Applicants to Myanmar military academy dwindling, defecting officers say

The Myanmar military’s Defence Services Academy (DSA) in Pyin Oo Lwin, which typically recruits at least 500 cadets annually, received only 22 applications from the major recruiting ground of Mandalay last year, an officer who joined the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) said.

Mandalay, where Pyin Oo Lwin is located, has long been the site of the majority of applicants to the officer training school, but since the coup in February last year, the number of youth opting to join the junta’s armed forces has plummeted, according to Cpt Zay Thu Aung, who left the military in February this year.

Thousands of officers have left the armed forces since the coup, refusing to serve under the military council.

Zay Thu Aung told Myanmar Now that during his final months in the military, he had attended a training in Pyin Oo Lwin and witnessed the lack of recruits in what would have been the academy’s most recent batch, set to graduate in 2025.

“One of my colleagues brought out the new cadets, and there were only 22 from Mandalay,” the 35-year-old air force officer said, himself a 2007 graduate of the DSA’s 50th intake.

Although he is from Khin-U Township in Sagaing, Zay Thu Aung said the majority of the cadets in a given DSA intake would have been from the central Myanmar region of Mandalay, as were those later promoted to leadership positions.

“Most of the cadets were Mandalay locals. Most of the officers are also from Mandalay. Many applicants were from Meiktila, Mandalay, Yamethin, Taungtha,” he said, listing of towns in the region. 

Another officer participating in the CDM—Cpt Nay Myo Thet—told Myanmar Now that in his own DSA class, the 51st, most of the cadets were from Mandalay, Yangon and Ayeyarwady regions, but not from ethnic states with a long history of resistance to the military. 

“Many candidates who apply to the DSA are from Mandalay. Very few candidates are from the regions where there are ethnic armed groups. Almost none are from these regions,” Nay Myo Thet said. 

There were 3,000 initial participants, of whom 2,500 graduated in 2005 after their required four years of study. Among the reasons for not completing the course were failed drug tests, dropouts, or death, Nay Myo Thet explained. 

Cpt Lin Htet Aung, who defected to the anti-junta resistance, echoed Nay Myo Thet and Zay Thu Aung’s assessment of the origins of the majority of DSA participants.

“I don’t know the number of candidates from each region, but I know most candidates have been from Mandalay,” he told Myanmar Now. 

In his own 54th intake in 2008, Lin Htet Aung said there were around 1,300 cadets. All but 55 reportedly graduated.

The officers explained that the DSA does not specify the number of annual enrollment spots, and that it varies depending on the needs of the Myanmar military. 

Application deadlines for various military academies were extended several times last year due to a comparative lack of interest to previous years. 

Cpt Htet Myat, another officer in the CDM who was in the DSA’s 52nd batch of recruits, said youth in Mandalay were disillusioned by the military’s crimes since the coup, and had also likely been barred from joining the institution by their parents. 

“No parents will let their children die for nothing at a time like this. They also don’t want to be hated by the public. That’s why I say the end is near for the military dictators,” the 32-year-old said.

There remains an excessive number of officers in the armed forces but an insufficient number of infantrymen, Cpt Nay Myo Thet said, noting that a typical battalion has 105 soldiers led by 15 officers, including two second lieutenants, four lieutenants, six captains and two majors. Current battalions have a full quota of officers, the former captain explained, but only 70 troops under them. 

This could have been in anticipation of defection, he speculated.

“It is possible they recruited more officers to replace those who would leave when the country went through a big change,” Nay Myo Thet said.

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