By Dr. Tint Swe
The Burmese military regime has recently announced on 4th November, the enactment of a law under which all males between 18 and 45 and all females between 18 and 35 years of age can be drafted into the armed forces. While there is no doubt of a shortage of volunteers to join the Army, nobody knows why such a law was kept away from the public for two months. It is also strange that it was enacted on the eve of the Parliament session that is scheduled to convene on January 31, 2011.
The bill would not have been rejected by the parliament as the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) has 259 out of 330 seats i.e. 78.48% in the Pyithu Hluttaw (House of Representatives) and 129 out of 168 seats i.e. 76.79% in the Amyotha Hluttaw (House of Nationalities). In addition there are 25% selected army parliamentarians. What was the hurry then?
Even earlier, the National Service in Military (NSM) was in practice but enforced only for medical doctors. Out of the fresh MBBS and BDS degree holders some of them were inducted into military service for three years. They had to undergo a month-long basic military training at the Medical Corps Center. Regrettably it was found that the majority of recruited doctors showed no signs of interest in army and 90% of them left after the term. Moreover the Tatmadaw (Army) had been short of physicians and dental surgeons because all Universities and schools were repeatedly shut down following the 8888 student-led uprising. Then the military regime started the Defense Services Medical Academy in 1992 providing stipends and exclusive facilities for them.
According to the Human Rights Watch, Burma has the largest number of child soldiers in the world. In 2002 there was a report named “My Gun was as Tall as Me: Child Soldiers in Burma” and in 2007 a new report was titled “Sold to be Soldiers: The Recruitment and Use of Child Soldiers in Burma’ appeared.
In October 2006 the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) was handed over a list of 17 complaints of child recruitment by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). In March 2007 the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution on Burma, expressing grave concern at the continuing recruitment and use of child soldiers and strongly urging the regime to put an immediate end to the practice. In April 2007 the UN Security Council working group on children and armed conflict placed the situation of children affected by armed conflict in Myanmar on its agenda.
In February 2007 a Supplementary Understanding was signed by the SPDC and the International Labor Organization (ILO), which has been monitoring rampant forced labor practice in Burma. It provides for a complaint mechanism which allows the citizens to bring cases of forced labor under ILO Convention 29 Concerning Forced Labor to the ILO liaison office in Yangon. Since then ILO office in Rangoon is busy.
Hence the new law will help to recruit soldiers at will. But for what purpose! The observers predict that more young Burmese will be leaving the country to escape from five years imprisonment if they fail to serve in the armed forces. They will do so because they dislike military service as the regime has severely damaged the integrity of once reputed Burma Army. They also do not think it is right when no possible foreign aggression is perceived and conflict will be only internal, with the possibility of ethnic groups rising against the regime particularly after the recent elections.
Five million Burmese are living or working in other countries. Twenty years ago before this military junta seized the power, for Burmese citizens going abroad was a luxury and only political dissidents crossed the borders with Thailand, India, Bangladesh and China to seek shelter. The prediction that the election held on 7th November 2010 would not halt or stop refugee and migrant workers outflow is proved correct and a new group of refugees evading the mandatory conscription is bound to grow.
The parliaments will meet at 8:55 AM on 31st January 2011 as per an official broadcast on 10th January. On 11 January the booklets on Rules and Regulations for parliaments were also sold but an elected representative failed to buy a copy even after standing for 45 minutes in a long queue.
Apart from the USDP, other parties have not received any official communication on the date for parliaments. he list of military representatives is yet to be announced.
Those who will be in the Pyithu Hluttaw (House of Representatives) and in the Amyotha Hluttaw (House of Nationalities) can correctly guess that they will have to go Naypyitaw. But Region and State parliament representatives have no idea of the location where they have to make debates and laws.
One parliamentarian who was also elected in 1990 election said, “We have waited for two decades to make our demands through the parliament. Now that the parliament is going to be convened, I hope I will be able to work for the good of the people and the country from within the system.” He is from the National Democratic Force (NDF).
Many observers continue making the mistake that NDF which won only 8 seats in the Pyithu Hluttaw, 4 seats in the Amyotha Hluttaw and 4 seats in the Regions and States Parliament is the sister party of the National League for Democracy (NLD) which did not contest in the election held in 2010. The NDF is totally different from the Party for National Democracy (PND) which was purposely formed before the 1990 election for fear of dissolution of the NLD. When Aung San Suu Kyi received the leaders of NDF on 30th December, it was more social or personal and no politics was discussed during that meeting.
Optimists, who hoped for better life and conditions after the election, have seen no release of prisoners, no relaxation and on the contrary, experience more censorship after the much-criticized election. So they have to look forward to convening the parliament and formation of the new government. Will they be lucky?
The restrictions for parliamentary conduct have been made known. Any protest staged within parliament is liable to two years of imprisonment. It is meant particularly for non-USDP representatives: 66 in the Pyithu Hluttaw, 107 in the Amyotha Hluttaw, 886 in the Regions and State Parliaments and 29 ethnic representatives.
Some observers consider that USDP is a pro-junta party. In fact it is more than a sister party but identical twins. So all policies and practices will be exactly the same as those of the SPDC era. The Burmese people cannot expect any improved livelihood and the neighbors cannot hope for enhanced cross-border relations.
To sum up, a new stage has been set in Burma to perform the old drama.
Dr. Tin Swe is an elected member of Parliament from Burma from the NLD now living in F-15, Vikas Puri, New Delhi and can be reached at his mobile- 981-000-3286, e-mail [email protected]