For more than three years, Myanmar’s biggest cities have remained under the unyielding grip of the military junta. But the streets of places like Yangon were uncharacteristically quiet Monday evening as a sense of fear pervaded the country.
Residents had a new reason to avoid contact with soldiers on patrol: Over the weekend, the regime said that it was invoking a decades-old law to start drafting young men and women into the army, setting off widespread alarm across the country.
The regime’s forces have been depleted in recent months as they battle a growing insurgency by pro-democracy rebels and armed ethnic groups. The move to conscription to beef up the forces’ ranks suggested that the junta was on the defensive and growing desperate.
But while the rebels have posed the most widespread challenge ever to the regime’s rule, it remains to be seen whether they can overthrow the military, which has successfully suppressed many regional uprisings over the last several decades.
On Tuesday, there were reports from around the country of young men having been seized by soldiers during the night. Even before conscription was announced, the army was known to abduct young men and force them into service.
Critics of the regime said it was unlikely that new conscripts would be issued weapons and instead could be forced to serve as porters carrying supplies and ammunition on the battlefield. The military has a long history of using porters as human shields by forcing them to walk ahead of troops into suspected minefields or possible ambushes.
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