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More than 300 Rohingya men from villages near Rakhine state’s capital have been forced by junta troops to attend mandatory training for Myanmar’s military over the last few days, residents told Radio Free Asia on Thursday. 

The latest round of compulsory conscription among the stateless Muslim minority comes a month after about 1,000 Rohingya from elsewhere in Rakhine were made to join the military in March. 

More broadly, more than 100,000 young men have fled their homes since the military announced in February it would implement a draft to shore up its ranks after a series of battlefield defeats, according to a report released by the Burmese Affairs and Conflict Study.

Myanmar has been wracked by civil war ever since the military overthrew the civilian-led government in a 2021 coup. Amid the battlefield setbacks over the past six months, the military has said it plans to conscript 50,000 young men and women each year – and is forcibly recruiting Rohingya in Rakhine state to meet quotas.

State Administration Council members hand out leaflets explaining the law of militia service on Feb. 29, 2024, in Kyun Hla City, Myanmar. (State Administration Council)

The effort comes in a state where just seven years ago, the military tortured, raped and killed thousands of Rohingya and sent nearly 1 million fleeing into neighboring Bangladesh.

The 300 Rohingya recruits were taken this week from more than 30 villages in Sittwe township and were all between 18- to 30-years-old, a Rohingya village administrator who wished to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals told RFA.

They were taken by police cars to the military’s Regional Command Headquarters in Sittwe to prepare for training, he said.

Soldiers are now pressing those who remain in a patchwork of villages and internally displaced camps into service to prop up their struggling military campaign in the state against the ethnic Arakan Army. 

In exchange for their service, the junta has promised would-be Rohingya fighters freedom of movement as well as small amounts of food and money. 

‘Worrying around the clock’

Junta officials have communicated through village elders and administrators during the conscription process, according to a Rohingya woman who lives in Sittwe who requested not to be named for security reasons. 

“The officials entice the locals with national identity cards and salary,” she said. “They forced village elders to provide young Rohingya to protect the country. But as Rohingya youth are fishermen, they are not suitable for military service.”

State Administration Council members hand out leaflets explaining the law of militia service on Feb. 29, 2024 in Kyun Hla City, Myanmar. (State Administration Council)

None of the recruits are willing to undergo military training, but they face arrest and beatings if they refuse, she said.

“People in Rakhine state are worrying around the clock about the recruitment for military training,” the village administrator said. “Some people have fled from their homes to other places.”

The 1,000 Rohingya who were recruited in March were put through a two-week training. Afterward, some were deployed to the battlefields while others were sent back to their villages or IDP camps as reserves, residents told RFA.

RFA attempted to contact Attorney General Hla Thein, the junta spokesman for Rakhine state, to ask about this week’s recruitment, but he didn’t answer phone calls.

Pressed into service

Since Myanmar’s conscription law was announced by Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing on Feb. 10, troops nationwide have attempted to press-gang large numbers into the dwindling military. 

It requires men and women aged 18 to 35 to serve in the junta’s armed forces for two years – prompting more than 100,000 to flee their homes to avoid the draft, the Burmese Affairs and Conflict Study found.

The junta has carried out operations to enforce the military service law in 224 townships across the country, the report said. Approximately 5,000 young men were sent to 15 military training sites by the end of March, it said. 

Rohingya Muslims are seen in military uniform during a training session in Rakhine state on March 10, 2024. (Citizen journalist)

In addition, more than 2,000 people from 40 townships across Myanmar have been enlisted as militia – a number that includes the Rohingya who were recruited in March, the report found.

A resident of Mandalay said people are anxiously watching for the recruitment process to begin again, now that the recent Thingyan water festival holiday has concluded.

“It is anticipated that they will start it in May,” he said. “People are curious about what will happen following Thingyan.”

Eventually, the new recruits will be called on for frontline combat operations, according to former military officer Lin Htet Aung, who participated in the non-violent Civil Disobedience Movement after the coup.

“When the regular army no longer possesses the capacity to execute these tasks, it becomes evident that this deliberate strategy aims to rely solely on the youth of the populace as their military force,” he told RFA.

Translated by Aung Naing and Kalyar Lwin. Edited by Matt Reed and Malcolm Foster.

This content originally appeared on Radio Free Asia and was authored by By RFA Burmese.