Myanmar Junta Forcibly Recruiting Bago Villagers as Resistance Threatens Yangon-Naypyitaw Link

Weakened by troop shortages and a wave of defeats, Myanmar’s military regime has been forcibly recruiting civilians to form militia groups in Bago Region, according to locals and resistance groups.

Last month, the junta also released jailed soldiers from prisons across the country to serve on the frontlines.

On Friday, military-appointed local administrators told residents of some villages in Bago they had to provide 30 to 50 men for military training.

The recruitment drive has not been publicized in big towns like Taungoo, Bago and Pyay but is confined to villages across the region, multiple sources in Bago told The Irrawaddy.

Almost three years after the coup, junta boss Min Aung Hlaing’s forces are suffering rising casualties, desertions and mass surrenderers as a coordinated resistance offensive gains territory across the country.

Earlier this month almost 2,400 soldiers including six Brigadier Generals and more than 200 army officers surrendered to resistance forces, handing their weapons, headquarters and the entire Kokang region over to rebel armies in northern Shan State.

The Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) and allied resistance groups are now fighting to take territory in Bago Region, which lies sandwiched between the two junta power centers of Naypyitaw to the north and Yangon to the south.

Regime officials announced the recruitment scheme for males aged 16 to 50 in villages around Bago’s Taungoo on Friday. They told locals in Pyar Taung, Zee Phyu Pin, Tha Pham Pin, Kyun Gyi and Shaung Kan villages that they would be conscripted by lottery.

Households that did not provide at least one recruit would have to pay 30,000 kyats per month to regime officials.

Selected civilians could also avoid recruitment by paying 2 million kyats (about US$ 950 at the official exchange rate), a local from Taungoo told The Irrawaddy.

Junta officials didn’t say when the plan would be implemented.

Streets in Taungoo have been quiet over the past few days as residents stay inside for fear of being caught up in the recruitment drive.

Early-morning street vendors are no longer setting up at the local market while some residents have fled the area or are sleeping in fields.

“People are afraid. They won’t accept the military regime’s plan and don’t want to join the militia. They are not sleeping well now,” the Taungoo resident said.

On Saturday, administrators in villages near Hpa Do, Kyauktaga Township, summoned residents to their homes and announced they would recruit 50 people per village to form militias.

According to a source from Hpa Do, the administrators said every household would also have to pay 5,000 kyat per month to fund the militias. They warned of consequences if the residents failed to pay the money.

“I have a 16-year-old brother and I worry for him. We don’t know what to do,” said the source.

On Sunday, as news about the recruitment drive circulated, supporters of the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) cruised through Bago town under police escort, playing loud music, a resident told The Irrawaddy.

Though there has been no announcement about recruitment in the town, rumors are spreading that a militia group will be formed by the end of January, she said.

People’s Defense Force (PDF) groups based in Bago Region have urged residents to refuse junta recruitment efforts and report regime officials who forcibly recruit civilians.

The junta announced the recruitment drive after reportedly losing over 600 bases in northern Shan and Rakhine states to the Brotherhood Alliance’s Operation 1027 offensive since the end of October. Around 4,000 junta soldiers, including brigadier generals, have also surrendered during the offensive, the alliance said last week.

Irrawaddy News