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MYANMAR’S military junta has activated a conscription law requiring young men and women to do at least two years of military service if called up, making a tacit admission that the army is struggling to contain a nationwide insurgency.
Under the 2010 People’s Military Service Law, passed by a previous military government, males between the ages of 18 and 45 and females between 18 and 35 can be drafted into the armed forces for two years, extendable to five years during national emergencies.
The current junta, called the State Administration Council, came to power in 2021 after ousting the elected civilian government of Aung San Suu Kyi.
Saturday’s televised announcement by junta spokesman Major General Zaw Min Tun that the law is being activated follows the army’s biggest setbacks since the nationwide conflict erupted in the wake of the military’s seizure of power.
A surprise offensive was launched in October by an alliance of armed ethnic organisations, going on to capture a large swathe of territory in north-eastern Myanmar in less than three months.
The rout inspired resistance forces in other parts of the country to launch their own attacks. In recent weeks, fighting in the western state of Rakhine has caused hundreds of state security personnel to flee across the border into Bangladesh.
The army faces two enemies: pro-democracy forces formed after the military coup and better-trained and equipped ethnic minority armed groups that have been battling for greater autonomy for decades. There are alliances between the resistance groups.
Evading conscription is punishable by three to five years in prison and a fine. Members of religious orders are exempt, while civil servants and students can be granted temporary deferments.
Even before the recent upsurge in resistance activity, the army was already believed to be depleted by casualties, desertions and defections.
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