Forced Conscription


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Taang Namtal is an 18 year old Zomi boy. He comes from a village that is so small that it doesn’t have a high school. So Namtal schools at the nearest town. During weekends, he would walk the whole day to get back to his village. One Saturday, on his way back, he was stopped by soldiers who took him to the nearby army camp. They wanted him to become a soldier.

But I don’t want to become a soldier. They were forcing me to do it.”

“So what do you want to be then”, I asked?

I want to study. I want to study science. I want to become an engineer. I like construction“.

So one day, when the soldiers on guard duty was drunk, BA escaped and ran to his uncle’s house. His uncle sent him straight to Rangoon to stay with his auntie.

I only knew her name but not her address.”

For 3 days Namtal slept at the railway station, looking for people that looked like Zoomi to ask for help. (more…)

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Nai Ong Jana (not his real name) is 28 years old. When he was 23, soldiers came to his village in Mon State and told the village headman they wanted 30 men to join the army.

The village head told us he needed our names, because he will put it in a lottery to determine who will have to go.”

One by one or in small groups, men between the ages of 20-40 fled his village in the middle of the night. They didn’t want to be forcibly conscripted into the army.

I don’t want to join the army. I don’t want to end up fighting my own people.”

So one night Nai Ong fled by car to the border, where he borrowed money from his broker friend to pay for the passage into Thailand. In Thailand, he worked as a construction labourer. Twice he was arrested and deported. Twice he paid brokers to bring him back into Thailand.

I don’t want to go back to my village. There is no freedom, and I am afraid I will have to join the army.”

We cannot do anything. Even if we catch fish in the river, the soldiers will tax us. If we make some money, they (the soldiers) will ask for some. Then they will ask where we got money from.”

Looking for better security, Nai Ong made his way to Malaysia two months ago. Now he is trying his hand at factory work.

Ja Tu (not his real name) is only 17 years old. When his father died, he had to stop school to help his mother farm their land. They grew rice, peanuts and corn on their farm in Kachin State in Myanmar. He would wake up early in the morning, eat breakfast prepared by his mother, and then join her in the fields, where he worked till sunset. He would then go back, bathe, have dinner and then sleep. Every Sunday they would go to Church in the morning, and in the afternoon he would join his friends and they would play various games with a ball woven out of bamboo strips (we call it a takraw ball in Malaysia).

One day, his friends wanted to walk to the nearest town to buy provisions and so they asked him to join them. A few miles out of their village, they were stopped by soldiers who took all of them to an army camp. That was how they were forced to join the army. (more…)

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“My daughter is at school. I want to send her money for her education. So one day she could become a teacher or a nurse. I want her to have a good life. A nice life”.

 

At 38, II has been away from his country for less than 2 years. In Arakan State where he hails from, he used to farm rice and tobacco in his village. I was sure he must have migrated for a very good reason. I mean, to leave behind a farm planted with rice and a cash crop. And at 38, I was quite sure that he would have already been married with children. What made him leave behind everything at such an age? His farm, his family, all that he had.

He ran away, he says, because “they came to look for new soldiers”. (more…)

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Awng Seng’s (not his real name) story is not something that is easy to listen to. Running away from the military in Myanmar when he was only 21, he was sold to a fishing boat in Thailand, where for 2 years he was a slave, watching others like him being murdered in cold blood.

I have heard stories of men being sold to fishing boats before, but I have never heard anything in detail, and this story left me numb. (more…)