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Myanmar Update June 2024

The Military Conscription: A Possibly Fatal Blunder by the Junta

A conscription law enacted in 2010 was implemented two months ago for the very first time, shocking people on both sides of the conflict in Burma. The law provides for the conscription of both men and women from the age of 18, but the ruling junta quickly clarified that it would put off conscripting women. At the same time there have been confirmed reports of conscripting men under the age of 18. The junta is drafting groups of 5,000 men at a time with the announced objective of adding 60,000 soldiers in the first year.

The process for implementing the conscription has been set in motion but with vastly different impacts across the country. In particular, it cannot be carried out in perhaps half of the 330 townships that are out of the control of the junta and are being governed by the large and diverse number of opposition forces. Implementation is focused on the major towns under the military’s control, but there is evidence that men with means can escape the draft with a modest bribe. 

Where the law is being enforced, the authorities are going to homes based on resident lists and arresting young men who refuse to serve voluntarily. Worst, perhaps, are reports that both sides of the conflict in Rakhine State are forcibly recruiting Rohingya men who are sent into battle with no training. (The Rohingya are the Muslim community that was the object of a military operation in 2017 that drove an estimated 700,000 refugees into neighboring Bangladesh. More than 100,000 Rohingya remain in Rakhine State, mostly confined to internment camps.)

Since the surprisingly successful 10/27 operation by opposition forces that was reported in the December 2023 Update, the junta has steadily lost control of territory in the country’s heartland while the ethnic armed groups in the borderlands that have been fighting the Burmese army since independence in 1947 continue to consolidate control in their territories. It appears that Burma’s only major border crossing remaining in control of the junta is the one into Mae Sot in Thailand. This is a crucial area largely controlled by a junta-aligned ethnic militia that is protecting a monstrous Chinese-owned scammer operation (see below). 

Hordes of young men have been escaping conscription. Some are hiding out with relatives in the countryside. Some are joining the opposition forces. A few are escaping into India, none to speak of into China, and many into Thailand. The flow into Thailand is becoming a problem because there was already a very large number of Burmese living and working in Thailand before the coup (as an underclass akin to the undocumented immigrants in the USA). The flow is also a problem because the military-dominated Thai government has been supportive of the junta and has been grudging in facilitating the humanitarian aid being arranged by ASEAN. Even military families are upset because most want their sons to pursue careers in the civilian economy, and because of the risk of punishment if their sons flee conscription.

On the battlefield, the Burmese army continues to rely primarily on its air force to slow the advance of the opposition. The major advances by the opposition since the beginning of 2024 have been in Chin State on the border with India, Kachin State on the border with China, and Kayah State on the border with Thailand. The biggest threat to the junta, however, may be in Rakhine State on the Indian Ocean coast where the Arakan Army appears to be in a position to take control of the state capital (Sittwe) and the terminus of the Chinese oil and gas pipelines (Kyaukphyu).

One aspect of the conflict that has gotten increased attention is the scammer centers on the Burmese side of the Thai border near Mae Sot, following the shutting down of some centers on the Burmese side of the Chinese border in the opposition’s surprise attack last October, evidently with the support of the Chinese government. The centers on the Thai border are extracting tens of billions of US dollars annually using men and women lured by offers of well-paying tech jobs from as far away as the Middle East and Africa, and low-wage manual labor from local sources.

The most recent in-depth report on the mess in Myanmar comes from the International Crisis Group. For more than a decade, it has been producing the most detailed and balanced reports on the conflict in this godforsaken country:

Another strong report by Morten Pederson was published by the Lowy Institute in Australia. Here is a link to the Lowy website page from which you can access the full report:

The US. Institute of Peace has been producing some of the best reports on the scammer centers. Here is a link to the USIP website page where you can find a podcast on the subject along with a transcript: 

One of the most depressing reports I’ve seen this year was published in mid-May on the East Asia Forum (at Australian National University) website. It’s about the horrifying devastation of the environment that has surged since the February 2021 coup.  Here is a link to it:

On May 24, the US State Department issued a statement on Myanmar that was endorsed by seven other countries plus the European Union:

Parami University Faces an Existential Threat

As it wound up the 2023-24 academic year in May, Parami University had around 130 Freshman and Sophomore students, reflecting remarkably small attrition from the initial enrollment of these two classes. Forty-three Sophomores will be receiving their Associate degrees on June 4 at a graduation ceremony in Chiang Mai that will be attended by several Board members. Most of Parami’s students, however, are still in Burma and will be participating remotely. It is not possible to exaggerate the complications for Parami students, faculty, and administration arising from the conscription process being carried out by the military junta.

The existential threat to Parami U is the distinct possibility that when the next academic year begins in the last half of August there will not be enough students who have access to the internet to fully occupy the faculty. There are a number of actions being taken to avoid this fate:

--We are expanding the “learning hubs” inside Burma and in Thailand where it appears possible to accommodate more students safely.

--We are proceeding with the normal application process for our next class of Freshman students, with a target enrollment of around 90. Remarkably, the number of applications has so far matched the number last year.

--We have an MOU with Payup University in Chiang Mai, Thailand, to facilitate acquiring Thai education visas for Parami students who are able to travel safely to Thailand so that they can safely remain there while continuing their online Parami education. We are negotiating a similar arrangement with Chiang Mai University.

Fantastically, we seem ready to bring nine of our rising Juniors to the USA for 8-week internships this summer with top organizations in Washington DC like the US Institute of Peace and the Asia Foundation. We insisted that all nine students selected had to be in Thailand by mid-April to avoid the risk of being stuck in Burma (or conscripted) if they came later, and to allow time to complete their visa applications (at the US Consulate in Chiang Mai). All of them were able to do it.

These nine students will arrive in New York City on June 14, where they will have two days of orientation and a trip to Bard College before traveling to Washington DC by bus on June 18. Their internships will end on August 18 and then they will spend a few days in San Francisco before flying back to Bangkok. We are committed to making arrangements for these students to complete their next two academic years in Thailand as long as it remains unsafe to return to Burma.

Any readers of this update who are in a position to meet with one or more of our interns this summer should follow up with me.

All readers are invited to the fundraising receptions we will be holding in New York City on June 17 and in San Francisco on either August 22 (Thursday) or August 23 (Friday). Let me know by email if you can attend one of these and I will send you the formal invitation. In lieu of attending a reception, donations can be made easily via the Parami website:

Donations are especially appreciated at this tense moment.

Eaf comment

One additional suggestion from an American who discovered Burma (in the World Book Encyclopedia i 1951) and has become increasingly connected to Burma since then. The suggestion is to make consultations with the USA the VERY LAST. If it's not obvious, the USA is incapable of contributing anything  to ending the conflict in Burma beyond supporting, quietly, whatever approach Burma's Asian neighbors (including all members of the ASEAN community) can agree upon.


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