Junta troops abduct 40 relatives of Muslim camp residents who fled conscription

Some were publicly beaten for allegedly speaking to the media about recruitment efforts.
By RFA Burmese
2024.03.01
Junta troops abduct 40 relatives of Muslim camp residents who fled conscription People walk through Kyauk Ta Lone camp in Kyaukphyu, Rakhine state, Oct. 3, 2019.
Ye Aung Thu/AFP

Junta troops in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state have beaten and abducted 40 family members of Muslim displaced camp residents who escaped being conscripted into military training, sources said Friday.

At around 1 pm on Tuesday, a group of around 80 junta troops and police arrived at the Kyauk Ta Lone camp for internally displaced persons, or IDPs, in Rakhine’s Kyaukphyu township and forcibly gathered 107 mostly ethnic-Rohingya Muslims between the ages of 18 and 35 at the camp’s food warehouse, after collecting their personal information.

Junta personnel told the captives that they would be “beaten to death” if they refused to take part in military training and threatened to “remove their families from the camp” if they attempted to escape, a resident told RFA Burmese the following day.

On Friday, a resident of Kyaukphyu who, like others interviewed for this report, spoke on condition of anonymity due to security concerns, told RFA that junta troops took the 107 Muslims to the military’s Light Infantry Battalion 542 headquarters before returning to the camp hours later.

“After those people were taken away, subsequently, at around 4pm, more than 40 people were also abducted,” said the resident. “The 40 people apprehended are family members of those who escaped [the round up of the 107]. They were subjected to forceful beatings before being taken to the Kyaukphyu Township Police Station.”

Ko Ko Aung, who was among the 40 abducted, was severely and publicly beaten for allegedly speaking to the media about forced recruiting for military training at the Kyauk Ta Lone IDP camp, the resident added.

Desperate for new recruits

The military is desperate for new recruits after suffering devastating losses on the battlefield to the ethnic Arakan Army, or AA, in Rakhine. 

On Feb. 10, the junta announced the implementation of a conscription law. Draft-eligible civilians immediately began fleeing from Myanmar’s cities, saying they would rather leave the country or join anti-junta forces in remote border areas than fight for the military, which seized power in a 2021 coup d’etat.

RFA reported last week that the junta had offered freedom of movement to ethnic Rohingya Muslims restricted to Kyauk Ta Lone and other IDP camps in Rakhine state as part of a bid to entice them into military service amid the nationwide rollout of the conscription law. Junta troops have said they are required to join militias to “safeguard their communities.”

But rights campaigners say the junta is drafting Rohingya into military service to stoke ethnic tensions in Rakhine, while legal experts say the drive is unlawful, given that Myanmar has refused to recognize the Rohingya as one of the country’s ethnic groups and denied them citizenship for decades.

Some 1 million Rohingya refugees have been living in Bangladesh since 2017, when they were driven out of Myanmar by a military clearance operation. Another 630,000 living within Myanmar are designated stateless by the United Nations, including those who languish in camps and are restricted from moving freely in Rakhine state.

‘Committing a war crime’

Kyauk Ta Lone is located 6.5 kilometers (4 miles) from the seat of Kyaukphyu township and is home to more than 1,000 people from 375 families.

Residents said that more than 30 young Muslims from Kyauk Ta Lone “sought refuge in areas controlled by the AA because they did not want to serve in the army.”

Nay San Lwin, a Rohingya activist, asserted that compelling an individual to serve in the military constitutes “a war crime.”

"They are forced to take training against their will and then use it on the front line,” he said. “This is a huge violation of human rights, and the equivalent of committing a war crime."

Attempts by RFA to contact Rakhine State Attorney General Hla Thein, the junta’s spokesman in the region, for comment on reports of forced recruiting at the Kyauk Ta Lone IDP camp went unanswered Friday.

The Ministry of Information, affiliated with the military junta, has refuted claims that 107 Muslims were rounded up for military training at Kyauk Ta Lone, labeling it “false information.”

Translated by Kalyar Lwin. Edited by Joshua Lipes and Malcolm Foster.

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