Thousands in Myanmar seeking to leave after junta announces draft

By AFP   February 17, 2024 | 04:59 pm PT
Thousands in Myanmar seeking to leave after junta announces draft
People queue to get visas in front of the embassy of Thailand in Yangon on Feb. 16, 2024. Photo by AFP
More than 1,000 people lined up at the Thai embassy in Yangon on Feb. 16 as young people sought to leave Myanmar after the junta said it would impose military service.

The military said on Feb. 10 that it would enforce a law allowing it to call up all men aged 18 to 35 and women aged 18 to 27 to serve for at least two years as it struggles to quell opposition to its 2021 coup.

The junta faces widespread armed resistance to its rule after seizing power from an elected civilian government, and recently suffered a series of stunning losses to an armed alliance of ethnic minority groups.

The Thai embassy in Yangon has been swamped with young men and women seeking visas to get out of Myanmar since the announcement that the "People’s Military Service Law" would be brought into force.

On Feb. 16, an AFP journalist saw a queue of between 1,000 and 2,000 people snaking through the streets near the mission in downtown Yangon – compared with fewer than 100 before the announcement.

The embassy said it was issuing 400 numbered tickets a day in order to manage the queue.

Student Aung Phyo, 20, told AFP he arrived at the embassy at 8 p.m. on the night of Feb. 15 and slept in his car before starting to queue around midnight.

"We had to wait for three hours and police opened the security gate around 3am and we had to run to the front of the embassy to try to get places for a token," said Aung Phyo, who, like others AFP spoke to, used a pseudonym because of fears for his safety.

The law was authored by a previous junta in 2010 but was never used, and it is not clear how it will now be enforced.

No details have been given about how those called up would be expected to serve, but many young people are not keen to wait and find out.

"I will go to Bangkok with a tourist visa and hope to stay there for a while," Aung Phyo said.

"I haven’t decided yet to work or study. I just wanted to escape from this country."

Kaung Kaung, 22, said all the hotels near the Thai embassy were fully booked with people trying to get visas, and he started queueing at 2 a.m.

"When the security gate opened, we ran like in a marathon. All I could think of was getting a place in front of the embassy and running as fast as I can," Kaung Kaung told AFP.

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