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Facing compulsory military service, Naga youths are fleeing their villages in droves

Imti Longchar
ITC Dan | May 29

Facing compulsory military service under Myanmar’s stringent conscription laws, Naga youths are fleeing their villages in droves, abandoning education and seeking shelter across the border in Nagaland, while some are reported to have joined pro -democracy forces. 

On February 10, 2024, the military junta activated the 2010 People’s Military Service Law, under which men aged 18-35 and women aged 18-27 can be drafted into the armed forces for up to two years. The announcement comes following months of increased fighting with ethnic armed groups and resistance forces sending the military on the backfoot. 

Since the enforcement of the conscription law came into force, reports indicate that hundreds of youths have left their village, school and families.

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Another taken from India side displays, ‘You Are Now Leaving India. (Morung Photo)

The pressure to join the military has led many to flee, with a significant number arriving in Noklak district with the International Trade Centre, Dan as transit point. 

Once across the border, many embark on journeys to Tuensang, Dimapur, Kohima and other districts, desperate to find jobs or continue their education. The exact numbers are difficult to confirm due to the fluid and secretive nature of their movements.

Two 17-year-old Naga boys only recently left their schooling in Lahe township, under the Naga Self-Administered Zone of Myanmar (NSAZ), and took refuge in International Trade Centre (ITC) Dan, under Pangsha in Noklak district.  

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A pillar separating India and Myanmar border at ITC Dan. (Morung Photo)

Though not eligible under the conscription law, going by their age, the two boys, who were studying in Class 7 & 8, said they quit school at Lahe township after hearing reports that the military were forcefully recruiting “even the minors.”

“We feel a huge sense of relief to have left Myanmar. A lot like us have fled Myanmar. We are afraid to go back because we don’t want to go to war,” one of the boys shared. 

There are reports from villages that many have joined the military and undergoing a two-month training after which they will be unceremoniously send to the warzone. 

In Shiplu village which also falls under Lahe township, a Naga youth was allegedly taken away  forcibly by the military to be enlisted when he took his ailing father to Hkhamti for treatment. 

Informing this, a man hailing from the same village, who had come to ITC Dan to buy supplies, said the poor father eventually had to call the villagers to carry him back. 

In Leshe township, 18 Naga youths were reportedly rounded up by the district administration acting on the directives of the military. 

They were released after the community protested against the action, revealed a Myanmar Naga man, who aligns with the Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy Party, and taking refuge in Nagaland. 

He informed that the military have already dispatched the first list of the names of youths to be enlisted in the armed forces from the NSAZ. The military are asking at least 5000 men to be enlisted, as first batch, from the NSAZ, he further claimed.

Lottery system, constant fear 
Almost all Naga villages have received the first list of names to be enlisted from the military office in Lahe township. 

Naga villages in Myanmar nearest to the Indian side of the border- Pounyu and Woilan Kingphu have reportedly received a list of 85 and 25 names as first batch for enlistment. 

In a follow-up directive, the villages were asked to enroll all those eligible as per the conscription law.

With constant pressure from the military government to village councils to send in their youths, a Naga village was compelled to introduce lottery system on who would enlist first as nobody wanted to join the military. 

The village council representatives are constantly called down to Lahe township by the military to demand reports and pressurise them, it was learnt.

“Everybody is worried. Nobody wants to stay home. Many have fled to other villages, while some are staying in the jungle,” a man hailing from a village near Lahe informed. 

In Hkhamti township, youths do not go out to buy essentials out of fear that they could be forcibly enlisted by the military, reported said.

Many Naga youths, already wary of the military due to historical grievances and current instability, now face a stark choice- enlist or flee. Some have taken the third choice- join pro-democracy forces like the People’s Defence Force (PDF). 

In a village, around 5 youths voluntarily joined the PDF instead of having to join the military and “fight with our own people.”
One of them has been killed in a battle, with only image of his body send to the kin of the deceased. 

“If it was the military, we would never have known about his death, or his whereabouts,” a distant cousin of the fallen youth noted. 

The villagers are, however, very wary about sharing information on their youths enlisting to pro-democracy groups, with fear of reprisal from the military. “We are living under the jaws of the military, if they come to know of it, we will suffer,” a village council member stated. 

There is already a refrain that if one has to join the armed forces, it would rather be with the pro-democracy forces- “We will die anyway, but at least let’s die fighting for a cause.” 

The Yung Aung-led NSCN(K) group, which opposes the declaration of the conscription law as “illegal and unacceptable,” recently convened a meeting with the village councils and civil society organisations under Lahe township where the aggrieved parties were told not to send their youths to join the military, conscription or not. 

“So far, the military have not used force in the Naga areas to conscript, but if it comes to that, we can expect a mass exodus of Naga youths in Myanmar to the Indian side of the border, especially here in Noklak district,” stated the man from NDAZ, currently sheltering in Nagaland. 

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