Thursday, January 13, 2011
According to an official document, the Burmese junta has passed a law dated November 4, 2010, requiring able-bodied persons over the age of 18 to register with local authorities. Furthermore, the law requires all men between the ages 18 and 45 as well as all women between 18 to 35 to join the army if they are called upon. Those who fail to report for military service could be imprisoned for three years, and face fines. Those who deliberately inflict injury upon themselves to avoid conscription could be imprisoned for up to five years, as well as fines. Civil servants, students, those serving prison terms, and those caring for an elderly parent are currently excluded from the draft, but they could be later called to serve. Totally exempt are members of religious orders, disabled persons, and married or divorced women with children.
The Democratic Voice of Burma claims that the law was passed just before the new parliament convened in order to avoid scrutiny of the practice by the new parliament. However, laws surrounding forcible conscription are murky and it is unclear how tightly the new law would be enforced.
The new law has faced stiff criticism by Burmese around the world. Aung Kyaw Zaw, a military analyst on the China-Burma border, said that there are pros and cons to the new law. “From the bad side, our country is already in deep poverty and the people barely have anything to eat. So [adopting such a law] may cause bigger negative effects on the country, which is already…struggling to feed the current army and carry the burden of military expenses.”
“On the plus side, civilians will learn how to use guns and be given a chance to understand the nature of the military. With the knowledge of how to handle weapons, the people will be able to rise up against the military – in a way they will be trained for the revolution.”
Many people see the draft as a threat to ethnic armed groups, who have been long embroiled in guerrilla conflicts with the government.
Burma is a military dictatorship and already has a standing army close to half a million, one of the biggest per capita in the world. Previously, professionals, including doctors, engineers and mechanics, between the ages of 18 and 44, and females between 18 to 33, were required to serve in the military for up to three years. However, the new law extends this to five years in case of a national emergency.