Youth sold to Burmese army for $US20

June 9, 2009 (DVB), Teenagers are being kidnapped and sold to the Burmese army for as little as $US20, while those caught trying to escape are often shot or poisoned, say young army deserters recently interviewed.

Burma's ruling State Peace and Development Council has come under fire recently as documented cases of forced recruitment of child soldiers continue to emerge, with various international jurists, British MPs and exiled Burmese lawyers labeling the practice a war crime.

Last week, Human Rights Watch criticised as "window dressing" a ceremony in which child soldiers were handed back to their families, and said the problem continues.

A report released by the Karen Human Rights Group (KHRG) last week featured interviews with three teenagers, one 16-years-old, who recently escaped from the army.

"When I returned from my grandmother’s shop [in Rangoon], I went to Sule Pagoda and a soldier who was there from Taw Boke army camp grabbed me," said an 18-year-old deserter.

"He told me that he would give me pocket money. Then that soldier sold me for 20,000 kyat [approx US$18.80] to a military officer who was sitting in a tea shop."

He added that out of a monthly salary of approximately US$20, army seniors stole $US18, leaving them with about US$2 for a whole month.

Another former soldier forcibly recruited into the army said that children as young as 13 were taking part in military training, while treatment of those caught fleeing was often brutal.

"They killed them. For example, they injected them with poison or shot them with a gun," he said.

"It [execution] was especially for the soldiers who escaped with a gun."

Last week the International Labour Organisation (ILO) voiced concern about a clause in the Burmese constitution that makes use of forced labour legal when the government deems it necessary.

As well as recruitment of minors into the army, cases of forced labour documented by the ILO include recruitment of civilians to walk in front of army patrols as 'minesweepers'.

Reporting by Francis Wade

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