IV. THE BURMA ARMY
The Tatmadaw, or armed forces, of Burma were formally created just after the country gained independence from Britain in January 1948, and were immediately engaged in battle with the communist insurgency that threatened to topple the new government. Within a year several ethnic resistance groups had also begun to take up arms, and Burma's civil war had begun in earnest. Since then the country has never seen peace and the Tatmadaw has been constantly in combat with as many as twenty armed resistance groups at a time. Since overthrowing the civilian government in 1962 the Tatmadaw has also governed the country, first as General Ne Win's Burma Socialist Program Party (BSPP) regime from 1962 to 1988, then as the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), a military junta which renamed itself the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) in 1997 and continues to rule. At present the leaders of the Burma army are also the leaders of the SPDC. SPDC Chairman Senior General Than Shwe is also commander in chief of the defense services; Vice Chairman General Maung Aye is also deputy commander-in-chief of defense services and commander-in-chief of the army; Secretary-1 of the SPDC Lieutenant General Khin Nyunt is also head of the Directorate of Defense Services Intelligence. Similar dual roles exist for most of the nineteen members of the central Council, including the twelve military region commanders who all have seats.
The Tatmadaw has developed into a force structured to control the civilian population and combat internal guerrilla forces, rather than a defensive force against external threats. While the Tatmadaw is made up of the Tatmadaw Kyi (Army), Tatmadaw Lay (Air Force), Tatmadaw Ye (Navy), and some other components, political and military power lies overwhelmingly with the army.
Modern weaponry has been difficult to obtain because of the destruction of the economy by the BSPP regime's xenophobic policies and more recently by international arms sanctions imposed by many countries against the present regime, so the Tatmadaw largely relies on manpower to achieve its ends. By 1988 the armed forces as a whole were estimated at 170,000 to 180,000 officers and men, with almost all of these in the army. After the SLORC was created in 1988, an ambitious campaign was launched with the stated aim of expanding the armed forces to a total of 500,000 people. By 1989 the armed forces were estimated at 200,000 men, and in mid-1995 the International Institute for Strategic Studies estimated that the army alone had 265,000 officers and men, while others estimated that the Air Force numbered 9,000 and the Navy 15,000.10 In a letter to Human Rights Watch, the SPDC stated that as of May 2002 "[t]he current size of the Myanmar armed forces is 350,000."11 Most Burma analysts and opposition representatives interviewed by Human Rights Watch placed the present figure higher, estimating that the armed forces as a whole number 400,000-450,000, with the army making up at least 350,000 or 400,000 of those numbers.12
The army divides the country geographically into twelve regional commands, each headed by a regional commander who sits on the central Council of the SPDC. Each regional command controls its territory through several strategic operations commands, which in turn have three or four battalions assigned to them. There are also ten light infantry divisions, each comprised of ten battalions, which are under the direct control of army headquarters in Rangoon and are assigned to wherever they are most needed. Thirteen military operations commands have also been created with ten battalions each. While the regional commands are fixed geographic areas, the battalions under the light infantry divisions and military operations commands are moved around to wherever in the country they are most needed.
At ground level the main operational unit of the army is the battalion. There are some artillery, armored, and engineering battalions, but the vast majority of the army is made up of infantry and light infantry battalions estimated to number 450 to 500, but with more being created.13 These are deployed throughout the country, in both conflict and non-conflict areas. Some function primarily as garrison battalions, while others (particularly the light infantry battalions) are used for offensive purposes. Each battalion has four to five companies. Some battalion staff are permanently based at the battalion's headquarters camp, but most of the soldiers are sent out in platoon- or company-sized groups to man battalion outposts or to patrol remote areas for a few months at a time.
In conflict areas the soldiers at these camps seek out and fight the enemy, though their main tactic is to undermine enemy forces by destroying the civilian villages and crops in areas where opposition forces are active. In the past five years this tactic has resulted in the destruction of well over a thousand villages and the displacement of several hundred thousand people in Shan, Kayah, and Karen States, and Tenasserim division. Villages are attacked in retaliation for any fighting that occurs nearby, and villagers are routinely detained and interrogated, sometimes tortured or killed. The army also makes demands on the local population for forced labor, building materials, logs and other saleable items, food, and money. Much of this is for the profit of the camp officers; uncooperative village leaders are arrested and punished. In non-conflict areas the officers devote most of their time to making money, so even more demands are placed on local civilians, and the soldiers also supervise forced labor on major governmental infrastructure projects such as roads, dams, and railways.14
The Conscription Act of 1959 states that conscription to the Burma army for a period of six months to two years is allowable for men aged eighteen to thirty-five and women aged eighteen to twenty-seven.15 In practice, neither women nor girls are recruited into the armed forces. The SPDC maintains that "[t]he Myanmar Tatmadaw (armed forces) is an all volunteer army," and that "the minimum age for recruitment into the armed forces is 18 years."16 Former soldiers and opposition officers generally believe that prior to 1988 most recruits to the Burma army were volunteers, and most of them were at least eighteen years old. After the army's violent crushing of the 1988 pro-democracy demonstrations, the number of volunteers dropped dramatically, while at the same time the army commanders were ordered to rapidly expand their forces in order to consolidate the government's control over the country. The response was a rapid increase in forced conscription. To get around the restrictions in the Conscription Act and to maintain the appearance of a volunteer army, recruiters began using intimidation, coercion, and physical violence to force people to "volunteer." The easiest targets are children, whose ages are then recorded as eighteen to keep the paperwork in order. One boy who was forcibly recruited at age fourteen in 1997 told Human Rights Watch, "Their policy is that you must be eighteen to join, and you can leave after three years. I read that policy in a book. But now they are acting very differently from their policy. I think it is because they don't have enough soldiers and most young Burmese men don't want to join, so they are forcing children. I think this is increasing."17
The drive to expand the army appears to have accelerated in the past five years, during which approximately 200 new battalions have been created. A full-strength battalion is supposed to have over 700 men, though in practice most Burmese battalions operate with 400 to 500 men. Since 1998, however, more and more reports from former Burmese soldiers and officers in resistance armies indicate that many of the newer battalions are now operating with only 200 or 300 men, while some have even fewer than 200.18 Andrew Selth writes that
[w]hile the number of combat units has increased significantly, the actual fighting strength of the armed forces is not as great as appearances first suggest. For example, few army battalions are up to full strength. Many seem to operate with two-thirds or even half of their formal establishment and in some units, such as those performing garrison duties, troop numbers could be even lower. . . . Recruiting officers have inflated their figures to meet specific targets and there have been reports that in many units payrolls have been padded with non-existent personnel. Poor record-keeping and endemic corruption (up to and including senior officers) have helped disguise these manpower shortfalls. 19
New battalions are being created so quickly that they are not being fully manned, while existing battalions are not being sent enough recruits to replace those lost through desertion and attrition. According to a brigade commander with the Shan State Army, "Since 1988 desertion has increased, but they've increased the army with new units. We've found that they've used any means they can to conscript, that's my experience. Each Burmese army battalion can only send about one hundred men to the front line and keep a certain number as camp guards. In total, only about 200. Even in front line companies they don't operate at full strength anymore. Some units exist in name only."20
To feed this ever-growing need for new recruits, payments and other incentives are now being given to soldiers and commercial recruiting agents to bring in as many recruits as they can. Of twenty former Burma army soldiers interviewed by Human Rights Watch, only two had volunteered; the others had been stopped on the streets by soldiers, threatened with long terms of imprisonment if they refused to join the army, and taken to army recruit holding camps. Some of those who still refused to join were beaten until they agreed to join, or were simply sent on to military training without their agreement. The easiest targets for this forced recruitment are adolescent boys, and as is shown in the section entitled The Scope of Child Recruitment in the Burma Army later in this report, 35 to 45 percent of the army's recruits may be children.
Conditions Leading to Recruitment
I left KGA [kindergarten] when I was six because of the problem with our family's livelihood. We were farmers. My parents couldn't pay for me to go to school. It cost 1,000 or 2,000 per year just for school fees. I left school and sold ice cream in the town, at the railway station and bus stops and places like that. [I did that] for about three years. Then I worked at a restaurant. At first I was a waiter, then I was a knife holder [cutting up the vegetables]. That was for two years. After I left the restaurant I worked as a construction worker for about three years. Then I worked as a trishaw driver for about eight months. My family had money problems so I had to sell my trishaw. Then I went to Rangoon to get a better job, but I didn't get one. I was taken by the army. I was going around looking for a job, and it happened when I was waiting for a train at the railway station in Rangoon. I was sixteen.
Burma was once known as "the ricebowl of Asia." It is blessed with fertile land, a stable climate, extensive resources including timber, gems, natural gas, and oil, and a much lower population density than many of its neighbors. Despite these advantages, in 1987 it was accorded least developed country status by the United Nations and is ranked one of the ten poorest countries in the world. Most analysts attribute this to mismanagement and corruption under decades of xenophobic military rule, combined with the civil war which has ravaged the country since independence. Since 1988 conditions have only grown worse, and at present the economy is in shambles, with rapid inflation, erratic currency fluctuations, and primitive infrastructure. The SPDC is regularly criticized internationally for spending as much as half of the national budget on the military, while next to nothing is spent on education and health services. Most of the rural population lives in poverty, while the urban population struggles to find as many small jobs as they can simply to feed their families.
In this environment education is seen as a privilege rather than a right. Families are forced to pay school fees of up to 15,000 or 20,000 kyat22 per year as well as all of the material costs of uniforms, books, and school supplies for their children, and in rural areas they are also forced to pay the costs of building the schools and salaries for the teachers. Many families pull their children out of primary school because they cannot afford the cost of the school fees and education materials, or because they need the child to work in the fields or to earn money. Although the SPDC claims that primary school enrollment is at 92.1 percent,23 the UNICEF Rangoon office informed Human Rights Watch that only 81 percent of children aged five through nine are enrolled in primary school,24 and only fifty-five percent complete kindergarten and the first four grades.25 UNICEF went on to state that
immediate causes of low educational attainment are lack of early childhood care and development, low enrollment in schools in some areas of the country, inefficiency in the system, and inadequacy of non-formal education. Financial and human resources are both severely constrained in the education sector. . . . Although government investments in primary education have increased in monetary terms since 1994, government expenditures on basic education have declined from 0.99 percent of GDP in 1994/95 to 0.3 percent in 1999/2001, compared to 3.3 percent for low-income countries. The share of the budget devoted to education has fallen steeply from 20 percent in 1991/92 to 11 percent in 1999/00. . . . There is an immediate lack of trained personnel at both the national and township level to manage the system, which results in sub-optimal use of the limited resources. There are a variety of reasons for why children either do not enroll or drop-out. In addition to those mentioned above, poor families in particular find it difficult to meet the private cost of schooling such as payment for textbooks, stationery and other accessories, in addition to transportation costs and the opportunity cost of having a child away from home during the day. . . . Over the last decade important numbers of children and young people have been marginally or not at all touched by the education system, thus bequeathing an entire generation of missed human resources, likely to threaten social cohesion and stability irrespective of any change in the political arena.26
Meanwhile, Burma's high schools and universities have been closed for much of the time since 1988 because they are seen as rallying points for opposition views, so adolescents frequently find their education suddenly suspended.
Many of those interviewed by Human Rights Watch had left school before they were recruited, including Aung Htun: "I studied until Third Standard. Then I left when I was twelve. I had to help my parents in the fields."27 Sein Kyi was forced out of school by the civil war in the Irrawaddy delta: "I'm the youngest of seven children. When I was seven years old my father was taken as a forced porter by the army and he was killed. We heard that he fell ill and died. After that we all worked the paddy fields, and sometimes I went with my aunt to buy goods in Bassein and we sold them in our village. Our school was closed most of the time because of the war between the Burmese army and the Karen. I only went to kindergarten."28
Many children are forced to take care of their families at a young age, as described by Khin Maung Than: "School fees were about 20,000 kyat for the whole year. That doesn't include the uniform but it includes books. Early in the morning and in the evening after school we had to work for money. I left school when I was about nine years old, after finishing Second Standard, because my mother wasn't healthy and my father was an alcoholic. I had to take care of mother because father was not home, he was always going with his friends to drink whisky. . . . I had to care for mother, her condition was very bad. I was away from school for one and a half months, so I couldn't go back."29 His situation was made worse by the rule in Burmese schools that a student who is away for more than a few days cannot return to continue their studies. At age eleven he was caught by soldiers and forced into the army.
Some families can only afford to send one or two children to school and must make a painful choice. Salaing Toe Aung was lucky enough to be chosen, only to be forced into the Army before he could finish high school. "I finished Ninth Standard when I was sixteen. Now only my younger brother is still in school. The others [he has four brothers and two sisters] didn't go because they were working. They wanted to go but we didn't have enough money. It costs 15,000 kyat per year just for the school fees for one person. I planned to finish [high school] and then I wanted to join medical training to be a doctor or nurse. But while I was studying in Tenth Standard I went to Arakan State to buy clothes and books and was arrested in July 2001. I was sixteen."30 He was "arrested" by recruiters and forced into the army.
Once they leave school many children take up jobs selling food or small goods in the streets, or they wander their home towns or find their way to larger cities in search of paying work. Some children run away from home because of family problems. All of these children are frequently alone and vulnerable, and they become easy targets for army recruiters. Nyunt Swe told Human Rights Watch that "the school fees were too much and I couldn't pay. . . . 15,000 a year. That included books. I was in Fourth Standard. . . . I quit school to work, and while I was working I was forced into the army."31
I didn't want to join. I wanted to go to school and study, and my parents didn't know where I was. If I joined the army life would change for me. When I was with my parents I never knew about smoking, drinking, gambling. . . . now I know all of these things. I told them I didn't want to join. They said, "You can't do anything about it, you're with us now." I told them I was twelve years old. They said, "Never mind your age, we can keep you in the camp until you're old enough." I told them I was a student.
Some children join the army because they are told of the salary they can earn as a soldier, and volunteer out of their desperation to earn money or because they do not want to be another mouth for their family to feed. Most of those interviewed by Human Rights Watch did not want to join, however, because they had already heard that life is bad as a soldier, but when recruiters deceived them with false threats of prison terms if they refused to enlist, many believed they had no choice. Those who could not be fooled or coerced were simply taken by force.
Of the twenty former Burma army soldiers whose testimony appears in this report, only two genuinely volunteered. Of these two, Zaw Moe was forced into the army in 1991 at age fourteen, deserted in 1998, then volunteered two years later only because he was afraid he would be caught in his village.33 The other, Thein Oo, could not explain why he volunteered at age fourteen in 1998 other than to say "because I was willing." His entire family advised him against it, but he ran away and enlisted. Just five days later he tried to escape from the recruit holding camp but was caught and brutally beaten, then jailed until it was time to begin military training.34
In reply to a query by Human Rights Watch, the Permanent Mission of Myanmar to the United Nations stated, "The Myanmar Tatmadaw (armed forces) is an all volunteer army. There are no conscripts and the recruitment into Myanmar armed forces is entirely voluntary."35 However, most of the former soldiers interviewed by Human Rights Watch believed that the majority of their fellow recruits were also forcibly recruited. When Aung Htun was forced to join in 1999, there were "maybe 300 or 400 of us. Some were fourteen, some were twelve. The youngest was about twelve, the oldest just over twenty. Some didn't want to go to school so they left home and then were arrested on the railway. Some were arrested when traveling, especially at night. None were volunteers, except maybe ten or fifteen of them."36 Similarly, Moe Shwe noted that "There were fourteen or fifteen new recruits. Two were twenty years old, the rest were about my age [thirteen]. I talked to them. The two twenty-year-olds had volunteered, but all the others had been arrested."37 Of the forty new recruits Sein Kyi was locked up with at a recruit holding camp, "very few had volunteered, I think only five or six."38 Than Aung spent a long time packed on an army truck with close to eighty new recruits on the way from Bassein to Rangoon, and noted that "[m]ost of those on the truck were like me, there weren't many volunteers. Even the `volunteers' weren't really volunteers, they were people who were joining for the second time-they had fled their battalions and been caught again."39
With such a shortage of people willing to volunteer, the army must send people out to find and "arrest" recruits. Myo Chit explained how this happens: "After I joined the army I learned about this. Many soldiers go outside the camp on special duty to gather young recruits. Not every soldier can go like this, it is special duty. Sometimes they use the older soldiers who have been wounded and handicapped and can't go to the front line anymore, and some are with intelligence. They give them special duty and say they'll pay them some pocket money."40 Sai Seng also learned how the system works once he was in the army: "In each battalion there are some people who are ordered specially to find recruits. Some are lance corporals and some are ordinary soldiers. If they can gather people, the battalion leaders pay money to them. When they send young people like us, sometimes they get 5,000 kyat and sometimes they get 10,000. That's why there is a lot of arresting going on. The recruit doesn't get the money, it is the one who finds him who gets the money."41 One former child soldier interviewed by Human Rights Watch was taken from a passenger car when he was eleven years old by police who then handed him over to the army, which suggests that not only soldiers can receive benefits for supplying recruits.42 A recent report by the Human Rights Foundation of Monland states that even civilians are sometimes appointed by army officers as "soldier brokers" ("sit tha pwe sar") and are paid 4,000 kyat and one sack of rice per recruit.43
Most soldiers believed that the money paid to those who bring in recruits usually comes from the battalion commander, possibly because he can gain promotion or favors by obtaining a lot of recruits. Though unaware of exactly how the system works, several of those interviewed told Human Rights Watch that they had heard the soldiers who recruited them talking about the money they would receive, or had seen money and rice change hands when recruits were handed over at the Su Saun Yay recruit holding camp. Some also testified that even at the end of a normal ten-year term of duty, soldiers can only be discharged if they bring in several new recruits. After seven years in the army, Moe Shwe had only seen three men in his unit discharged: "One was sixty, one was forty-five and one was fifty. They got out because they'd each recruited five new soldiers. Anyone can get out if they recruit five new soldiers, but you must have five years' experience first." When asked whether he ever did any recruiting himself, he replied, "No. They asked me to do it and gave me money to do it, but I just spent the money and didn't do it. I had a lot of trouble in the army, and I didn't want to make five more people suffer that."44
Lwin Oo testified that "I was forced. Sergeant Than Cho forced me to join. He told me that if five people join, he would get money and rice and then he would be able to leave the army. They took us and put us in jail for three days and asked us questions. They asked me, `Why don't you join?' I said I didn't want to join and they beat me. Six people were in jail with me. The others were thirteen, fifteen, twenty and twenty-five."45 Myo Aung was bundled into a car at age sixteen and driven to a recruit holding camp, and says that in the car "they were talking. They said if you can get one person you get 5,000 kyat and a sack of rice."46 Another who was taken at age thirteen testified that "I saw them getting paid. For one new recruit you can get 10,000 kyat and a sack of rice. One of the people in my village is a corporal there in that place [the army camp in Pyi], and he told us."47 Kyaw Nyunt was only ten years old when taken, and "at the detention place I saw one of the officers give them money. Later I saw them come sometimes with other people who were not as young as me."48 The payout appears to vary by battalion and region, but usually includes between 1,000 and 10,000 kyat49 in cash and fifteen to fifty kilograms of rice per recruit. After three military intelligence men grabbed twelve-year-old Myo Chit in a railway station, "[t]he three soldiers took us to IB [infantry battalion] 54. I don't know where they went back to, but when they left they each received 1,000 kyat and a sack of rice. This is normal." When queried on this issue, the SPDC informed Human Rights Watch that "No incentives whatsoever are provided to members of the army who identify new recruits."50
The recruiting teams generally consist of a few soldiers led by a corporal or sergeant, often in civilian clothing and carrying only concealed weapons. Their favorite stalking grounds are railway and bus stations, ferry and boat docks, festivals, markets, busy streets and sometimes streets near schools. They frequently approach boys under eighteen, probably because they are the most easily intimidated. As explained by Sai Seng, who was forcibly recruited in 2001 at age sixteen: "One system they use is to call people by lying to them, and then they sell them to each other. The other thing they look for is children who are eleven or twelve, who don't know anything and who aren't with their parents. Some of them are in the railway station, some of them are selling things in the market, some of them are carryboys-they capture these kinds of children. Sometimes they hit them and take them, sometimes they buy sweets for them and then take them. When they do that they don't wear their uniforms, they just wear ordinary clothes."51
A former Buddhist monk told Human Rights Watch that while he was based at a temple in Rangoon from 1995 to 1999, the temple boys (young boys sent by their families to help the monks in return for some religious education) kept disappearing, and on many occasions the monks found them at nearby military bases where they were about to be sent to recruit holding camps.52
The poverty and lack of educational opportunity in Burma have also led to growing numbers of street children, and Human Rights Watch has received reports that street children in major cities are regularly rounded up and sent directly to the army's Su Saun Yay recruit holding camps.
Some sources report that villages in some areas are forced to provide recruits under a quota system. None of those interviewed by Human Rights Watch had been conscripted in this way, but a Commission of Inquiry of the International Labour Organization reported in 1998 that
[i]nformation provided to the Commission indicated that there was regular forced recruitment throughout Myanmar, including of minors, into the Tatmadaw and various militia groups. It appeared that this did not occur pursuant to any compulsory military service laws, but was essentially arbitrary. . . . In cases where a certain number of recruits was demanded, it was common for the village or ward authorities to hold a "lottery" to choose those who had to undertake military service. Those chosen were then forcibly conscripted and commonly included minors.53
In his analysis of the Burmese military, Andrew Selth states that when local authorities are given recruiting quotas, "If these authorities fail to achieve their quota, they can be fined. Conversely, rewards are granted for each recruit provided in excess of the quota. This procedure has resulted in many young men being forcibly recruited into the army, or fleeing to avoid conscription."54
When questioned by Human Rights Watch about the minimum age for recruits, the SPDC responded in writing that "the minimum age for recruitment into the armed forces is 18 years."55 The SPDC also informed Human Rights Watch that "[a]ny person who recruits children in contravention with the [Defense Services] Act is taken action under article 65 of the Act and is liable to suffer imprisonment, which may extend to 7 years."56 The SPDC did not include any data in its communication with Human Rights Watch regarding the number of soldiers and officers who have been convicted for recruiting children, nor is Human Rights Watch aware of any cases in which recruiters have been convicted for this crime.
The recruiting teams often use threats and intimidation to convince boys to "volunteer." The most common method is to ask to see the boys' identity cards. When they cannot produce one, they are threatened with a long jail term - or told that they can join the army instead. This method tends to single out children under eighteen for recruitment for two main reasons: firstly, because children are less likely to know that there is no law specifying a jail term for failure to produce an identity card; and secondly, because many children under eighteen have not yet obtained identity cards. According to the SPDC, "when the child reaches the age 10 years he or she is provided with a temporary identity card. Once the child attains the age of 18 years he or she then applies for a permanent identity card."57 However, neither the former soldiers nor anyone else interviewed by Human Rights Watch appeared to be aware of this policy. Most believed that the minimum age for obtaining a card is at least twelve or thirteen, while several former soldiers believed that cards cannot be obtained before age eighteen. The system has reportedly changed at least once in the past several years, and it appears that many people are unaware of the exact procedures. Most people in Burma are afraid to confront the authorities more than they must, so many families tend to delay obtaining identity cards for their children until they are fifteen or eighteen years old. In the meantime, their sons fall easy victim to the threats of the recruiting teams. The story of Sein Kyi, recruited in 1997 at age fourteen, is typical:
I went to visit downtown Rangoon and was arrested by some Burmese soldiers. I was crossing from Hlaing Tha Ya to Insein on the ferry. I was getting on the ferry. I saw two soldiers in uniform, but some others weren't in uniform. I think about six altogether. They asked, "Where are you going?" I said "I'm going to visit Rangoon." "Do you have ID?" "No, I don't have ID." I was still too young to get ID. You can get ID when you're eighteen. I told them that I was too young to have ID. They said, "If you have no ID then you have to join the army." I refused to join, and they said "Then you'll have to go to jail." So I said, "Okay then, I'll join the army."58
Hla Thein, recruited in 1996 at age fourteen:
I was at Bassein harbor with three friends. We had come to buy some goods and were going back to our village. We were stopped by three soldiers in uniform: a corporal, a lance corporal, and a private. They had two guns. They asked, "Do you have ID?" I said, "I have no ID because I'm still too young." I was fourteen. They searched all of our bags, and took all the things in our bags. Then they said, "Please follow us to the office." They took us to the recruiting office in Bassein, and when we arrived there we were put in the lockup.59
Throughout Burma the roads are dotted with army checkpoints where everyone must present their papers, and this is another common place to obtain recruits. Khin Maung Than was eleven when he went to visit relatives in Rangoon with his mother in 1999. His mother went home first, and five days later he tried to go home to Thaton township in Mon State on his own:
On the way there was a checkpoint. The police stopped the car and checked ID cards. I couldn't show one. I was too young to have an ID card. At that time you needed to be eighteen to get an ID card. Now they have changed the age to twelve. The police said, "You'll have to go to jail for six years for not having an ID card." Then they sent me to the police station and put me in the leg stocks. But I could pull my feet out because the holes in the stocks were too big for my feet, so two policemen guarded me. They kept saying, "You have to decide. You can join the army or go to jail." And then they gave me time to think. They could see I was only eleven, but if the police give a boy to the army they can get pocket money from the army, 3,000 kyat and two tins of rice, about thirty kilos of rice. They gave me from 8 a.m. until the afternoon to decide. I didn't want to go to jail for six years, so I agreed to join the army.60
While Khin Maung Than was sitting in the leg stocks trying to make his decision he saw two others, both aged about twenty, released after they each paid a bribe of 5,000 kyat. In Burma many problems can be avoided by paying bribes, but younger recruits seldom have the money to pay and their families cannot come to their aid because they have no idea where they are. Soe Naing had very little money on him when he took a passenger truck to Rangoon at age twelve to look for work, and the truck was stopped at an army checkpoint right in front of Mingaladon Su Saun Yay, the main recruit holding camp just outside Rangoon:
There were four or five women and only seven men and boys, and they took all the men and boys. I was twelve. My two friends were twenty-six and twenty-seven, and the other four were students a bit older than me-some were under fifteen and some over fifteen. The soldiers at the checkpoint didn't say anything. They kept the [book] bags of the four students. Then they just told us to go into the Su Saun Yay and put us in a big room, and they said, "You have to join the army." All of us told the soldiers we didn't want to join the army and some said they were students, and the soldiers punched us. They asked me, "Do you want to join the army?" I refused and they punched me. Then they asked again, "Do you want to join the army?" I refused again and they punched me again. They did this seven times and I still refused. They punched my face, my chest, my forehead, and they cut open my eyebrow and it bled. I was bleeding from the eyebrow and the mouth. I hadn't agreed, but then they sent me to the clinic. They had a woman nurse there who treated my wounds. Then the second boy was punched and kicked, and he was sent to the clinic too. Then they said to the other five, "You see your friends? You see my boot? Now would you like to join the army?" Then the others were afraid and agreed to join the army.61
Soe Naing was then held at the recruit holding camp for seven days, and as new boys continued to arrive daily he realized that "[e]very day they arrest fifteen or twenty at that checkpoint."
The pressure to enlist often becomes physical. Htun Htun was only thirteen when he and four friends were grabbed by soldiers at a pagoda festival, put on a truck and driven directly to a recruit holding camp at Mandalay: "Then some different soldiers said, `You have to become a soldier.' We said `We're students, we don't want to join.' Then they beat me with sticks and it was very painful, so we had to say we'd be soldiers."62 Zaw Moe had a similar experience when he was fifteen: "I was arrested in Pyinmana railway station, and we slept one night in Pyinmana. In the morning they gave us fried rice and asked again, `Will you join the army?' We said no again, and they said, `But I already gave you food and you ate it. You have to join.' They took us on the train and when we reached Tha Zi station I said I wouldn't join. Then all three of them punched me in the face for about ten minutes until I had to say I'd join the army."63 It took longer to convince seventeen-year-old Win Kyi from Sagaing; first he was coerced into an army camp, then "the officer in civilian clothes led us into a room and locked us in. In the room they asked us again and again to join, then they started hitting, beating and threatening us until we had to agree to join. There were three soldiers, all in uniform. They kept us there more than a week. They never let us out. They gave us food in the room. We were told to sign to become soldiers, then we were sent to Maymyo."64 During his week in the lockup with his four friends, none of them were allowed to contact their families.
There are cases in which recruiters dispense with the pretext of demanding an identity card. Moe Shwe, who was recruited in 1995, told Human Rights Watch:
When I was just over thirteen, there was a festival in Prome town and we went there. I was taken and asked to join the army. Corporal Tin Nyaing and two other soldiers asked us, "Do you want to join the army? If you don't join the army I'll arrest you." We said "We don't want to join." There were six of us, all friends. We were all from the same school and about the same age. We were all students so we showed our student cards, but they tore them up. Then he threatened us and showed us his gun. Only the corporal had a gun, a pistol. We were afraid so we agreed. We didn't dare try to run away.65
Tin Maung, who was recruited in August 2001 at age sixteen or seventeen (he is unsure of his age):
I was arrested at about 7 p.m. when I was going home from my [barber] shop, by two soldiers in civilian clothes. They took me to their battalion camp. When we arrived there, they said they were arresting me to be a porter. "In four or five days we'll release you, so you must sign these papers." They were printed papers with stamps, and I had to sign two or three of them. I don't know what they said. I didn't say anything because I was afraid.66
Than Aung, recruited at age fourteen in 1997, was threatened by his recruiters with a more serious charge, and forced into the army even though he had not given way to coercion:
When I was studying Fourth Standard I had some tuition after school. On my way home from the tuition I was arrested by soldiers on the street. I was with three friends. The youngest was eleven, one was twelve and the other was thirteen. The power was out and it was very dark. Two soldiers took our bags and books and threw them away, and said "You're maun yay ko [hiding in the dark, a form of conspiracy charge]." They took us somewhere. We didn't know where it was until morning, and then we saw that it was a military compound. It was near Myaungmya. We saw two or three others there who were older than us, I think they were fifteen or sixteen. We still didn't think we'd be forced to join the army, because we were students. The next day they said to us, "You were hiding in the dark so you must join the army." We said, "We weren't, we're just students." He said, "We don't care, we have to send you to the Su Saun Yay." That evening the seven of us were sent to an army camp at Bassein. I saw many others there, about eighty, a whole T11 truckload. We spent one night at Bassein and the next morning they put us all on a T11 army truck and sent us to Mingaladon.67
Similarly Myo Aung, recruited at sixteen in 1998, found that refusal to give even his coerced agreement did not prevent him being simply abducted into the army:
I was going around looking for a job, and it happened when I was waiting for a train at the railway station in Rangoon. One was tall and thin, over thirty, without a uniform. The other was about thirty, a short man also without a uniform. The third was a fat man wearing a uniform. An army uniform with two chevrons [corporal]. I think the other two were also soldiers. They asked, "Have you been a soldier?" "No." "Do you want to join now?" "No, I don't." Then they said nothing, but they took me to their camp. They grabbed us by both arms, took us to a car and put us in. It was a sedan car. They took us to their camp, somewhere near Insein. It was a big camp, an army camp. . . . We were tied together with a rope. We were kept tied up for two days, so that we couldn't run away. In the camp they had a little building in front of a pagoda. People use it to rest. We were kept tied up there. No one talked to us, just a few words when they brought us food. After two days at that camp they sent us to the new recruits' place not very far away.68
Some children and adults are initially taken by the army for forced labor, then essentially sold into military service by the soldiers or officers. Salaing Toe Aung was a sixteen-year-old Tenth Standard high school student when he traveled from Chin State to Rakhine State in August 2001 to buy some clothing and books. When he got off the boat in Kyaukto town he and two others were stopped by soldiers, "[t]hree or four of them, all wearing uniforms. Two privates and one corporal. They said `Come with us.' I told them, `I'm a student. I came here to buy schoolbooks.' They said, `It doesn't matter if you're a student or not.' They didn't say why, they just took us to carry loads from the port. I don't know what was in them, they were covered with rice sacks. I also saw some older men carrying. I started carrying at 10 a.m. and we arrived at two or three in the afternoon. We took the loads to a temporary army camp along the road. When we arrived there, a sergeant said `I will take you to the Su Saun Yay.' Then he took us from the camp to the Su Saun Yay in Sittwe."69
Sai Seng was also sixteen in 2001 when he was taken from his fields in the hills of Shan State:
In June 2001 I went to clear my hill field. I was cutting bamboo. Four SPDC soldiers heard me cutting bamboo and came up to me, touched me with a gun and ordered me to go back down with them. When we reached the bottom of the field I saw a lot of soldiers, and fifteen or twenty porters. Along the way after that they captured everyone they saw, until there were thirty porters. We had to carry rice and weapons for over one week. After two weeks we arrived at their camp. At that time I was sixteen, and among the thirty porters there were five young people like me-the other four were younger than me. The others who were older were released before we reached their camp. They only kept the five of us. Their camp is outside Laikha town, it is LIB [light infantry battalion] 525. They kept us there for two days. I asked their permission to go home, but they wouldn't allow me. When I first arrived there a sergeant told me, "Younger brother, just stay here for one day. If you don't want to join the army I'll send you home tomorrow." After that they called me to the office and Captain Htun Htun70 told me, "It's good to join the army. You will be very joyful if you join the army. You will get a salary." Then I told him that I didn't want to join the army, and that I already have a job. Then he slapped my face and told me, "Don't say anything anymore about not wanting to join the army. If you say that again we'll hurt you again." Then they sent the five of us directly to Taunggyi Su Saun Yay. We had to stay there for over one week. We couldn't go outside the Su Saun Yay fence. There were nineteen of us. Some were younger than me and some were older, but only one or two years older. Then all nineteen of us were sent to Mandalay Su Saun Yay.71
As a Shan living near an area of armed conflict in southern Shan State, Sai Seng was an unlikely recruit. In areas where it is fighting ethnicity-based resistance groups such as the Shan State Army, Karenni Army and Karen National Liberation Army, the Burma army rarely recruits people of that ethnicity. In urban and rural areas away from any armed conflict, however, the army generally takes whomever it can get. Most of the recruits are Burman Buddhists, but even the small number of Tatmadaw soldiers interviewed by Human Rights Watch included a Karen, a Shan, a Chin, a Rakhine, and a Burmese Muslim.
Of all those interviewed by Human Rights Watch, Kyaw Nyunt's "recruitment" period-from arrest until entering the army-was the longest, lasting nearly three years:
I was arrested when I was ten years old. In my village on my way to school, three people arrested me. They looked like villagers. They had no uniforms. They were thirty or forty. They asked, "Do you want to join the army?" "I'm too young." "You must join." Then they hit me and took me to a detention place. They came there every day or two and told me to join the army, and if I refused they hit me. The detention place was a room with other people, and bars. The other two or three in the room were about eighteen, but there were other rooms with about one hundred people, five or six in each room. There were many rooms. When I left the place I could see. The rooms had bars.
The cells were located inside an army camp at Bassein town, ninety minutes' trip from his village. Kyaw Nyunt was kept in this place "about three years, but sometimes I had to go and work as a servant in the officers' houses. But I spent one or two years in the room with the bars. I went back and forth between detention and the work in the officers' houses. There were many officers, not just one. RSI [radio signals intelligence], CQ [chief quartermaster], some are sergeants and warrant officers." Each shift of work at an officer's house lasted ten to fifteen days, "carrying water, cutting firewood, clearing grass and scrub." He received no money, but some of the officers' families were kinder than others and gave him fifty or sixty kyat72 for pocket money. He didn't try to run away because "it's like an army camp, and the houses were inside the camp. There were many soldiers around. Some others who tried to run were caught and arrested. Then they were beaten, and never allowed out of the detention place after that. . . . When I first arrived they asked me about two times each day if I'd join the army, and after that about twice a month. Every time I said no, but they hit me many many times until finally I said yes. They were in army uniforms, NCOs. I had many bruises all over my body, so finally I said yes. When I was nearly fourteen I was taken by a captain to a training place."73
Ye Nyunt: The "Brave Sprouts"
They sent me to a special place in their army camp called Ye Nyunt. At the IB 54 camp there are a hundred Ye Nyunt boys, aged from four up to sixteen. They gather boys who are orphans and care for them in the camp. They sent some to the school they have there.
Another source of recruits to the army is the Ye Nyunt system, which directly translates as "Brave Sprouts." Often referred to as a youth organization, in reality Ye Nyunt is a network of camps for orphans and other boys run by the army. Details on the origins and structure of Ye Nyunt are difficult to obtain, but it appears to have existed for at least twenty years. It began at least in part because there were no adequate government facilities to care for children orphaned or separated from their families by poverty or the civil war. According to a Burmese human rights educator who grew up in a Burma army camp because his father was a soldier, "Any battalion commander could set up a Ye Nyunt in his camp. Before 1988 many battalions had them. The troops in the front line often brought back poor or orphaned children and they could study there, then afterwards they could become a teacher or a nurse. In Mingaladon township of Rangoon they had a big school called `Ye Nyunt High School.' Those who passed there could go to the Defense Services Academy [for officer training]."75 Most battalions have a battalion school at their headquarters which is run by the Ministry of Education for the soldiers' families, but the Ye Nyunt camps are run directly by the battalion.
After 1988 things changed, and the Ye Nyunt camps gradually assumed a role as preliminary training camps for future soldiers. In 1993 families in Chin State reportedly began complaining that the SLORC authorities were encouraging them to enroll their sons in Ye Nyunt for higher education, only to later find out that the boys had been forced into the army.76 It appears that now street children and other boys who are rounded up for recruitment but are too small to be soldiers are sometimes sent to a Ye Nyunt camp to be held and trained until they are large enough to be enlisted in the army. According to Myo Chit, who spent three months as a Ye Nyunt boy in 1998, "About seventy had been forced in, and about thirty were there of their own will. Of those thirty, some wanted to be Ye Nyunt and some wanted to join the army but were too young, so they were kept with the Ye Nyunt. They'd had many family problems, so they approached some soldiers and were sent there. . . . The youngest was four years old, his name was Ah Ka Bo. He was Karen. He was there because both of his parents were dead. About 80 or 90 percent were orphans, but most of them had only lost one parent."77 Myo Chit himself was not an orphan nor was he willing to join the Ye Nyunt. In 1998, when he was twelve years old,
I was trying to go and visit my brother in Tha Zi. I was with my aunt and my cousin, and when the train stopped and we got off I got lost in the crowd and couldn't find them. I was looking for my aunt, and three soldiers without uniforms asked me, "Where are you from? Where are you going?" I told them, and said I was looking for my aunt. "Where's your ID card?" I told them I didn't have it. Then they said they're with intelligence and I must go with them. They had a paper that lets them go to any battalion, so that night they took me to the camp of Battalion #235 in Tha Zi. I had to stay with them, and early the next morning at about four o'clock they took me by train to Loikaw. On the train they said "You must join the army. You are lost, so you must follow us and join the army. You have no ID card and no papers, so the only way is to join the army. If you try to escape or refuse to join we'll use these." And they showed me some handcuffs. There were only the three soldiers and me, but along the way at Panglong station they got two more recruits who were about fourteen and sixteen. Some other intelligence men were waiting there on the station platform and they handed those two boys over to the three soldiers I was with.78
The intelligence men then took the three boys to Loikaw in Kayah State, where they handed them over to Infantry Battalion 54. Enclosed within the battalion camp was a Ye Nyunt camp. "The [Ye Nyunt] compound was about three acres. Only on Saturdays and Sundays could we go outside the Ye Nyunt compound into the IB 54 camp, but we had no permission to leave the battalion camp."79 Myo Chit was immediately given a uniform "like a Burmese soldier's uniform but with a different badge. Green shirt, green trousers, and Chinese canvas boots. The badge was yellow with no picture, just writing: `Ye Nyunt #1.' All wore uniforms, they had uniforms in all sizes." He fell in with the routine of the camp:
We had to wake up early at 5 a.m. and make our beds. At six we had food, rice porridge. At seven we shared duties: some had to clean the compound, some had to plant trees or water the plants for an hour. Then we took a bath, changed clothes and went to school. Some didn't have to go to school because they were late for the start of the school year. I didn't go to the school there because I was late. About seventy went to school, the others tended pigs, cattle etc. I was in that camp for three months. For one and a half months I tended livestock, and I worked as a cook for the Ye Nyunt. I worked for eight hours. There were many jobs and loh ah pay [forced labor], like clearing scrub, fencing, planting and watering.
The Ye Nyunt boys went to school out in the battalion camp together with the children of the battalion soldiers and officers, "but the Ye Nyunt boys were treated differently. The Ye Nyunt boys could only go during school hours, but the other children could get teaching overtime. Some of the teachers were living on the base, and some came from town." Though only some of the boys could go to school, no one was exempt from military training: "On Saturdays and Sundays we got military training, all the Ye Nyunt boys. Marching, following orders, and stripping, cleaning and maintaining weapons -G2, G3, G4, and Chinese 52 [assault rifles and machine guns], but without bullets." As for the youngest, a four-year-old boy, "he didn't have to join the training, but he had to sit and watch. There were four who had to sit and watch: the youngest was four, one was between four and five, one was five, and the other was about six. The youngest who participated was about seven. He trained without a gun but he had to do the marching and drills. Once someone is nine they can carry the G2 [assault rifle], because it's a bit shorter. I had a G3. It was heavy." He says they had to march with their guns on their shoulders, and if they got too tired to carry it they were punished: "Diving to the ground, jumping like a frog. I had to do that three or four times. Every day one or two were beaten." Military training was not the only time the boys were beaten. "Two or three times a day boys were beaten for other reasons. I was beaten many times. Sometimes they used a stick but usually they punched us. The soldier would hit us once, but more than once if he was angry."
His Ye Nyunt unit had about one hundred boys aged four to sixteen, supervised by two Burma army sergeants and a warrant officer and "formed like a military company with a company commander and lieutenants, etc., who were Ye Nyunt boys. They were boys who had been there longer. . . . One boy had been there for ten years, because his brain was damaged [mentally handicapped]. He was about twenty-five years old. His name is Maung Lone. Apart from him, most join at about thirteen or fourteen, go to school and then have to join the army when they reach eighteen. . . . They have no choice but to go into the army."
Neither the mentally handicapped man nor the youngest boys were given any special treatment or contact with civilian society. Even for the four-year-old Ah Ka Bo, "it was just the Ye Nyunt section leaders who took care of him. We slept in a long barracks with just a bed and blanket, no mosquito net. He just had a bed like the rest of us." They ate rice with servings of fish or meat weighed out on a scale, and often went to bed hungry. "I often missed home and I cried often. So did the other boys. Among ourselves we comforted each other, but if the older soldiers saw this they sometimes beat us. I was beaten for crying two times myself. I saw boys beaten for crying about once a week. The youngest boy I saw beaten for crying was eight years old." Myo Chit had no contact with his family "because they didn't allow it. I was worried, so I asked permission to contact them and they said, `If you contact your parents you'll leave the army or run away.'" Living in a fenced camp within an army base, running away must have appeared impossible, but some tried when they were taken outside the gates to do forced labor for the battalion:
We wanted to run away but it wasn't easy. We talked about it three or four times. Three ran away, but one was caught. He had to dive face down on the ground, then every Ye Nyunt boy had to beat him one time. Some had pity on him and didn't hit him very hard, so the supervisor said "I'll show you how" and hit him once, and then said, "Go and hit him once like that." Most of the hits were on his legs, with a bamboo about this big [two inches in diameter]. The boy was about sixteen. After the beating he was in bad shape, he was crying and couldn't stand up. He wasn't bleeding, but he was swollen and his skin was bruised gray and brown. He was sent to the clinic for three or four days before coming back. After the clinic he still had bruises on his legs.
Boys in the Ye Nyunt system are given no choice but to enlist in the army, and are generally forced to do so as soon as they are physically strong enough for the duties of a soldier. Though Myo Chit says that "if you're a good student you're allowed to go to school until you're eighteen," his story implies that most boys are forced into the army earlier than that and this is supported by his statement that none of the one hundred boys in his Ye Nyunt unit were older than sixteen. He says that after he had been in the Ye Nyunt camp for about two months the sergeant spoke to the boys one by one and filled out forms with their personal details. When he gave his date of birth,
They wrote the correct day and month but changed the year. I was born in `88, but he wrote `84. I saw it exactly. Sgt. Aung Kyaw Zaw asked my age. I said twelve. He said, "If you want to go to school you can. If you want to join the army you can join, your body is big enough." I said I wouldn't go to school, I'd join the army. It was because I wasn't happy in Ye Nyunt, the food was bad and sometimes I was beaten, so I thought life might be better in the army. About two weeks after he filled out the forms, twelve of us from the Ye Nyunt were sent for training. Once I was in the army training I realized I'd made a mistake and should have chosen school.
Even though he had chosen the army, "[n]one of us really knew they were sending us to training, I just thought so because they'd shaved the hair off of all of us before we left. The sergeant gathered the twelve of us and said `Go with this truck.' We thought it was pa take [forced labor] for the battalion, but suddenly we were in another military compound, then we were sent to Loikaw station and from there to Mandalay #2 Su Saun Yay [recruit holding camp]." Of the group of twelve, he says that three were sixteen years old, five or six were fifteen, two or three were fourteen, and he was the youngest at twelve.
When he later arrived at military training, Myo Chit began meeting other Ye Nyunt boys. Of the 250 recruits in his training company, "[t]wenty-nine of the trainees were from Ye Nyunt. I asked them and many said they'd been in Ye Nyunt for many years before coming. Those from Ye Nyunt always had to go ahead of the others to demonstrate things." The army trainers looked on the Ye Nyunt boys as model recruits, trained to be soldiers from early childhood.
The boys in Myo Chit's training company came from Ye Nyunt camps at Infantry Battalion #54 in Loikaw, Infantry Battalion #64 based at Land Chan in Shan State, and Infantry Battalion #84 based at Hswar in Chin State. Others interviewed by Human Rights Watch spoke of Ye Nyunt units at Light Infantry Battalion (LIB) #314 in Kengtung, Shan State, with over 200 boys; LIB #316 at Tar Lay, near Tachilek in southeastern Shan State, with about eighty boys; Infantry Battalion (IB) #43 at Murng Paeng in Shan State, with about 200 boys; IB #49 at Murng Hsat in Shan State, also with about 200 boys; and at an unnamed battalion near Taunggyi.80 According to a representative of a local relief and human rights organization who works with displaced populations in southern Shan State,
The Burmese army has a unit in Kengtung, Battalion 314, and they take children in that area. First they looked for orphans, but then they also took boys who have parents. They said they'd teach them but they put them in Ye Nyunt, and once they're about twelve they put them in the army. They keep them in their camp. They have Lahu, Akha, Shan and Palaung boys, more than 200 altogether. . . . About thirty new boys are taken into each Ye Nyunt each year. They take ages four and up. No girls are taken. The camps are closed and they can't go out except with the group. Then they cannot leave, they must join the army. Their parents don't know they'll end up in the army, but if the parents try to go and see their sons the army moves them to another camp. . . . Last year there was an order to the five districts in Kengtung area that they need 5,000 new recruits so they must get ten people from each village tract. . . . [army officers] go to the parents of poor families and say, "We'll send your sons to a good school." Then they go to the village tract head and say they need ten boys, and if he doesn't give them they'll take serious action. . . . Some boys have been in the Ye Nyunt camps for over ten years. They began the program at least ten or twenty years ago but not as heavily as now, now it is much worse than before.81
Most of the Ye Nyunt camps mentioned above are in southern Shan State, but the limited evidence available implies that there are similar camps at many army bases nationwide. When Myo Chit went from his Ye Nyunt camp in Loikaw to military training, he says he began meeting boys from Ye Nyunt camps in other states. He also told Human Rights Watch that since his desertion he has met other Ye Nyunt boys who also deserted, some of whom are now with the All-Burma Students' Democratic Front, an armed opposition group.82 His account and those of others interviewed by Human Rights Watch83 referred to Ye Nyunt camps in Shan, Kayah, and Chin states, and Rangoon and Tenasserim divisions. Though many people say they have heard of Ye Nyunt, very few know the details; like many things in Burma, the entire program is shrouded in army secrecy. As one former soldier remarked, "They're all over the place in Burma, but I've never been to one. There's one at Taunggyi."84 After Myo Chit finished his military training, all twelve boys from his Ye Nyunt camp were posted back to Infantry Battalion #54 in Loikaw as soldiers, indicating that each battalion essentially "owns" its Ye Nyunt boys-which provides a direct incentive for battalions to catch as many boys as they can.
The SPDC responded to a query by Human Rights Watch by stating that the Ye Nyunt "was an educational training program carried out in some military bases. It is definitely not a military training program for training child soldiers. This educational training program is a program for children who are poor and are without one or both parents. It is important to note that this educational training program has been discontinued since the year 2000. Children under this program were transferred to Nationalities Youth Development Training School (NYDTS) under the Ministry of Progress of Border Areas and National Races and Development Affairs."85 Neither Myo Chit, who is still in contact with some other former Ye Nyunt boys, nor any other interviewee who knew of the Ye Nyunt system, gave any indication that the program is now supposed to have ended, and Human Rights Watch has had no opportunity to confirm this claim by the SPDC.
The Su Saun Yay Recruit Holding Camps
All seven of us were sent to a room, and there were about seventy boys there. It was like a barracks, like a lockup. There was a guard outside. The next day we went to work making bricks. Each day they sent three people to work there, and I had to go. The others went to work elsewhere. I heard from someone "we have to wait until there are 240 people here [in their barracks]." I think there are four or five barracks like that. Every day there were fifteen or twenty more people in my barracks. It was a long barracks with a cement walkway down the middle and wooden sleeping platforms along both sides. We slept on the wooden floor along the sides. It could fit 240, but it was crowded. There was just one clay pot for our toilet, and in the morning we had to empty it. We had no mosquito nets, so we got bitten by mosquitoes and some got sick and died. Two died, I think it was malaria. Their names were Aung Htun Lay and Zaw Htun. Zaw Htun was eleven, and I think Aung Htun Lay was nine. He was very young, he only came up to my chest. They were sent to the clinic for treatment but they died there.
"Su Saun Yay" literally means a gathering or collecting place. This is where the army holds new recruits and assembles them into groups to be sent on to the military training schools. There are two types of recruit holding camps. Firstly, there are two central Su Saun Yay camps at Mingaladon (just outside Rangoon) and at Nan Dway in Mandalay, which nearly every new recruit in Burma is channeled through on his way to military training; and secondly, there are small Su Saun Yay enclosures at many army bases throughout Burma which act as "feeders" to the two main Su Saun Yay camps. When a new recruit is captured at a checkpoint or on the street, he is usually taken and detained at the local army post, police station or recruiting office where his recruiters are based. From here he is quickly sent on, either to the nearest Su Saun Yay, usually at a local army base, or to one of the two central Su Saun Yay.
Two of those interviewed by Human Rights Watch were captured in Kyaukto town of Rakhine State in August 2001 and sent to a Su Saun Yay inside an army base at Sittwe, the state capital. They described it as a group of small concrete houses inside the army camp compound, where they were held under guard together with over twenty other recruits. Each day they were forced to work cutting grass and chopping firewood. After about two weeks, all of the new recruits were taken on a passenger boat under guard and sent to the central Su Saun Yay at Mingaladon.87
Moe Shwe was captured at a festival in Pyi town when he was thirteen and sent directly to a Su Saun Yay inside the local base of Light Infantry Division #66. "They sent us to the #66 [LID] Su Saun Yay in Prome [Pyi]. When we arrived they filled out forms and we signed them. They asked my age. I said `I'm thirteen,' but they said `You must say eighteen.' They threatened us that if we didn't we'd be beaten or shot. If you're not eighteen you can't be a soldier, so we had to write eighteen. Even the high ranking officers know we're not eighteen, but they accept us anyway. I saw eighteen written on my form."88 He and fourteen or fifteen other recruits were held there for fourteen days, ten of which were spent doing forced labor cleaning out the army base sewage drains, a task he described as "terrible." After that was done, all of the recruits were sent on to Mingaladon Su Saun Yay.
Every recruit has his registration papers filled out for him at some point in the recruitment process, and most of them have experiences similar to that related above by Moe Shwe. Most of the interviewees say that their forms were filled out at Mingaladon or Mandalay Su Saun Yay, but some were registered at local feeder Su Saun Yay camps, the army outpost where they were first caught, or not until they were sent to military training. Regardless of where the forms are filled in, the officers and NCOs usually insist on recording the age of child recruits as eighteen. When Aung Htun first arrived at Mingaladon Su Saun Yay in 1999, "[t]he sergeant filled out the form and then we had to sign it. He said, `If you're under sixteen you can't join the army, so you must say you're twenty.' I said `I'm sixteen' and I said I wanted to put my real age, but the sergeant said, `You can't.' I said, `Then maybe I won't join the army,' but he said, `You have no choice. You promised to join the army so you must join.' Then he made me sign. He'd written twenty as my age on the form."89 Zaw Moe also gave his real age, which was fifteen, "but they wrote down eighteen. I saw it, and the officer said to me, `Your age is eighteen.'" He says he did not protest because "[i]t's very hard to say anything to an officer."90 When sixteen-year-old Myo Aung stated his real age at the army camp where he was first detained, "[t]hey said, `No, you must say eighteen.' I didn't agree, but they wrote it down themselves and made me sign it. The corporal told me it was because if our age is under eighteen they wouldn't be able to send us to the new recruits' place."91 A few hours after arriving at Mingaladon Su Saun Yay, the NCOs registered Khin Maung Than: "They asked my age. I said I was eleven, and they said, `Don't say eleven. If anyone asks you must say eighteen.' Then I had to put my thumbprint on a form. They'd used a typewriter. It said Name, Date of Birth, Date of Joining Army. They typed it using English numerals and I can't read well, so I couldn't read it."92
Some of the interviewees were threatened on their way to the Su Saun Yay that they must state their age as eighteen or they would be beaten, and were frightened enough that they did as they were told. When Than Aung was registered at an army camp in Bassein, "They asked my parents' names, my name, address, and if I wanted to join the army. I said `I don't want to join.' I don't know who was standing behind me, but suddenly he hit me. They didn't ask again. When he asked my age I said fourteen, but he wrote down sixteen. . . . They changed my age from fourteen to sixteen and then put me with the others."93 Boys who are registered at local army camps or later at military training sometimes see their true ages written down, or have their ages adjusted upward to sixteen or seventeen rather than eighteen. These forms may be altered later in the recruitment files, because it appears to be the recruiting officers at the Su Saun Yay camps who most consistently register the age of every recruit as eighteen or above. In bureaucratic fashion, these officers are probably just protecting themselves and trying to keep the records clean, because they know that the official rules state that recruits must be at least eighteen years old. The accounts given by those interviewed, however, show that the officers and NCOs are fully cognizant that they are enlisting children. When Htun Htun lined up to be registered at Mandalay Su Saun Yay,
They asked my parents' names. I told them I was thirteen. Then he said, "Do you agree, do you really want to join?" I said, "I don't want to join, but I have to join." He asked if I'd ever been to school. I said, "Yes, I've been to school." Then he asked, "Who brought you here?" I said, "The soldiers arrested me." Then the one asking the questions said "I'm sorry, I cannot help you because there are others above me." He wrote my age as eighteen. When I looked at the paper he'd changed my age to eighteen.94
Volunteers, recruits captured by the police, boys from the Ye Nyunt camps, recaptured deserters, recruits from the "feeder" Su Saun Yay camps-the interviews and evidence gathered by Human Rights Watch indicates that nearly all of them eventually pass through the central Su Saun Yay camps at Mingaladon or Mandalay. These are large camps inside even larger army bases. Khin Maung Than described Mingaladon as follows: "The Su Saun Yay is a military compound with six barracks, each very big and long. There are about 200 boys in each. It's inside an army camp."95 Another boy who had been there said he saw nine large barracks, though most placed the number at six. A third boy described "two big buildings. In each building there are four big rooms, two downstairs and two upstairs, with about 200 in each room. At night it was under guard, about thirty guards. We weren't soldiers yet, so the older soldiers guarded us. There were about 300 or 400 in our building, maybe 800 altogether in the camp."96 Recruits are largely confined to their part of the camp so their descriptions vary, and the barracks may have undergone renovations over the years. The barracks are arranged around a central space, where there is a detention block for punishing troublesome recruits and those who try to escape. The Su Saun Yay at Mandalay is laid out similarly, with four long barracks each capable of holding at least 200 recruits. Most former soldiers say that they spent five to ten days at Mingaladon or seven to fourteen days at Mandalay Su Saun Yay before being shipped out for training. The number of boys and men at the Su Saun Yay varies widely as new recruits arrive and others are shipped out, but most estimated that there are usually 500 to 1,000 new recruits at Mingaladon and 300 to 500 at Mandalay. Myo Aung spent ten days at Mingaladon in 1998 and says, "I saw other recruits arrive almost every day. About 5,000 arrived while I was there. All the recruits from all the states and divisions are sent to Mingaladon. Every day people left for the training schools. Some stay a month, some just a few days."97
Some arrive at the Su Saun Yay not even knowing yet that they are being recruited to the army. Fourteen-year-old Hla Thein got a rude awakening: "We didn't know yet that we would be soldiers. At about 9 a.m. we arrived at Mingaladon Su Saun Yay. When we arrived there we passed through many military checkpoints to get in, and then I saw many other recruits. I asked permission to smoke, and a soldier kicked me. One of our group from Bassein who was about twenty told us, `Hey, you're going to be soldiers.' He had been a soldier and had been there before." Fresh off the truck after being jammed together with almost eighty others on the long journey from Bassein, they were promptly introduced to army discipline:
When we arrived they cut our hair first. Then the soldier who had brought us wrote our names and gave them to someone, and then they made us sit in rows on the floor: one row for Bassein, one row for Mandalay, one row for Rangoon, like that. From 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. we had to sit crosslegged, our hands on our knees, eyes straight forward. Over 200 of us. At noon we got up and got a plate, some rice and curry, and then had to sit again. The commanders gave some orders in the front, they sang some military songs and we had to repeat them. At about 6 p.m. we were allowed to go to the toilet, but we had to go naked. Then we went to sleep in the barracks.98
Forcing boys to strip naked before they can go to the latrine is a common practice at Su Saun Yay camps and training centers, presumably to prevent them from attempting to escape.
When thirteen-year-old Htun Htun arrived at Mandalay Su Saun Yay he found many new recruits still being convinced to enlist:
I was there for fifteen days. They were asking children [to join the army] and beating them, they asked them one by one and then beat them with teak wood on the hips. That first day I saw 250 taken to be asked. We could see it. When they saw the others being beaten, some of the children got so afraid they panicked, they started crying and crying and calling for their parents. Myself, I was afraid and just wished I could be with my parents. The first day I was beaten seven times, and thirty times in my whole time there. Then I agreed to join, and they stopped beating me.99
When sixteen-year-old Myo Aung arrived at Mingaladon, "they took us for a blood test by pricking my finger. There was also a medical checkup, when they tested our lungs and things like that. Then we were sent to join the group of new recruits who had arrived before us. More than 1,000 of them. They said they'd been arrested in the town, in the railway and bus stations, especially at night."100 While some recruits say they were given medical checks, it seems to be entirely skipped for others. It is possible that to expedite processing the large numbers of recruits, the medical papers are sometimes filled out without the medical checks being done. None of those interviewed had heard of anyone being rejected for medical reasons. One interviewee reported that at least one of the recruits in the detention block with him was epileptic, and that the guards knew about it but that he was not released. He went on to say that there are many epileptics in the Burma army, and they are only discharged if their seizures are particularly frequent or serious.
The barracks consist of long rooms, with a cement walkway down the middle and slightly raised wooden platforms along both sides. The recruits sleep side by side on the wooden floor, with no mosquito nets. When Salaing Toe Aung was at Mingaladon Su Saun Yay in 2001, "We slept in a barracks. There were about 200 or 300 in mine. We were under guard. The guard rotated, two soldiers at a time. There were two doors."101 Though boys can go to the latrines during the day, if they need to use a toilet at night there is only one clay pot at the end of the barrack room for all of them, which they must empty every morning. Meals generally consist of poor quality rice with a watery yellow bean curry or vegetables, served in strictly limited quantities. Sein Kyi's complaint is typical: "The food was terrible. We had mostly fried watergreens. We got meat once a week, but just a very small piece."102
During their time at the Su Saun Yay the recruits are not given military training nor are they paid, but they are forced to work. Many are forced to clean and maintain the camp, while others are forced to work on money-making ventures for the officers such as brick baking and fish farming. Myo Aung explained, "We had to carry bricks. Some worked in the fields or constructed buildings. We were divided into many groups to do different jobs. Some had been there for one or two months."103 Salaing Toe Aung was put to work as soon as he arrived at Mingaladon: "We were weeding grass from under the flowers and trees. It was hard work because we had to pull up the grass and weeds by hand. I was beaten twice because I wasn't doing the job well enough. The NCOs beat me. They hit me four or five times with a cane stick."104 Another sixteen-year-old recruit said that from the first day he arrived in 1999, "we had to make bricks. For more than one week. The officers sold them to companies. We got no money from that. We started working at about 5:30 a.m., stopped for lunch at twelve, then worked from one to five in the afternoon. If you refused you could be beaten or sent to jail. Some were beaten, maybe twenty or thirty boys altogether. Two or three were beaten each day. We were beaten with sticks. The sergeants ordered it, and the corporals or lance corporals did the beating. There were twenty of them. We were beaten on the hips and the back, usually five times. If they were angry they beat you on the head."105 Moe Shwe was only thirteen years old and says he was working in a crew with other boys aged twelve and thirteen: "They made us dig, cut the grass around some houses, grow vegetables and work at the rations storehouse. There were many kinds of work. We didn't have time to rest. If there was any pay for that, it was kept by the senior officers."106 Already forced to clear the sewage drains at the #66 Infantry Division Su Saun Yay in Pyi, he was now forced to do it again in Mingaladon. Htun Htun recounted that at Mandalay Su Saun Yay: "[t]hey had a plantation there and I had to work digging holes. They forced the children there to work digging holes, and then just gave us rice with uncooked fishpaste. We were also raising fish, digging fishponds, and feeding the fish."107
Officers at Mingaladon Su Saun Yay also make money by hiring out the new recruits to local businesses, according to Hla Thein: "They divided us up. Some had to clean the compound, some had to work on the businesses the officers were running in the compound. Some businessmen call their day laborers from the Su Saun Yay, especially the biscuit factories. Some of my friends had to go and work there. I think they were fed there but they didn't get any money. Maybe the soldiers got the money."108
Parents are never notified that their sons have been taken to the Su Saun Yay, and the boys in the camp are not allowed to write letters or contact the outside world. Some parents, however, know enough about the army's recruitment practices to guess where their sons are and come looking for them. When Than Aung was in the Su Saun Yay, "I saw some parents arrive at Mingaladon and talk to the officers. They gave them some money and then took their son from the Su Saun Yay. I don't know how much it was, but I could see that it was a lot of money. My parents didn't know where I was. Once when I was out of the lockup [the detention block] in the Su Saun Yay I saw a newspaper. I think it was the Myanma Alin. In it I saw an ad that my parents had placed with my photo, saying that they had lost their son. But the next day the soldiers had taken away all the newspapers."109 At Mandalay Su Saun Yay, "The parents can get their child back if they pay money. It is 50,000 kyat. I saw it in Mandalay."110 This is not always allowed, though. After he ran away from home at age fourteen and enlisted, Thein Oo was at Mingaladon Su Saun Yay: "Two days after I arrived one of my brothers came. The soldiers came and told me, `Your brother has come to meet with you.' Then they closed the door and wouldn't give me a chance to meet him. I wanted to meet with him and said I wanted to see him, but the soldiers refused to let him see me. That made me feel sad. I think he would have paid money to take me back."111 He believes that his brother was not allowed to buy him back from the army because his papers had already been completed.
With their first taste of life in the Burma army many already decide to run away from the Su Saun Yay, but this is not easy. As one recruit noted, "We didn't have a chance to talk because they were afraid we'd talk about running away. We tried to talk but they were always watching, and if they saw people talking they beat them."112 Another agreed about the difficulty of escaping: "Three or four escaped when they were working at the factories, but none escaped from the Su Saun Yay compound. Those who were caught were beaten in the face by the soldiers and then beaten in the back with bamboo sticks in front of all the recruits. I saw them do that to two boys. They were beaten very badly, until they couldn't walk. Then they were sent to hospital."113 Another interviewee said that while he was at Mingaladon two or three recruits ran away each day, but two-thirds of them were caught and put in the detention block: "They beat them and put them in there. They can't go outside the fence. They can only go out to take a bath with a special guard. Even when they take a bath there are many guards there. The food is sent into them and the toilet is inside."114 Escape from Mandalay Su Saun Yay appears to have been slightly easier, so "a lot of boys ran away. When we wanted to go to the toilet they made us strip naked so we couldn't run, but some didn't care and ran naked anyway. Many boys escaped but ten were caught. Sergeant Tin Ma beat them and said `You have to join the army.'"115
Thein Oo was the only one of those interviewed who had himself actually attempted to escape the Su Saun Yay. At the time he was fourteen years old, and though he had run away from home in 1998 to enlist in the army, by the time he had been at Mingaladon Su Saun Yay for five days he had already changed his mind:
One day I had duty to feed the fish in a fishpond. I don't know whose fishpond it was. I suddenly felt homesick because I'd never been away so far or so long from my mother before, so I tried to run away. There were five of us working around the fishpond. I said to one of the youngest ones, "Let's run away." He said he couldn't run fast so I should run alone. I ran, but then ten soldiers ran after me. I tried to hide in some bushes but they found me, grabbed me by my shirt and beat me badly, until blood was coming from my nose. Then they tied black wire around my neck and pulled me back to the Su Saun Yay. They took me to the 2nd lieutenant. I was beaten five times with a bamboo, then they put me in an enclosure. There were ten of us in a space this wide and this long [1.5 meters by three meters]. We couldn't lay down. The walls were wooden planks with gaps between, like bars. There was barbed wire on top of the walls, and a roof.116
This building with the bars and the barbed wire is the Mingaladon Su Saun Yay detention block, which stands in the open space between the main barracks. He went on to describe his time there: "I was kept in there for eight days. Some of the others had tried to run, and some were caught planning to run or were caught talking and were suspected of wanting to run. They gave us food twice a day but it was very bad-sometimes we saw leeches in the vegetables. We could only go outside twice a day when they fed us, and that's the only time we could go to the toilet. At night they gave us a plastic bag. The floor was wood with many bugs, and we had to sleep on the floor with no blanket or mosquito net." Of the ten people sharing his detention cell, three were only fourteen years old.
The worst detention cells are reserved for those who try to run away, but some are sent directly to the detention block on their arrival at the Su Saun Yay, the only apparent reason being that they are not eager recruits. To discourage them from attempting to escape some are kept naked for their entire time in the detention block, while others are forced to strip naked whenever they leave the cell to eat, as well as to visit the latrine. Fourteen-year-old Than Aung arrived at Mingaladon on an army truck with close to eighty other recruits from Bassein, most of them captured boys: "When we arrived the soldiers asked us, `Would you like to join the army or would you like to go home?' Many of us said we'd like to go home. Then they took the thirty or forty of us who'd said that, stripped us naked, put us in the lockup and gave us just a tiny bit of rice. The others were sent to the barracks."117 Sein Kyi had a similar experience: "When we arrived at Mingaladon Su Saun Yay there was a sergeant named Kya La Wah ["Tiger Paw"]. He slapped me, then sent me to the lockup in the Su Saun Yay. When I asked to go to the toilet they stripped me naked and sent me to the toilet. When I went for a meal they stripped me naked and I went to eat. It was a very small room but there were about forty people in there, both adults and children. . . . About twelve or thirteen of us were under fifteen. . . . In the group of forty there was one leader, and sometimes he beat the new arrivals. He asked many questions and sometimes they couldn't answer so he beat them. He was also a recruit, not a soldier. He was the first who'd arrived there."118
Conditions in the detention block are deplorable. Than Aung remembers his time there in 1997 clearly: "In the room we were all naked. There were about sixty of us in a room the same size as this one [four to five metres square]. There were two rooms like ours. We couldn't sleep. There were also rats and ants in the room. The floor was wood. For a toilet they'd dug a hole in the ground and it had a wooden cover over it. The hole was about ten feet deep. There was a terrible smell. Some people smoked in the room, and if they were seen they were beaten. Also if people spoke too loudly, the guards came in and asked `Who was talking?' then beat them. The food was terrible, there was very little rice and yellow beans with stones, it was very hard to eat." Of the sixty people in his cell,
[h]alf were about my age [fourteen], the others were fifteen, sixteen and seventeen. I don't think any were over eighteen. There were ten children who were just thirteen years old. The youngest was my friend who was eleven. He often cried because he didn't get enough food, and then he was beaten by the guards. I also cried often because I didn't want to join the army. I was beaten twice a day for crying. Kya La Wah [Sergeant "Tiger Paw"] beat my face. Some boys lost their teeth when he hit them. . . . We didn't have enough food or sleep, no clothes, and there were mosquitos and ants. Two or three boys got sick and died. They were sent to hospital after they got sick in the room, and we heard later that they died there. They were thirteen, sixteen, and about eighteen. The youngest was Zaw Min Naing. I don't know where he was from, but I ate beside Zaw Min Naing once and asked his name.119
Once in the detention block a recruit is kept there until his number comes up to be sent to training, which usually takes five to ten days, though some who had been in the detention block said that they had met detainees who had been there as long as a full month (the latter may have been held back because they had committed a serious offence such as striking a guard). Suddenly they find themselves taken out of the detention block and put on trucks together with other recruits from the barracks, as described by Thein Oo: "After eight days an officer came and took me out of the jail. He gave me two dried fish and a packet of rice, and put me on one of the trucks with 119 others. We were sent to #4 Training Center in Panglong, in Shan State. We spent one night on the way."120
The recruits are sent from Mingaladon or Mandalay Su Saun Yay to training camps throughout Burma, usually in groups of approximately 250 (though the number is sometimes as low as 120 or as high as 300). When each new recruit arrives at the Su Saun Yay he is assigned a number, and when his group is full he goes with them, whether he is in the barracks or the detention block. When Soe Naing arrived at Mingaladon Su Saun Yay there were seventy others in his barracks; more arrived each day until "after I'd been there for seven days our room had about 240 people, so one soldier came in ringing a bell and a sergeant told us to gather our belongings. We took our belongings and had to sit crosslegged in groups of three. Then the sergeant told us to sign a paper. He didn't ask anything, just made us all write our names on a list and then he gave it to the soldier who was going to send us to the training. Then they told us to get on the truck."121 At Mandalay Su Saun Yay "[i]t happens weekly. Sometimes they send 200 people each week, sometimes they send 250 people in a week. I was in the Su Saun Yay for three or four days, then 200 of us were sent to Monywa district in Sagaing Division, to A'Ya Daw Training School."122 Another recruit who went through Mandalay Su Saun Yay said that some of the smallest boys there are held back for months before being sent to training, but this does not appear to be the case at Mingaladon.
Once recruits are shipped out from the central Su Saun Yay camps the trip to the training camp is usually by combination of army trucks and trains, and can take several days depending on the distance involved, stopping overnight at army bases along the way. Some former soldiers say that they were crowded into special train cars which were attached to the back of a regular passenger train, while one interviewee's group was actually put on a train among the passengers. Either way, there are many guards and escape is extremely difficult. On arrival at the training camp, the group remains together and forms one "training company."
When we were attending the training there were some people who ran away. Why did they run away? Because they didn't want to be there from the beginning. The other reason is that we were very tired. Even when people were tired they beat them and forced them to work. . . . After a while the soldiers couldn't bear it anymore and they ran away. When people ran away, if they recaptured them we students had to beat them. There were 200 people in our group, and every one of us was ordered to hit him one time with a cane stick. If we said anything they hit us. The reason is for us to know that if we run away later we will get beaten like that too. After the beating, if he couldn't stand up anymore he was just left laying on the concrete like that. Sometimes they were unconscious. Then if they couldn't eat rice anymore, they were fed rice soup. They treated them with medicine, and then they cut [the cost of] that from all of our salaries. After all the cuts to our salaries we were left with only 600 or 700 kyat.
Information gathered by Human Rights Watch indicates that there are at least twenty-two basic military training camps in Burma, as well as two or more training camps for non-commissioned officers, three officer training schools, and several other specialized training schools.124 Many infantry and light infantry battalions also give refresher courses, landmine courses and other secondary training at their battalion headquarters to soldiers already belonging to the battalion. This report will only look at the basic military training camps, because this is where most child soldiers and other new recruits are trained. A list of twenty-two of these camps, which are scattered throughout most of Burma, can be seen in Appendix A Twelve of them are known as "divisional headquarters training camps" (DHTC) and an additional ten are "army training camps" (ATC), though the accounts of those trained there indicate that there is little or no difference between the two regarding the material taught or the treatment of trainees. Former soldiers interviewed by Human Rights Watch had been trained at army training camps #4 in Panglong, Shan State; #5 at Yay Ni, near Pyawbwe in Pegu Division; #7 at Taung Dwin Gyi, near Prome (Pyi) in Pegu Division; #9 at Thaton, Mon State; and #10 at Kalaymyo, Chin State; at divisional headquarters training camps #4 at Weh G'Li, Mon State, and #6 at Oke Twin, near Toungoo in Pegu Division; and training camps for which numbers were not available, including Taunggyi, Shan State; K'Tha Shwe Bo, Kachin State; A'Ya Daw, near Monywa in Sagaing Division; Mergui in Tenasserim Division; and Maymyo in Mandalay Division.
The duration of basic training is normally four and a half to five months. Some training camps only have one group in training at a time, while others can have as many as three or four going at once. The officers at the training camps teach some tactical theory but spend most of their time doing administrative work, while most of the training is supervised by NCOs. The recruits are kept in large barracks, and the training day usually starts at 6 a.m. with running and other physical training. Some interviewees say that they had to run with sandbags on their backs. After that the training day varies somewhat between camps, but the contents of the training are essentially the same. At most camps they practice marching in the morning, followed by theory and practical military tactics in the afternoon. As the training progresses, the use and maintenance of weapons occupies more of the training time. "In the morning they teach theoretical knowledge. In the afternoon we did practical training. They change it once a week. The first week they practice military parade. The second week they practice big and small weapons. Then the rest of the month they gather the subjects and teach them together. Military parade, small arms, large weapons, military tactics, deploying troops for battle. They only taught a little bit about things like deploying troops."125 At another training camp, "[f]or two weeks we learned only military orders like `forward,' `back,' and `eyes forward.' Then for two weeks we learned stripping and cleaning weapons. We spent a month learning to maintain the G3 [assault rifle]. After two months we went to the shooting range and learned how to shoot. The first time each soldier fired five rounds, and the second time we had to shoot twenty rounds. We trained for two weeks with the G3. Then we were trained to use the MA1, MA2, MA3 and MA4 [newer model assault rifles and machine guns]."126
The training does not include political indoctrination, though in the evenings "[a]fter dinner we stood at attention in the field while the officers told us the rules, like `You can't run away, if you run you'll be punished.' We had to sing many songs with words like `I won't run, I'll obey the rules, we suffer for Burma' and so on. We had to sing them until 9 o'clock."127 Another trainee remembered the speeches every evening by the NCOs who supervised the training: "Things like be good in training, don't run away, and if you want to run away then don't do it from here, do it later from your battalion."128 All of those interviewed said that there was no mention of human rights or the Geneva Conventions during the training, though some were taught the Kyin Wut Chao Seh, or "Sixty Rules of Conduct" of a soldier. This includes "how to talk, how to behave, not to be at odds with civilians, to treat them as brothers and sisters, etc.,"129 or as another recruit expressed it, to treat civilians "Like water, like the moon,"130 meaning to be cool and kindhearted. When asked whether they learned about human rights, most of the former soldiers, however, responded similarly to Sai Seng: "No, they didn't teach about that. They only taught military things. They didn't encourage us to think about politics, they just said we must fight our enemies who are against the country."131
At every training camp throughout Burma the trainees are treated brutally; even the slightest mistake may result in a beating. Aung Htun, who went through training when he was sixteen in 1999, recalls that "if we made a mistake or didn't obey we were beaten. People were beaten every day. I was beaten about twenty times. I was beaten when I couldn't follow the training instructions. I was beaten when I made mistakes in the gun training. If one member of a group made a mistake, the whole group could be beaten. I was beaten with two or three hits of a stick as thick as this table leg [one inch diameter] and this long [one armspan]. I didn't bleed but I was bruised, and the bruises lasted one or two weeks."132 Other punishments for slight infractions include being forced to repeatedly dive face-first onto the ground from a standing position, leaping around like a frog for extended periods of time, or running up and down the hillsides carrying loads of bricks. Nyunt Swe was fourteen when he was trained: "Sometimes they beat people, and sometimes they punished them with very hard work. I was beaten many times, about twenty times in five months of training. Because I didn't understand their instructions. Punch, kick, hit with sticks, they beat us in many ways."133 Kyaw Nyunt was only thirteen but he was also beaten: "If you made a mistake you could be beaten, whether young or old. I was beaten about twenty times. We were punched and beaten with sticks. They usually ask the trainee to choose the stick. If you choose a small one they beat you harder. When I first arrived I cried when I was beaten."134
Most of those interviewed said that the youngest boys in their training group were only eleven or twelve years old, but that they had to do most or all of the training exercises. When one of the training exercises was carrying a log weighing more than thirty kilograms (sixty-four pounds), Aung Htun watched some twelve-year-old trainees being beaten while they struggled under the load. He commented that "the younger boys had many problems so they were beaten more often."135 Training with weapons is also difficult for the smallest boys. The G3 assault rifle and the G4 machine gun have been standard issue in the Burma army for decades, and they are about four feet long and extremely heavy and awkward. Though they are now gradually being superseded by the smaller and lighter MA series, much of the training is still done with the G3 and G4. One interviewee remarked that the youngest trainees struggled because "the G3 was as tall as they were,"136 while another commented of the BA63 (another name for the Burmese-made G3), "I could carry it, but the length of the gun was as tall as me."137 When Thein Oo went through training he was only fourteen, but he was not the youngest: "The youngest were about twelve. There were five of them. They couldn't carry a weapon because it was too heavy for them." When the twelve-year-olds dropped their weapons "they beat them. There were often beatings, then they ordered them to carry two weapons. I dropped my weapon one time, and the trainer said `You are a soldier. Can't you carry a weapon?' Then he whipped me on the neck with the rope of his whistle. I was beaten about ten times during the training. In the first week all of us were beaten. They also yelled at us a lot every day."138 Sein Myint was twenty-three when he was trained but had to watch the abuse of boys as young as twelve as they struggled along: "Especially in the military training, everyone must do it. Sometimes the young boys couldn't do it and just sat down on the spot, and the training commanders came along and beat them with sticks. I saw that happen almost every day. They were beaten with a bamboo about one meter long and one inch in diameter. . . . they were beaten more often [than the older boys]. They cried. The officers beat them, they cried, and then they were just left there like that. I was beaten two or three times myself."139
Khin Maung Than was only eleven years old when he went through training in 1999, so most of the exercises were a struggle for him. His testimony and several others show that the training officers and NCOs are fully aware that many of the trainees are under-age but choose to do nothing about it:
For example, when I was taking apart a weapon I was beaten. Once I couldn't run as fast as the others because I was small, so I arrived late and was beaten. One time I was beaten for quarrelling with my friend. Sometimes they beat us in the face not so hard, but sometimes they used a stick and it was very painful. I was beaten many times but I wasn't badly hurt, because whenever they beat me I cried and ran back to the barracks, and the company commander, the captain, told the trainers "do not beat this young one." They treated me a little better than the others. I had to do the same things, but if I wasn't strong enough the trainer nearest me would help me to carry the weapon or do whatever. One exercise had three of us carrying a log. They put me in the middle, and I was too short to reach it so the other two really carried it for me. When we had to carry a gun, the others had to carry it without using the strap but I always kept the strap over my shoulder. Sometimes I dropped it and they didn't do anything to me, but if others dropped it they had to jump like a frog. The gun [a G3 assault rifle] was as tall as my shoulder.140
Even the youngest boys are forced to learn to fire and maintain various weapons. For most training exercises the weapons are not loaded, but Than Aung told of a live fire exercise called "Chay Mone Yay" (literally "destroy" or "crush") which he and other young boys were forced to go through when he was in training at age fourteen:
We called it "Chay Mone Yay," fighting the enemy. We had to cross obstacles and crawl on the ground. We had to lay down because someone was shooting over our heads. Three trainees were killed by the shooting because they stood up. When it happened the trainers reported to the officers that those three had escaped. They dug graves in the forest and buried them there. They were my age. I don't know their names because they were in other training companies, I just heard about it. Those three were shot, and two others died of sickness. One of them went to work carrying water for an officer and he got wet, later he got sick and died. His name was Thu Rein Htun, he was my age. The other one was from another company.141
In addition to the military training, most trainees must spend at least part of each day working for the camp officers. Usually this occurs for two or three hours late in the afternoon and all day on Saturdays and Sundays. Some of the work is for camp maintenance, but other work is for the profit of the officers. At some training camps the trainees spend as much time doing labor for the officers as they do learning to be soldiers. When Than Aung went through training in Thaton, "[w]e did only half a day of military training each day, then for the other half day we had to work at the officers' houses, doing things like carrying water, gathering firewood and cleaning their houses. We had to go in the jungle and get wood. The mountain is very steep so it is very difficult. The youngest ones couldn't do this work, so they were beaten by the soldiers."142 Thein Oo says that on most days, "[w]e had to go to the fields and plant paddy, and carry firewood. We had to work in the fields owned by the training center. It's not for the trainees. They sell it and the commanders get the money. Some of the sergeants told us about that. They said it's not good."143 He added that the only days when they did not have to do this work was when a senior officer came to visit the camp, implying that the camp officers want to hide this commercial activity from their superiors. Most of the trainees knew that the logs and bamboo they were cutting and hauling, the fish they were breeding, and the food they were growing were sold for the profit of the officers. Much of the work is so hard that sometimes the youngest boys are exempted from it and kept at the camp to work as servants in the officers' houses. Normally, however, according to a trainee who was thirteen at the time, "If every trainee has to dig a hole, then even the youngest trainees have to dig a hole the same size. Sometimes I had a problem, but the older trainees would help me along."144
Some of the younger boys suffer exhaustion or illness from the excessive work. After a full day's military training at Oke Twin camp, Hla Thein, who was fourteen at the time, says he and the others still had to "carry water, cut firewood, and clean the officers' houses for them. At night we had to do sentry duty. I was beaten five or six times for being sleepy when I was a sentry. They slapped me hard in the face."145 Young boys also had to work hard at K'Tha Shwe Bo Camp in Kachin State when Lwin Oo was there:
After breakfast we had to go to the Shwebo road and break rocks. It was bad. They beat us during the teaching, then when we had to build the road they called us lazy and beat us. The youngest were treated the same. The children aren't adults, so when they were beaten they panicked. For example, if the work is planting then they can do it, but it was hard even for me to break those big rocks. They couldn't do it, so they were beaten, and then they became upset and afraid and missed their parents, and they were badly traumatized. I saw that more than six or seven times.146
Despite the hard work they are forced to do, the food provided during training is extremely poor. Htun Htun was only thirteen years old, but "[w]e had to grow beans and chinbaung [used in soups]. We had to grow it for the soldiers to eat, not for us. We just got fishpaste. They gave us three cups of cooked rice twice per day, whether it was enough or not. I was hungry. I suffered from the food, weather [it was rainy season] and sickness. I had chills and shivering. They took me to the doctor but he didn't give me any medicine. I was sick for six days." One interviewee said that at each meal there was only one pot of vegetables for his entire training company of 250 soldiers. Win Kyi says the food at his training consisted of "[b]eans, fried fishpaste, sometimes fried vegetables, bad quality rice. There was not enough food. I was hungry, especially in the evenings. Those who got sick were sent to the clinic. There were enough medicines, but they were poor quality Chinese medicines."147 Others also said they were hungry every day, with meals like fried watergreens on rice for breakfast, watergreen soup and rice for dinner, and beef only once a month; one recruit complained that they were only given five or ten minutes to eat, and Thein Oo felt that "[t]he food wasn't enough. When I asked for more rice or for salt or chilies they never gave it. It was very bad rice with stones and things in it, and when I first arrived at the training it was very hard for me."148
The recruits are also supposed to receive a salary during their training. When Tin Maung was trained in late 2001, "it was 3,000 kyat per month, but there were so many cuts that we only really got five or ten kyat per month. They gave us some snacks and cheroots twice a month and deducted two or three times the cost of that. Also `platoon costs' of ten to twenty kyat per trainee, fifty or sixty kyat for shoe polish, I don't know where it all went. Some got more than five or ten kyat at the end of the month, but one hundred kyat was the maximum."149 Sai Seng was also trained in 2001 and knew he was supposed to get 3,000 kyat per month; however,
There were so many cuts that we couldn't count them. They cut for this, they cut for that. They cut for uniforms, clothing and footwear. In the beginning they said they would issue it and we wouldn't have to pay for it, but it's not true, they cut for that later. When we arrived they cut money for uniforms, for our [storage] box, and for the battalion fund. There were no tables at our training school, so they made tables and cut our salaries for that. When we complained they told us that they didn't cut a lot, but in the end only 500 or 600 kyat of our salary was left. . . . When we started the training they told us, "If you are sick or have an accident go to the clinic. The clinic is always open." They said that. But they didn't mention that they were going to cut it from our salary, so we didn't know about that. Some people got a bit sick so they went to the clinic and got only a little bit of medicine, but they cut over 200 kyat for it.150
The exhaustion, brutality and exploitation wear down the young recruits, but they have no support network to turn to. Even at night they are kept like prisoners in their barracks. One interviewee said that every night the door of his barracks was locked from the outside and a sergeant kept the key. The oldest and most cooperative trainees are appointed as "section leaders" and often abuse the younger trainees to prove their loyalty to the training supervisors. According to Salaing Toe Aung, who was sixteen when trained in late 2001, "They mistreated me, especially the trainee-in-charge of our group, who beat me and hit me. Sometimes it was because he ordered something and I didn't do it. Sometimes it was because I didn't take off all my clothes before going to the toilet. The rule was that we had to take off all our clothes before going to the toilet, because it's hard to run away if you have no clothes."151 Myo Chit suffered similar treatment. Only twelve years old during the training, he says the senior trainees treated him "[v]ery badly. They said, `We are not civilians, we are army.' They were the section leaders and commanders among the trainees, so they said they had orders to be this way."152
At night the youngest boys are also called to massage the camp officers and NCOs. In Burma it is common for adolescents to massage the calves and neck of their grandparents and other elderly relatives, but in this situation it is one more burden placed on the youngest boys. Salaing Toe Aung says that "I had to give massages maybe six times to the corporals and sergeants, on their neck and thighs,"153 and during Moe Shwe's training, "the officer would sit in a chair and order two or three of the younger boys to massage him. Some NCOs called young boys to the office almost every night to massage them."154
It is extremely difficult for most of the boys to contact their families while in training, but some manage to do so. By the time Kyaw Nyunt was in training he had not heard from his family in four years (having been taken from the street at age ten and imprisoned at an army base for three years as a servant for the officers before he was sent into the army-see above). When he heard that he would receive a salary of 3,000 kyat as a trainee he immediately sent a letter to his father saying that he would send them some money. "After I sent it my father sent a letter and some food. That was the first letter in four years. He wrote, `You disappeared for a long time and we didn't know where you were. Now we know you were arrested to be a soldier.'"155 The army provides no postal service, however, and most boys never have an opportunity to get a letter to their families. At most training camps, the trainees even find that they are actively blocked from contacting their families. When Sein Kyi was trained at age fourteen, "I missed them and I wrote letters to them, but the NCOs wouldn't allow me to send them. I requested permission from the warrant officer to send my letter and he said, `I'll send your letter.' Then the next day the corporal said, `The warrant officer burned your letter, because if your parents got that letter they'd come to see you.' I was upset. I didn't try to write again but I decided I'd try to escape when I reached a battalion."156 Others also suspected that the NCOs had destroyed their letters rather than sending them, because replies were never received. When Than Aung was in training, "I told the senior trainee [a second-time soldier] that I wanted to contact my family and he said, `Don't ask the soldiers for permission to do that or they'll beat you.'"157 One boy who was trained at age twelve noted that when new recruits arrive for training, "[t]hey take away all of your belongings, like pens, watches, and rings," and says he cried because he didn't even have pen and paper to write a letter.158
Almost every night there are many young boys crying in their barrack beds, some quietly, some loudly. Without exception, every underage soldier interviewed by Human Rights Watch said that he had cried during the training. Htun Htun was only thirteen: "When I arrived there the other trainees said, `You can't contact your family.' I just wanted to go home and study. I missed my family. I cried twice each night. I thought my parents must be thinking, `Where is our son? Maybe he's dead.' The other children also cried and said, `I want to go home to my family.'"159 Moe Shwe, also thirteen at the time, added, "I was unhappy. I was never happy. I cried almost every night because I missed home. The others did too. The older ones tried to comfort us."160 All of the youngest boys say it was missing their homes and the total lack of contact with their families that made them cry the most. The older recruits saw this going on night after night, and often tried to soothe them. Sein Myint was twenty-three when he was trained, and he saw the youngest boys crying "very often, especially when they missed their mothers. About every other night. We said, `Younger brother, don't cry, don't worry. After the training your mother will be here,' and things like that."161 Sometimes the training officers and NCOs are also sympathetic, even though these are the same men who beat the boys regularly during the day. When sixteen-year-old Aung Htun cried regularly under his mosquito net, "[t]he sergeants saw it sometimes. They just said, `Don't cry.' We weren't beaten for it."162
At age eleven, Khin Maung Than was the youngest boy in his training group and was frequently protected from beatings by a sympathetic captain. "I cried at night about once every ten days. When I cried, the others would go and call the captain, and he said to me, `After the training you'll be sent to a battalion, and then someone will send you home to your family.' I believed him."163 Not all boys are so lucky though. At Thein Oo's training camp, "[d]uring the training I cried two times, and when they saw it they beat me. They also beat the younger boys who cried."164
None of those interviewed had heard of any attempts at suicide during training. One pointed out that "[t]hey wouldn't let us have guns or knives. At the end of the lesson we had to give back all the guns."165 This may be partly to prevent suicides, though its main purpose is probably to prevent attacks on the trainers or attempts to escape. Many of the trainees try to escape, and despite the tight security quite a few of them succeed. According to one boy who was trained in Shan State in 2000, "It's not easy to run, there are checkpoints. It's very hard to escape because our hair was already shaved and we had uniforms. Our civilian clothes were kept by the officers, we had nothing to wear but our uniforms. They gave back our civilian clothes only at the end of the training."166 The trainers take many measures to prevent escape, but they are sometimes outwitted by the boys, according to Sai Seng: "If we had to go to urinate in the middle of the night they ordered us to take off all of our clothes and our underpants, because they are afraid that people will run away. I got hit one time for not going like that. But how the students ran away was, in the daytime when we had to do loh ah pay [forced labor], they went to hide their ordinary clothes somewhere-one day one shirt, the next day something else. When everything was hidden, they went to the toilet at night and then ran away."167 Though rare, there are even some training NCOs who sympathize with the youngest boys enough to help them run away. Human Rights Watch only heard of one such case, from Tin Maung:
Some NCOs are good and some are bad. Some of the good NCOs encouraged the boy soldiers to run away. My NCO did. My NCO asked a young trainee to buy something for him in the market. Then he followed him to the market and told him, "Run away. Don't worry." It was too difficult to run away on foot because there are too many soldiers, so the NCO gave him a bit of money so he could run away by car. And he ran away. That boy was fifteen.168
Though their accounts vary, some testify that as many as fifty of their training group of 250 escaped during the training, and that only a few of those were caught. The punishments for being caught make running away an extremely dangerous proposition, however, and most boys never quite bring themselves to attempt it. Of those interviewed by Human Rights Watch, Than Aung was the only one who tried it himself. He was fourteen at the time:
Thu Rein Htun and I tried together. There was a window near my bed, I opened it and we ran. We didn't know where to go so we slept at Thaton railway station and some militia saw us. They asked where we were from and we said we were visiting our aunt in Thaton. They said, "Your hair is very short, you've escaped from the military camp," and took us back there. When we arrived the soldiers punished us. They made us walk on our knees across sharp gravel. I still have the scars on my knees. They beat us, then they took off our clothes and put us out in the sun from 7 a.m. until almost noon. Then before noon they beat us again with bamboo sticks. Then all afternoon they made us jump like frogs around the field. We were in the sun until 6 p.m. Then we got dinner, and the next day we continued the training. I was very angry and in pain."169
A month later, while still in training, his fourteen-year-old accomplice Thu Rein Htun fell sick and died.
Punishments for attempting to run away vary slightly between training camps, but the most common punishment is to make the escapee lie face down on the ground in front of the entire training company, and then force all 250 or more trainees to line up and hit the victim one time each with a stick. Hla Thein described this ritual to Human Rights Watch:
Six trainees tried to escape but two were caught. They were fourteen or fifteen. All of the trainees had to beat them one time each with a stick. Everyone had to hit hard. One of the trainees sympathized with them so he just hit softly. He was twelve or thirteen years old. Then the sergeant said, "You don't know how to hit. Like this." And he hit the two boys himself. Then the boy who had hit too softly also had to be beaten by all 300 trainees. After that the others were too afraid to hit lightly. When it was over, one of the fourteen-year-olds was unconscious. He and the other older boy were sent to the hospital. I saw that other boy again, over a month later, and he seemed okay but not very well. I never saw the unconscious boy again. I don't know if he lived or died. The twelve-year-old boy wasn't sent to the hospital, he stayed in the training. The next day he seemed okay. Then one month later he got sick and died.170
Boys who were trained in training camps at opposite ends of Burma, in each year between 1993 and 2001, gave accounts almost identical to Hla Thein's description above, demonstrating that this is a standard punishment handed out to boys who attempt to escape. Many of them tried not to participate, but felt they had no choice. Even eleven-year-old Khin Maung Than was forced to take part in a beating at Yay Ni training camp in 1999: "About fifteen ran away but only five escaped. The rest were captured, and all 250 of the others had to go and beat them. Each trainee had to go and hit all ten of them with a stick. If the trainers thought you didn't hit them hard enough, they kicked you. They kicked me for not hitting them hard enough." After this beating, "[t]hey couldn't stand, they had to be carried to the clinic. They couldn't eat. They couldn't sleep. They could only drink some water. There was a clinic at the training center. They had to spend twenty days in the clinic, then they had to rejoin the training."171
Another former soldier, Sai Seng, said that after similar beatings of would-be escapees at his training camp, the cost of their medicines and treatment at the camp clinic was deducted from the salaries of all of the other trainees.172 Similarly, trainees in Moe Shwe's company at Weh G'Li camp were punished en masse whenever one of their number ran away: "When one trainee runs away all the others are beaten. We had to lay face down with our arms extended and we were beaten by the officer in charge. He hit us four or five times each. I was beaten four times because someone else ran away, and once because I asked for more food." When some of the runaways are then caught, "Some are sent to prison, and some are taken back into the training but punished. All of the trainees were beaten when he fled, so now every trainee must hit him three times. I felt very sorry for him, but we had to hit him properly or we'd be beaten ourselves." He said that some of those beaten for escaping were thirteen or fourteen years old. "This happened to twenty young boys that age. Then they were taken to hospital. Most of them were bleeding and unconscious. All of them came back, usually one or two months later. When they got back from the hospital they were put in the leg stocks for more than a month." During his time at the training camp, there were almost always fifteen or sixteen boys in the leg stocks being punished for various infractions of discipline. Despite the severity of the punishment, boys kept trying to run away "because the food wasn't enough and the work and the training were very hard. I thought about it and tried to plan it, but I didn't do it."173
At some training camps the NCOs do most of the beating themselves and only force a few trainees to take part. When Tin Maung was asked to participate, "I didn't dare beat anyone. Only about one out of ten who they asked would do it. They didn't do anything to me when I wouldn't, they just told me to go back to the group."174 In late October or early November 2001 at army training camp #5 in Yay Ni, Pegu Division, sixteen-year-old Salaing Toe Aung and his entire training company were forced to watch a particularly brutal punishment after four escapees were caught: "They were beaten. The NCOs beat them. I saw it. They were tied with their hands behind their backs, then they asked them questions like `Why did you run away?' and beat them after every question. Then they fell, and the NCOs beat them and kicked them for about fifteen minutes. Not just one NCO, many. The NCOs also asked the trainees to beat them, but I didn't participate. I saw blood coming from their faces. Some were conscious and some unconscious." One of the four was particularly brutally beaten:
He was sixteen or seventeen. They ordered him to kneel down. Then three or four NCOs beat him on the head and back with sticks for about half an hour. When he fell the NCOs pulled him back up to his knees. He was unconscious. There was blood all over his face. He was very seriously wounded. Then they put him in the leg stocks, and he regained consciousness. They left him in the leg stocks for a week. I saw him there about three times. He looked like he was getting worse. He couldn't eat rice, just a little rice soup. Then he couldn't eat anything and they sent him to hospital. He died in the hospital. My friends and the NCOs told me.175
His account of this incident was corroborated by Tin Maung, who was in another company at the same training camp when it happened. One of the others beaten, a nineteen-year-old, also died in the camp clinic. A third aged sixteen was carried unconscious to the camp clinic but later returned to the training. Since witnessing this, Salaing Toe Aung says he has never stopped feeling "ma kan kyin seit," a sense of righteous outrage.
The type of leg stocks mentioned above by Salaing Toe Aung are common at army camps and police stations throughout Burma. With both ankles clamped between two slats of wood or bamboo, the prisoner has to sit on the ground and cannot move except to lie straight back. When Lwin Oo was trained in Kachin State, this was the main punishment for escapees:
If they were caught they tortured them, they put them in the leg stocks and then poked them in the legs with knives and they bled. They poked each leg about five times. Then they told them to go to the clinic and said, "Don't tell them we did this to you. Just tell them you got hurt walking through the forest." I saw that three times. The youngest one they did that to was twelve years old. He was afraid and cried very loudly, and he called out "I'll never do it again." They beat him as well. After they caught him they tortured him like that, and then left him in the leg stocks for fifteen days. Sgt. Tin Hla said to the child, "Why don't you want to be a Burmese soldier? You should be proud to be in the army, don't run away like that." . . . [Later] I was the one who had to go and give him his food. He was crying. He couldn't feel pain anymore. The stocks were inside the barracks but on the dirt floor, the bare ground. He could only sit or lay straight back on his back. . . . I talked to him. When the sergeant wasn't there I said, "Do you want to run away?" and he said, "Yes, I want to see my parents." I said, "Why did you try to run away now? We are closed in here. I want to run away too, but we have to look for the right chance. Some day I will run away too."
After fifteen days, "they took him out of the stocks and he couldn't walk anymore. They took him out and sent him to the clinic. He was at the clinic for one and a half months." He was then forced to rejoin the training.176
After a beating by 250 of his peers and two weeks in the camp clinic, one trainee in Myo Chit's group, a nineteen-year-old, refused to rejoin the training, and he was sent to prison for one year as a result.177 His case was most likely treated as desertion, and after a jail term for desertion the usual practice is to force the deserter back into the army. Most trainees, however, are sufficiently frightened by the spectacle of the beatings that they no longer dare stand up to their trainers. On one occasion when Sein Kyi had just seen five captured runaways beaten by his NCOs until they were bleeding and had lost some teeth, "[t]hen they told the other trainees, `This is an example, take a look. If you try to escape this will happen to you.' Then they sent them to the lockup. They were in the lockup for two weeks, then they came back to the training. No one else dared to escape after that. Some others wanted to escape, but they didn't dare discuss it because there were some trainees who would inform the soldiers."178
When the training is completed, the trainees are divided into small groups of five to twenty and sent to many different battalions, sometimes in the same part of the country as the training camp but often farther afield. Some trainees are held back; for example, when Soe Naing was trained at Mergui in Tenasserim Division, "[s]ome made a lot of mistakes so they were beaten by the trainers and put in jail. Usually it was the older ones. For big mistakes they were put in for a long time and they couldn't finish the training, so they had to wait for the next training."179 He says there were also four very young boys whom he believed were only nine years old and who were physically unable to do much of the training, so they only attended about two months of it and were held back at the end. They spent much of their time working as servants at the camp commander's house, so it is also possible that he wanted to keep them back for his own use. Most young boys, however, are sent out to battalions with the others when the training period is finished, even if they had difficulties with many of the exercises. In Sein Kyi's training group at Taung Dwin Gyi, "[t]he youngest were twelve years old. The youngest didn't do the training, instead they did fish breeding, pig breeding and other things. There were about twenty of them. Just two weeks before the end of the training they joined the class, then when the training was finished they were sent to battalions. Ten of the very young ones were sent with me to my battalion."180 When they arrived at the battalion they continued to be used for fish and pig breeding at the battalion headquarters camp. Even so, at this point they were considered soldiers and could presumably be sent into combat eventually, without having had any proper training.
Deployment and Active Duty
Battalions of the Burma army are deployed throughout the country, not only in areas where there is armed resistance but also in the country's heartland, where their main role is to control the civilian population. In areas under firm control of the regime where there is no armed conflict, the battalions spend much of their time maintaining their bases, supervising work on infrastructure projects, and monitoring and restricting the activities and movements of all civilians in their area of control. Most of the infrastructural and other work is done by summoning forced labor from the local villages and by using convicts from the prisons. Many officers are also heavily involved in extorting money from the local population, whether as "fees" to avoid forced labor or under other guises. Officers also use their soldiers and local civilians as free labor for their personal money-making projects, such as logging, brick baking, fish farming, rubber planting, and growing other cash crops.181
Though many new battalions have been created in the past five years, many battalions have been reduced in strength to only 200 or 300 men from the previous norm of 400 to 500.182 Each battalion has a large battalion headquarters camp where one company of its troops is normally based (normally 100-120 men, though many of these are also now understrength). The rest of the battalion rotates, spending three to six months at battalion outposts, company camps, checkpoints or mobile columns, followed by a month of "rest" at the battalion headquarters which is normally spent doing labor for the officers. The battalion outposts are manned by as few as eight or ten soldiers for a checkpoint or hilltop reconnaissance post, to one hundred or more soldiers for a mobile column or a company camp that controls an area. Battalion headquarters are generally stationary and positioned well away from armed conflict, but their outposts shift according to need and can be widely spread, even in different states or divisions. Soldiers usually remain with the same battalion throughout their time in the army, but they are occasionally shifted from one posting to another. If the battalion has any camps in a region of armed conflict these are known as "front line" camps, and several battalions often combine their soldiers to form mobile columns of two or three hundred soldiers that go on extended patrols in "front line" areas. Despite this terminology, there is very rarely a fixed front line; instead, there are entire regions where resistance forces are active and where sporadic fighting can occur at any time. In these areas most armed resistance groups use guerrilla tactics, ambushing Burmese troops on the move, landmining their supply routes, and occasionally attacking small Burma army camps. In response, most Burma army officers stay in their camps, only move in large numbers, and use the "Four Cuts" strategy: a scorched earth policy of destroying villages and food supplies to undermine civilian support for the resistance.183 In the past three years, the main exception to the sporadic guerrilla nature of the conflict has been southern Shan State, where major offensives have been launched against areas controlled by the Shan State Army (South), resulting in heavy fighting.
Life as a Soldier
It was no good. When we patrolled, if we fell asleep at night and the commander saw it, he beat us. That was Sergeant Myo Naing. Sometimes I got my salary, sometimes I didn't because the officers used my money. I didn't dare complain. We only got rice and yellow beans. Sometimes the commander ordered us to steal vegetables and chickens from the villagers, so we went and stole them.
Immediately upon the completion of their training, recruits are assigned to a particular battalion and sent to its base headquarters. Out of a group of 250 trainees, usually no more than twenty are sent to the same battalion. When they arrive there, they suddenly find themselves in the army proper, surrounded by as many as 200 or 300 soldiers. Many of these are also young boys, though some have already been in the army for several years. The new arrivals are promptly assigned to a section and company, and before long most of them are sent out to outposts or front line areas together with a few dozen other soldiers. When Sein Kyi arrived at his new battalion at age fourteen, he found that they did not even have a headquarters yet: "#283 is a very new battalion, so we had no buildings or barracks. We stayed at another battalion and built our camp. First we cleared the place, cut the trees and the scrub. Then when we made the buildings we called the villagers from nearby to come and do the work. . . . After that I was sent to Shwe Dah camp, and we patrolled around that area on operations against the KNU."185 Than Aung was also sent to a battalion which had just been created as part of the army's expansion program. When they were building their headquarters camp, "[m]ost were very young, under eighteen. I saw a lot of children there."186 Most soldiers stay with the same battalion throughout their time in the army, so new battalions are built up almost entirely from new recruits, giving them a particularly high proportion of child soldiers.
Some soldiers are selected for special duty. On arrival at his assigned battalion, Hla Thein was surprised to find himself selected to the battalion's elite commando unit, even though he was only fifteen years old: "I was a commando. We were mostly in the front line. There were about 200 or 250 soldiers, but just thirty or forty of us were commandos. I was young and active and I got good marks in the training, so I was selected. I was the youngest. I was fifteen. All the others were over eighteen. The training was at the battalion headquarters in Kya In Seik Gyi, about twenty days' training. Mostly we fought as guerrillas against the KNU. When our battalion went to the front line we were always at point [leading the column]. Sometimes the battalion commander called us for special operations."187
Most of the youngest recruits, however, are assigned to ordinary units, and as the newest soldiers they have to do the hardest, dirtiest jobs. Aung Htun described a typical day at his camp in a "front line" area of Karen State: "Cutting wood to make bunkers, digging trenches, and gathering leaves to make shelters. It was Meh Th'Waw camp. We worked about ten hours a day. From 7-12 in the morning, then from 2 until 5 or 5:30 in the evening. Then at night we had to do sentry duty, for two hours every night. When I was a sentry at night I was often sleepy, and if I slept I was beaten. That happened about ten times. I was beaten with a bamboo stick."188 Toward the end of 2001, fifteen-year-old Nyunt Swe was posted in the hills of southern Shan State, where most army camps are placed on hilltops; he complained that "[a]t the front line it's very hard to carry water, it's an hour trip down and up the hill to get the water, and the privates have to do this."189 Many soldiers are used as servants by their officers, particularly on the officers' money-making projects. From the time Htun Htun was first posted to his battalion at age thirteen,
For six years we raised pigs, buffaloes and fish, and made bricks. They sold the fish and bought eggplant for the soldiers, and the rest of the money they kept for themselves-Captain Kyaw Win Tun kept the money. They sold buffalos and just gave us eggplant. They gave each of us one eggplant each day. We only got fishpaste and eggplant. We were supposed to get 600 kyat per month but they took deductions for office supplies and we only got 150. When I was there the captain said "If you need anything tell me," but when we asked for anything we didn't get it.190
The youngest boys try to get used to the heavy work, and sometimes the older soldiers sympathize and help them with the harder jobs. Khin Maung Than was only twelve years old when he reached his battalion, but when they went on patrol he found that "[b]ecause of the five months in training, it wasn't hard for me to carry the weapon any more. I just had to carry my clothes, gun, and ammunition. Other soldiers carried the food and things instead of me."191 Myo Chit was also twelve, but he had more difficulty: "My duty was as sentry from 6 p.m. until midnight every night for a month, so it was very hard for me. I was punished many times [for sleeping] by having to dig a trench, and was beaten three or four times a week."192
A great deal depends on the NCO or officer in charge of the unit. Some treat the younger recruits gently, like an adopted son, but others are brutal to all of their soldiers without exception. One former soldier aged over twenty told Human Rights Watch that he was angry at the way the younger boys were treated: "I saw some villagers beaten by the sergeant two or three times. The young boys were there when it happened. Some of the young soldiers were also beaten, because they couldn't keep up and carry their gun, ammunition and their pack on patrol. Sometimes a boy sat down and cried, and the sergeant would come and punch and kick him. I saw that happen two or three times. I saw it myself. Those boys were fourteen or fifteen years old." When the youngest boys were forced to do hard labor clearing scrub around the battalion camp, "some couldn't do the work and were beaten by the sergeant or corporal. There was always a sergeant or a corporal there. They hit you five times regardless of whether you're young or old."193 Even though twelve-year-old Myo Chit was already struggling under his load on patrol, his section leader kept hitting him with dirtballs and stones fired from a slingshot to make him go faster. Khin Maung Than finished his training at age eleven and then spent three years in his battalion, but his age did not help his relations with his commanders:
The relationship is not good. We had no time to ourselves. We never got passes to go out to the villages. . . . I was not usually with the officers, only corporals and sergeants at the highest. Sometimes when they were drunk there were problems. If they gave an order when they were drunk and we complained or questioned it, they beat and punched us. So you just had to listen to their orders. . . . If I couldn't do my work well they punished me with beatings. Many times when the section leader didn't do his duty well the sergeant beat him. The corporal beat the soldiers, the sergeant beat the corporal, and sometimes the 2nd lieutenant beat the sergeant. It's always like this in the army. Only the warrant officer, the CQ [chief quartermaster], the 2nd lieutenant, the lieutenant and the captain have it better, because they're not beaten by their higher officers. But from 2nd lieutenant on down, it's bad.194
When Hla Thein was fifteen years old, his sergeant got drunk "[a] lot. When he was drunk he ordered the soldiers to buy alcohol from the villages, and the villages were far away. Sometimes he ordered the soldiers to massage him, often me because I was the youngest."195 In remote camps, some NCOs entertain themselves by getting drunk and beating up on the smallest and youngest of their soldiers. Personal dislikes and vendettas also occur, often for no clear reason. Moe Shwe was forced into the army at age thirteen, and by the time he was eighteen he had been promoted to lance corporal, but this did not protect him from beatings. "I was staying in my house in the camp. An officer, a CSI [chief of signals intelligence] and a sergeant came and checked my house. My pot was not full of water [a clay pot of drinking water left out front for passersby]. It was only half full. [They said] `You have to have your pot full of cool water,' and they hit me. I fought back, and then the three of them beat me together. I was in hospital for seven days." His internal injuries were so severe that he had surgery to remove his spleen, from which he bears a long scar on his belly. When he returned to his camp, he shot dead the officer who had beaten him, and deserted.
Punishment for failure to obey orders or other infractions is meted out regardless of a soldier's age. A minor infraction of discipline (such as Hla Thein's failure to obtain alcohol for his drunken NCO) would generally be punished with a heavy beating by the NCO or a spell in the camp lockup. Disciplinary action for more formal breaches of military rules is dealt with at battalion headquarters, where punishment may involve a term of imprisonment in the battalion lockup, or even transfer to civilian custody.196
For those who fall ill, medical care is provided but the treatment and the medicines are often limited and of poor quality, especially in "front-line" areas. As one interviewee described the situation in his unit, "Those who were ill were usually sent to the camp clinic. At the clinic there are no doctors, just nurses and medics. If they didn't get better, they were usually sent to the hospital. But by the time you're sent to hospital you're nearly dead. About two out of three die who are sent to the hospital."197 No statistics are available on how many child soldiers in the Burma army die of diseases every year, but the number is probably in the hundreds at least. In many of the areas of armed resistance where the army is heavily deployed particularly deadly and drug-resistant strains of malaria are endemic, and these decimate many of the Burma army units. Karen National Liberation Army officers sometimes refer to the anopheles mosquito as the "Karen Air Force" because they claim that at any given time as many as half of the Burmese soldiers from the central plains can be down with malaria, whereas the Karen soldiers indigenous to the hills have a greater resistance to the disease.
Many of those interviewed complained that the food in the army was bad. At many army camps, the officers are known to sell some of the rations for their own profit, particularly tinned goods. The quality of rice delivered for rations has declined due to shortages and corruption, to the point where soldiers complain that it is full of stones and insects, and often force local villagers to exchange rice with them. With the rapid expansion of the army the SPDC is finding it difficult to keep units in the field fully supplied, and in 1998 units in the field were informed that rations shipments would be cut back and that they should produce or obtain as much of their own food as possible.
Salaries are also a topic of complaint. Soldiers' salaries in Burma have always been extremely low. Prior to 2000, a private in the army only earned 450 to 750 kyat per month, depending on number of years of service, less than an unskilled day laborer could earn in a few days. In mid-2000 the SPDC suddenly raised the salaries of soldiers and civil servants by 500 to 1,000 percent, making the present salary of a private 3,500 to 4,500 kyat per month. However, the increase was paid for by printing additional currency, and as a result the prices of basic commodities have spiraled and the value of the kyat has plummeted to less than a third of its previous value.198 Worse yet for the soldiers, the officers take much of the salary money by taking out "deductions" allegedly for uniforms, equipment, battalion office supplies, "battalion fund," sports fees and other purposes. Myo Chit was angry about this: "In 1998 and 1999 I got 450 kyat [per month]. In mid-2000 it was raised to 4,500 kyat per month. When we were in the front line the commander kept some and gave us only two-thirds of it. They deducted for many things. The CQs [chief quartermasters] hold back rations and make money that way. One time I had to clear the golf course for the commander. The government gave money to pay labor costs, but the commander kept it."199 Others reported receiving less than half of their salary every month. Salaing Toe Aung was only with his battalion from January to March 2002 before running away, but during that time he never saw any salary at all; he commented philosophically, "Maybe they kept it. Some others got a salary. Maybe they were going to give it to me when I got back to the battalion camp."200 Myo Aung was less accepting; he says that in a normal month the officers kept anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 kyat of his 4,000 kyat salary, but when no one in his hill outpost received any salary at all for October 2001, his patience ran out. A delegation of NCOs was sent to demand the salary money but the officers refused to hand it over, and as a result two NCOs and three soldiers, including Myo Aung, deserted.
Once a soldier is posted with a battalion he is generally allowed to write to his family if he wishes. However, most of those interviewed by Human Rights Watch said that they never had the opportunity to do so, usually because there was no facility provided for sending letters. All such letters are censored by the commanders, so some were also afraid that they would be punished if anything in their letter was perceived as a complaint about life in the army. From the day when a boy is grabbed on the street by a recruiting team, his family is never informed of his fate and never hears from him unless he is lucky enough to have a letter delivered. Myo Aung was forced into the army at age sixteen in 1998, and says that he has never seen or spoken to his family since that day. "We've never had contact since I was first arrested. I tried. I wrote a letter and put it in a letterbox, but I don't know if it ever arrived or not. Some soldiers get leave, but I couldn't. I tried three times. The first time it was rejected because we had to go to the front line, the other two times I don't know why."201 All of those interviewed said that leave is almost never granted to soldiers until they have been in the army for well over five years, unless they are very friendly with the commander.202 One interviewee said that when he requested leave after being with his unit for three years, he was refused on the grounds that he had only been a soldier "a short time."203 As Khin Maung Than expressed it, "Even those more senior than me can't get leave, so how could I get leave? Even soldiers who have been in the army for ten years or more can't get leave, so how could I?"204 Soe Naing tried everything he could while in the army to contact his family, but never succeeded. He was only twelve years old when he last saw them in 1994, and now that he has deserted he is too afraid for their safety to write to them.
I had no contact with my family. I asked my commander's permission but could never contact them. When I tried to send a letter, they opened the envelope and didn't send the letter. At the battalion camp I had some phone numbers of my family and friends written down, and Sergeant Win Kyaw took them. I think they were worried that I'd run away and go home, even though their rules said that I had to stay in the army for ten years. I tried to request leave, but their military rules say that before I can go on leave I must show "taun neh seh nga" - the twenty-five kinds of equipment. But they never gave us all of them, so how could I show them? I saw three or four soldiers from our battalion leaving for their hometowns, because they'd already been in the army for six or seven years so they could show the "taun neh seh nga."205
A discharge from the army is even more difficult to obtain. In a letter to Human Rights Watch, SPDC representatives stated that according to official regulations, "[t]he normal length of service for enlistment is 10 years for enlisted men and 15 years for officers." They went on to state that discharges can be granted for medical reasons, as a result of disciplinary action, or because the soldier wishes to leave at the end of his term of service.206 However, most of those interviewed by Human Rights Watch stated that they never saw anyone discharged during their time in the army, not even those who had served for ten years and wished to leave.207 Some interviewees had seen "two or three" people discharged, but only when they had reached the age of fifty or sixty or they had brought in several new recruits. Moe Shwe, recruited at age thirteen, only saw three soldiers discharged in his six years in the army: "One was sixty, one was forty-five and one was fifty. They got out because they'd each recruited five new soldiers. Anyone can get out if they recruit five new soldiers, but you must have five years' experience first."208 Several believed that if they had not deserted, they would have been forced to remain in the army until age sixty. When Nyunt Swe was asked whether anyone in his unit had been in the army for more than ten years, he answered, "Yes, some even for twenty years. They are old now. They want to leave but the officers won't let them. . . . The rule is that after ten years you can leave the army, but actually they never let people leave."209 Another soldier stated that during his two years in the army only one man was discharged from his unit, a sixty-year-old warrant officer who had been in the army for forty years.210 Several others never saw anyone discharged.
I was afraid that first time. The section leader ordered us to take cover and open fire. There were seven of us, and seven or ten of the enemy. I was too afraid to look, so I put my face in the ground and shot my gun up at the sky. I was afraid their bullets would hit my head. I fired two magazines, about forty rounds. I was afraid that if I didn't fire the section leader would punish me.
Even Burma army soldiers who have served in areas where they were involved in intensive armed conflict say that they had very little idea of why they were fighting. The army provides them little or no information, and most of their officers tell them only that there are enemies and therefore they must fight them. At age fourteen Moe Shwe was assigned to an "operations team" which sought out and fought the Karen National Liberation Army on an almost weekly basis; he says that he has no idea how many people he killed during his years with the team, but he was never told the objective. "I feel that people killing each other is not good and I feel bad about it, but the army says `This is the enemy' and we must shoot, so we did."211 Some commanders try to motivate their troops with propaganda: "They told us that the Karenni and the Shan came down to Burma and killed our monks, and threw elderly Burmans down wells and killed them. I believed it at first, but not now."212 For the most part, however, the soldiers' main motivations in combat are survival and avoiding punishment by their commanders.
Former child soldiers openly admitted that the first time in battle they were terrified. Moe Shwe's account of his first battle is typical: "When I first heard the gunshots I was very afraid. I stayed in a hole and cried. I'd never heard that noise before. I was fifteen. That first time I didn't shoot at all. The battle lasted two hours. Three of ours were killed. I saw it, and it made me afraid." He then admitted that it was not until his third battle that he fired his weapon for the first time.213 When Soe Naing faced his first ambush, "I was fourteen or fifteen. A convoy was going from Tavoy to Mergui, I was guarding the road near Palauk and I was very afraid. We were attacked. Four soldiers died on the spot and one truck was burning. I was hiding near my officer. The next time [in combat] I was still afraid."214 Another remembered that "I was scared, afraid. I had no experience of this. I saw many people so I aimed at them and fired. About 200 bullets. All my bullets. I think I hit someone. I was scared of being shot. They were trying to shoot me, so I had to shoot at them. Three from our side were shot. One died. I don't know about the other side."215 Sein Kyi is one of the very few who says that he was not afraid the first time, though this may have been because he was so occupied with simply trying to lift his heavy G3 assault rifle: "I was just over fourteen. I couldn't raise my gun because it was too heavy. I saw the KNLA soldiers very close. My gun was a G3, it was very heavy and hard for me to lift, but I fired. I wasn't afraid. I don't think I ever killed anyone, but I saw some people killed because my friends shot them. The first time one of my friends was hit in the leg, and another time one of my friends died and some others were wounded. But I wasn't afraid."216
One of the more disturbing aspects of the testimony given to Human Rights Watch is that while many boys who were recruited at young ages openly admitted to being afraid their first time in combat, they consistently went on to say that they quickly adapted to it. Most of those who were recruited at young ages stated that by their second or third skirmish they had already lost most of their fear. Myo Chit, who was trained in the Ye Nyunt system and then sent into the army at age twelve, stated of his first combat experience "[i]t was my first time so I was very afraid and didn't shoot," but by the second time, "I wasn't afraid this time. I fired about forty rounds, and I was happy to shoot."217 Though fifteen-year-old Hla Thein had been selected for a special commando unit after doing well in training, he was also afraid the first time but his sergeant sorted him out: "The KNU attacked us. I was afraid. I hid on the ground and fired my gun into the sky. My eyes were closed. My sergeant saw that and beat me for it, and the next time I was brave. I was only afraid the first time. The next time I wasn't afraid anymore."218 After that, his commando unit faced combat on a regular basis, and he admits that he became very proud of himself.
Many attempt to rationalize their participation in the fighting as self defense, while others view it as revenge for their friends who have been killed and wounded. At age fourteen, Htun Htun was an example of the former: "The first time I was thinking, `They are not my enemy. Why do I have to fight them?' But then I thought, `They are shooting at me. I have to shoot at them.'"219 But another soldier aged sixteen expressed a desire for revenge: "After a half hour walk we hit a tripwire and it exploded. One soldier was killed and one seriously wounded. The KNU did it. After that I felt like getting revenge. I wanted to fight them. But I couldn't do anything to the villagers or the KNU."220 Though they may have adapted quickly to their fear of combat, most of those interviewed continued to suffer from seeing their friends wounded and killed alongside them.
Cut off from their families for years and abused by their NCOs and officers, the rank and file soldiers only have each other for support, so they often feel devastated when they see others killed in what appears to be aimless fighting. Htun Htun recalled his worst day of combat: "When I was eighteen there was fighting that lasted a whole day. There were fifty on our side, and thirteen were killed. I was upset. We buried the bodies. Five of them were seventeen years old." Khin Maung Than was in combat about twenty times, but he remembers one occasion in particular, when he was twelve or thirteen years old, as the worst:
Fifteen of ours were killed, there were fifty if you include the wounded. Two were shot near me, the thirty-year-old and the fourteen-year-old. He [the fourteen-year-old] was hit in the right shoulder by a bullet. We couldn't carry his body out because the fighting was so heavy that both sides withdrew. We could only retrieve his weapon. When we got back to the battalion we were ordered to go back and clear the fighting area, and then we took the bodies back. That was two days later. Some had a very bad smell. We carried back about ten bodies. Five were missing. They'd been blown to pieces by heavy shells.221
When Hla Thein was sixteen he got multiple shrapnel wounds in his hand and foot, but these were considered too minor to send him to hospital. His wounds were treated with antiseptic and bandaged, and he remained in the field with his commando unit. This is normal Burma army practice for small wounds. The more seriously wounded are carried out to hospitals. Often the soldiers carry them safely out of the crossfire, then they fetch the civilians or convicts presently doing forced labor as porters for the unit and force them to carry the wounded to hospital, which can be a journey of several days. The dead are buried where they fall, but if the fighting is intense or the unit needs to move quickly the seriously wounded and the dead are sometimes left as they are.
At present most of the fighting in Burma consists of small-scale ambushes and skirmishes, but when major offensives occur the Burma army is known to use human wave attacks against resistance positions. Sometimes these attacks are successful due to the shortage of men and ammunition on the resistance side, but not before taking a horrific toll in casualties. Such attacks have been documented during major Burma army offensives on several occasions between 1991 and 1997. Some of the worst cases occurred when waves of troops were sent up a steep open slope against heavily fortified Karen positions on Min Yaw Kee ridge in 1992, and when year after year from 1991 through 1995 thousands of soldiers were forced to run across an open killing ground full of barbed wire and landmines straight into Karen machine-gun emplacements at Kawmoora. During these offensives, Karen machine-gunners admitted that many of those they were mowing down were boys, and that some appeared to be drugged. Captured Burma army soldiers claimed that they were forced ahead by NCOs and officers who threatened to shoot them from behind if they stopped. The only conflict in which mass attacks have been used since 1997 is in southern Shan State, where the Burma army is fighting the Shan State Army (South), and according to Shan State Army officers some of the same tactics are still being used. Some of the heaviest fighting occurred between April 24 and May 3, 2001, near Ba Kee in southern Shan State, and one SSA (South) brigade commander told Human Rights Watch, "Last year in the Ba Kee fighting the SPDC used many child soldiers, that's why they suffered many casualties. I think more than 300 were killed and wounded on the SPDC side. The SPDC soldiers were drugged, probably on methamphetamines."222 Though resistance forces occasionally report that Burma army troops sent to attack them are drugged, none of the former Burma army soldiers interviewed by Human Rights Watch indicated that they had ever been given drugs.
Relations with the Civilian Population
I saw that they sometimes confiscated the villagers' land near the battalion camp, like their betelnut and coconut plantations. Sometimes the commander ordered us to steal vegetables and chickens from the villagers, so we went and stole them. I was upset and sympathized with the villagers. They were very poor and didn't have enough food, but we took everything for free from them. Sometimes the officer sent letters to the village heads telling them to send forced labor to work in our battalion. The army never gives money to them. I saw some villagers crying, but I didn't know why.
In training most soldiers are taught the kyin wut chao seh, the "sixty rules of conduct" of a soldier. These reportedly include treating civilians as brothers and sisters.224 When asked to comment on this in light of his later experiences as a soldier, one interviewee simply replied, "My comrades never obeyed the `kyin wut chao seh.'"225 Throughout Burma, the civilian population is used as a resource by the army as free labor, and as a source of food, money, and land. Many army officers try to make personal profits by extorting money and labor from the villages under their control. In regions of armed conflict the situation is even worse, because the regime's official "Four Cuts" policy decrees that villages and food supplies must be destroyed if there is any evidence of civilian support for the opposition in the area.
Most new recruits begin by sympathizing with the villagers, but they are soon forced to become party to the abuses against them. One cause of this is the lack of rations; soldiers frequently complain that the NCOs and officers steal some of the rations and sell them, then tell the rank and file soldiers to get their food from the villages. This situation has worsened since the 1998 reduction by the SPDC of the rations sent to units in the field. In the end, the soldiers often have little choice but to steal food from the villages or go hungry. They are also ordered to obtain meat, alcohol, and other luxuries for the tables of their officers. As Myo Chit expressed it, "We had no food, and we saw chickens and ducks in a village so we stole them. We didn't burn any villages. We just didn't have enough rations."226
The soldiers are also ordered to round up villagers for forced labor and supervise the work, which puts them in a difficult position if they are sympathetic. Khin Maung Than says he was unhappy, because "I wanted to be friendly with the villagers but the villagers were afraid of us. The villagers had to do forced labor whenever we needed to fix our camp buildings or clean our compound. If someone was not working very well the soldiers shouted at them and beat them."227 Fourteen-year-old Kyaw Nyunt also had trouble with his conscience: "Usually the NCOs demanded porters and food, they took food and whatever they saw, and they beat the villagers. When I saw that I remembered the time when I was arrested [to be a soldier], and I felt very sorry for those villagers."228
After his recruitment at age twelve, Soe Naing spent most of the time until he turned eighteen supervising forced labor on infrastructure projects in Tenasserim Division:
We used villagers for forced labor on the Ye-Tavoy road and on the Ye-Tavoy railway as well. We were like supervisors. Mostly we sat and did security, sometimes we gave orders like "Do this" or "Move that." Mostly the villagers were breaking rocks with hammers, and in the mornings they had to dig ditches along the roadsides. If the villagers weren't working hard enough they were punished by our commander, mostly by beatings. I saw one villager on our construction site who refused to do something, so he was beaten by our sergeant until he was bleeding from the ear. At the construction site I saw many pregnant women, very old men and children working-the youngest were seven or eight years old. When we were at the road construction site near Ya Pu village Sergeant Win Kyaw raped one woman, and she was so ashamed that she committed suicide. Her name was Tee Dah Mo and she was just over eighteen, from Tavoy. He was my sergeant, from Company Three of LIB 402. I heard bad stories from the villagers so I didn't want to stay in the army. Mostly they told me they're very poor and they can't support their families. I saw pregnant women working and felt very sorry for them.229
The use of villagers as forced porters for the army is the most traumatic for the recruits, because it is often the most brutal. Forced to carry heavy loads of ammunition and other supplies, the civilians often have trouble keeping up with the army column. The rank and file soldiers in charge of them, afraid of the beatings and other punishments they face if they fall behind, become desperate and try to do whatever is necessary to keep the porters moving. "I just said `Go faster, go faster.' I didn't beat or kick them, but some did. If they couldn't go, they beat and kicked them, or kicked them down the mountainside." Moe Shwe, who was in the army from age thirteen to nineteen, went on to say that during his time he saw six porters killed, and "I felt a lot of pity for them." Though all of those killed were over thirty, he also saw children used as porters "very often. Fifteen or sixteen years old. Sometimes for one day, sometimes two or three days. I saw them being beaten, but not killed. If an adult carries twelve shells, the children carry eight. About eighteen viss [thirty kilograms] for an adult, and ten viss [sixteen kilograms] for children."230 Thein Oo often saw villagers beaten by his commanders during forced labor; "I didn't like it but I was afraid of my commander. If I protested I'd be beaten by my commander, 2nd Lieutenant Kyaw Myint Thein."231
The beatings of porters touched on something very painful for Hla Thein, who was only seven years old when his father died while portering. He says that at the time he didn't understand the realities of portering and was told only that his father had died of illness while with the troops. He was deeply affected when he first realized the truth as a soldier when he was fifteen:
When I was young I didn't know that the army had killed my father. Even during the military training I didn't know. But when I was at the front line our unit forced villagers to be porters, and when they couldn't climb the mountains they were killed. Then I remembered my father, and realized that he'd been killed by the Burmese army. After that I thought that taking porters is very unfair, and I never beat a porter.232
When villagers fail to arrive for forced labor as ordered, the officers often order the rank and file soldiers to go and round them up. The soldiers are threatened with beatings and other punishments if they fail to bring back the specified number. Soe Naing described what happened in his unit: "If some villagers didn't come the sergeant called the village head and asked why they didn't come, and then the village head had to try to get some people. If he still couldn't get anyone the soldiers had to go to the village and catch pregnant women, old people and others to work."233 When villagers failed to cooperate with Moe Shwe's unit, "[t]hen we beat the woman village head."234 Others testified that villagers were beaten or fined if they failed to finish a job as ordered. When Myo Aung's unit was posted in southern Karen State,
I treated the villagers with friendliness, but the officers used them to get money. If an officer needed something he demanded it from the villagers, and if they refused he threatened them. Then they burned the village. I saw it one time. There were about twenty houses there. The village had a Karen name, I can't remember it. I stayed behind at the camp. It wasn't far from the camp. They went to the village to demand porters and they fired into the air, the villagers ran away and then they burned the village. It gave me a strange unhappy feeling.235
Even though Myo Chit was quite small physically at the time, by the time he was fourteen years old he had already gained a lot of experience rounding up villagers for forced labor as porters:
We had to gather porters in the IB 54 battalion compound at Loikaw, then give them to other battalions. At night we went into town and captured them everywhere, or we took a truck to a village and captured them. Sometimes they refused so we beat them. I didn't beat them with my fists, I used my rifle butt. I hit a man twenty-seven or twenty-eight years old one time. I felt unhappy about it, but I had my commander's order. We were ordered to get as many as we could. We could get fifty or sixty a night. We went every night, and then when another battalion needed one hundred or two hundred porters we sent them.
When he was asked how a boy as small as himself was able to catch so many big men, he answered, "Because I had a weapon. I threatened to shoot them." He then admitted that he was quite proud of himself and his unit when they came back with a lot of porters.236
Child soldiers are also forced to take part in the destruction of villages in areas where the army is pursuing a scorched earth policy. From the time of his recruitment at age thirteen in 1995 until he fled the army in late 2001, Moe Shwe says, "I saw it twelve times. There were some Karen soldiers in the village, or if there's a battle near a village we burned the village." When asked if he actually torched houses himself, he answered, "Yes, three times. About two or three houses each time. We had to do it. We were ordered. If not they'd punch me. I felt very sorry and unhappy, because I thought that if my house were burned like this there would be a lot of problems for my family and me."237 As a child soldier Sein Kyi was also involved in the burning of houses from the time he was fourteen, and he described one such incident to Human Rights Watch: "We burned one villager's house when we arrived in Shwe Doh village because we suspected this villager of having contact with the KNU. Our section arrested two villagers, beat them and locked them up because we thought they were connected with the KNU. I think they were ordinary villagers working their fields, because I'd often seen them working in the fields or going to town to buy things for their families. But someone informed our commander, so they were arrested and beaten."238 When he was fourteen years old, Myo Chit's unit was sent to hunt out internally displaced villagers hiding in the forests of Kayah State: "When we saw villagers in hiding we captured them, took them with us and then released them in the morning. Some ran and we tried to catch them. If we caught them we punished them by beating them. I beat them three or four times. Usually I beat only those who could understand Burmese. If they wouldn't answer, I got angry and beat them."239 Few villagers in the hills of Kayah State can speak Burmese, which is why they could not answer; however, Myo Chit may have needed to convince himself that they were Burmese speakers who were being uncooperative, simply in order to justify beating them. Repeatedly forced to commit acts which they know are wrong, many of the young soldiers appear to interpret their experiences in a way that justifies what they are doing. Villages become enemy camps, farmers with machetes become armed rebel soldiers, women and children become the families of the enemy.
Some soldiers interviewed had been forced to participate in extrajudicial executions of civilians, and were clearly still attempting to come to terms with this. The worst cases heard by Human Rights Watch came from Shan State, where the SPDC has forcibly relocated over 1,000 villages since 1997 in an attempt to undermine the Shan State Army (South). Most estimates place the number of displaced civilians at approximately 300,000, one third of whom have fled into Thailand while the others have been crammed into army-controlled relocation sites or are trying to hide in the hills. Several massacres of displaced villagers by the Burma army have been documented by local and international human rights organizations.240 Fourteen-year-old Nyunt Swe was posted to this area in 2000, with Light Infantry Battalion #246 in Kunhing, and remained there until he fled the army at the end of December 2001:
Sometimes when we went to villages we thought people were spies for the SSA so we arrested and killed them. First we made them dig a hole, then when they finished digging we shot them. I saw three people killed like that in 2001. . . . Sometimes when we had duty doing security for convoys, if someone crossed the road we just shot them without asking any questions. I never had to do that. If someone leaves a 1,000 meter radius around their village, the order was to shoot them. I saw people shot about fifteen times. We had to shoot anything alive. I think all of them were civilian villagers, but we reported to headquarters that they were all Shan rebels. Two or three were women, the rest were men. All were adults. Twice I saw a soldier who was sixteen or seventeen kill a man with his weapon. I think they were villagers. The commander ordered him to do it. They captured them and killed them.241
Nyunt Swe was then asked whether he himself had ever been ordered to kill a civilian: "Yes, only one time, and I refused. It was a Shan villager, a man about twenty-six or twenty-seven. The commander said, `That one is a Shan spy.' I didn't believe it. I said, `I'm too afraid to kill him' and I complained, so he beat me with his hand on the back of my head. He was captain Aung Naing Oo. Then he ordered the corporal, `Take him and go kill him.' He hit me once or twice and said, `You're not a man, you're afraid to kill.' It was shortly after I'd finished my training. I hadn't been in fighting yet. I was fourteen."
Khin Maung Than was with the same battalion as Nyunt Swe, having arrived there in 1999 at age eleven. In February 2001 their companies joined for a two-month extended patrol in an area near Kunhing where thousands of villagers had been displaced. Though they both remarked that there were "no villages in the area," this is only because the villages had all been destroyed and their occupants displaced. Nyunt Swe describes what happened to their column one day: "There were about thirty or forty of us patrolling that area. We met the SSA and fought them for about two hours. The Shan withdrew, and we chased them and captured their camp. There were five or six houses there. Not houses, huts. There were ten or fifteen women and children." From his description and Khin Maung Than's, it appears that this was not an SSA camp at all, but a group of internally displaced villagers hiding under the protection of an SSA unit. When the SSA unit fled, some of the displaced women and children were unable to follow. Khin Maung Than says when they arrived at the huts he saw thirty-five bodies, "not in uniform, some were in soldiers' pants but not soldiers' shirts, and some were in civilian clothes," whereas SSA soldiers are almost always in full uniform. Khin Maung Than then went on to describe in detail what happened next:
We captured about fifteen women and children. Some of the women were single, some were married. About five were thirty or forty, and two or three were about nineteen, all women. Three girls were raped. I didn't see it. I was in the shop eating the biscuits. I know because one of my friends told me that some of the soldiers had raped three of the girls.
There were four or five children-three babies and four others who were under eighteen. They took the babies away from their mothers. We gathered them in one place and sent a report to headquarters by radio. The radio operator was a sergeant. The captain ordered him to send the message to headquarters. We reported that we'd captured the women and children. The captain didn't ask permission to kill them, he just reported that we'd captured them and asked what to do. The order that came over the radio was to kill them all. I heard the whole thing. I heard the sergeant say to the captain, "The battalion commander has ordered that all those we have captured be killed." Then the captain said, "All of you have heard the order from the battalion commander. Kill all of them." They took some of the women's clothing and used it to blindfold them. The officer told them, "We'll take you all to our headquarters. We're doing this so you won't know the way or run away." Then they took them away in a line to a little gully some distance away and made them stand in a line along the slope. All the soldiers were guarding them. Then six of the corporals loaded their guns and shot them. They fired on auto. The women had no time to shout. I saw it. I felt very bad because there were all these people in front of me, and they killed them all. Their bodies were left there.
The soldiers were holding the babies and the babies were crying. Two of them were less than a year old, maybe nine or ten months. One was maybe fourteen or fifteen months old. After the mothers were killed they killed the babies. Three of the privates killed them. They swung them by their legs and smashed them against a rock. I saw it.
This account was corroborated in separate testimony by Nyunt Swe. The event clearly had deep psychological effects on both boys, which will be examined more closely in the next section.
Psychological Effects on the Soldiers
When Myo Chit was first captured by a recruiting team at age twelve, he says he already had a vague foresight that "[i]f I joined the army life would change for me. When I was with my parents I never knew about smoking, drinking, gambling. . . . now I know all of these things."242 Though he may have foreseen that life as a soldier would drag down his character, he certainly did not realize that after three months of Ye Nyunt training, five months of military training, and a year in the army, he would be beating villagers with rifle butts and threatening to shoot them as he tried to force them onto a truck to take them as porters for the army. But by his own testimony, this is what he was doing. "At night we went into town and captured them everywhere, or we took a truck to a village and captured them. Sometimes they refused so we beat them. I didn't beat them with my fists, I used my rifle butt. I hit a man twenty-seven or twenty-eight years old one time. I felt unhappy about it, but I had my commander's order. We were ordered to get as many as we could. We could get fifty or sixty a night." When Myo Chit was reliving this he was particularly animated and excited, and he admitted that he felt proud when his unit returned to camp with a particularly large number of porters. Only when directly asked how he felt about treating villagers this way did he express any remorse. In May 2001 he fled the army, but later joined an opposition army because "I like fighting." Now fifteen years old, he clearly has yet to fully confront or resolve the conflict in his own mind about what he did as a Burma army soldier.
The effect on Myo Chit reflects the dehumanizing effect of his training and his time in the army. From their first day at the Su Saun Yay recruit holding camps the recruits are pushed to forget their identity and their humanity. Deliberately cut off from contact with their families, they are treated brutally by their superiors and often prevented from fraternizing even among themselves. After the training they are separated from those they were recruited with and sent off to distant battalions, where they are further brutalized by their commanders and encouraged to view the local population as their enemy. They are threatened against forming friendships with local civilians, and forced to commit abuses against those civilians under threat of severe punishments if they do not obey.
Such experiences can have particular consequences for children, who are more impressionable than their adult counterparts. As was remarked earlier, it is surprising how quickly the youngest soldiers say they adapted to combat. While openly admitting that their first time in battle they closed their eyes and cried, several of them found that by their second or third time in combat they had lost almost all fear, and eventually some said they almost enjoyed it.
Repeated exposure to violence and degrading treatment affects child soldiers' relationships with other soldiers as well as civilians. Moe Shwe was forced into the army at age thirteen, and at age seventeen, "When I was drunk I forced a girl to marry me. A Burmese girl. Her father is a sergeant. She was staying in the camp." In the Burmese context, particularly among soldiers, "forcing" a girl to marry usually means raping her and then either offering or demanding to marry her. At approximately the same time he was promoted to lance corporal, but some junior officers and NCOs who had a grudge against him beat him up so badly that he was hospitalized for a week and had to have his spleen removed. On his return from hospital, he shot dead one of his officers and ran away from the army, leaving his wife and their five-month-old daughter behind. He now assumes he will never see them again, and wants to be a Karen soldier; if he saw his father-in-law during combat, he said, "No problem. I'll shoot."243
Though the child soldiers are gradually drawn in to the web of inhumanity within the army and human rights abuses against civilians, most of them never quite lose the underlying sense that something is wrong. This leads some to run away and others to suicide, but for most it leads to attempts to rationalize their behavior or to distance themselves from things they have done. When asked about things their units did, they openly admit that their entire unit committed abuses but add that they themselves were somehow never part of it.
The testimonies of Nyunt Swe and Khin Maung Than regarding the massacre they witnessed in Shan State reflect the confusion of many child soldiers about their experiences. When Nyunt Swe, who was fifteen when the massacre happened in early 2001, first mentioned the massacre in answer to a question on a different subject, it was to say, "I saw one time when we attacked a Shan camp and we captured some Shan soldiers and killed them. I was afraid to kill them, but the others did it." In answer to the very next question, how many were executed, he suddenly stated, "They were not Shan soldiers, they were the Shan soldiers' families." After answering the next question regarding when it happened, he immediately added, "They were all women and children." In a second interview a month later, Nyunt Swe described the massacre more openly and ended by saying, "I felt sad, because they had done nothing wrong and knew nothing. I would have refused to kill them like that. . . . I was kind to the villagers and I didn't want to kill them. I hated the soldiers when they did these things."244
The testimony of Khin Maung Than, who was thirteen when the massacre happened, is more troubling. The first time he was interviewed he openly brought up the subject of the massacre: "We captured about ten women and children after some fighting with the Shan. The captain with us asked [by radio] for orders from the battalion commander, and the order was to kill them. This is not right, these were women and children. I have a mother, sisters, brothers, and they were like them. They knew nothing about the fighting." Toward the end of this interview he became quite emotional as he worried that "[m]aybe my mother and sister are crying because they don't know where I am or what is happening to me." When interviewed again a month later he described the massacre in much greater detail and quite openly, but appeared to have dissociated himself from it. When the women were raped, "I didn't see it, I was in the shop eating the biscuits." Though he said that he "felt very bad" when he saw the women gunned down with automatic fire, when asked his feelings in looking back on the massacre as a whole he only remarked, "I feel nothing." He claimed that the subject was never discussed afterward within his unit and that he suffered no nightmares as a result; "I felt nothing against my friends because they were just obeying orders. We didn't talk about it." When asked if he would have obeyed if ordered to kill one of the children, he responded, "If you don't follow orders that means you are against your country. . . . If ordered to kill a baby and I don't, I'll be sentenced to death and someone else would still kill the baby. So I would kill the baby." He stated that if he were to meet a relative of one of the women who was killed, "I'd ask him the question, `Why was your relative in that area? Are you a rebel?' We only killed the relatives of the Shan rebels." At the same time, however, he admitted "I feel sad for those who are dead. I don't feel angry with the soldiers who killed them but I feel angry with the person who gave the order to do that." If he could dictate the punishment for that person, "I would give the order to kill him." Later, when asked if he felt regret about the things that his unit did, he said "no." 245
After reviewing the transcripts of both interviews with Khin Maung Than and Nyunt Swe a mental health professional experienced in counseling refugees noted the difference in Khin Maung Than from the first interview to the second. In the second interview,
The subject spoke of the massacre in a calm and sober manner, which contrasts sharply with the information he is relating. . . . Often people suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) portray a detached manner when relating stories of gross violence. There is also a numbing of affect or mood that most patients with PTSD exhibit. Both of these symptoms were shown by the subject, in fact a number of times he said that he felt `nothing'. Given the subject's age at conscription and the events that he has witnessed and been a part of since then, i.e. beatings, killings, rape and massacre, there is little doubt that he has been and continues to be traumatized. The manner in which he answers the questions in the second interview is that of a soldier, not a 14 year old boy ... Though he understands that many things that he is a part of are wrong, he is unable to perceive himself as belonging to those incidents and so sees them from an observer's eye. As is generally the case with survivors of violence and ex-soldiers who may be suffering from PTSD, the ability to appoint emotion to violent events is too stressful (too damaging) to the person's psyche. Extremely violent incidents are often related in a detached distant manner"246
At present neither Khin Maung Than, Nyunt Swe, nor any other of the former soldiers interviewed by Human Rights Watch have any access to counseling to help them overcome the traumas they have suffered through. Instead they must focus all of their energy simply on survival. They and thousands of others forced into the army at an early age will most likely have to live with the aftereffects of their time as soldiers for the rest of their lives.
Desertion and Suicide
The corporal treated us very badly. Cpl. Mya Thwe. He made me carry heavy shells and a big rice pot. That corporal was the only one who beat me, especially when he got drunk. He beat us with sticks and with a gun magazine. If we'd complained then he would only have got angrier and beat us more. He was the same to the villagers as he was to us. When villagers came back from their work a little late and he met them along the way he'd say "Why are you late?" and beat them. He also took the villagers' rice and whisky without paying when they weren't home.
-Thein Oo, who volunteered at fourteen, describing why he decided to run away from his army unit three years later, in 2001247
Many soldiers eventually find life in the army unbearable. For some it is the constant abuse and exploitation by their commanders. For others, it is witnessing the brutal treatment of villagers who remind them of their own families, or simply missing their own homes and parents. When asked why they fled the army, most deserters cite a combination of these reasons. As Than Aung expressed it, "How could I be happy? I never wanted to become a soldier. Firstly, I didn't want to be a soldier anymore. Secondly, I saw things like soldiers taking the villagers' belongings, and that made me upset. I didn't want to eat from the villagers' belongings."248 Zaw Moe had his own problems: "I had a problem with my officer. I always tried my best, but he always said `You're no good' and scolded me. If he was angry he scolded me every day. It was the same for the other soldiers. I was sent to Hill 2012 and I just ran away, because the problem with my officer was getting worse, and I thought, `Maybe if I stay longer I'll kill him.' So I took my civilian clothes and ran away to Thailand."249 Hla Thein's reasons were different. Assigned to a special commando unit when he first finished training at age fifteen, he says his commanders were good and his unit had little contact with the civilian population, but after three years of facing combat almost weekly he had his own doubts.
I was very proud, especially since I was the youngest in my commando unit. Especially when we were resting back at our battalion headquarters I was very proud. I walked around like a general. But I often thought I had no future there. Many of my friends and leaders had been killed, and I felt that I'd probably be killed soon too. So I decided to flee. When we were patrolling near the Thai border I fled with one friend and we crossed the border.250
Though many want to flee, they feel trapped. Officers routinely tell their soldiers that if they are caught by resistance forces they will be killed in a brutal fashion. If they flee in areas where there is no resistance, there are army checkpoints everywhere. They also fear that if they flee the army their families will be put under surveillance, and may be interrogated and otherwise harassed. The soldiers also fear what will happen to them if they are recaptured. The SPDC informed Human Rights Watch in writing that "[a]ccording to the article 37 of the Defense Services Act, any person subject to this Act who deserts or attempts to desert the service shall be court-martialed, and on conviction, be liable to suffer the punishment as handed down by the court-martial."251
According to Salaing Toe Aung, "Before killing me they'd send me to prison. They'd kill me or send me to prison."252 Moe Shwe added, "If you just ran away you're sent to prison for three to five years. If you ran with a gun and joined the KNLA you're killed. Whether or not you ran with a gun, if you've joined the KNLA you're killed."253 A common perception among Burma army soldiers is that if a deserter is recaptured in an area where there is no armed conflict he is sent to prison for a term of several years, but if recaptured in a combat zone he may be summarily executed. Many also believe that the punishment is much heavier for deserters who flee with a weapon or for those who flee across an international border. This places them in a dilemma, because deserters who surrender to resistance forces without a weapon are often suspected of being spies for the SPDC (see below).
In some units, however, the commanders are surprisingly lenient with recaptured deserters, and punish them locally without killing them. This may be to avoid the blot on an officer's record that could result from reporting too many desertions to higher authorities, though this soft approach can lead to even more desertions. Htun Htun was with such a unit: "The first time I was caught three days after I ran away and they didn't take any action that time. I was fifteen at the time. I tried to run away six times and was caught each time. The first four times it was no problem, I just had to dig holes and do other work. The fifth time they threatened me and beat me about twenty times, then I was put in jail for twenty-eight days, and beaten twenty times again after I got out. I was about nineteen then. This is the sixth time."254 The sixth time he escaped successfully. In Lwin Oo's unit, where punishments were also carried out locally using the battalion's lockup cells, "[e]ven some sergeants and lance corporals ran away. After they're caught they beat them and then put them in jail, sometimes for fifteen or twenty days, sometimes for three months."255
Some soldiers, however, are beyond the point of running away. Their officers may have crushed their self-image beyond repair, they may have lost all hope in the future, or their fear for themselves or their families should they run away may be too great. The reasons can never completely be known, but these soldiers choose to kill themselves. In most of the cases which were related to Human Rights Watch, those who chose to do so were child soldiers. Moe Shwe, now aged twenty: "Three from my group. They put a gun barrel in their mouths and fired. They were fourteen or fifteen. Three killed themselves altogether, all children. When we were on operations they couldn't climb the hills and their NCOs beat them, so later they killed themselves. It was three separate occasions."0 Others also reported two or three suicides in their units, usually among younger soldiers. Even in Htun Htun's unit, where the punishment for desertion was not very severe, "[s]ix soldiers killed themselves, all at separate times, in Lwin Ba Pa, in the jungle. It was while I was based at Min Done. They were about fifteen or sixteen. They wanted to leave the army but couldn't get permission, so they pointed their guns at themselves and killed themselves. I didn't want to stay there anymore because I was upset by this. But I didn't want to kill myself, I wanted to run away."1
Most of those interviewed found it easier to run away when they were at small outposts in remote areas, particularly in rugged combat zones where they could easily disappear into the forest. Often they discuss it with their closest friends and run in groups of two or three. Fourteen-year-old Khin Maung Than and sixteen-year-old Nyunt Swe planned their escape and then fled one night in late 2001 while Khin Maung Than was posted as camp sentry. Moe Shwe shot dead a junior officer who had beaten him badly, then immediately fled the camp. Sometimes others learn of the escape plan at the last minute and ask to join in, as in the case of Sein Kyi: "Three of us were talking. A lance corporal asked what we were talking about. He said he wouldn't tell the commander, so we told him `We're going to take our weapons and surrender to the KNU.' He said, `I want to join you.' So the four of us ran."2 For many soldiers the idea of escape is something that never seems possible until an opportunity suddenly presents itself, and they take it.
When fifteen-year-old Myo Chit deserted in Kayah State in May 2001, "three of us ran away with four weapons. Within a few minutes they knew. They followed and tried to catch us and there was fighting, they shot at us. We shot back. No one was hit on our side, but I heard the sound of someone crying out on the other side. We had a BA93 heavy weapon [a grenade launcher] so they were afraid to follow us, and we escaped and found the Karenni Army in the next village."3 Others also had to fight battles with their former comrades in order to make good their escape. After his escape Thein Oo was hidden by Karenni villagers who informed him that "[w]hen I was hiding in the jungle, my unit followed and told the villagers, `If you see a Burmese soldier with a weapon, kill him and bring us the weapon.' But the villagers gave me food and took me to the KNPP."4 This is consistent with the text of a Burmese language order document supplied to Human Rights Watch by the Karen Human Rights Group. Reportedly received by a village head in central Karen State in March 2000, the text of the stamped and signed order states:
1) If one or two of our army people run away from the column company and arrive at the village, reassure them and coax them nicely, then when they aren't looking beat them until they lose consciousness. Then give their weapons to the nearest column. When you are doing this, if the soldier dies, we won't take action and we will even give you a reward.
2) If you do not follow and carry out as specified above, we will designate the village as being in contact with rebels and take serious action under articles of the law. Moreover, we will take action up to and including the destruction and relocation of the village. Letting you know and informing you.5
Human Rights Watch also received reports that in some areas of Karen State villages have been heavily fined and otherwise punished on suspicion of having harbored and aided deserters, even though in many cases these villages had never seen the deserters in question.
Even soldiers who fled largely because they missed their families told Human Rights Watch that once they had escaped they did not dare go home for fear of repercussions against family members. As a result many try to flee to other parts of Burma or to neighboring countries. Zaw Moe took the risk and headed home after he fled the army:
I ran away from Arakan to see my mother in 1998. When she first saw me she held me and cried and said, "It's so wonderful to see you." I didn't tell her I'd run away from the army. I just said, "I've come back to find a job here and stay with you." I was in the village for two years. The army never came to look for me. I looked for work in my village but it was very difficult and it wasn't safe for me to stay long in my village, so I joined again. I joined the army again in 2000. I pretended I'd never been in the army before, and they sent me to #9 Training School in Thaton.6
Despite the dangers and difficulties, many of those interviewed felt that the desertion rate is steadily increasing as conditions in the army grow worse. According to Sai Seng, seven of the group of ten who were sent with him to Light Infantry Battalion #256 in late 2001 had fled within three months of arriving there. Win Kyi said that from his battalion, "ten or fifteen flee every month, so about 180 per year. Some are caught, I don't know how many. If the army follows its original rules and aims then there will be fewer runaways."7 Of the twenty-five soldiers at his base camp, Sein Myint remarked that, "[a]bout three of them are planning to escape already, but if there was a good and easy chance then maybe ten of them would run. I already spoke about it with two others."8 Andrew Selth, author of several books and papers on Burma armed forces structure and methods, writes that
[t]he army in particular is facing personnel retention problems, arising from poor man-management, harsh conditions of service and low morale. Losses through desertion have been greatly exaggerated by some observers, but are certainly a much larger problem than in the past. 9
When asked how many of their fellow soldiers, especially the child soldiers, would flee the army if they felt they had a good chance, the interviewees were almost unanimous in saying that almost all would like to escape; Than Aung felt it would include "many, including some sergeants and corporals. Many! I think all of them would run away if they could."10 Sixteen-year-old Nyunt Swe was equally certain: "Many would flee. Even the sergeants. More than half would flee. Most of the soldiers in the battalion don't want to be soldiers, they only stay there because they think of their families [they fear retaliation against their families if they should flee]. I was always looking for a chance to run, even when I first started the training. But it's very difficult."11 Some estimated that one or two hundred soldiers in their battalions have deserted in the past two to three years, and said that their battalions were operating far below full strength because few of them have been replaced. This may result in part from battalion officers keeping the names of those who have deserted on the rolls in order to keep receiving their salaries. However, the higher levels of the army can hardly fail to notice the declining strength of their battalions through desertion.
The Scope of Child Recruitment in the Burma Army
When requested by Human Rights Watch to provide statistics on the number and ages of new recruits for the year 2001 the SPDC replied that such statistics are "not available" and would only state that "the ages of new recruits range from eighteen to twenty-five years."12 All of the testimony and other evidence gathered by Human Rights Watch indicates, however, that large numbers of boys under eighteen are being forcibly recruited and accepted as volunteers to the Burma army. Human Rights Watch did not gather any data regarding the navy or the air force, which are much smaller arms of the armed forces.
A previous study on child soldiers in Burma, conducted in 1995 as a case study for the UN study on the impact of armed conflict on children, estimated that the Burma army included 50,000 children under the age of eighteen.13 The size of the Burma army was then estimated at 265,000, indicating that some 19 percent of the army's ranks were children. Human Rights Watch's research suggests a similar proportion of children in the army. Furthermore, as the size of the army has grown, the overall number of child soldiers has increased proportionally.
Exact figures are not available, but some indication of the prevalence of child recruitment can be found by examining the testimony of the twenty former Burma army soldiers interviewed by Human Rights Watch, who were recruited between 1991 and August 2001 and fled the army between 1999 and March 2002. At every juncture of their stories, such as initial recruitment and detention, their time at the Su Saun Yay recruit holding camp, military training, and each posting during their active service, each of them was asked for their observations regarding how many individuals were under eighteen and under fifteen years old among their group, their section, their barracks, their company, or their battalion, and the age of the youngest boy in each setting. When compiled and analyzed, the numbers they provided begin to paint a rough picture of the army's make-up.
An analysis of the former soldiers' observations suggest that between 35 and 45 percent of new recruits into the Burma army may be under the age of eighteen, and that the proportion of new recruits under the age of fifteen may be as high as 15 to 20 percent.14 On average, the youngest recruits at both the recruit holding centers and the training camps were twelve years of age.15
Reports from interviewees regarding the ages of fellow soldiers in their active duty battalions varied more widely, but suggest that as many as 20 to 30 percent of active soldiers may be under age eighteen.16 The lower percentages of child soldiers at the battalions are due to the fact that many active duty soldiers have been with their battalions for several years, so even though many of them were recruited as children, they age in the battalion and eventually pass their eighteenth birthday. The official term of service in the army is ten years, but all of those interviewed stated that most soldiers are not discharged at the end of that time.
The soldiers' observations regarding the age of active duty soldiers were based on their experiences in battalions in diverse parts of Burma, including Sagaing, Magwe, Pegu, and Tenasserim divisions, and Shan, Kayah, Karen, Mon, and Rakhine states. In total, they served in twenty-eight separate units or battalions comprising more than 3,000 soldiers. If these units are representative of others across Burma, the analysis of the former soldiers' reports suggest that 70,000 or more of the Burma army's estimated 350,000 soldiers may be under age eighteen. Tens of thousands more were no doubt recruited as children over the last decade, but have now grown to adulthood.
The Pyitthu Sit Militia
The "Pyitthu Sit," or People's Army, is a civilian militia force created by the Burmese regime and subservient to the army. Its function is to support the army in local operations, primarily by monitoring any movements of resistance forces and theoretically "defending" villages where there is no Burma army garrison. In addition, Pyitthu Sit units are often taken along by mobile army columns patrolling the area. According to independent Burma analyst and military historian Andrew Selth, the Pyitthu Sit
was created in the 1960s as part of the regime's national counter-insurgency strategy and, by the mid-1980s, consisted of an estimated 35,000 rural villagers. They tended to be poorly trained and armed, however, and were of limited use in any combat role. They assisted with village defense and served as guides and informers.17
The units are primarily formed in villages which are controlled by the SPDC, but which may be near an area of active armed resistance. Some militiamen are given ranks; for example, if there are a total of fifty militiamen within a local group of villages, their leader is assigned the rank of "company commander," and he is the highest local authority whenever there are no Burma army troops around. In some regions the bulk of the militia members are volunteers, but in ethnically non-Burman areas most of the recruits are forcibly recruited on a village quota system. One witness from an area of Karen State just east of Thaton told Human Rights Watch that in his area the quota is usually one recruit per ten houses; these recruits then have to serve for at least one year before being replaced by a new quota of recruits.18 The rest of the village is forced to provide money for the cost of training the recruits, then to provide them with monthly salaries and/or rice afterwards. Training generally lasts from two to six weeks and is provided at a nearby battalion base or army training camp. The militia members are then provided with small arms, usually assault rifles captured from or surrendered by resistance troops. The Pyitthu Sit members are ordered to guard their village and fire on any resistance units which make an appearance. To ensure that they do so, Burma army soldiers are often sent to supervise them; for example, two Burma army soldiers take charge of five Pyitthu Sit members, forming one unit based in a village. In addition, patrolling Burma army columns often pick up two or three Pyitthu Sit members from each village along their way and use them as guides and combat troops; they are taken along for two or three days and are usually placed at the front of the column to trigger landmines and ambushes. As a result, Pyitthu Sit members are frequently killed in combat.
In practice, many villagers and resistance leaders claim that the Pyitthu Sit is not very effective.19 In regions where there is no armed conflict, those who volunteer to join often do so for the opportunity of personal profit, and local Pyitthu Sit units spend much of their time extorting money and goods from the local population. Where no one wants to join and villagers are forced into the Pyitthu Sit, primarily in ethnically non-Burman regions or areas of armed conflict, the Pyitthu Sit members do as little as possible in fulfilling their function, and frequently pass intelligence to the opposition or flee and surrender their arms to resistance groups.20
According to the Directorate of Defense Services Intelligence (DDSI), an arm of the Burma military, there are no longer active people's militia units in each village and the militia's arms have been placed in army stores.21 However, the DDSI's claim that Pyitthu Sit units have been disarmed is contradicted by eyewitness testimony gathered by Human Rights Watch from people who live in areas where the militia operates. A witness from Thaton District in Karen State told Human Rights Watch that in this area, when a family's turn arises to send a Pyitthu Sit recruit for one year they must comply, even if they only have one son and he is under eighteen and in school; the only alternative to sending a family member is to pay approximately 5,000 kyat22 per month to hire someone to go on their behalf. As a result many children are forced into the Pyitthu Sit, and the witness estimated that in the Thaton area two out of every five Pyitthu Sit members are under eighteen years old, with the youngest aged thirteen.23 In Mon State and Tenasserim Division, reports are now emerging suggesting that in some regions the Pyitthu Sit is being reorganized to make it more effective, and that this may be resulting in increased child recruitment. According to information provided to Human Rights Watch by the Human Rights Foundation of Monland (HURFOM), in Mon regions the militia units are beginning to operate on a short-term rotational basis. In early 2002 an order was issued for all village heads in Ye township of Mon State to provide lists of all boys and men aged thirteen through thirty, while a similar order issued in Thanbyuzayat township specified the age range as nine through twenty-five. Afterwards, a few villages in Thanbyuzayat township reportedly told HURFOM representatives that sixty-nine of the boys and men on the list had been rounded up and sent to divisional headquarters training camp #4 at Weh G'Li near Thanbyuzayat for militia training; later others were also rounded up from other villages. HURFOM also reported that in parts of Tenasserim Division all boys and men in some villages have received militia training, after which ten of them at a time must do rotating one-week shifts of militia duties including carrying arms. According to a HURFOM representative, "In February in Ye Pyu township, LIB 282 came and gathered sixty militia and used them with their column for operations against the KNLA and the Monland Restoration Army. I interviewed one militiaman who said he was afraid of being used this way so he fled his village."24 If the Pyitthu Sit is reorganized in this way nationwide, it could result in the forced recruitment and training of thousands of children as armed militia members, and these same children could then be looked upon as desirable recruits for the regular army.
10 Andrew Selth, Transforming the Tatmadaw: The Burmese Armed Forces Since 1988 (Canberra: Strategic and Defense Studies Centre, Australian National University), pp. 49, 75, 97. Martin Smith estimates that in 1995 the Tatmadaw as a whole already numbered 320,000. Martin Smith, Burma: Insurgency and the Politics of Ethnicity (London: Zed Books, 1999), p. 426.
11 Letter to Human Rights Watch from the Permanent Mission of the Union of Myanmar to the United Nations, New York, May 8, 2002.
12 Andrew Selth, author of several books and papers on the Tatmadaw, writes that "the largest number is in the army, which by the end of 1999 had reached about 370,000. There were about 16,000 in the navy and 15,000 in the air force." Andrew Selth, Burma's Armed Forces: Power Without Glory (New York: Eastbridge, forthcoming), pre-publication text provided to Human Rights Watch by the author. Bertil Lintner, author of Burma in Revolt: Opium and Insurgency Since 1948 (Chiang Mai: Silkworm Books, 1999), stated in email communication to Human Rights Watch on May 23, 2002 that he presently estimates Tatmadaw strength at 400,000-450,000. In 2000 the International Crisis Group stated that "[t]he Tatmadaw, now the second-largest military force in Southeast Asia (after Vietnam's), has over 450,000 soldiers, having more than doubled in size since 1988." International Crisis Group, Burma/Myanmar: How Strong is the Military Regime? (Bangkok/Brussels: ICG Asia Report #11, December 2000). In 1998 Jane's Intelligence Review already estimated the size of the Tatmadaw at "between 350,000 and 400,000." William Ashton, Burma's Armed Forces: Preparing for the 21st Century (Jane's Intelligence Review, November 1, 1998).
13 Human Rights Watch has obtained a list of 423 infantry and light infantry battalions, many of which have been checked and verified by independent checks within the country. This incomplete list was created in July 2001, and more battalions have been created since then.
14 All of the human rights abuses mentioned here have been repeatedly documented by Human Rights Watch and many other organizations; see for example the Human Rights Watch World Report 2002.
15 The Conscription Act is Act 7/59 adopted in 1959 and taking effect from 1962; to the knowledge of Human Rights Watch, it has not been repealed.
16 Letter to Human Rights Watch from the Permanent Mission of the Union of Myanmar to the United Nations, New York, May 8, 2002. The claim that eighteen is the minimum age for recruitment was also stated twice by SLORC/SPDC representatives to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, at its 358th session in 1997 and 359th session in 1998; see United Nations documents number CRC/C/SR358, note 23, and CRC/C/SR359, paragraph 19. The SPDC informed Human Rights Watch in writing on July 17, 2002 that under Article 65 of the Defense Services Act, the punishment for recruiting children is a court-martial that may hand down a sentence of up to seven years of imprisonment.
17 Human Rights Watch interview with Sein Kyi, Thailand, May 2002.
18 See for example Karen Human Rights Group, Abuse Under Orders: The SPDC and DKBA Armies Through the Eyes of their Soldiers (Thailand: KHRG 2001), p. 11.
19 Andrew Selth, Burma's Armed Forces: Power Without Glory (New York: Eastbridge, forthcoming), prepublication text provided to Human Rights Watch by the author. See also the Deployment and Active Duty section later in this report.
20 Human Rights Watch interview in Shan State, Burma, March 2002.
21 Human Rights Watch interview with Myo Aung, Thailand, March 2002.
22 This is U.S.$2,500 to $3,333 at the official rate of six kyat to the dollar or U.S.$17.65 to $23.53 at the more commonly used market rate, presently about 850 kyat to the dollar. This represents anywhere from two to six months' income for an average person.
23 Ministry of Education, the Government of the Union of Myanmar, Education in Myanmar (August 2001), p. 5.
24 Data from the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey 2000, conducted jointly by the SPDC Department of Health Planning in collaboration with UNICEF; reported to Human Rights Watch by UNICEF Rangoon in July 2002.
25 Data from the SPDC Department of Labour and UNFPA as reported in the Handbook on Human Resources Development Indicators 2000; reported to Human Rights Watch by UNICEF Rangoon in July 2002.
26 UNICEF Rangoon statement sent to Human Rights Watch by email on July 25, 2002.
27 Human Rights Watch interview with Aung Htun, Thailand, March 2002.
28 Human Rights Watch interview with Sein Kyi, Thailand, May 2002.
29 Human Rights Watch interview with Khin Maung Than, Thailand, March 2002.
30 Human Rights Watch interview with Salaing Toe Aung, Thailand, March 2002.
31 Human Rights Watch interview with Nyunt Swe, Thailand, March 2002.
32 Human Rights Watch interview with Myo Chit, Thailand, March 2002. Myo Chit's older brother had also been forced into the army at age fifteen or sixteen.
33 Human Rights Watch interview with Zaw Moe, Thailand, March 2002.
34 Human Rights Watch interview with Thein Oo, Thailand, March 2002.
35 Letter to Human Rights Watch from the Permanent Mission of the Union of Myanmar to the United Nations, New York, May 8, 2002.
36 Human Rights Watch interview with Aung Htun, Thailand, March 2002.
37 Human Rights Watch interview with Moe Shwe, Thailand, March 2002.
38 Human Rights Watch interview with Sein Kyi, Thailand, May 2002.
39 Human Rights Watch interview with Than Aung, Thailand, May 2002.
40 Human Rights Watch interview with Myo Chit, Thailand, March 2002.
41 Interview with Sai Seng submitted to Human Rights Watch by Karen Human Rights Group, Karen State, Burma, March 2002. Five to ten thousand kyat is U.S.$833 to $1,666 at the official rate of six kyat to the U.S. dollar, or U.S.$5.88 to $11.76 at market rate, presently about 850 kyat to the dollar. An army private's monthly salary is 4,500 kyat.
42 Human Rights Watch interview with Khin Maung Than, Thailand, March 2002.
43 Human Rights Foundation of Monland, Burma's Women And Children: The Suffering And Survival (Thailand: HURFOM, March 2002), p. 61.
44 Human Rights Watch interview with Moe Shwe, Thailand, March 2002.
45 Human Rights Watch interview with Lwin Oo, Shan State, Burma, March 2002.
46 Human Rights Watch interview with Myo Aung, Thailand, March 2002.
47 Human Rights Watch interview with Moe Shwe, Thailand, March 2002.
48 Human Rights Watch interview with Kyaw Nyunt, Thailand, March 2002.
49 This is U.S.$166 to $1,666 at the official rate of six kyat to the dollar or U.S.$1.18 to $11.76 at the more commonly used market rate, presently about 850 kyat to the dollar. This is anywhere from one week to three months' income for an average person; by comparison, an army private's salary is 4,500 kyat per month.
50 Letter to Human Rights Watch from the Permanent Mission of the Union of Myanmar to the United Nations, New York, May 8, 2002.
51 Interview with Sai Seng submitted to Human Rights Watch by Karen Human Rights Group, Karen State, Burma, March 2002.
52 Human Rights Watch interview with a former Buddhist monk in a Rangoon township who is now an independent human rights researcher, Thailand, May 2002.
53 Forced Labour in Myanmar (Burma), report of the Commission of Inquiry appointed by the International Labour Organization under Article 26 of its constitution to examine the observance by Myanmar of the Forced Labour Convention of 1930 (Convention 29) (Geneva, 1998), paragraphs 389-390, pp. 112-113. See also paragraphs 390 through 393 on pages 113-114 of the report for specific examples examined by the Commission.
54 Andrew Selth, Burma's Armed Forces: Power Without Glory (New York: Eastbridge, forthcoming), prepublication text provided to Human Rights Watch by the author.
55 Letter to Human Rights Watch from the Permanent Mission of the Union of Myanmar to the United Nations, New York, May 8 2002. The claim that eighteen is the minimum age for recruitment was also stated twice by SLORC/SPDC representatives to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, at its 358th session in 1997 and 359th session in 1998; see United Nations documents number CRC/C/SR358, note 23, and CRC/C/SR359, paragraph 19.
56 Letter to Human Rights Watch from the Permanent Mission of the Union of Myanmar to the United Nations, New York, July 17, 2002. The document quotes Article 65 as stating that "Any person subject to this Act who is guilty of any act or omission which, though not specified in this Act, is prejudicial to good order and military discipline shall, on conviction by court-martial, be liable to suffer imprisonment for a term which may extend to seven years or such less punishment as is in this Act mentioned."
57 Letter to Human Rights Watch from the Permanent Mission of the Union of Myanmar to the United Nations, New York, May 8, 2002.
58 Human Rights Watch interview with Sein Kyi, Thailand, May 2002.
59 Human Rights Watch interview with Hla Thein, Thailand, May 2002.
60 Human Rights Watch interview with Khin Maung Than, Thailand, March 2002.
61 Human Rights Watch interview with Soe Naing, Thailand, May 2002.
62 Human Rights Watch interview with Htun Htun, Shan State, Burma, March 2002.
63 Human Rights Watch interview with Zaw Moe, Thailand, March 2002.
64 Human Rights Watch interview with Win Kyi, Thailand, March 2002.
65 Human Rights Watch interview with Moe Shwe, Thailand, March 2002.
66 Human Rights Watch interview with Tin Maung, Thailand, March 2002.
67 Human Rights Watch interview with Than Aung, Thailand, May 2002.
68 Human Rights Watch interview with Myo Aung, Thailand, March 2002.
69 Human Rights Watch interview with Salaing Toe Aung, Thailand, March 2002.
70 This is the Captain's real name; he should not be confused with the former child soldier interviewed by Human Rights Watch who is referred to by the pseudonym Htun Htun in this report.
71 Interview with Sai Seng submitted to Human Rights Watch by Karen Human Rights Group, Karen State, Burma, March 2002.
72 About six or seven U.S. cents at present market exchange rate; in Burma this is about one third of a daily wage for a day laborer.
73 Human Rights Watch interview with Kyaw Nyunt, Thailand, March 2002.
74 Human Rights Watch interview with Myo Chit, Thailand, March 2002.
75 Human Rights Watch interview with independent Burmese human rights researcher, Thailand, April 2002.
76 See for example Karen Human Rights Group, The Situation in Northwestern Burma (Thailand, 1996: KHRG), p. 21; Karen Human Rights Group, Interviews on the School Situation (Thailand, 1996: KHRG), p. 2; and related reports by the Chin Human Rights Organization.
77 Human Rights Watch interview with Myo Chit, Thailand, March 2002.
80 From Human Rights Watch interviews with a representative of a local relief and human rights organization working in southern Shan State (Thailand, March 2002), and with former Tatmadaw soldier Htun Htun (Shan State, Burma, March 2002).
81 Human Rights Watch interview with a local relief and human rights organization representative, northern Thailand, March 2002.
82 Human Rights Watch interview with Myo Chit, Thailand, March 2002.
83 Human Rights Watch interviews with human rights researchers from Shan State, Rangoon Division, and Mon State, interviewed in Thailand, March-May 2002.
84 Human Rights Watch interview with Htun Htun, Shan State, Burma, March 2002.
85 Extract from letter to Human Rights Watch from the Permanent Mission of the Union of Myanmar to the United Nations, New York, July 17, 2002. In regard to the Nationalities Youth Development Training School, the statement quoted above continues, "There are in total 17 schools and approximately 600 children enrolled under this programme. They receive free education up to high school. No military training has been provided. After graduating from high school they have the option of joining Nationalities Youth Resources Development Degree College in Yangon and Mandalay to obtain their educational degrees."
86 Human Rights Watch interview with Soe Naing, Thailand, May 2002.
87 Human Rights Watch interviews with Salaing Toe Aung and Tin Maung, Thailand, March 2002.
88 Human Rights Watch interview with Moe Shwe, Thailand, March 2002.
89 Human Rights Watch interview with Aung Htun, Thailand, March 2002.
90 Human Rights Watch interview with Zaw Moe, Thailand, March 2002.
91 Human Rights Watch interview with Myo Aung, Thailand, March 2002.
92 Human Rights Watch interview with Khin Maung Than, Thailand, March 2002.
93 Human Rights Watch interview with Than Aung, Thailand, March 2002.
94 Human Rights Watch interview with Htun Htun, Shan State, Burma, March 2002.
95 Human Rights Watch interview with Khin Maung Than, Thailand, March 2002.
96 Human Rights Watch interview with Tin Maung, Thailand, March 2002.
97 Human Rights Watch interview with Myo Aung, Thailand, March 2002.
98 Human Rights Watch interview with Hla Thein, Thailand, May 2002.
99 Human Rights Watch interview with Htun Htun, Shan State, Burma, March 2002.
100 Human Rights Watch interview with Myo Aung, Thailand, March 2002.
101 Human Rights Watch interview with Salaing Toe Aung, Thailand, March 2002.
102 Human Rights Watch interview with Sein Kyi, Thailand, March 2002.
103 Human Rights Watch interview with Myo Aung, Thailand, March 2002.
104 Human Rights Watch interview with Salaing Toe Aung, Thailand, March 2002.
105 Human Rights Watch interview with Aung Htun, Thailand, March 2002.
106 Human Rights Watch interview with Moe Shwe, Thailand, March 2002.
107 Human Rights Watch interview with Htun Htun, Shan State, Burma, March 2002.
108 Human Rights Watch interview with Hla Thein, Thailand, May 2002.
109 Human Rights Watch interview with Than Aung, Thailand, May 2002.
110 Human Rights Watch interview with Myo Chit, Thailand, March 2002. Fifty thousand kyat is U.S.$58.82 at the present market rate of 850 kyat to the dollar, but in Burma this can be six months' income for an average family.
111 Human Rights Watch interview with Thein Oo, Thailand, March 2002.
113 Human Rights Watch interview with Hla Thein, Thailand, May 2002.
114 Human Rights Watch interview with Khin Maung Than, Thailand, March 2002.
115 Human Rights Watch interview with Htun Htun, Shan State, Burma, March 2002.
116 Human Rights Watch interview with Thein Oo, Thailand, March 2002.
117 Human Rights Watch interview with Than Aung, Thailand, May 2002.
118 Human Rights Watch interview with Sein Kyi, Thailand, May 2002.
119 Human Rights Watch interview with Than Aung, Thailand, May 2002.
120 Human Rights Watch interview with Thein Oo, Thailand, March 2002.
121 Human Rights Watch interview with Soe Naing, Thailand, May 2002.
122 Interview with Sai Seng submitted to Human Rights Watch by the Karen Human Rights Group, Karen State, Burma, March 2002.
124 A list compiled based on testimony of interviewees and human rights researchers is presented in Appendix A For further information on soldier and officer training facilities see Andrew Selth, Burma's Armed Forces: Power Without Glory (New York: Eastbridge, forthcoming), prepublication text provided by the author.
126 Human Rights Watch interview with Myo Chit, Thailand, March 2002.
127 Human Rights Watch interview with Sein Myint, Thailand, March 2002.
128 Human Rights Watch interview with Salaing Toe Aung, Thailand, March 2002.
129 Human Rights Watch interview with Sein Kyi, Thailand, May 2002.
130 Human Rights Watch interview with Myo Chit, Thailand, March 2002.
131 Interview with Sai Seng submitted to Human Rights Watch by Karen Human Rights Group, Karen State, Burma, March 2002.
132 Human Rights Watch interview with Aung Htun, Thailand, March 2002.
133 Human Rights Watch interview with Nyunt Swe, Thailand, March 2002.
134 Human Rights Watch interview with Kyaw Nyunt, Thailand, March 2002.
135 Human Rights Watch interview with Aung Htun, Thailand, March 2002.
136 Human Rights Watch interview with Than Aung, Thailand, May 2002.
137 Human Rights Watch interview with Kyaw Nyunt, Thailand, May 2002.
138 Human Rights Watch interview with Thein Oo, Thailand, March 2002.
139 Human Rights Watch interview with Sein Myint, Thailand, March 2002.
140 Human Rights Watch interview with Khin Maung Than, Thailand, March 2002.
141 Human Rights Watch interview with Than Aung, Thailand, May 2002.
142 Human Rights Watch interview with Than Aung, Thailand, May 2002.
143 Human Rights Watch interview with Thein Oo, Thailand, March 2002.
144 Human Rights Watch interview with Kyaw Nyunt, Thailand, March 2002.
145 Human Rights Watch interview with Hla Thein, Thailand, May 2002.
146 Human Rights Watch interview with Lwin Oo, Shan State, Burma, March 2002.
147 Human Rights Watch interview with Win Kyi, Thailand, March 2002.
148 Human Rights Watch interview with Thein Oo, Thailand, March 2002.
149 Human Rights Watch interview with Tin Maung, Thailand, March 2002. Official exchange rate is six kyat to the U.S. dollar, but the more commonly used market rate is presently about 850 kyat to the dollar. An army private's salary is presently supposed to be 4,500 kyat per month.
150 Interview with Sai Seng submitted to Human Rights Watch by Karen Human Rights Group, Karen State, Burma, March 2002.
151 Human Rights Watch interview with Salaing Toe Aung, Thailand, March 2002.
152 Human Rights Watch interview with Myo Chit, Thailand, March 2002.
153 Human Rights Watch interview with Salaing Toe Aung, Thailand, March 2002.
154 Human Rights Watch interview with Moe Shwe, Thailand, March 2002.
155 Human Rights Watch interview with Kyaw Nyunt, Thailand, March 2002.
156 Human Rights Watch interview with Sein Kyi, Thailand, May 2002.
157 Human Rights Watch interview with Than Aung, Thailand, May 2002.
158 Human Rights Watch interview with Myo Chit, Thailand, March 2002.
159 Human Rights Watch interview with Htun Htun, Shan State, Burma, March 2002.
160 Human Rights Watch interview with Moe Shwe, Thailand, March 2002.
161 Human Rights Watch interview with Sein Myint, Thailand, March 2002.
162 Human Rights Watch interview with Aung Htun, Thailand, March 2002.
163 Human Rights Watch interview with Khin Maung Than, Thailand, March 2002.
164 Human Rights Watch interview with Thein Oo, Thailand, March 2002.
165 Human Rights Watch interview with Lwin Oo, Shan State, Burma, March 2002.
166 Human Rights Watch interview with Nyunt Swe, Thailand, March 2002.
167 Interview with Sai Seng submitted to Human Rights Watch by Karen Human Rights Group, Karen State, Burma, March 2002.
168 Human Rights Watch interview with Tin Maung, Thailand, March 2002.
169 Human Rights Watch interview with Than Aung, Thailand, May 2002.
170 Human Rights Watch interview with Hla Thein, Thailand, May 2002.
171 Human Rights Watch interview with Khin Maung Than, Thailand, March 2002.
172 Interview with Sai Seng submitted to Human Rights Watch by Karen Human Rights Group, Karen State, Burma, March 2002.
173 Human Rights Watch interview with Moe Shwe, Thailand, March 2002.
174 Human Rights Watch interview with Tin Maung, Thailand, March 2002.
175 Human Rights Watch interview with Salaing Toe Aung, Thailand, March 2002.
176 Human Rights Watch interview with Lwin Oo, Shan State, Burma, March 2002.
177 Human Rights Watch interview with Myo Chit, Thailand, March 2002.
178 Human Rights Watch interview with Sein Kyi, Thailand, May 2002.
179 Human Rights Watch interview with Soe Naing, Thailand, May 2002.
180 Human Rights Watch interview with Sein Kyi, Thailand, May 2002.
181 All of these practices have been well documented in reports by local and international human rights organizations. See the 1998 report of the International Labour Organization Commission of Inquiry on Forced Labour in Burma as well as previous reports by Human Rights Watch.
182 Several of the former soldiers interviewed indicated that their battalions based in Shan, Karen, and Mon states and Sagaing division were significantly understrength. This was supported by General Aung Mya, second in command of the Karenni Army, and a Shan State Army (South) brigade commander, both of whom stated that they have observed Burma Army platoons, companies, and battalions all operating at well below full strength. Some independent observers interviewed by Human Rights Watch believed that it is mainly recently-created battalions and those operating in remote areas which are affected. See also Andrew Selth, Burma's Armed Forces: Power Without Glory (New York: Eastbridge, forthcoming), which was quoted on this subject in the introduction to the Burma army earlier in this report.
183 The "Four Cuts" are to cut supplies of food, funds, recruits, and intelligence to opposition forces. This has been acknowledged Tatmadaw policy since the early 1970s, when it was first implemented. The Four Cuts are imposed by burning villages and food supplies in areas where resistance forces are active, forcibly relocating villagers into Burma army-controlled sites, and delineating "cleared" regions where anyone found is considered an enemy and can be shot on sight.
184 Human Rights Watch interview with Than Aung, Thailand, May 2002.
185 Human Rights Watch interview with Sein Kyi, Thailand, May 2002.
186 Human Rights Watch interview with Than Aung, Thailand, May 2002.
187 Human Rights Watch interview with Hla Thein, Thailand, May 2002.
188 Human Rights Watch interview with Aung Htun, Thailand, March 2002.
189 Human Rights Watch interview with Nyunt Swe, Thailand, March 2002.
190 Human Rights Watch interview with Htun Htun, Shan State, Burma, March 2002. Six hundred kyat is U.S.$100 at the official exchange rate of six kyat to the dollar, but only seventy U.S. cents at the present market exchange rate of 850 kyat to the dollar. Salaries were suddenly increased by close to 1,000 percent in mid-2000, and an army private's salary is now 4,500 kyat per month.
191 Human Rights Watch interview with Khin Maung Than, Thailand, March 2002.
192 Human Rights Watch interview with Myo Chit, Thailand, March 2002.
193 Human Rights Watch interview with Sein Myint, Thailand, March 2002.
194 Human Rights Watch interview with Khin Maung Than, Thailand, March 2002.
195 Human Rights Watch interview with Hla Thein, Thailand, May 2002.
196 Human Rights Watch interview with Soe Naing, Thailand, May 2002. He recounted that "Some soldiers broke the rules so they were sent to headquarters. For example, if the construction site [his unit was supervising forced labor on a road projct] is near a village then we're not allowed to visit the village. Then they stayed in jail for several months, depending on their mistake. After Sergeant Win Kyaw raped a woman, he was sent to headquarters and they took his uniform, then put him in a civilian jail."
197 Human Rights Watch interview with Sein Myint, Thailand, March 2002.
198 The official exchange rate for the kyat is fixed at six kyat to the U.S. dollar, but this is seldom used. In the mid-1990s the market exchange rate was 100 to 120 kyat to the dollar, by 2000 it averaged 300 to the dollar, and since the salary increases the rate has plummeted and presently fluctuates between 850 and 1,000 kyat to the dollar.
199 Human Rights Watch interview with Myo Chit, Thailand, March 2002.
200 Human Rights Watch interview with Salaing Toe Aung, Thailand, March 2002.
201 Human Rights Watch interview with Myo Aung, Thailand, March 2002.
202 Interviews conducted by Burma observer and author Dr. Christina Fink also found that leave is uncommon; one of her interviews indicated that "permission for leave was rarely granted. According to Kyaw Win, in his battalion only fifteen to twenty people out of 800 were allowed leave during the one-month rest periods after six months at the frontlines. Kyaw Win said that if you did not send a bribe along with your application for leave, you would be automatically rejected." See Christina Fink, Living Silence: Burma Under Military Rule (London: Zed Books, 2001), p. 147.
203 Human Rights Watch interview with Hla Thein, Thailand, May 2002.
204 Human Rights Watch interview with Khin Maung Than, Thailand, March 2002.
205 Human Rights Watch interview with Soe Naing, Thailand, May 2002.
206 Letter to Human Rights Watch from the Permanent Mission of the Union of Myanmar to the United Nations, New York, May 8, 2002.
207 Interviews conducted by Dr. Christina Fink also indicated that discharge is rare; one of her interviews indicated that "it was almost impossible to resign. Like other soldiers I interviewed, Kyaw Win was unable to leave, even after ten years of service. He had joined when he was fifteen, but when he turned twenty-six and thought about resigning, his superior officers refused to consider it, arguing he could still serve for many more years." See Christina Fink, Living Silence: Burma Under Military Rule (London: Zed Books, 2001), p. 147.
208 Human Rights Watch interview with Moe Shwe, Thailand, March 2002.
209 Human Rights Watch interview with Nyunt Swe, Thailand, March 2002.
210 Human Rights Watch interview with Khin Maung Than, Thailand, March 2002.
211 Human Rights Watch interview with Moe Shwe, Thailand, March 2002.
212 Human Rights Watch interview with Thein Oo, Thailand, March 2002.
213 Human Rights Watch interview with Moe Shwe, Thailand, March 2002.
214 Human Rights Watch interview with Soe Naing, Thailand, May 2002.
215 Human Rights Watch interview with Aung Htun, Thailand, March 2002.
216 Human Rights Watch interview with Sein Kyi, Thailand, May 2002.
217 Human Rights Watch interview with Myo Chit, Thailand, March 2002.
218 Human Rights Watch interview with Hla Thein, Thailand, May 2002.
219 Human Rights Watch interview with Htun Htun, Shan State, Burma, March 2002.
220 Human Rights Watch interview with Myo Aung, Thailand, March 2002.
221 Human Rights Watch interview with Khin Maung Than, Thailand, March 2002.
222 Human Rights Watch interview with an SSA (South) Brigade commander, Shan State, Burma, March 2002.
223 Human Rights Watch interview with Than Aung, Thailand, May 2002.
224 Human Rights Watch interview with Myo Chit, Thailand, March 2002.
225 Human Rights Watch interview with Sein Kyi, Thailand, May 2002.
226 Human Rights Watch interview with Myo Chit, Thailand, March 2002.
227 Human Rights Watch interview with Khin Maung Than, Thailand, March 2002.
228 Human Rights Watch interview with Kyaw Nyunt, Thailand, March 2002.
229 Human Rights Watch interview with Soe Naing, Thailand, May 2002.
230 Human Rights Watch interview with Moe Shwe, Thailand, March 2002.
231 Human Rights Watch interview with Thein Oo, Thailand, March 2002.
232 Human Rights Watch interview with Hla Thein, Thailand, May 2002.
233 Human Rights Watch interview with Soe Naing, Thailand, May 2002.
234 Human Rights Watch interview with Moe Shwe, Thailand, March 2002.
235 Human Rights Watch interview with Myo Aung, Thailand, March 2002.
236 Human Rights Watch interview with Myo Chit, Thailand, March 2002.
237 Human Rights Watch interview with Moe Shwe, Thailand, March 2002.
238 Human Rights Watch interview with Sein Kyi, Thailand, May 2002.
239 Human Rights Watch interview with Myo Chit, Thailand, March 2002.
240 See Human Rights Watch, World Report 2002: Burma (New York: Human Rights Watch, 2002); also Shan Human Rights Foundation, Dispossessed: Forced Relocation and Extrajudicial Killings in Shan State (Chiang Mai: SHRF, April 1998), pp. 5-8.
241 Human Rights Watch interview with Nyunt Swe, Thailand, March 2002.
242 Human Rights Watch interview with Myo Chit, Thailand, March 2002.
243 Human Rights Watch interview with Moe Shwe, Thailand, March 2002.
244 Human Rights Watch interviews with Nyunt Swe, Thailand, February and March 2002.
245 Human Rights Watch interviews with Khin Maung Than, Thailand, February and March 2002.
246 Letter to Human Rights Watch from a relief and mental health worker with Burmese refugees (who preferred to remain anonymous), May 29, 2002.
247 Human Rights Watch interview with Thein Oo, Thailand, March 2002.
248 Human Rights Watch interview with Than Aung, Thailand, May 2002.
249 Human Rights Watch interview with Zaw Moe, Thailand, March 2002.
250 Human Rights Watch interview with Hla Thein, Thailand, May 2002.
251 Letter to Human Rights Watch from the Permanent Mission of the Union of Myanmar to the United Nations, New York, July 17, 2002.
252 Human Rights Watch interview with Salaing Toe Aung, Thailand, March 2002.
253 Human Rights Watch interview with Moe Shwe, Thailand, March 2002.
254 Human Rights Watch interview with Htun Htun, Shan State, Burma, March 2002.
255 Human Rights Watch interview with Lwin Oo, Shan State, Burma, March 2002.
0 Human Rights Watch interview with Moe Shwe, Thailand, March 2002.
1 Human Rights Watch interview with Htun Htun, Shan State, Burma, March 2002.
2 Human Rights Watch interview with Sein Kyi, Thailand, May 2002.
3 Human Rights Watch interview with Myo Chit, Thailand, March 2002.
4 Human Rights Watch interview with Thein Oo, Thailand, March 2002.
5 Translation of alleged SPDC order document provided to Human Rights Watch by Karen Human Rights Group in May 2002.
6 Human Rights Watch interview with Zaw Moe, Thailand, March 2002.
7 Human Rights Watch interview with Win Kyi, Thailand, March 2002.
8 Human Rights Watch interview with Sein Myint, Thailand, March 2002.
9 Andrew Selth, Burma's Armed Forces: Power Without Glory (New York: Eastbridge, forthcoming), prepublication text provided by the author. In an email communication to Human Rights Watch in mid-July 2002 Selth added that "[t]he increased rate of desertions seems to be prompted by a wide variety of reasons. The harsh discipline encountered, both in the barracks and on operations, is a major cause, but others desert because of victimization by their officers and fellow soldiers, religious or ethnic prejudices, poor living and working conditions, corruption, rejection of the regime's policies (including the brutal nature of its counter-insurgency campaigns), fear of death or injury on operations, home-sickness, illness (malaria is a major problem), and a variety of other more personal reasons. I gather that there is also a great deal of unhappiness in the army over the fact that many soldiers are now obliged to work on infrastructure projects (e.g. road building) rather than military operations."
10 Human Rights Watch interview with Than Aung, Thailand, May 2002.
11 Human Rights Watch interview with Nyunt Swe, Thailand, March 2002.
12 Letter to Human Rights Watch from the Permanent Mission of the Union of Myanmar to the United Nations, New York, May 8 2002. In August 2002 the SPDC submitted a report to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child stating that "there are no children in armed conflict" in any state or non-state army in Burma (Government of Myanmar, Second National Report on the Implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, August 2002, paragraph 67.)
13 See Rachel Brett and Margaret McCallin, Children: The Invisible Soldiers. Save the Children Sweden, 1998.
14 Estimates from all twenty respondents provided a median of 47.5 percent of under-eighteens and a median of 20 percent of under-fifteens at the recruit holding centers. The nine respondents who had been recruited since 1998 and were able to provide estimates gave a median of 43 percent of under-eighteens. At the training camps, respondents estimated a median of 43 percent of trainees were below the age of eighteen, and a median of 15 percent below the age of fifteen. Respondents who had undergone training since 1998 estimated a median of 34 percent of trainees under age eighteen and a median of 15 percent of trainees under age fifteen. The consistency between the reports at the recruit holding camps and the training camps suggest a high degree of reliability for these findings. For these calculations, we used the median (the mid-point of the range of estimates) rather than the mean because the median is less likely to be skewed by estimates that are either extremely high or extremely low.
15 The estimated age of the youngest recruit at the recruit holding centers ranged between nine and fifteen, with a median of twelve years. Responses regarding the youngest trainee at the training camps ranged from eleven to fifteen, with a median age of twelve.
16 Reports from interviewees were based on some units as small as ten persons, to larger battalions of up to 250. Because some soldiers served in more than one unit or battalion, estimates were provided for 28 separate units or battalions. New battalions include a much larger proportion of new recruits, including larger numbers of children, while older, more established battalions are likely to be primarily comprised of older soldiers that have served for years. As a result, estimates of under-eighteens ranged from as low as 3 percent to as high as 90 percent. However, the majority of reports fell between 20 percent and 35 percent, with a median of 30 percent. Because there may be a negative correlation between the size of units and the proportion of child soldiers, we also made calculations excluding units of fifty or fewer soldiers. Of those units with more than fifty soldiers, respondents estimated a median of 22 percent children under age eighteen. Because our data may be idiosyncratic due to sampling problems, in another calculation we excluded estimates of units (of any size) with more than 60 percent reported child soldiers. This resulted in a median of 30 percent of under-eighteens. Estimates of the age of the youngest soldier with each unit ranged from eleven to seventeen, with a median of fourteen years.
17 Andrew Selth, Burma's Armed Forces: Power without Glory (New York: Eastbridge, forthcoming), prepublication text provided by the author.
18 Human Rights Watch interview with independent Karen observer from Thaton District, June 2002.
19 Andrew Selth states that the militias "tended to be poorly trained and armed . . . and were of limited use in any combat role." See Burma's Armed Forces: Power Without Glory (New York: Eastbridge, forthcoming).
20 Human Rights Watch interviews with Karen residents of Karen and Mon States, May 2002; also interviews by the author from 1993 through 2001 with villagers in Karen State, Pegu Division, Mon State and Tenasserim Division.
21 Andrew Selth, Burma's Armed Forces: Power without Glory (New York: Eastbridge, forthcoming).
22 This is U.S.$833 at the official rate, or U.S.$5.88 at present market rate. By comparison, an army private's salary is 4,500 kyat per month.
23 Human Rights Watch interview with independent Karen observer from Thaton District, June 2002.
24 Human Rights Watch interview with representatives of HURFOM and the Mon News Agency, May 2002; see also Human Rights Foundation of Monland, Burma's Women And Children: The Suffering And Survival (Thailand: HURFOM, March 2002), pp. 62-63.