Agam's Gecko
Thursday, November 01, 2007
Burmese child soldier
Photo: Human Rights Watch / Nic Dunlop

urma's defiant monkhood hit the streets again yesterday, in their first challenge to the junta since the violent crackdown one month ago. The Burmese Buddhist satyagraha was mounted in the town of Pakokku -- the very place where the monks first became involved in the popular citizens' protests against extremely high comodity rates resulting from a 4-5 fold increase in fuel prices imposed by the regime.

It was in Pakokku that violent means were first used against the monks on September 5, when soldiers fired bullets over their heads, beat them and used tear gas against them. And it was that incident which galvanized monks across the country to demand the junta apologize for treating monks in such a way. The deadline for this apology was set to September 17, and when it didn't come... that's when things really took off.

The march yesterday began just a short time after a pro-junta choreographed demonstration was held in the town. The march was concluded peacefully at Shwe Ku pagoda, and the monks then returned to their monasteries. A participating monk said the action was a continuation of the earlier demonstrations, since none of their demands had been met.
"Our demands are for lower commodity prices, national reconciliation and the immediate release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and all political prisoners," the monk explained.
The monks had notified the authorities in advance, reasoning that if pro-government demonstrations were taking place that they too should be allowed to demonstrate their aspirations. The participant told Democratic Voice of Burma that the monks were not afraid to be arrested or tortured, and promised more and larger organised protests soon. He said that bystanders were supportive, but afraid to express this too openly.

Meanwhile, the junta's Information Ministry rejected charges contained in a new report by Human Rights Watch that children as young as 10 are being forcibly conscripted into the Burma Army, and are even bought and sold by recruiters and brokers.
Ye Htut, deputy director general of Myanmar's Information Ministry, said the charges were "another example of biased reporting by this organization, which based its report on the baseless accusations and exaggerated lies of insurgent groups on the border."
In 2004 the regime was troubled by the same charges, enough to set up a committee to investigate the practice. It spent most of its time denouncing the reports of child recruitment, which state-run media was doing as recently as September. Human Rights Watch:
All of the former soldiers interviewed by Human Rights Watch reported the presence of children in their training units. Thousands of children are present in the army’s ranks, although their prevalence varies considerably by battalion. Particularly in some newly formed battalions, children reportedly constitute a large percentage of privates.
This fact of life for boys growing up in Burma is nothing new -- it's as old as the junta itself. Burma is thought to have more child soldiers than any other country in the world, and the problem extends to most of the insurgent ethnic groups as well as the dictatorship. But the forced nature of conscription under the junta, coupled now with the evidence of blatant buying and selling of young boys and the sheer numbers of children under its command, sets the dictatorship apart.
“I can’t remember how old I was the first time in fighting. About 13. That time we walked into a Karenni ambush, and four of our soldiers died. I was afraid because I was very young so I tried to run back, but [the] captain shouted, ‘Don’t run back! If you run back I’ll shoot you myself!’”
—Aung Zaw, describing his first exposure to combat
The Burmese Army's rapid expansion (into the 12th largest armed force in the world, close to half a million soldiers) has not been met with enough willing volunteers, and the high rates of desertion have enticed the military leaders into finding alternate recruiting methods. Police will simply sweep the bus stations, parks or movie theatres for able-bodied inductees, demanding to see their official identification documents. If a boy doesn't have it, he has a choice. Prison, or the army.

In an informative piece published by Mizzima News, Klose Htoo examines "What shapes the mind of a soldier?" So many new army battalions have been set up in recent years, that even the most well disciplined ones are operating with no more than half the required troops. Their training period has been reduced by a third, in order to get them into the field more quickly. While in training, they are virtual slave labour for the senior officers.
The worst thing is being looked down upon and humiliated as 'trainees' and on every Saturday evening being sent for menial and odd jobs as modern slaves to their higher ranking masters. Some military figures use such labors for commercial purposes such as the cutting of bamboo and making of bamboo walls, which are resold in the markets.
Wai Flaming Peacocks.

UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari will return to Burma on Saturday, for what is expected to be a five day working visit.


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