Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – The SPDC regime formed a Committee for the Prevention of Recruiting Child Soldiers on January 5, 2004, and it frequently claims progress in preventing the recruitment of child soldiers. The committee is led by Lt. Gen. Thura Myint Aung of the Defense Ministry (the former adjutant general).
The International Labor Organization (ILO) has campaigned for the elimination of the recruitment of child soldiers and has urged people to report cases to the ILO office in Rangoon.
The junta representative to the Universal Periodic Review conference of UN Human Rights Council recently reported that the authorities had sent 440 child soldiers back home to their families since 2002. However, the Burmese junta still prohibits inspection of military camps by outside groups. Some international human rights organizations claim the Burmese army has up to 60,000 child soldiers in the armed forces.
Mizzima recently interviewed the father and a mother of two children who were forcibly conscripted into the army.
Interview with the father of Maung Moe Mya, 17, who was conscripted as a child soldier and stationed with Light Infantry Battalion (LIB) No. 343 in Ye Township in Mon State
Name of father: U Ramikhatmi
Residence: Dagon South Township, Rangoon Division.
Q: How did you get in contact with your child and when were you reunited?
A: He called me from Ye Township and told me that he was in an army unit. He was sent to a military operation on the Thai-Burma border in December 2009.. He reportedly was in a skirmish with Karen soldiers while patrolling the road. He returned home with permission after the operation, but he didn't report back to the unit. He was pronounced a deserter from his unit. Later, I filed his case with the ILO.
Q: How did your son end up in the army?
A: He was recruited in 2009 when he was 15 years old. He was arrested in Tha-ton in Mon State while he was visiting his aunt's house. He was arrested near a railway station, and he was thrown in with new military trainees when they arrived at the train station.
Q: Was he a student when he was arrested? Who did you inform prior to getting help from the ILO office?
A: His education was interrupted at Grade-3. I didn't complain or inform anybody. I filed the case after he returned from the military on leave. I thought he was somewhere in Tha-ton. He left for Tha-ton to visit his aunt's house. That is why we didn't complain to anyone.
Q: Where was he during his time in the army?
A: He was first sent to Ye and after a month there, he was sent for training around July and he received training at Tha-ton, Basic Military Training School No. 9. The training was for about 4 and half months.
Q: In some cases, deserters are arrested and sent back to the army by ward officials who inform the authorities. Did that happen in this case?
A: No. When I got to the army base, the officers told me that they could file his case under ‘deserting from an army unit’, but they did nothing. He remained at the base. I filed the case with the ILO in May 2010, and the ILO issued a document. I took it back to the unit as proof to bring my son back home. I later informed the ILO, along with the copy of his release orders. He was officially released from the army and the order was signed by an officer in the battalion.
Q: When you got to Light Infantry Battalion No. 343, who did you meet with?
A: The captain of the battalion.
Interview with Phoe Lone (aka) Maung Tun Tun Win, 15, who was conscripted as a child and stationed with Artillery Battalion No. 331 in Pin Laung Township.
Residence: Dawpon Township, Rangoon Division.
Q: How were you recruited into the military?
A: A sergeant and a lieutenant forcedly kidnapped me off a street corner and took me to a passenger bus. They gagged my mouth.
Q: Nobody on the bus said anything to them?
A: They gagged my mouth. Nobody from the bus said anything because they were in uniform. We slept a night at the Kili Market jetty, and I was then sent along with a sergeant from Moulmein. It happened on June 20, 2009.
Q: Where did you go from Moulmein? Where did you get training?
A: I got to Lamai village in Mon State, where LIB No. 588 is stationed. I received military training at Basic Military Training School No. 9. I was in the same batch with Moe Mya, and we were trained for four and a half months. I also got training at the Meik-Hti-La artillery unit.
Q: Was the training hard?
A: Yes. It is very hard. We were trained in small arms and other areas.
Q: After training in Meik-Hti-La, where were you sent?
A: I was assigned to Pin Laung, to Artillery Battalion No. 331. I was there for almost eight months.
Q: How did you get out of the army?
A: My mother came and took me out. My father died four years ago. When I had an opportunity, I called home. There was a phone at my neighbor's house, and I still remembered the number.
Q: What was in like in the army?
A: The situation was so bad. I couldn’t save anything from my salary because they took out for everything. The workload nearly killed me. We were on duty from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. We had to find our own food. Later, we were fed daily with some eggs.
Q: What did you have to do during these hours?
A: We carried cement bags. We worked on the construction of the battalion commander’s house (Lieutenant Colonel Myo Myint, B. C. No. 18022). We were supposed to be paid 3,000 kyat a day, but we didn't get any money. He took all the money. We were then asked to process pine wood oil (turpentine). We had to cut pine trees. His wife also ordered us to do things. I worked for them during those eight months. I was not sent to the frontline.
Q: Have you met with any problems now from the military or with ward officials?
A: None from the army. The ward officials said to behave in the community and suggested I make copies of the military release order and keep it safe.
Q: Did you get your release order from the Pin Laung military unit without any problems?
A: We talked about three hours at the unit with the help of an ILO officer.
Q: Were there other child soldiers in the Pin Laung military unit?
A: There are many child soldiers in the Pin Laung unit. I think about 15 to 20. They are around my age. They still remain there. They talked to me about it when they knew I was leaving the unit. I promised them that I would try to work for their release.