NUG says Min Aung Hlaing’s conscription plan shows regime’s weakness

A renewed push by Myanmar’s coup regime to introduce a system of compulsory military service is a sign of its diminishing strength, according to the country’s shadow National Unity Government (NUG).

Responding to junta leader Min Aung Hlaing’s decision to make implementing a decade-old conscription law a priority of his rule, NUG Defence Minister Yee Mon said the move shows that the military is under strain a year after seizing power. 

It was as close as Min Aung Hlaing has come to admitting that the military is struggling to find new recruits after a year of suffering heavy casualties, Yee Mon said.

He added that the effort to bolster troop numbers would likely work to the advantage of anti-regime resistance forces.

“I think young people will like this plan a lot, as it would put rifles in their hands. It will be interesting to see which way they point them,” he said.

At a meeting of senior regime officials in Naypyitaw on Wednesday, Min Aung Hlaing said that it was “a must” for the 2010 People’s Military Service Law to go into force once the country’s economic and political situation has stabilised.

The law, enacted under former dictator Than Shwe, requires both men and women to do up to three years of compulsory military service. This can be extended to up to five years in the event of a national emergency.

“It is a must for all. If the country does not have defence capability, we will face a loss. If so, other countries do not pay respect to us,” he was reported by state media as saying.

“If we are weak in the economy, we will feel inferior. If we are weak in political power, other countries would make trouble for us. If we have weak defence capability, we will face the assaults of others,” he added.

The military council’s meeting, which came a day after Tuesday’s February 1 coup anniversary, was its first of the year.

While no reason was given for the sudden need to implement a law that has gone unenforced for more than a decade, some observers noted that the military has lost troops not only to combat, but also to a steady stream of defections.

Members of the National Unity Government’s People’s Defence Force attend a graduation ceremony (NUG)

More than 2,000 soldiers, including hundreds of officers, joined the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) in the first 10 months after the coup, according to Pyi Thu Yin Khwin, or People’s Embrace, a group that supports those who no longer want to serve in the military. 

Aye Chan, an army captain who defected last year after 17 years of service, said that bringing in the draft would do little to reverse this trend.

“If they try to force this on people, it will only get uglier. Not even members or supporters of the USDP want their children to serve in the military,” he said, referring to the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party.

Captain Htet Myat, another CDM soldier, called Min Aung Hlaing’s idea “naïve” and said he didn’t think it would ever come to pass.

“He would just be handing out free weapons to people who are angry with him,” he said.

Another army captain who has joined the CDM, Htet Aung Myo, said that it was more likely that the regime was looking for a way to legitimise its arming of pro-regime Pyu Saw Htee militias.

“They would like to give their supporters more weapons, and this is how they plan to do it,” he said.

The junta has denied backing members of the Pyu Saw Htee group, which is believed to have roughly 100 chapters active around the country.

According to casualty figures released by the NUG’s Ministry of Defence, thousands of regime troops have been killed since the armed resistance movement began last April.

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