Looming Myanmar Conscription Law Latest Sign of Junta Desperation

Thousands of people are fleeing Myanmar to avoid a military draft that will force them to fight against an armed opposition that has recently made inroads against the country’s ruling military junta.

On February 10, the junta — which overthrew Myanmar’s democratically elected government in 2021, sparking a civil war — revived a decade-old conscription law. All men aged 18–35 will be conscripted for a minimum of two years; women are exempted for the time being. The first group of 5,000 conscripts will be drafted by mid-April.

The state of the conflict

Fighting between the junta and rebel groups has intensified. On Monday, local media reported military airstrikes in western Myanmar killed 25 members of the country’s Rohingya minority, including six children. Since 2021, military airstrikes have killed 936 civilians, according to one Myanmar advocacy organization.

The National Unity Government (NUG), Myanmar’s democratic ‘shadow government,’ estimates 60 per cent of the country is now under NUG or rebel control thanks to co-ordinated attacks last year.

ASEAN mulls junta inclusion

Some ASEAN members seem willing to tolerate Myanmar’s junta. Thailand’s Prime Minister has said that both Thailand and Cambodia “want to see Myanmar back fully in the ASEAN family.” In January, a junta representative attended the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Retreat, hosted by Laos, for the first time since 2021.

Rohingya continue to suffer from the effects of the civil war as support dries up. Last week, the UN called for C$1.15 billion in funding to deliver more aid to Rohingya refugees.

Ottawa recently disclosed that Global Affairs Canada (GAC) will be subject to budget cuts over the next three years. GAC noted in its most recent departmental plan that C$69.9 million in funding for Canada’s response to the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar and Bangladesh will run out at the end of March in a bid to satisfy those cuts.