The Myanmar government has recently mandated compulsory military service for all young men and women amidst ongoing turmoil in the nation. Following a coup in February 2021, where the army seized power from the civilian government, the country has experienced a series of setbacks, including defeats in battles against ethnic militias and anti-coup forces.
Announced on Saturday, the new directive stipulates that all men aged 18-35 and women aged 18-27 must serve a minimum of two years under military command. Although no specific details have been provided, the junta stated that the defence ministry would issue necessary regulations and instructions.
The military’s recent string of losses includes the capture of key border crossings and trade routes with China by three ethnic insurgent groups in Shan State towards the end of last year. Additionally, last month, the Arakan Army claimed control over Paletwa in Chin State and seized the final military outpost in the township.
The military-installed president, Myint Swe, a former general, has previously cautioned that Myanmar risks fragmentation if the government fails to quell the ongoing violence. The country has been plagued by armed clashes, leading to displacement of over a million people and thousands of casualties since the coup.
Although legislation allowing conscription was introduced in Myanmar in 2010, it remained dormant until now. Under this law, terms of service can be extended up to five years during a state of emergency, with those refusing to comply facing potential imprisonment for the same duration.
The junta declared a state of emergency in 2021, recently extending it for an additional six months. This move comes after almost five decades of oppressive military rule in Myanmar, followed by a gradual transition towards democracy in 2011.
However, the events of February 2021 marked a significant regression, with the military reclaiming power. Subsequent unrest and clashes have raised concerns about the army’s capabilities, with some engagements resulting in retreats and defeats, prompting criticism and doubt among its supporters.
As Myanmar grapples with ongoing instability, the implementation of compulsory military service reflects the junta’s efforts to bolster its ranks amidst escalating challenges to its authority.