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Video Shows Rohingya Forcibly Recruited Into Myanmar Military

Video Shows Rohingya Forcibly Recruited Into Myanmar Military
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Dozens of young Rohingya men ride a military truck on March 9, 2024. (UGC courtesy video)

VOA has recently obtained video footage depicting Rohingya from Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps being trained as soldiers in Rakhine state, the scene of heavy fighting between Myanmar’s military junta and ethnic armed groups.

The footage shows the young refugees armed with weapons and undergoing military training, revealing what appears to be forcible recruitment by the junta. Experts and witnesses say they believe the young recruits will be used as human shields by the junta in their struggle to regain territory lost in recent battles with the Arakan Army in Rakhine.

The Rohingya, a predominantly Muslim ethnic minority group, have faced persecution and discrimination in Myanmar for decades.

Denied citizenship under a 1982 Citizenship Law, they have been subjected to systemic discrimination, violence and expulsion from their homes in Rakhine state, bordering Bangladesh to the north. The military government has long portrayed the Rohingya as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, marginalizing them from society.

The junta, which seized power in a bloody and widely denounced coup just over three years ago, began enforcing a militia conscription law on February 10. Soon after, rumors began circulating of Muslims in Rakhine being arrested and forced to join the military.

Despite the junta's denials, a video released on March 6 shows about 300 Rohingya youths from IDP camps near Sittwe, Rakhine’s junta-controlled capital, being forced to wear military uniforms and sitting in a large warehouse. The video also features the minister of security and border affairs of Rakhine state, Colonel Kyaw Thura, supervising the operation.

300 Rohingya Estimated to Have Been Sent for Military Training
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On March 6, 2024, more than 300 Rohingya individuals were estimated to have been sent for military training and compelled to wear military uniforms. The video captures the visit of Colonel Kyaw Thura, the Rakhine State Security and Border Affairs minister, from the Myanmar junta. (UGC courtesy video)

Amid continuing losses in battles with the Arakan Army (AA), a powerful ethnic armed group based in Rakhine state, “the military junta is attempting to use Rohingyas as human shields for political gain,” said Myanmar's National Unity Government (NUG) deputy human rights minister, Aung Kyaw Moe, in an interview via Zoom. The NUG views itself as a shadow government for Myanmar.

Aung Kyaw Moe, deputy human rights minister of Myanmar’s National Unity Government, speaks with VOA via Zoom on March 8, 2024.
Aung Kyaw Moe, deputy human rights minister of Myanmar’s National Unity Government, speaks with VOA via Zoom on March 8, 2024.

“The military junta, which has been heavily defeated in the battles with the Arakan Army, is using the Rohingya because of the need to reinforce their ranks, and they are taking them from refugee camps where there is no land to run to,” said Aung Kyaw Moe, NUG’s first Rohingya minister.

Arakan Army

The Arakan Army, established in 2009 by Rakhine youth leaders, is a well-trained and well-armed military faction representing a Buddhist ethnic minority. It is part of the Three Brotherhood Alliance, which includes the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army and Ta’Ang National Liberation Army.

The alliance has achieved several major victories against the junta, beginning with the “1027” operation in October of last year in which the junta suffered significant losses of territory and troops.

According to Rakhine observers, there are an estimated 45,000 troops in the AA. The group seeks autonomy from Myanmar's central government in Rakhine state, aiming to “restore the sovereignty of the Arakan people,” according to its mission statement online. The name Arakan is another name used to refer to the Rakhine people.

Fighting between the junta and the AA, which began in November 2023, is fierce. Dozens of Rohingya civilians were killed in January and February during junta attacks, some with heavy artillery, on AA troops based in Rohingya villages, according to local human rights organizations.

Forced recruitment tactics

Local Rohingya sources have confirmed to VOA that approximately 500 Rohingya youths from IDP camps controlled by the Myanmar military have undergone military training, raising concerns about forced recruitment tactics.

"When the military enforced the conscription law, junta commanders visited IDP camps in Sittwe and Rohingya villages around February 11 to 13, areas they had previously avoided,” a young Rohingya man, who requested anonymity for safety reasons, told VOA. "They first consult with camp leaders, then pressure us to take up arms, citing our duty as Myanmar citizens under the conscription law.

“In addition,” he said, "they threaten us that those who refuse to take up arms will face dire consequences."

Since 2017, approximately 1 million Rohingya refugees have been forcibly displaced from Myanmar, seeking shelter in neighboring Bangladesh. Additionally, an estimated 630,000 Rohingyas, designated as stateless by the United Nations, face movement restrictions inside Rakhine state.

"Rohingya, who have endured severe oppression by the Myanmar military, reaching the level of genocide charges in Rakhine state, are now being coerced by the army to join their ranks and confront the Arakan Army as human shields. Young Rohingya from villages are unable to flee to neighboring Bangladesh," said the Rohingya youth.

Several videos have surfaced on social media, revealing recruited Rohingya wearing uniforms and holding rifles riding a military truck and undergoing military training in a field. When VOA checked with local sources, it was confirmed that these events occurred last week near the Rakhine state capital, Sittwe.

Dozens of Young Rohingya Men Given Military Training by Junta
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Dozens of young Rohingya men were given military training by the junta's troop in Sittwe, Myanmar, on March 9, 2024. (UGC courtesy video)

A spokesperson for the junta has not yet responded to questions from VOA about the videos, including one that shows the Rakhine border minister visiting Rohingya while wearing a military uniform.

Consequences of coercion

"Initially, the junta claimed that because the Rohingya are not citizens, they have no reason to give them military training,” Aung Kyaw Moe told VOA. “The junta said that it was fake news, but the videos we received prove that they put the Rohingya in uniforms and give them military training.”

Although the young men are being forced into military service, the videos show them laughing and joking, looking unaware of their situation.

“A Rohingya child who has been locked up in a refugee camp since the age of 6 is now 18 years old. This child does not know what is going on in the outside world,” the deputy minister said. “There are hundreds of thousands of people who have been locked up in refugee camps for years and don't know what's going on outside. The junta knows this and is using it.

“On the other hand,” he added, “among the Rohingya and other ethnic groups, there are leaders who do business with the junta and organize the Rohingya according to their will.”

Historical coexistence

Aung Kyaw Moe also highlighted consultations between the NUG and the Arakan Army regarding Rohingya in Rakhine State.

"The Arakan Army has condemned forced Rohingya recruitment, citing their historical coexistence,” he told VOA. “Historically, the Muslim Rohingya and the Buddhist Rakhine communities have shared a relationship of peaceful coexistence, characterized by mutual respect and cooperation.

“Despite occasional tensions,” he continued, “both communities have often lived side by side, intermingling culturally and economically. This historical bond has been a testament to the resilience of communal harmony in the region."

Holding the junta accountable

"The military junta is the common enemy,” the young Rohingya man told VOA. “Not just for the Rohingya, but for the entire country. We must question why [it] now arms us. The army exploits Rohingya suffering for its gain.”

Miemie Winn Byrd, a former U.S. Army lieutenant colonel and Myanmar-U.S. military relations expert, remarked on the irony that the same army responsible for brutally killing thousands of Rohingya is now arming them as soldiers.

“Today the junta are saying the Rohingya are citizens and should be conscripted into the military, whereas for all this time the junta has said that they are not citizens,” she said in a recent interview with VOA. “This highlights the lack of legitimacy of the current government.

“They do as they please because they are not a legitimate government; they are essentially a group trying to terrorize the country. Therefore, it's not surprising to witness such actions from them, because they are not a professional organization.”

Aung Kyaw Moe emphasized that the junta's exploitation of vulnerable Rohingya violates international law.

“This is inhumane and a clear violation of the provisional measures issued by the ... World Court, which called for the prevention of genocidal acts against the Rohingya minority,” he said.

“The military junta must be held accountable for these egregious violations of human rights and international law."