Many in Myanmar consider fleeing to Thailand to escape conscription

Thwel, a 25-year-old schoolteacher, saw very few options left to her after Myanmar’s military announced it is implementing conscription to fill its ranks.

Some observers believe a mass exodus of young talent is taking place and could become a social problem, with their exit heightening the instability that followed the military takeover that now amounts to a civil war.

Thwel, whose home in Myanmar’s southern Mon state is the scene of occasional combat between the army and resistance forces, spoke on condition she be called by only one name as protection from the military authorities.

Since then, the army 's manpower has been stretched thin by increasing pressure from surprisingly durable pro-democracy resistance forces and ethnic minority armed organizations,

Over the past four months, opposition groups scored significant victories and seized strategically important territory in northern Shan state where Myanmar borders China, and in Rakhine state in the west.

The ruling military council, ordered the 2010 conscription law be activated to replenish the ranks that have been depleted by the struggle to quash a nationwide pro-democracy insurgency. All healthy men ages 18-35 and women 18-27 are required to register for two years of military service.

Evading conscription is punishable by three to five years in prison and a fine.

Of Myanmar's 56M people, about 14M — 6.3M men and 7.7M women — are eligible for military service, according to Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun, the spokesperson for the military government. The government will draft 60,000 people a year, with an initial batch of 5,000 to be called up soon after the traditional Thingyan New Year celebration in mid-April, he said.

After an uproar over the initial announcement, Zaw Min Tun said there is no plan to call women into military service yet — meaning schoolteacher Thwel might actually be in the clear for the time being.

But many people are actively looking for ways to escape.

Queues at Thailand embassy

The street in front of Thailand’s embassy in Yangon has been filled with visa applicants queued up to get numbered appointment tickets. Overwhelmed, the embassy announced it would accept only 400 visa appointments per day, and they must be made online. According to the Thai Foreign Ministry, some 7,000 Myanmar nationals have applied for visas, Thailand’s Bangkok Post newspaper reported Thursday.

Each day at the state passport office in Mandalay, Myanmar’s second-largest city, 4,000-5000 people were lining up to get one of the 200-250 daily appointment tickets. Two women died and one was injured after they fell into a ditch in a pre-dawn rush to get a coveted early place in line.

"For me, the announcement of the law was the impetus to make a decision to go abroad,” said the doctor, who spoke on condition of anonymity for his safety.

The doctor said he was exploring the best ways flee abroad or to border areas controlled by the ethnic armed groups.

More than 1,000 working-age Myanmar nationals are believed to be crossing into Thailand every day since conscription was announced, said Moe Kyaw of the Yaung Chi Oo Workers Association-Thailand, an aid association for Myanmar migrant workers.


Source: TRT