home.
Meanwhile, last month an underage boy who refused to join the army in Bago division was shot dead by a soldier. The information was blacked out by the Burmese government, which repeatedly breaks promises made to the international community regarding the use of child soldiers in the army.