Children as young as 10 are being ordered to accompany Burmese army columns as they carry wounded troops through a volatile stretch of Shan state, locals report.
The township of Kehsi Mensi lies close to the frontline in the battle between Burmese troops and the Shan State Army in the central region of the state. Residents there told DVB that an infantry battalion went through villages in the township on Tuesday recruiting people to act as “human shields”.
“We were taken while working in the farm,” said one man, who requested anonymity due to likely retaliations from Burmese soldiers. “There were just 10 of us at the beginning but then they also took along people they saw along the way – making up about 30 people in total.
He said that they were forced to carry wounded soldiers and heavy packs for the seven mile walk between Kehsi Mensi town and Wanphwe village.
“Around the halfway point, while passing by a primary school in Naungka village, they picked up 11 children aged around 10 or 11. They were not provided with any meal so those who brought along food had to share with [the troops]. We were not allowed to take a peek at the wounded soldiers – they cursed us when we did.
“Some of the kids were unable to walk back to their village in the end so their parents had to go and pick them up on motorbikes.”
The Burmese army has been accused in the past of using civilians as porters and human minesweepers, but rarely have reports surfaced of children so young being forced to accompany troop columns.
Kehsi Mensi has seen heavy fighting since a 15-year ceasefire between the Burmese government and the northern faction of the Shan State Army (SSA) ended in March this year. Both sides have since accused one another of harming civilians.
The local said the recruitment of young children was an attempt to prevent SSA attacks on retreating Burmese forces, and added that local villagers are often forced to “contribute” themselves and their equipment to the army.
The army unit in question, battalion 143, was engaged in heavy fighting on 14 and 15 August close to Wanphwe village, resulting in heavy casualties on both sides. Some 400 clashes are believed to have erupted since March this year.