Burma's military government to draft 60,000 people yearly as existing forces spread thin

Burma’s military government on Wednesday said it will draft 60,000 young men and women yearly for military service under its newly activated conscription law, with call-ups beginning after the April festival marking the country’s traditional New Year.

The conscription measure was activated on Saturday by order of the chairman of the ruling military council, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing.

His surprise announcement appeared to confirm that the military has been stretched thin by increasing pressure from armed pro-democracy resistance forces that emerged after the army seized power from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in February 2021.


There are no reliable figures for the size of Burma’s military. The CIA World Factbook estimated that last year it had around 150,000-400,000 personnel. The Washington-based U.S. Institute of Peace has suggested that 21,000 service personnel have been lost through casualties, desertions and defections since the military takeover, leaving an effective force of about 150,000.

Under the law, men aged 18 to 35 and women 18 to 27 can be drafted into the armed forces for two years. A higher age limit of 45 for men and 35 for women applies in certain professional categories such as medical doctors and engineers, and their term of service is three years.

The army’s information office said in a statement sent to journalists that 5,000 people each month will be called up and given training. Women will be called up starting with the fifth batch, it said.

Burmese military officers march during a parade

Burmese military officers march during a parade in Naypyitaw, Burma, on March 27, 2023. Burma’s military government on Feb. 14, 2024 announced how it will implement its newly activated conscription law. (AP Photo/Aung Shine Oo, File)

Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun, spokesperson for the military government, said in a statement published in the state-run Myanma Alinn newspaper that about 14 million people — 6.3 million men and 7.7 million women — of the country’s population of 56 million are eligible for military service.

He told the BBC’s Burmese language service on Tuesday that the initial batch of 5,000 conscripts would be called up soon after the traditional Thingyan New Year celebration in mid-April.

The conscription law’s activation has created fear, anxiety and defiance among young people and their parents, according to postings on social media and private conversations. Some people are considering leaving the country, fleeing into border areas controlled by ethnic minorities or joining 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.


The military government also activated a Reserve Forces Law that makes army veterans subject to serving five additional years after their resignation or retirement.

Burma’s shadow National Unity Government, or NUG, the leading political body of the resistance, declared in a statement Tuesday that the public is not required to comply with the conscription law, calling its announcement unlawful. NUG urged people to intensify their participation in the revolution. NUG claims to be the country’s legitimate government.

“It is clear that the military junta, having suffered significant and humiliating defeats across the country, is desperate,” the statement said. “It now seeks to force Burmese civilians to fight and to serve as human shields in a horrific war of its own making against its own people.”


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