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I was happy, because I'm a soldier. Once you're dirty you'll always be dirty.

            -Saw Lah Ghay, a Karen soldier

Saw Lah Ghay was forced into the Karen National Liberation Army at age thirteen, and has been pushed back and forth between the Democratic Karen Buddhist army and the KNLA four times since then. Now twenty-two, he recently escaped the DKBA once more and has rejoined the KNLA. His story is not particularly unusual among boys in Burma's combat zones, many of whom become soldiers so young that by age twenty they already feel that there are no other options open to them. This does not prevent them from expressing regret at what might have been. Even Saw Lah Ghay, who claims to be happy as a soldier, says that if he had never been tied up and marched to a KNLA camp that first time, "My life would be very different. If I hadn't been arrested maybe now I'd be a good person. Instead I'm a bad person. It makes me sorry. If I hadn't been a soldier I would have continued and finished high school, then university, and I could have found many good jobs."133

Saw Lah Ghay's regrets are echoed in very similar words by many of the boys who were forced into the Burma army. Khin Maung Than was forcibly recruited at age eleven and escaped the Burma army at age fourteen, and says now that "I am angry at the SPDC. First because they took me away from my family, and second because life as a soldier was very hard for me. If I hadn't joined the army my life would be more comfortable, because I would have an income and my sisters would support me. I'd like to go to school and be educated, and once there is democracy in Burma I'll go back to my mother. I'd like to be a medic. A civilian medic, because I don't want to be a soldier anymore."134 Moe Shwe, now twenty, says that just before being forced into the Burma army when he was a thirteen-year-old Eighth Standard student, "I had an ambition that when I finished Tenth Standard I would go to university and then be a teacher. It would be much better if I hadn't been arrested."135

Many others who had been forced into the Burma army expressed similar regrets about the loss of their education, mixed with even stronger regrets over the total loss of their family lives. Most of those interviewed had not been able to contact their families since the day they were taken by the army, which in some cases was seven to ten years ago. One Burma army soldier told Human Rights Watch that for the whole seven months he was in the army he worried about his family, because before his recruitment "I didn't spend any of my earnings, I gave it all to my family. I didn't go anywhere or do anything, I just stayed with my family and worked to support them. I want to go home, I want to support my family."136 Even after having deserted the army, most do not dare try to contact their families for fear of retaliation by the authorities. Some felt that their families must now believe them dead. Myo Chit, who was taken from his family at age twelve and is now fifteen, said "I keep it out of my mind. I don't want my parents to know I'm alive, because maybe they'll worry about me. Now they've already missed me for a long time, so maybe they don't think about me any more." 137

In most opposition armies soldiers are allowed leave to visit their families, in some cases as often as once per month. Some armies are exceptions, however, and one soldier who ran away from the United Wa State Army because he had not been allowed to see his family for six years feared that "[t]hey must be thinking, `Where is my son? We don't know where he is.'" Even though he ran away with the specific intention of going home, he now feels he cannot do so because it would put his family at risk. He says that he would like to become a Christian pastor but that his education, abruptly cut off when he was twelve, is not enough. Now nineteen years old, he already feels that his opportunities are past.138

The evidence gathered by Human Rights Watch indicates that the percentage of child soldiers in opposition armies who have been forcibly conscripted appears to be lower than in the Burma army. Moreover, while Burma army soldiers report physical and psychological abuse by their commanders and being forced to commit abuses against civilians, members of opposition armies report being on somewhat better terms with both their officers and the civilian population. The stark difference between the way each army treats its people is clearly reflected in the psychological effects on its child soldiers. The effects of the brutal practices within the Burma army have already been examined in more detail in the section Psychological Effects on the Soldiers. The after-effects of the violent abuse and the human rights abuses suffered and committed were less evident in opposition army soldiers than among former Burma army soldiers, but there are also differences between opposition soldiers depending on the treatment they have been given. After a few years in either the Burma army or an opposition army, many child soldiers see no future for themselves other than soldiering. They also lose their sense of identity and self-worth and tend to develop a very negative image of themselves, as reflected in Saw Lah Ghay's statement, "If I hadn't been arrested maybe now I'd be a good person. Instead I'm a bad person." In a more extreme case, an aid worker in Thailand described a fifteen-year-old boy who had been a soldier for several years with the Mong Tai Army and the Shan State Army (South); after leaving the SSA-South he displayed a very tough exterior, until one night he suddenly broke down and ran. A minute later he was found in a kitchen, hacking at himself with a sharp knife and crying out "I'm no good, I'm no good."139 Both of the armies he had served have reputations for being very hierarchical and treating their rank and file soldiers with little respect.


I didn't write them [his family] because if I wrote they would have been very sad for me. I miss them, but I don't want to contact them because my mother suffers from heart disease. They probably think I'm dead. If I go home I'd be arrested because I ran from the battalion, and then my parents will be sad and troubled again. I don't want to bring trouble to my family anymore. I think it's better to stay here in the border than to go back and be arrested in Burma. If I was arrested at home my mother would die.

            -nineteen-year-old Than Aung, who was forced into the Burma army at age fourteen and has not seen his family since.140

At present the Burma army and most opposition armies make it extremely difficult for soldiers to leave, so most are forced to remain as soldiers until their old age unless they run away. For those who do run, there are very few options. Burma army deserters who are caught face jail terms of three to five years, normally followed by conscription back into the army. According to several of those interviewed by Human Rights Watch, if caught in conflict areas the punishment is sometimes execution.141 Some of those interviewed stated that they knew of people from their families or villages who had been imprisoned for desertion, and that some of the recruits they met in the Su Saun Yay recruit holding camp and soldiers in their battalion were former deserters who had been imprisoned for desertion while still children.

The fear of arrest and imprisonment or execution is enough to keep many Burma army deserters from returning home, including nineteen-year-old Aung Htun: "If I could I'd like to, but I can't because my name is on a warrant for running away with a gun, so any authority can kill me now. I can't write to them, because if I write a letter to my mother she will only have more trouble. Maybe she misses me, because I'm the eldest."142 Fourteen-year-old Khin Maung Than believes that "[i]t will be at least ten years before I can go back. If we'd stayed inside Burma [after fleeing] it wouldn't be as bad, but we crossed the border so the punishment would be at least ten years in jail." Now he says he does not dare go home, even though he fears that "my mother and sister are crying, because they don't know where I am or what is happening to me."143 Even deserters who manage to make it home often feel unsafe staying there, as illustrated by the case of Zaw Moe: seven years after he was forced to enlist at age fifteen, he fled the Burma army and returned home in 1998, but after just two years in his village he was so afraid of being captured that he decided to rejoin the army as a volunteer.144

Soldiers who flee opposition armies also face the dilemma of where to go. Most return to their home regions in the hope that their officers will not come to take them back or will not be able to find them. Those who surrender to the Burma army are sometimes imprisoned or executed, though more often they are then pressed to work for the Burma army against their former comrades, usually in small proxy armies such as the Anti-Insurgent Group. To avoid this, many feel that the only safe escape is to a neighboring country. Sai Lone was a seventeen-year-old soldier when Khun Sa's Mong Tai army surrendered in 1996, but when he and his comrades were pressed to join the Shan State Army (South) and continue fighting, he wanted no part of it: "When Khun Sa surrendered I wanted to go home but I didn't know the way, so I decided to go to Thailand. I was afraid, so I took one grenade and carried it with me, and I thought, `If anyone gives me a problem then I can kill myself or throw it.' After I crossed the border I threw it away."145

As already noted, Burma army deserters in regions of armed conflict often surrender to resistance groups. According to accounts given by opposition soldiers and others within various armed groups, most resistance groups interrogate them first, then accept them if their story appears genuine, or execute them if not. Two child deserters interviewed by Human Rights Watch, fourteen-year-old Khin Maung Than and sixteen-year-old Nyunt Swe, were so afraid of execution that when they first met Karenni soldiers they claimed to be villagers who had escaped from forced labor portering for the Burma army. Only under the Karenni Army's initial interrogation did they admit their true status. Several resistance groups claim that the Burma army is sending increasing numbers of "fake deserters" who are actually intelligence informers or saboteurs, and that this is making it very difficult for them to believe the stories of deserters. Surrendering with a weapon generally improves a deserter's chance of being believed. One Burma army deserter who had surrendered to the Karen National Liberation Army without a gun told Human Rights Watch, "There were some KNLA soldiers at a logging company place, and they took me to their camp. They asked a lot of questions. Now I'm kept in a locked place made with wooden bars." He said he had no idea why he was still being detained, but that "[t]hey said they'd release me. There are about fifteen of us in there. The others are drug addicts who used amphetamines, opium or whatever. Some are sick."146 Karen National Union officials later assured Human Rights Watch that this eighteen-year-old had not been sent back into detention after his interview, though no independent confirmation of this was available.

Both the Burma army and most resistance groups are known to routinely execute "prisoners of war" (POWs). Representatives of resistance groups sometimes admit to this, though they frequently complain of the total lack of international support provided to deal with the problem of prisoners of war and the growing burden of Burma army deserters. A Karen National Liberation Army officer interviewed by Human Rights Watch admitted that if his battalion captures Burma army prisoners, "[w]e would ask them some questions and then kill them." When asked whether he believes this is right, he answered, "Yes, because they kill Karens too, both soldiers and villagers."147 Both the Karenni Army and the Shan State Army (South) claim that they simply release POWs, though independent observers are sceptical of these claims. A spokesman for the Karenni National Progressive Party explained the dilemma of the Karenni Army:

How can we care for POWs? In the forest when we captured officers we sometimes shot them dead because they were dangerous to keep. But we have looked at this, and in fighting you kill your enemy, but you shouldn't kill them if they surrender or are captured. I think killing is bad. So we changed and now we treat POWs better. The ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross] is also telling us how to treat POWs better, they tell us the rules which are practiced around the world. We've had ICRC arrange trainings for Karenni Army officers about this. Still, if we catch POWs but have no jail, how can we hold or feed them? So we contact ICRC, but they haven't accepted any yet. We captured a child soldier last year, sixteen years old, he'd been forced into the army at fourteen. We contacted ICRC, they said to contact UNHCR [the local office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees], but UNHCR always said they were "out of town" and wouldn't ever respond, and then ICRC wouldn't discuss it anymore. So we interrogate prisoners and then ask them, "What do you want to do? Go back to your unit, join the Karenni Army, or what?" ICRC told us, "If they refuse to go back to their own unit then they're no longer a POW." I'm confused by this. I think that sixteen-year-old is now in Thailand somewhere, because we couldn't keep him. Some former POWs are now teachers or medics with us, and many go to Thailand.148

When presented with the above information by Human Rights Watch, the ICRC responded that they only use the term "prisoner of war" in the context of international conflicts between states, and that soldiers captured during internal conflicts can only be considered as "persons deprived of freedom due to a prevailing conflict." This excludes them from the protections specified for prisoners of war by the Geneva Conventions. An ICRC representative stated that in such situations the ICRC can do little, though Article Three of the Geneva Conventions allows them in certain circumstances of internal conflict to make an "offer of services" such as to visit "persons deprived of freedom" at their place of detention, and to remind the detaining organization of its obligations to ensure humane treatment of detainees. In the case of Burma's conflict, access to carry out even these services is often limited by security and other concerns, and it is generally not possible to arrange a return home or other solution for detainees. In the case of deserters and others who are not formally being detained, the ICRC says that its options are even more limited and generally no services can be provided, though special consideration is supposed to be given if child soldiers are involved.149 However, options are severely limited by difficulty of access and by the prisoners' and deserters' fear of arrest as deserters or spies should they return home, and Human Rights Watch heard no evidence of any child soldiers being returned home or otherwise directly assisted by the ICRC. UNHCR representatives were also asked to comment on the above information but refused to make any comment on the record on this issue.150

If accepted by a resistance group as a legitimate deserter, former Burma army soldiers are usually fed and cared for and then offered a choice of what they want to do. The main options are joining the resistance, going home, or going to a neighboring country to find work. Those who want to join the resistance are sometimes accepted as soldiers, though most of the ethnicity-based resistance groups are reluctant to accept Burmans, preferring instead to send them to join another group such as the All-Burma Students' Democratic Front.

Some of the Burma army deserters interviewed by Human Rights Watch had been lucky enough to be accepted in schools in resistance areas. Fifteen-year-old Myo Chit said, "[n]ow if I can pass post-ten, I would like to get higher education and become a politician,"151 while seventeen-year-old Thein Oo expressed his ambition that "I want to be a medic. If there's democracy I will go back. I haven't been in touch with my mother. Now I will try to contact her. The best thing would have been just to stay with my mother."152 Hla Thein was forced into a Burma army special commando unit at age fifteen and was already a battle-hardened veteran when he escaped at age eighteen, but when interviewed he had already renounced weapons and joined a local human rights monitoring group on the Burma-Thailand border. After his escape from the army, "[w]hen I arrived at the border I had a chance to read some books. I learned some ideas and decided I don't want to fight with a gun anymore. I will attend human rights training, and now I am already collecting some human rights information. I want to be a human rights reporter. I hope I can improve human rights and democracy in Burma, and I think all of the world should support human rights and democracy for Burma."153

Such educational opportunities in resistance areas are very limited, however, and the majority of Burma army deserters choose to go home or to go to a neighboring country. The resistance groups usually assist with some clothing and a small amount of money and then send them on their way.

Deserters or prisoners of war from either the Burma army or opposition armies who choose to flee into neighboring countries find themselves in an extremely difficult position. None of the neighboring countries (Bangladesh, India, China, Laos, and Thailand) officially recognize refugees from Burma.154 Bangladesh and Thailand are the only countries which have de facto refugee camps. However, the camps in Bangladesh are limited to Muslim Rohingya refugees from Rakhine State, and the camps in Thailand are limited to Karen and Karenni villagers, who are not recognized by the Thai government as refugees but as "displaced persons temporarily fleeing fighting." As a result, access to refugee camps is not available to the vast majority of former child soldiers. If they can reach an office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in a neighboring country they can apply for a "protection document," which is supposed to (but often does not) prevent local authorities from arresting and deporting them. However, most former child soldiers find it too difficult and dangerous to travel to a UNHCR office, and even if they manage to do so their acceptance as refugees is far from guaranteed.155 People who cross the border cannot apply for refugee status at a UNHCR field office, but must journey all the way to Bangkok, Dhaka or Delhi just to apply, a difficult and expensive journey with police and military checkpoints along the way. Applicants must then wait for several weeks or even longer for an interview, followed by several more weeks or longer for a decision-all of this time in an unfamiliar city with no legal status. As explained by a non-governmental organization representative with extensive experience of the UNHCR refugee status determination process in Thailand,

refugee status determination is only done in Bangkok. The question that could be asked is why any refugee would apply to be recognized by UNHCR, when there isn't much that UNHCR has to offer them in the Thai context. It doesn't get them resettlement, it doesn't get them into a refugee camp. . . . It's of marginal benefit to people, and often the difficulties and dangers of traveling to Bangkok and staying here for the several months that the process lasts outweigh whatever benefit they hope to obtain. So it's only a tiny proportion of refugees who ever apply.156

UNHCR-Bangkok claims that "[I]n practice, new arrivals, including vulnerable cases such as former child soldiers, are able to find their way to refugee camps. If UNHCR is aware of cases of former child soldiers, whether or not these individuals are formally recognized and registered, UNHCR explores protection possibilities on an individual basis, depending on needs of the individual i.e.: interventions on tracing, family reunion, foster care, protection and counseling as appropriate."157

However, nongovernmental organizations working regularly with refugee claimants in Thailand are unaware of any former child soldiers receiving assistance or protection documents from UNHCR, either in the refugee camps or in Bangkok. In July 2002 the UNHCR Bangkok office informed Human Rights Watch that "[i]n the last couple of years, there have been no instances in which UNHCR Bangkok was approached by child deserters from Myanmar for RSD (refugee status determination)."158

Thailand is the most common destination country for deserters from the Burma Army and opposition armies, but according to representatives of Karen, Karenni and Shan groups, the Thai authorities have a formal agreement with their SPDC counterparts to hand over any Burma army deserters caught on Thai soil. This agreement reportedly began between local Thai and Burmese army commanders three to five years ago, and was later formalized and made official by the Thai-Burma Joint Border Cooperation Committee, a forum made up of army, paramilitary, police, immigration, and regional government officials from both sides of the border. Local Thai officers do not always follow this agreement, but there have been reliable reports of several deserters being handed back.159

An independent human rights reporter notified Human Rights Watch of a case in 2001 in which four deserters from Burma army Light Infantry Battalion #282 crossed the border into Kanchanaburi province. After going for two weeks without food they began stealing food from local villagers, who then notified Thai authorities; soldiers were sent in and shot all four deserters dead, believing them to be a bandit gang.160

During the research for this report, one seventeen-year-old Burma army deserter attempted to cross the border from Karen State into Thailand, was arrested by the Thai army and disappeared. Though Human Rights Watch was already in possession of a photograph and two recorded interviews with this boy, the UNHCR office in Bangkok flatly refused to investigate the case or even to make an inquiry as to whether the Thai authorities were holding such a person.

The governments of all of Burma's neighboring countries closely monitor the activities of international agencies and nongovernmental organizations, making it very difficult for them to deliver services to people outside of refugee camps. With no recognition as refugees from the governments of their countries of refuge and little or no chance to obtain recognition from UNHCR, former child soldiers have no access to shelter, food support, psychological counseling, or support in contacting their families. Most of them have no choice but to try to survive by doing very low paying work in the illegal labor market. Completely without documents and often disoriented, they are vulnerable to the widespread human trafficking networks in the region, which provide children and women to bonded labor brothels and sweatshop factories.

In 2001 the Thai government began a program to register those working illegally for Thai employers in the border provinces and issue them passes which would protect them from deportation; all those without passes are then to be arrested and deported. The exorbitant registration fees161 and the requirement that registrants must have steady work with a single employer cause most former child soldiers to be excluded, so they now face an increased possibility of forced deportation. According to Karenni resistance representatives, this program forced many Burma army deserters back from Thailand to the Karenni border area, where there are no opportunities for their survival.162 In November 2001 a group of them decided to form the Myanmar Myochit Tatmadaw, or Burma Patriotic Army, and fight against their former Burma army units. The Burma Patriotic Army, which is described in more detail as one of the opposition groups covered above, now has approximately fifty members, most of whom are former child soldiers and several of whom are still under eighteen. After successfully escaping the Burma army and seeking a new life by every means available, this group of child soldiers have found no option open to them but to return to the fighting.

Some international nongovernmental organizations indicate a willingness to help in the rehabilitation of former child soldiers, but they are often handcuffed by the restrictions placed on them by their host governments or by their fear of damaging their friendly relations with those governments. This is even more the case with United Nations agencies. The fear these organizations have of offending their host governments was reflected in October 2001, when none of them reportedly even mentioned the issue of Burmese child soldiers at a conference on child rights in Rangoon. However, this reluctance inflicts a heavy toll on the children of Burma, and it is imperative that international organizations and agencies become more pro-active in conducting advocacy on this issue and in seeking ways to provide services to rehabilitate former child soldiers. In addition, nongovernmental organizations working in neighboring countries should examine ways to help in providing alternatives to children in conflict areas so they do not see soldiering in a resistance army as their only possible future. One such possibility would be the establishment of accelerated primary schools for adolescents from conflict areas who have never been able to attend school. Several resistance soldiers interviewed by Human Rights Watch testified that the main reason they had been unwilling to attend school was that they were already teenagers and did not want to study among kindergarten children; if an accelerated primary school were set up for adolescent boys and girls, most of them could probably finish the six years of primary school in less than three years in the company of their peers, and then be channeled into the regular middle schools.


Right from when they arrested me until now, they have treated me unjustly. At the beginning they told me they would send me home, but when I arrived there they said "It will be better if you join the army", and when I told them I didn't want to join they hit me. Then at the training school I was abused again. They talked about their political objectives and the rights of our own states, and that made me think that what they do to the civilians is not wrong, but when I arrived at the front line I could see that what they do is really wrong. What I'm trying to say is, that what they say and what they do are not the same. In the training, they say we have been chosen by the civilians, and that what they say is for the civilians. But what I've seen is that the things they do are not for the civilians. They are just oppressing the civilians. What they do makes most of the people in the country suffer.

            -seventeen-year-old Sai Seng, who was forced into the Burma army in 2001163

Most of the rank and file soldiers interviewed by Human Rights Watch from both sides of the conflict in Burma showed very little knowledge of the overall political situation or of what it is they are supposed to be fighting for. Most recruits in the Burma army are forced to join, and even those who volunteer usually do so to escape family problems or to earn a salary. Similarly, volunteers to opposition groups that are not fighting the SPDC are often seeking income or authority over other villagers, while volunteers to groups which are still fighting may be seeking personal revenge for abuses committed against their families, or they may simply be seeking a regular two meals a day. When asked why he shoots at Burma army soldiers in full knowledge that many of them are children, a nineteen-year-old KNLA soldier replied, "I don't know if it's good or bad if we kill those kind of people, but they are the enemy so we have to shoot."164 His answer was echoed in very similar words by almost every soldier interviewed from both sides of the struggle.

In contrast, most of the former soldiers interviewed had very clear opinions on the use of children as soldiers. With only their own experience and observations to draw upon and with no prior knowledge of international laws or conventions prohibiting the forced recruitment of children under age eighteen, every soldier and former soldier interviewed by Human Rights Watch, even volunteers to resistance armies, stated clearly that no one under the age of eighteen should be accepted as a soldier.165 While some felt the minimum age should be eighteen, others suggested minimum ages of nineteen, twenty, or twenty-five; one former Burma army soldier even stated firmly that "[y]ou should be about thirty before becoming a soldier. As for me, now I'm twenty but I'm still too young."166 Even soldiers under eighteen who volunteered to opposition armies believed the minimum age should be eighteen or higher, and admitted that they should not have been accepted. Saw Ko Doh volunteered to join the Karen National Liberation Army when he was sixteen, though he feels that "[a] soldier should be twenty years old, but I really wanted to fight the Burmese. I should have been sent back to school, but I didn't want to go. If I'd finished school my life would be better. I have some friends who got more education and got to go to foreign countries, so if I'd finished too then maybe I'd be happier."167 Similarly, thirteen-year-old Saw Plah Htoo has already tried to join the KNLA once even though he believes that people should be nineteen years old before joining. Though he admires his fifteen-year-old soldier friend Saw Tha Si and even followed him to enlist, he confided that "[h]e shouldn't be a soldier. He's too young. He should be a student."168

The soldiers had clear reasons for the minimum ages they suggested. Most felt that boys under eighteen or twenty years old were not physically strong enough for the rigors of military training and the hard life and physical labor required of a soldier. Khin Maung Than, who became a Burma army soldier at age eleven and is now fourteen, said that for himself and other boys under eighteen in the army "It's not good. They are young, so it's very hard for them in the front line. They can't climb the mountains and they aren't strong and fast enough."169 KNLA soldier Saw Htoo Po enlisted at seventeen, but he feels the minimum age for most boys should be "eighteen years, because then you can carry the loads and do the work. If you're under seventeen you can't carry the loads. I think I wasn't really too young, because I can carry the gun and do the work. But if I'd finished Tenth Standard and then became a soldier it would be better."170 After being in the United Wa State Army from age twelve to age eighteen, Aung Kyaw felt that "[i]f you're younger than twenty-five it's not good. When I was a soldier I was too young and I couldn't do all the things I was told to do. I couldn't do some of the heavy work and they beat me once or twice, very badly with sticks. If you're twenty-five you can do everything."171 Some former child soldiers also recognized a need for psychological maturity. After two years in the Burma army, nineteen-year-old Aung Htun concluded that "[a] good age for a soldier should be twenty. If a soldier is too young he doesn't understand enough. They can only follow orders, they don't have the qualities needed to be a soldier."172 Fifteen-year-old Myo Chit, a former Ye Nyunt boy who has already spent three years in the Burma army, also contended that a soldier should be "[o]ver eighteen. People under eighteen don't know about life or the world. Once you're over eighteen you can think better and understand more."173

After suffering as child soldiers in the army themselves, former soldiers repeatedly expressed their view that the use of child soldiers is wrong, and their sympathy for the other children who are still with their units. After saying that he had never seen a soldier discharged from the Burma army before the age of sixty, Sein Myint thought of the child soldiers still with his unit and said, "They don't want to be soldiers, they were forced and they are unhappy. If they remain soldiers until they're sixty then they will suffer a lot of misery and a lot of trouble. It's not good, it should not be this way."174 Though he was not a child soldier himself, Lwin Oo also felt for the children who were in his unit: "I feel upset that they take children to join the military and they have to be away from their parents, I feel sorrow about the children and pity for them. I felt like I wanted to take them away with me if I left, to get them away from there."175 Of the SPDC leaders who allow the forced recruitment of children, one soldier who was conscripted at age thirteen said, "They have power so they just want to abuse it. They're doing the wrong things."176 After being stolen from his parents and six sisters at age thirteen, spending over six years in the Burma army, and leaving his wife and newborn daughter behind when he had to flee his unit, Moe Shwe said he wanted to tell the leaders of the Burma army that "[t]hey shouldn't do it, it's not good. They want more soldiers, but they shouldn't arrest children. They should think how they'd feel if their own children were arrested."177

133 Human Rights Watch interview with Saw Lah Ghay, Karen State, Burma, March 2002.

134 Human Rights Watch interview with Khin Maung Than, Thailand, March 2002.

135 Human Rights Watch interview with Moe Shwe, Thailand, March 2002.

136 Human Rights Watch interview with Salaing Toe Aung, Thailand, March 2002.

137 Human Rights Watch interview with Myo Chit, Thailand, March 2002.

138 Human Rights Watch interview with Aung Kyaw, Thailand, March 2002.

139 Human Rights Watch interview with aid worker, Thailand, March 2002.

140 Human Rights Watch interview with Than Aung, Thailand, May 2002.

141 Human Rights Watch interviews with Than Aung, Moe Shwe, Salaing Toe Aung, Aung Htun, Sein Kyi, and others, Thailand, March through May 2002.

142 Human Rights Watch interview with Aung Htun, Thailand, March 2002.

143 Human Rights Watch interview with Khin Maung Than, Thailand, March 2002.

144 Human Rights Watch interview with Zaw Moe, Thailand, March 2002.

145 Human Rights Watch interview with Sai Lone, Thailand, March 2002.

146 Human Rights Watch interview with Burma army deserter, March 2002.

147 Human Rights Watch interview with KNLA battalion adjutant, Karen State, Burma, March 2002.

148 Human Rights Watch interview with KNPP Foreign Affairs spokesman Saw Doh Say, March 2002.

149 Human Rights Watch interview with ICRC representative, Thailand, July 2002.

150 Human Rights Watch interview with UNHCR representatives, Bangkok, March 2002.

151 Human Rights Watch interview with Myo Chit, Thailand, March 2002.

152 Human Rights Watch interview with Thein Oo, Thailand, March 2002.

153 Human Rights Watch interview with Hla Thein, Thailand, May 2002.

154 Of the countries bordering Burma, only China has signed the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (Refugee Convention), but in spite of this the Chinese government does not accept Burmese refugees. Bangladesh, India, Laos and Thailand have not signed the Convention and have no domestic refugee legislation under which to provide protection.

155 For details on the legal issues affecting deserters applying for refugee status and on UNHCR procedures in such cases, see the Legal Standards section of this report. See also Human Rights Watch, Unwanted and Unprotected: Burmese Refugees in Thailand (New York: Human Rights Watch, September 1998), and Michael Alexander, Refugee Status Determination Conducted by UNHCR (International Journal of Refugee Law, Vol. 11 No. 2, 1999).

156 Human Rights Watch interview with non-governmental organization representative with several years' experience dealing with the UNHCR refugee status determination process, Thailand, July 2002

157 Statement by UNHCR Bangkok in response to email communication from Human Rights Watch, July 17, 2002.

158 Email communication from UNHCR-Bangkok to Human Rights Watch, July 25, 2002.

159 Human Rights Watch interviews with representatives of several non-Burman and Burman armed opposition groups and independent human rights researchers, Thailand, March through June, 2002.

160 Human Rights Watch interview with independent Burmese human rights educator, April 2002.

161 Beginning in September 2001, the registration fee was 3,250 Thai Baht (just under US$100) per applicant for the first six months, plus an additional 1,200 Baht for the following six months. This fee of 4,450 Baht for the year is equivalent to one to three months' full-time wages for most Burmese working illegally in Thailand. Family members of workers are not covered by the registration, and it becomes void if a worker changes employers. Some employers are willing to pay the fee for their employees, but many are not.

162 Human Rights Watch interviews with Karenni Army General Aung Mya and KNPP Joint Secretary Khu Oo Reh, March 2002.

163 Interview with Sai Seng submitted to Human Rights Watch by Karen Human Rights Group, Karen State, Burma, March 2002.

164 Human Rights Watch interview with Saw Ko Doh, Karen State, Burma, March 2002.

165 Human Rights Watch's position is that no child under the age of eighteen should be recruited-either voluntarily or forcibly-into any armed forces or groups, or participate in hostilities.

166 Human Rights Watch interview with former Burma army soldier Soe Naing, Thailand, May 2002.

167 Human Rights Watch interview with Saw Ko Doh, Karen State, Burma, March 2002.

168 Human Rights Watch interview with Saw Plah Htoo, Karen State, Burma, March 2002.

169 Human Rights Watch interview with Khin Maung Than, Thailand, March 2002.

170 Human Rights Watch interview with Saw Htoo Po, Karen State, Burma, March 2002.

171 Human Rights Watch interview with Aung Kyaw, Thailand, March 2002.

172 Human Rights Watch interview with Aung Htun, Thailand, March 2002.

173 Human Rights Watch interview with Myo Chit, Thailand, March 2002.

174 Human Rights Watch interview with Sein Myint, Thailand, March 2002.

175 Human Rights Watch interview with Lwin Oo, Shan State, Burma, March 2002.

176 Human Rights Watch interview with Htun Htun, Shan State, Burma, March 2002.

177 Human Rights Watch interview with Moe Shwe, Thailand, March 2002.

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