Military draft ‘could spark exodus’

Mandatory army service for men and women above the age of 18 could cause teenagers to the flee the country in droves, Burmese are warning.

The net effect could be that the pariah state loses some of its most able youngsters, a schoolteacher in Mandalay told DVB. “It will cause more brain drain as many youths have already left the country. No one wants to do that [serve in the army]”.

Once seen as an honourable profession, the reputation of Burma’s nearly 500,000-strong army has nosed-dived in recent decades both within the country and internationally, and a debate is now underway over whether the UN should investigate it for war crimes.

Burma’s is one of the largest standing armies in Southeast Asia, despite the country having no external enemies. Regardless, the ruling junta continues to aggressively expand troop numbers, and the recent draft law will snare any male between 18 and 45 and any female between 18 and 35 for two years of service. Draft dodgers could face up to five years in prison.

“If it is case of war with another country, it would be a different matter. But if you are forced to do military service to kill each other [your own countrymen], who would dare join the army?” said a young Burmese man living in Singapore.

Around 40 percent of government spending goes to the military, while three percent goes to the woefully undernourished healthcare and education sectors combined.

“I have sold my plot of land and will work in [Thailand] even if as refugees with my family members,” said another youth from Three Pagodas Pass, on the Thai-Burma border. “All my young friends have decided to do so… even if I am ruined, I don’t want to be a soldier.”

Lower-ranking troops are thought to earn only around $US10 a month, whilst being forced to provide their own food under a ‘self-sufficiency’ drive. Some escape to Thailand and end up in one of the many refugee camps along the border.

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