31 October, 2007

Report: Myanmar recruiting child soldiers

Report: Myanmar recruiting child soldiers.


BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) -- Myanmar's military government, already under criticism for abuses, is recruiting children as young as 10 into its armed forces, a U.S. rights group charged in a report released Wednesday.

The ethnic Karen's guerrilla army was cited in the report for improving its record on child recruits.

Government recruiters target children because of "continued army expansion, high desertion rates and a lack of willing volunteers," the 135-page report by New York-based Human Rights Watch said.

"Military recruiters and civilian brokers receive cash payments and other incentives for each new recruit, even if the recruit clearly violates minimum age or health standards," it said.
Ye Htut, deputy director general of Myanmar's Information Ministry, said the charges were "another example of biased reporting by this organization, which based its report on the baseless accusations and exaggerated lies of insurgent groups on the border."

Allegations against both the government and the ethnic groups for using child soldiers are long-standing, and have been acknowledged by both sides in recent years as the United Nations has highlighted the issue.

The newest accusations come as at least 70 Buddhist monks marched in northern Myanmar for nearly an hour Wednesday, chanting prayers for the first time since a crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations, two monks confirmed.

They marched without incident, two monks said in telephone interviews, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals. Myanmar's ruling junta faces international criticism for its violent crackdown on peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations last month. Thousands were arrested, and the government acknowledges 10 deaths among the protesters, though critics say the real number might be closer to 200.

The junta has long been accused of other abuses, including brutal treatment of ethnic minority villagers caught up in counterinsurgency campaigns, and the use of forced labor in Myanmar, also known as Burma.

The report "Sold to Be Soldiers: The Recruitment and Use of Child Soldiers in Burma" also charged that ethnic guerrilla groups in Myanmar use child soldiers, though on a much smaller scale than the government. Ethnic minorities along the country's borders have been fighting for autonomy for decades.

Human Rights Watch said recruiters routinely falsify enlistment records to list children as 18, the minimum legal age for service. It cited the case of a boy who said he was forcibly recruited at age 11, though he was only 4 feet, 3 inches tall and weighed less than 70 pounds. According to the report, child soldiers are typically given 18 weeks of military training and some are then sent to combat zones.

"Child soldiers are sometimes forced to participate in human rights abuses, such as burning villages and using civilians for forced labor," said Human Rights Watch. "Those who attempt to escape or desert are beaten, forcibly re-recruited, or imprisoned."

Myanmar's armed forces have had regulations in place since 1973 forbidding the recruitment of minors as well as others forced to enlist against their will, said the Information Ministry's Ye Htut, responding to a summary of the new report.

Enforcement of the regulations was strengthened in 2004 with the establishment of a Committee for the Prevention of Recruiting Underaged Children from Military Recruitment, he wrote in an e-mail to The Associated Press.

"If the authorities find out that a recruit was recruited against his will or he is under 18 years, the responsible personnel will be tried according to the military law," he said.
Between 2004 and August 2007, some 141 minors were dismissed from the military and returned to their parents, and disciplinary action was taken against nearly 30 military personnel for violating recruitment rules, Ye Htut added.

Human Rights Watch said the government committee has failed to effectively address the problem, and devoted most of its efforts to denouncing outside reports of child recruitment.

The report agreed with U.N. assessments that ethnic guerrilla armies, both allied with and against the government, also use child soldiers, though several have taken measures to curb the practice. The Karen National Union, whose military arm, the Karen National Liberation Army, was cited by Human Rights Watch for improving its record, said it punishes officers who use child soldiers.

Burma forces children into combat as adults desert army.

By Peter Popham , Published: 31 October 2007

The Burmese junta is making more and more use of child soldiers, some as young as 10, according to a Human Rights Watch report published today. Finding it increasingly hard to recruit adult soldiers, and trying to cope with high desertion rates and a constantly expanding demand for fighters, army recruiters pick on children at bus and train stations and force them to join up.

The brutal military regime has long been accused of using children to fight the insurgencies and liberation movements challenging the regime on Burma's borders. Last month it drew the condemnation of practically the whole world after its vicious suppression of peaceful protests by tens of thousands of Buddhist monks and ordinary citizens. Soldiers were forced to beat and abuse Burma's highly revered monks and at least one senior officer deserted, fleeing to Thailand because he refused to carry out those orders.

Although the junta set up a high-level committee in 2004, ostensibly to prevent the recruitment of children into the military, Human Rights Watch says it has failed in its aims. "In practice the committee has failed to effectively address the issue," the new report states. Instead it has "devoted most of its efforts to denouncing outside reports of child recruitment". As recently as September, the state-run media announced that the government was working to reveal that accusations of child soldier use were "totally untrue".

But in an investigation conducted in Thailand and China as well as inside Burma, Human Rights Watch not only found that children were routinely inducted into the army, with details of age falsified on the forms, but that children had become an item of trade between recruiters and the battalions, especially newly formed ones crying out for cannon fodder.

The report, Sold to be Soldiers: the Recruitment and Use of Child Soldiers in Burma, found that military recruiters and civilian brokers received cash payments and other incentives for each new recruit, even if he was clearly too young, too light or unwell. One boy told the investigators that he was forcibly recruited at the age of 11, despite being only 4ft 3in and weighing less than 5 stone.

A former soldier called Maung Zaw Ooo described the second time he was forced into the army. "They filled in the forms and asked my age, and when I said 16, I was slapped and the man said, 'You are 18'. He asked me again and I said, 'But that's my true age'. The sergeant asked, 'Then why did you enlist in the army?' I said, 'Against my will. I was captured'. He said, 'OK, keep your mouth shut then', and he filled in the form. I just wanted to go back home and I told them, but they refused. I said, 'Then please just let me make one phone call', but they refused me that, too."

Jo Becker, children's rights advocate for Human Rights Watch, said: "Recruiters target children at train and bus stations, markets and other public places, and often threaten them with arrest if they refuse to join the army. Some children are beaten until they agree to 'volunteer'."
The children typically receive 18 weeks' military training and some are sent into combat within days of being deployed. One former child recruit said he was "about 13" when he first went into combat. "We walked into a Karenni ambush, and four of our soldiers died. I was afraid because I was very young so I tried to run back, but [the] captain shouted, 'Don't run back! If you run back I will shoot you myself!'"

The report says that the majority of Burma's 30 or more non-state armed groups also recruit and deploy child soldiers, "though in far smaller numbers".

No comments: