Tatmadaw ‘imposes harsher punishments’ for desertion as more military medics abandon their posts 

The Tatmadaw has started imposing harsher sentences for desertion amid an increase in military medics abandoning their posts, two officers who graduated from the Defence Services Medical Academy have told Myanmar Now. 

Until recently judges at courts martial, which are held in secret, would typically sentence deserters to between 18 months and two years in prison but that has now been increased to five years after desertions began increasing in 2019, the medical officers said.

It is unclear how many have deserted – and how many have been caught – but the two medics, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said they were aware of cases of up to 50 people deserting at a time.

In many cases the deserters do not try to avoid arrest, calculating that it is better to serve a prison sentence and then be free afterwards than to be sent to the frontlines, the medics said. 

“Nobody wants to be on the frontline fighting these useless wars,” said one of the medics. “It’s not just us soldiers from the military medical units, the soldiers from the infantries are the same. There’s not much hope for us.” 

One reason for the increase in desertions was a feeling among medics that they were unlikely to ever be promoted, they added. “Even in the medical academy, there’s no hope after we finish our Masters to get a higher rank.” 

In response to a question from Myanmar Now about the desertions, Tatmadaw spokesperson Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun told a press conference late last month that medics were “willingly” going to prison to avoid serving.

“There are cases of desertions from some officials serving at the military medical units.,” he said. “There is no custom of pardoning anyone who deserts from any military in any country. There is no amnesty.”

The medical officer said most fled on the assumption that they would get to live freely after serving three or four years in prison.

“The public knows if these wars are of any significance,” the officer said. “And we know too. It’s so useless for the nation that these battles are happening and everyone is killing each other.”

A captain in a military medical unit said that some military doctors deserted by failing to report to their new battalion after being promoted, while others left because they failed exams. 

“They have their personal reasons for running away – if they don’t pass exams, they don’t get a higher ranking; there’s a lot of reasons,” the captain told Myanmar Now. 

Khaing Khant Kyaw’s family have not had any contact with him since August (Khaing Khant Kyaw/Cubic K/Facebook)

Zaw Min Tun also told the press conference that a case was proceeding against Khaing Khant Kyaw, a military medical student who was detained last year after criticising Myanmar’s former dictators on Facebook.   

Khaing Khant Kyaw’s family have not been allowed to see him once in the five months since his arrest in August, and they only received confirmation that he was in military custody in November. 

“The tribunal is still interrogating the case,” Zaw Min Tun said. “After that is done, there will be statements and meetings with his family.”

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