Myanmar’s military government on Saturday activated for the first time a decade-old conscription law that makes young men and women subject to at least two years of military service if called up, effective immediately.
The announcement of the measure on state television amounts to a major, although tacit, admission that the army is struggling to contain the nationwide armed resistance against its rule.
Under the 2010 People’s Military Service Law, passed under a previous military government, men between the ages of 18 and 45 and women between the ages of 18 and 35 can be drafted into the armed forces for two years, extendable to five years during national emergencies.
The current ruling military council, the Burmese State Administration Council, came to power in 2021 after ousting the elected civilian government of then-Burmese state councilor Aung San Suu Kyi.
The law has been activated in the wake of the army’s biggest setbacks since the countrywide conflict erupted after the takeover. A surprise offensive launched in October last year by an alliance of armed ethnic organization in less than three months captured a large swathe of territory in northeastern Myanmar along the Chinese border.
The rout inspired resistance forces in other parts of the country to launch their own attacks. In the past few weeks, fighting in the western state of Rakhine resulted in hundreds of state security personnel fleeing into neighboring Bangladesh.
The army faces two enemies, the pro-democracy forces formed after the army takeover, and better-trained and equipped ethnic minority armed groups that have been battling for greater autonomy for decades. There are alliances between the resistance groups.
Evading conscription is punishable by three to five years in prison and a fine. Members of religious orders are exempt, while civil servants and students can be granted temporary deferments.
Major General Zaw Min Tun, spokesperson for the military government, said in the statement telephoned to MRTV Myanmar Radio and Television that the law has been applied due to the situation in Myanmar.
Activating the law could help preventing war through a show of strength to enemies, he said.
“So what we want to say is that the responsibility of national defense is not only the responsibility of the soldier. It is the responsibility of all people in all parts of the country. National security is everyone’s responsibility. That is why I would like to tell everyone to serve with pride under the enacted law of people’s military service,” Zaw Min Tun said.
The military government’s forces have been stretched thin by a recent upsurge in resistance activity.
They are believed to be affected by casualties, desertions and defections, although there are no reliable figures available.
In September last year, the Ministry of Defense under the National Unity Government, the leading political organization of the resistance that acts as a shadow government, said that more than 14,000 troops had defected from the military since the 2021 seizure of power.
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