The Myanmar military, known as the Tatmadaw, dominates the country. Most of the laws are there to keep them in power. Much of the nation’s budget goes to buying weapons and supporting the military. Despite the fact that Myanmar is very poor, the military government has spent billions of dollars on weapons—sometimes from North Korean—and doubled the number of soldiers to 500,000 men and women since the 1990s.

Defense spending: 4.8 percent of Gross National Product (2012). Country comparison to the world: 17. This compares to 25.5 percent of GNP in North Korea, 5.3 percent in the United States and 0.6 percent in Ghana). By some estimates 50 percent of the nation budget goes to defense spending. Myanmar spends five times more on the military than it does on education and health care combined.

Despite reforms in recent years to minimize its presence the Tatmadaw still dominates most institutions and has vast financial interests in Myanmar. But despite being be one of the world’s largest militaries per capita, its ranks are filled with ill-prepared, underpaid recruits. It is also crippled by low recruitment and high desertion rates. Money is scarce, even for the regime's enforcers. Many troops carry only rusting rifles and wear flip-flops.

Bertil Lintner wrote in the Washington Post, “The rise of military power in Burma began soon after the country won its independence from Britain on Jan. 4, 1948. Burma's army was only 15,000 strong then. By 1955, because of an ongoing civil war with communist and ethnically based rebels, it increased to 40,000. The military was already involved in businesses such as shipping, banking and publishing. When the state-within-a-state finally gobbled up the state outright in 1962, it had some 104,000 men under arms. By the time of the 1988 uprising, that number had risen to nearly 200,000.

According to Countries and Their Cultures; Since 1962, the military (the Tatmadaw) has been the dominant political and economic force, with a large proportion of the population serving in the armed forces since the 1960s. In 1985, there were an estimated 186,000 men and women in the military; another 73,000 were in the People's Police Force and 35,000 served in the People's Militia. Reflecting the country's poverty and international isolation, the military is poorly armed and trained. Direct spending on the military declined from about 33 percent in the early 1970s to about 21 percent in 1987, representing less than 4 percent of the gross domestic product. This decline in personnel and expenditure was reversed in 1988. By 1997, the military had grown to over 350,000 and military spending had increased greatly. The military's formal role includes waging war against ethnic insurgents. [Source: Countries and Their Cultures ]

Armed Forces, Numbers of Troops in Myanmar

The Tatmadaw, Burma's armed forces, is composed of three branches, the Tatmadaw Kyi (Army), the Tatmadaw Lei (Air Force), and Tatmadaw Yei (Navy). The government also relies upon a complex array of paramilitary organizations and militias spread throughout the country to enforce its rule. This report focuses on the army, which is by far the largest branch of the Tatmadaw and which recruits and deploys child soldiers in the greatest numbers. [Source: Human Rights Watch, Sold to Be Soldiers, October 31, 2007]

Number of people in the military: around 500,000 (compared 65,000 in Argentina and 3,300,000 in China. The number of troops doubled from 186,000 in 1988 to 350,000 in 1997, giving Myanmar perhaps the largest military in Southeast Asia. Only the armed forces in Vietnam may be larger.

According to Jane's Sentinel, 1998 there were 587,000 armed troops in the Myanmar military, including about 520,000 in the army, 45,0000 in the air force, and 22,000 in the navy. Human Rights Watch reported: “Current staffing levels are unknown. In 2002 the SPDC informed Human Rights Watch that the army, navy, and air force numbered 350,000 men. Independent sources cite similar numbers, although the SPDC's statistics may substantially overstate current staffing levels. The continued creation of new battalions coupled with steady attrition has led to falsified reporting within the army such as under-reporting desertion rates and inflating recruitment figures. What is beyond doubt is that the army is under constant pressure to increase recruiting to fill out new units and offset its high rates of attrition. This results in intense recruitment pressures on officers and units throughout the army and increasing rewards for anyone who can bring in new recruits. [Source: Human Rights Watch, Sold to Be Soldiers, October 31, 2007]

Military Services in Myanmar

“Human Rights Watch reported: “Service in the armed forces is a dangerous and grueling existence subjecting enlisted men to combat, mistreatment by superior officers, low pay, and poor living conditions. Although military salaries have been adjusted on three occasions since 1988, double-digit inflation has rapidly eroded the purchasing power of army salaries. [Source: Human Rights Watch, Sold to Be Soldiers, October 31, 2007 ///]

Military Service: 18-35 years of age (men) and 18-27 years of age (women) for compulsory military service; service obligation 2 years; male (ages 18-45) and female (ages 18-35) professionals (including doctors, engineers, mechanics) serve up to 3 years; service terms may be stretched to 5 years in an officially declared emergency; Burma signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) on 15 August 1991; on 27 June 2012, the regime signed a Joint Action Plan on prevention of child recruitment; in February 2013, the military formed a new task force to address force child conscription (2013) [Source: CIA World Factbook =]

According to Human Rights Watch: The Conscription Act of 1959 states that conscription to the Burma army for a period of six months to two years is allowable for men ages 18 to 35 and women ages 18 to 27. In practice, neither women nor girls are recruited into the armed forces. Despite the Conscription Act, the SPDC maintains that "[t]he Myanmar Tatmadaw (Armed Forces) is an all volunteer army," and that "the minimum age for recruitment into the armed forces is 18 years." ///

Manpower available for military service: males age 16-49: 14,747,845; females age 16-49: 14,710,871 (2010 est.). Manpower fit for military service: males age 16-49: 10,451,515; females age 16-49: 11,181,537 (2010 est.). Manpower reaching militarily significant age annually: male: 522,478; female: 506,388 (2010 est.). =

Expansion of the Military in Myanmar

Human Rights Watch reported: “Following the suppression of nationwide democracy demonstrations in 1988, the ruling military council initiated a dramatic effort to modernize and expand the armed forces. Over the subsequent 19 years, billions of dollars in arms and military goods were procured-defense expenditures in some years came to comprise as much as 50 percent of central government expenditures. To tighten its control over the populace, the Tatmadaw also instituted a dramatic expansion of military regiments and bases throughout the country. Infantry and light infantry battalions tripled in number from 168 to 504. The navy and air force also expanded dramatically, although they continued to comprise a much smaller part of the Tatmadaw. [Source: Human Rights Watch, Sold to Be Soldiers, October 31, 2007]

This dramatic expansion of operational units necessitated a dramatic expansion in armed forces personnel. In 1988 the Tatmadaw comprised fewer than 200,000 soldiers. In the 1990s Burma army doctrine prescribed infantry battalion staffing of 750 personnel; this number was subsequently increased to 826. The army's 504 infantry battalions therefore require over 410,000 soldiers to be fully staffed. The army's numerous auxiliary units such as artillery, armored, signals, engineering, and supply battalions require many tens of thousands more personnel. Statements by senior military personnel in the mid-1990s announcing a targeted expansion of the Tatmadaw to 500,000 soldiers reflect these staffing needs.

Bertil Lintner wrote in the Washington Post, Recent expansion of the Myanmar military has come at a time when the junta has managed to strike cease-fire agreements with most of the country's rebel groups, which, over the past decade, has meant only scant fighting in Burma's traditionally volatile frontier areas. The the military is far better equipped now than at any time in Burma's modern history, mainly due to its massive procurement of arms from China. Chinese fighter planes and frigates and the modernization of Burma's armed forces since 1988 was also intended to ensure the loyalty of the military, without which the present regime cannot survive.

Tatmadaw's Struggles with High Desertion Rates

The Tatmadaw has struggled to meet the challenges of expansion. There are many underage, poorly-trained. low-paid troops in the Myanmar military. Human Rights Watch reported: “The minutes of a high-level SPDC meeting in September 2006 reported by Jane's Defense Weekly suggest that while reported recruitment rates appeared to rapidly increase between 2005 and 2006, average battalion strength had declined to only 140-150 per battalion, largely because of increasing desertion rates and soldiers going absent without leave. The document reported a loss of 9,497 soldiers during a single four-month period in 2006, many due to desertions. In response, Adjutant General Thein Sein called for the army to recruit 7,000 soldiers per month, four times the actual monthly recruitment rate reported for mid-2005 and double the actual rate reported for mid-2006. The staffing crisis has been exacerbated by the army's continued expansion: in the past five years, for example, the army has established at least seven new artillery divisions and several more armoured divisions. [Source: Human Rights Watch, Sold to Be Soldiers, October 31, 2007 ///]

“Human Rights Watch interviews with soldiers who had recently served in the Burma army corroborate these reports. Soldiers consistently reported that battalions typically had 220 to 350 or more men prior to 2002, but that in the past five years staffing levels are more commonly 120 to 220 soldiers in a battalion. Noting that his light infantry battalion in Kayah State had only 150-170 men in 2006 because those who went on leave never returned, Htun Myint added that "I heard that other battalions also have fewer and fewer soldiers because people getting leave don't return, and because new battalions are always being created and the existing battalions have to give some of their soldiers to those battalions." ///

“Former Tatmadaw soldiers also told Human Rights Watch that many infantry battalions are extremely "top-heavy," with more officers and non-commissioned officers than privates. Some of them said there were 20 to 50 amputees still held in their battalion to keep up the numbers. They also stated that discharges are never granted even after 10 or 20 years of service unless the applicant can bring in three to five new recruits to replace himself. In one extreme case, a former soldier said that in 2004-05 his infantry battalion had 200 soldiers, but of these 50 were amputees and only 20 were privates: "For example, in Column 2 in the frontline we were only four privates out of two companies, so we were always very tired. Column 2 headquarters had 25 soldiers, including officers and other ranks." ///

“A former battalion commander said: The high ranking officers realized that recruitment by recruiting offices alone was insufficient, so they issued orders that recruitment should also be done as part of each battalion's operations. We had a quota system: we recruit for our battalion and also for other units like the Regional Command. Our battalion was ordered to recruit 12 people every four months. We couldn't meet this quota, so at every meeting they scolded the battalion officers. To solve the problem, battalion officers pressured their junior officers to recruit. We set a rule that soldiers who wanted their 30 days' annual leave must guarantee that they will return with at least one recruit. Any soldier who wanted a discharge after 10 years of service had to get four new recruits for the battalion before we would approve his discharge. ///

Recruiting for the Tatmadaw “All Volunteer” Army

Human Rights Watch reported: “The Burmese government claims that its national armed forces, the Tatmadaw, is an all-volunteer force, and that the minimum age for recruitment is 18. However, Tatmadaw soldiers, officers, and other witnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch consistently testified that the majority of new recruits are conscripts, and that a large proportion of them are children. Since the early 1990s the number of voluntary recruits has been far from sufficient to staff the rapidly expanding Tatmadaw. At the same time the Tatmadaw has been plagued by high rates of desertion. To offset high rates of attrition and to staff new regiments, specialized recruitment units have been established throughout the country, and regular army battalions have also been ordered to fill recruitment quotas. In mid-2006 a senior general called for the recruitment of 7,000 new soldiers a month, four times the actual recruitment rate of a year earlier. Battalion commanders failing to meet their recruiting quotas are subject to a range of disciplinary action including the loss of their command posting. [Source: Human Rights Watch, Sold to Be Soldiers, October 31, 2007 ///]

“The unrelenting pressure to meet recruitment quotas has placed boys at constant risk of forced or coerced recruitment. Battalions and recruiting centers offer cash and other inducements to their own soldiers to bring in recruits, but are also willing to "buy" recruits from civilian brokers and the police. In 2005 the going rate for new recruits ranged from 25,000 to 50,000 kayt-representing one-and-a-half to over three times the monthly salary of an army private. Would-be recruiters watch train stations, bus stations, markets, and other public places, looking for "targets"-the easiest being young adolescent boys on their own. The boys are then induced with promises of money, clothing, status, a job and a free education, or threatened with arrest for loitering or not being in possession of an identity card and offered military service as the alternative, or they may be otherwise intimidated, coerced, or if necessary beaten into "volunteering" for the army. Some boys interviewed by Human Rights Watch told how they and others had been detained in cells, handcuffed, beaten, bought and sold from one recruiter or battalion to another, and eventually taken to the recruitment centers. As this report was going to press in October 2007, Human Rights Watch continued to receive eyewitness accounts of army units recruiting children and transporting them to training centers. ///

“The Tatmadaw operates specialized recruitment units throughout the country that are headquartered in Rangoon, Mandalay, Magwe, and Shwebo. These command units oversee smaller detachments that are spread throughout the country. The No. 1 Tatmadaw Recruitment Command based in Da Nyein Gone, for example, has over 100 subordinate units located across lower Burma. These units are tasked with obtaining recruits directly, as well as collecting recruits obtained by other armed forces units in their areas of jurisdiction. Recruitment detachments, which are often attached to regular Tatmadaw units, act as feeder units that transfer conscripts to one of the four main recruitment holding centers. ///

“In addition to the pressure on recruitment units to fill new battalions and replace soldiers lost through desertion and attrition, the army has assigned recruitment quotas to other army units stationed throughout the country. A former sergeant who served as clerk of his battalion in Rakhine state in 2004-05 explained, ‘The Defense Ministry imposes a quota. Each battalion had to recruit eight new soldiers every four months. For example, if someone requests leave, we'd tell him that if he brings back a new soldier he'll get paid 50,000 kyat, no matter how you recruit him. That money is supposed to be for the recruit but really goes to the recruiter, and maybe he only gives the recruit 10,000 of it. Sometimes it came from the battalion budget, sometimes the battalion commander himself had to put in his own money, because if he didn't send 24 recruits a year he'd be summoned by the regional commander and he worried about that. That is why children are recruited. Sometimes we went to the recruiting centers and bought recruits from them.’ ///

Another soldier who worked as a clerk in the headquarters of a military operations command (MOC) in 2004-05 stated that the MOC's 10 subordinate battalions were ordered to recruit soldiers: ‘Every battalion has to recruit at least two people, so that's 20 from the whole MOC, over a period of one or more months as specified by the orders from above. We sent them to the Su Saun Yay [recruit gathering center] in Mingaladon. They recruit them in various ways-they tell people they can get money or food, or they catch them in train stations or on the streets at night. When they're really desperate they just grab any beggar or any children they see. Also criminals who have been arrested, they tell them "the case is closed" but then take them to join the military.’ ///

Army battalions and recruiting centers use various methods to reach their recruitment quotas. Commonly one or more non-commissioned officers are assigned to find recruits and are rewarded with cash and food for each recruit they obtain. Soldiers are also required to gain new recruits in order to obtain leave or a service discharge. A former sergeant who served as clerk of his battalion in Rakhine state in 2004-05 condemned the most common methods used: "This way to recruit is illegal, but it's still accepted [T]here are ways that the recruiting centers get children, for example by approaching them in train stations, asking for their ID and intimidating them, or saying they'll take care of them." ///

“Battalions may also issue orders to nearby villages to supply them with recruits. According to a health worker from Rakhine state, "Now they have two ways of recruiting: they come to the village and demand a certain number of recruits, or they demand [forced labor] porters and later keep them as recruits. When children go as porters and don't come back, people know they've been forced into the army." Aung Moe, a former Tatmadaw soldier from Rakhine state, added that in recent years SPDC units in Kyauk Phyu township had imposed recruit quotas on local villages. Recent reports from Kachin state indicate that Burma army battalions based there have ordered village heads and other local authorities, including local fire brigades, to supply recruits, and that illegal teak traders have been forced to obtain recruits if they want to remain in business. A resident of Kachin state told us that in her town a local government official notified households that on August 3, 2007 a government order had specified that each town quarter must provide two recruits. ///

“Human Rights Watch has also received reports (which we have been unable to confirm) that some non-state armed groups operating in Shan state under ceasefire agreements with the SPDC have received requests from SPDC battalions to obtain recruits from the areas that these groups control. The majority of forced recruitment, however, is still done by soldiers either on recruiting duty or seeking incentives from their battalions. As noted by Htun Myint, who served as a child soldier until 2006, "When battalions return from the frontline they change into mufti [military jargon for civilian clothing], go to the train and bus stations and catch young people to send to the recruiting center. If they recruit one soldier they can get 30,000 kyat and a sack of rice as reward from the battalion officers. Also, if you want to transfer to another battalion or leave the army you have to get three or four recruits." In 2006 Maung Zaw Oo, 16 at the time, was ordered to accompany his battalion's recruiting sergeant to Yezagyo town to get recruits. He says they rented a hotel room for five days for 10,000 kyat and the sergeant went to the train station every morning looking for recruits.” ///

Human Rights Violations by the Myanmar Military

The Myanmar military government used to have one of the worst human rights records in the world. Human rights groups have accused the regime of using torture, beatings, forced labor, ethnic cleansing, forcibly conscripting adolescents into the army, and confiscating land and property and paying nothing for it. Troops in the Burmese army have been accused of raping women in ethnic minorities and student groups and confiscating livestock, fuel, food supplies, alcoholic drinks, and money from civilians and forcing villagers to work for them with out pay and serve as their porters. There have been reports of Burmese soldiers seizing the vehicles of citizens at will.

Human rights groups have said Myanmar soldiers have committed serious human rights abuses such as extrajudicial killings and rape in campaigns against the Rohingya and Kachin and insurgent groups in the north. The group Partners Relief and Development said the abuses could amount to war crimes.

According to the CIA World Factbook: the Burmese military continues to be the main perpetrator of forced labor inside Burma. The International Labor Organization has reported that in Myanmar’s border regions the military requires farmers to carry supplies, clean barracks and build roads without pay.

Child Soldiers in the Myanmar Army

Human Rights Watch reported: “By the time he was 16, Maung Zaw Oo had been forcibly recruited into Burma's national army not once, but twice. First recruited at age 14 in 2004, he escaped, only to be recruited again the following year. He learned that the corporal who recruited him had received 20,000 kyat, a sack of rice, and a big tin of cooking oil in exchange for the new recruit. "The corporal sold me," he said. The battalion that "bought" him then delivered him to a recruitment center for an even higher sum-50,000 kyat. [Source: Human Rights Watch, Sold to Be Soldiers, October 31, 2007. This report updates the information presented in the comprehensive report "'My Gun Was As Tall As Me': Child Soldiers in Burma," published by Human Rights Watch in 2002. ///]

“When his aunt learned that Maung Zaw Oo had been recruited a second time, she and his grandmother made a long trip to his battalion camp to try to gain his release. The captain of the battalion company offered to let Maung Zaw Oo go, but only in exchange for five new recruits. Maung Zaw Oo said, "I told my aunt, 'Don't do this. I don't want five others to face this, it's very bad here. I'll just stay and face it myself.'" By age 16 Maung Zaw Oo seemed resigned to his fate. When his unit went on patrol, he would volunteer for the most dangerous positions, walking either "point" at the front of the column, or last at the back. He said, "In the army, my life was worthless, so I chose it that way." ///

“In Burma, boys like Maung Zaw Oo have become a commodity, literally bought and sold by military recruiters who are desperate to meet recruitment quotas imposed by their superiors. Declining morale in the army, high desertion rates, and a shortage of willing volunteers have created such high demand for new recruits that many boys, some as young as ten, are targeted in massive recruitment drives and forced to become soldiers in Burma's national army, the Tatmadaw Kyi. ///

On his his initiation to combat one child soldier said, "I can't remember how old I was the first time in fighting. About 13. That time we walked into a Kareni ambush and four of our soldiers died," he told the group, referring to rebels of the Karen ethnic group. He became frightened and tried to run away, but his captain threatened to shoot him if he did, he said.

“For over a decade, consistent reports from the United Nations (UN) and independent sources have documented widespread recruitment and use of children as soldiers in Burma. At the beginning of 2004 the ruling military junta, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), responded to international criticism of its child recruitment practices by establishing a high-level Committee for Prevention of Military Recruitment of Underage Children. However, close scrutiny reveals that the Committee has taken no significant action to redress the issue. Instead, the Committee's primary role appears to be to denounce accounts of child recruitment as false. ///

Disappearances and Rape Under Myanmar’s Military Regime

Many people in Burma have relatives or friends who died from exhaustion, starvation, disease, gang rape and beatings while in police or army custody. There have also been a large number of disappearances. One man told Swerdlow said, "My nephew went to market, and we never saw him again." To destroy evidence the army often cremate their victims, who are not buried in a grave, and destroys their university files. In one case soldiers machine gunned a student and then used bayonets to prevent a funeral service. Upon their release prisoners in the 1990s were told, "You will not be arrested again. If criticize SLORC [the military regime], we will come and kill you." [Source: Joel Swerdlow, National Geographic, July 1995]

The army has been accused of carrying out mass punitive rapes of women, targeting ethnic minorities. A 6-year-old girl who fled from Burmese soldiers and hid in the forest told Refugees International she saw soldiers kill an infant and rape a woman in front of her husband and then killed her by ramming a bamboo spear up her vagina. In many cases the tactics are intended to control and terrorize ethic population and are believed to be to have been carried out in a systematic way. This is in clear violation of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, which Myanmar has ratified.

A report by the Shan Human Rights Foundation and the Shan Woman’s Action Network detailed 173 incidents of rape and other forms of sexual violence, involving 625 girls and women, committed by Burmese soldiers in Shan State, between 1996 and 2001. The report said said that rape was used as a “weapon of war.” A report by Refugees International entitled “No Safe Place” documents 63 rapes among Karen, Karenni. Mon, Tavoyan and Han minorities.

Many of rape victims, including a 13-year-old girl, had been gang raped by soldiers. Many were caught as they fled for refugee camps in Thailand. According to the Refugees International the rapes took place at military bases 20 percent of the time; high-ranking officers participated in a third of the cases; and the perpetrators were rarely punished and when they were the punishments were weak. The report said in some areas 75 percent of the women have been raped or know someone who has and have convincing physical evidence to back up their claims.

Rapes by Myanmar Security Forces in Ethnic Areas

Francis Wade wrote in The Guardian: “At least 13 women, including teenagers, have been subjected to prolonged rape by Burmese security forces in a remote village in the western state of Arakan. Human rights groups have warned that the incident threatens to trigger further violence in a region where several waves of ethno-religious rioting since June last year have killed more than 1,000 people. The women all belong to the Muslim Rohingya minority, which has borne the brunt of fighting between Muslim and Buddhist communities. One victim, an 18-year-old girl who cannot be named for security reasons, described how a group of uniformed soldiers from Burma's border security unit, known locally as NaSaKa, entered her house in northern Maungdaw township shortly after midnight on 20 February. [Source: Francis Wade, The Guardian, February 26, 2013]

"They took us separately to different places and tortured and raped us," she said, referring also to her mother and younger sister, 15. The ordeal lasted until dawn, she said. "They came in and out of the house at least 15 times. They also beat my mother with a gun and dragged her outside to the road and beat her to the ground." According to the victim, 13 people in the village were assaulted. Chris Lewa, head of the Arakan Project, which has monitoring teams in Maungdaw township, said she had separately confirmed that at least 11 people were raped that night.

“The incident comes eight months after the rape of a 26-year-old Buddhist woman by three Rohingya men triggered fierce rioting across Arakan state , and a state of emergency remains in place. Arakanese and Rohingya communities have clashed a number of times. Animosity toward the Muslim group is widespread among Arakanese, many of whom consider them to be illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. "Sexual violence by Nasaka against Rohingya women has been documented for many years," says Matthew Smith, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, adding that prosecutions are rare for rapes committed by security forces.

“Khin Ohmar, founder of the Women's League of Burma, said that such ordeals terrorise the community. "I've heard of cases where rape survivors are kicked out of their village because the village head is so scared of retribution if they complain to the Burma army." She said that incidents like these happen "every time the army moves into remote areas", and that punishment is normally just transferral to another area "where rape continues but with different women". She thinks that the 20 February incident probably had its roots in "ethno-centric chauvinism and hatred" of the Rohingya. Following the attacks, villagers fled into nearby forests and across the border into Bangladesh, said Lewa. The victim told the Guardian that she and the other women had received treatment at a local clinic. The extent of their injuries is unclear, although one 19-year-old woman is believed to be in a critical condition.

Human Rights Violations by the Myanmar Military Against Minorities

The military regime’s campaigns of forced labor and child slavery were most cruelly targeted at ethnic peoples. Brutal military counter-insurgency tactics have including rape, torture and the murder of villagers . The Myanmar military has swept into Karen, Shan and Mon villages and seized people for forced labor. In defending its actions, the Myanmar regime has said it is in a battle against separatists and terrorists.

In October 2007, Human Rights Watch reported: “The Burma army's expansion is ongoing, and Burma army camps are in abundance throughout Burma, even in areas far from any armed conflict. Where there is no fighting, the troops work to restrict the activities and movements of the civilian population and make demands on them for forced labor and money. In areas where there is still armed conflict, the army attempts to undermine the opposition by destroying civilian villages and food supplies and retaliating against the local civilian population every time fighting occurs. Civilians in these areas are routinely forced to work as porters, guides, and unarmed sentries for Burma army units on military operations, and even walk in front of troops in areas suspected of landmine contamination (atrocity demining). Many of them are children, and many are wounded or killed in the process. This direct use of civilian children for military functions has been documented widely by Human Rights Watch and other organizations, and is not covered in detail in this report. [Source: Human Rights Watch, Sold to Be Soldiers, October 31, 2007]

Describing the tactics used by Myanmar military against Karen insurgents, Pascal Khoo Thwe wrote in “From the Land of Green Ghosts,” "People who were obviously civilians began emerging from the jungle into the clearing in which the [Karen] headquarters stood. They came out in pairs, chained together and clearly in a state of abject terror. They were civilian porters, kidnapped like the others we had seen and forced to carry munitions and walk ahead of the troops through minefields ... The first pair stumbled on to a landmine. There was a huge explosion, the dull boom of which echoed through the jungle ... severed body parts - hands, eyes, legs - of the sacrificial victims flew instantly into the air mingled with a cloud of dust. But the chain that bound them was unbroken, so their trunks collapsed on to the ground with a hollow thud, while arms, feet and fingers were scattered among the bushes." [Source: From the Land of Green by Pascal Khoo Thwe]

Minorities Say Myanmar Army Continues to Uses Rape as Weapon of War

Esther Htusan of Associated Press wrote: “A soldier in full uniform saw the 7-year-old in her front yard soon after her parents left to tend to their rice paddies in Myanmar's restive state of Shan. She said he ordered her inside the family's bamboo hut. "He hit me and told me to take off my clothes," the girl told the tightly packed courtroom in a whisper, as her alleged assailant, Maung Win Htwe, looked on, stone-faced. "Then ... he raped me." [Source: Esther Htusan, Associated Press, January 15, 2014]

Rights activists in Myanmar say the army continues to use rape as a weapon of war nearly three years after President Thein Sein's nominally civilian government ended a half-century of brutal military rule. The Women's League of Burma released a report documenting more than 100 rapes, almost all in townships plagued by stubborn ethnic insurgencies. Nearly half were brutal gang rapes, several of the victims were children, and 28 of the women were killed or died from their injuries, said Tin Tin Nyo, the league's general secretary. She warned that there is little hope for change until the government amends Myanmar's constitution, which gives the military the right to independently administer all its affairs. The report said most of the attacks occurred in border areas, particularly in the states of Shan, where the 7-year-old lives, and Kachin. Perpetrators are rarely, if ever, punished.

Though it handed over formal control of the country, the army continues to heavily influence almost all facets of government, and holds a quarter of all seats in parliament. Few prominent officials have criticized the military over sexual violence — not even opposition leader and Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who spent more than 15 years under house arrest under the former ruling junta. Last month, at a press conference in the main city of Yangon, Suu Kyi was asked if she was concerned about the lack of accountability when it comes to the use of rape as a weapon of war. Instead of criticizing generals, she pointed out that insurgent groups also are responsible for sexual violence. "This has to do with rule of law. And that has to do with politics, and the position of the army as it is in a particular political structure," she said. "I think you are well aware of the fact that military armed groups which are not official armies also engage in sexual violence in conditions of conflict." The U.S. State Department said it was aware of the report, and urged the Myanmar government and military to investigate and prosecute all allegations of rape and sexual assault. Spokeswoman Marie Harf said that despite "tremendous progress" in Myanmar in the past three years, "significant challenges remain, including further improving the country's overall human rights situation."

Tin Tin Nyo said the cases her group was able to document are "just the tip of the iceberg." She said the information gathered for the report comes almost exclusively from victims or witnesses dared to speak out, and that researchers were unable to reach some areas because of security concerns. The league's report, compiled by 12 member organizations spread across the country, said in most cases attacks were carried out by soldiers who were carrying weapons and dressed in uniform. They included officers — such as captains, commanders and majors — and at least one major general.

Many of the rapes were carried out in front of the woman's husband or others, seemingly as a way to make communities too fearful to support ethnic militias. "These crimes are more than random, isolated acts by rogue soldiers," the report's authors wrote. "Their widespread and systematic nature indicates a structural pattern: Rape is still used as an instrument of war and oppression."

The report said most cases never make it to court, and those that come before military tribunals usually result in immediate acquittals. The alleged Nov. 11 attack on the 7-year-old is an exception. The soldier accused of raping her, Maung Win Htwe, was ordered to go to trial in a civilian court.

Lawyer Brang Di said the first witnesses appeared at Lashio District Court last week, including the girl, her parents and neighbors in a tiny Shan village near Thein Ni town. Brang Di said authorities agreed to try Maung Win Htwe in a civilian court only after a loud public outcry. "We are trying our best to have a fair judgment," he said.

Weapons and Mines in Myanmar

Myanmar and Russia are the only two countries that are still use mines on a regular basis. Myanmar uses them in its fights against ethnic insurgents, particularly the Karen and Kachin. Myanmar has an unknown number of mines (1996). As of the late 1990s, the Myanmar government was still planting mines along its borders.

Myanmar has less than 40 helicopters and most are small and old, according to "The Military Balance 2008.” The country also has about 15 transport planes but most are small jets not able to carry hundreds of tons of supplies.

Despite sanctions, Myanmar has been able to obtain military hardware from a number of nations, including China, Russia and North Korea. It has also purchased weapons from Pakistan, former Yugoslavian states, Singapore, and Israel. Arms purchases dropped in the late 1990s but rose in the 2000s.

According to the Nuclear Threat Initiative: “Myanmar is a non-nuclear weapon state party to the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), but has not ratified either the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) or the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). Open source evidence cannot definitively confirm whether the country has any programs for the development of nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons. While individuals and groups have alleged on numerous occasions that Myanmar has biological and/or chemical weapons and is developing a nuclear weapons program, these claims have been made by Burmese dissident groups whose assertions cannot be independently verified by credible unbiased sources. Reports from official sources such as the U.S. government do not assert that Myanmar has chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons programs. However, the U.S. government, other members of the international community, and many nonproliferation analysts have expressed concern in recent years about Myanmar’s missile activities, possible interest in a proscribed nuclear program, and enhanced relationship with North Korea. Myanmar’s regime asserts the country has no nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons programs. [Source: Nuclear Threat Initiative, January, 2013]

Myanmar Weapons from China, North Korean and Russia

According to Human Rights Watch, Russia, China, and North Korea continued to sell arms to Burma in 2012, and there are concerns that North Korean sales breached U.N. Security Council punitive sanctions on North Korea passed in 2006 and 2009. In May 2012, Myanmar President Thein Sein told South Korean President Lee Myung Pak that if had purchased some weapons from North Korea over the years but that it would stop doing so. [Source: Human Rights Watch]

Between 1990 and 1995, Myanmar received an estimated $1 billion worth of weapons from China, its closest ally. The weapons included attack aircraft, ships, tanks, helicopters, personnel carriers, and small arms useful in fighting mountain-based insurgents such as rockets, mortars, artillery, assault rifles, grenade launchers, and trucks. Myanmar also bought a battleship. In return for the weapons, Myanmar has reportedly given China access to Burmese ports on the Bay of Bengal and Coco Island near India, one of China's rivals.

Between the late 1980s and mid 2000s Myanmar is believed to have obtained $2 billion in weapons from China. Mark Magnier wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “At the height of Western sanctions against the repressive Yangon government, Myanmar air force pilots traveled to China's Shaanxi province in the mid-1990s for training on recently acquired A-5 fighter jets. Enthusiasm for the aircraft — and the nation's No. 1 patron — quickly faded, however, due to their unreliability. Former pilot Wunna Mar Jay recalls 20 crashes and numerous dead colleagues among those who used the Chinese version of the Soviet MIG-19. Most died in the cockpit, given a government policy at the time that families of those killed trying to eject received no death benefits. The "Chinese weren't sincere, giving us their junk aircraft," says Jay, now a boxing promoter. "We called them 'flying coffins.'" [Source: Mark Magnier, Los Angeles Times, March 24, 2013]

In 2001, the government bought 10 MiG-29 fighters from Russia for $130 million. In 2010 Myanmar’s air force purchased up to 50 Russian Mi-24 attack helicopters, according to The Irrawaddy.

Myanmar Missiles

According to the Nuclear Threat Initiative: “Myanmar does not subscribe to the Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation (HCOC). The country possesses a small number of surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) , produced predominantly by Chinese and Russian manufacturers. According to Jane's, this inventory includes the Hong Ying-5, 9K38 Igla (9K38 , and 9K310 Igla-1 (9K310 -1) man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS); as well as the British Bloodhound Mk2, 2K12 Kub (2K12 , S-125 Pechora-2M (-2M), and the Hongqi-2 SAMs. [Source: Nuclear Threat Initiative, January, 2013 /+]

“Photos released by Burmese dissidents groups have show a Burmese delegation visiting a number of missile-related facilities in North Korea. Among these are a Korean People's Army (KPA) Air Force unit; facilities producing anti-aircraft and radar equipment; and production facilities for Igla SAMs and Scud missiles. The Scud missile production facility, known as the No. 125 Factory, is believed by outside experts to be linked to North Korea's missile exports. /+\

“Myanmar also has a nascent domestic dual-use research capability in the form of the Myanmar Aerospace Engineering University (MAEU), established in Meiktila in 2002. MAEU's research includes the design and construction of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) and solid propellant rockets. /+\

In a Wikileaks-leaked diplomatic cable dated August 2004 titled "Alleged North Korean involvement in missile assembly and underground facility construction in Burma", an officer in an engineering unit told an embassy staff member of a site, where surface-to-air missiles were allegedly being assembled. The site is the Irrawaddy river town of Minbu in Magwe division, west-central Burma. The officer said 300 North Koreans were working at the site, though the embassy, in its cable back to Washington, described this as improbably high. The officer "claims he has personally seen some of them, although he also reported they are forbidden from leaving the construction site and that he and other 'outsiders' are prohibited from entering". [Source: Ewen MacAskill, The Guardian, December 9, 2010]

Myanmar and Nuclear Weapons

According to the Nuclear Threat Initiative: “Myanmar became a non-nuclear weapon state party to the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) in 1992, and signed the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone Treaty in 1995, committing not to develop nuclear weapons. Myanmar has signed, but not ratified the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). [Source: Nuclear Threat Initiative, January, 2013 /+]

“Myanmar expressed an interest in nuclear energy for peaceful uses as early as 1955, when the country established an Atomic Energy Center under the Union of Burma Applied Research Institute (UBARI). It joined the IAEA in 1957, and participated in a number of IAEA technical cooperation projects in isotope applications for agriculture beginning in the 1960s. In 1997, the government established the Department of Atomic Energy under the Ministry of Science and Technology; as of 2007, the DAE had 200 employees, of which roughly 25 percent were trainees. /+\

“Myanmar's government has also undertaken some uranium exploration, though the extent and specifics of these activities are unknown. According to the Myanmar Ministry of Energy there are five areas for potential uranium mining: Magwe, Taungdwingyi, Kyaukphygon (Mogok), Kyauksin, and Paongpyin (Mogok). Myanmar has no confirmed mining or milling facilities, despite allegations by dissident groups of the existence of sites near Mandalay. Experts at the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) assert, based on independent satellite and photographic imagery analysis, that the facility in question is most likely a cement plant. Because Myanmar has not yet joined an Additional Protocol or filled out a voluntary questionnaire for the IAEA/OECD Red Book, however, transparency concerning its mining and milling activities is highly limited. /+\

“Myanmar has consistently looked to Russia for assistance increasing its technical capabilities in the nuclear field. In 2001, Russia signed a contract to design a 10 MW research reactor in Myanmar for radioisotope production. Although the deal for a research reactor fell through for financial and safety reasons, other cooperative arrangements have been more successful. Over the past decade, a few hundred specialists from Myanmar have trained in nuclear research in Russia.

“In May 2010, the pro-democracy dissident group Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) precipitated considerable international debate about Myanmar's nuclear program by alleging the existence of covert nuclear and missile facilities and illicit cooperation with North Korea. The testimony and photographs of former Army Major Sai Thein Win, who had recently defected from Myanmar, provided the basis for the report's allegations. Former IAEA inspector Robert E. Kelley, who was a co-author on the report, stated that the photographs and documents provided by Sai Thein Win led him to conclude that Myanmar's "technology is only for nuclear weapons and not civilian use or nuclear power." Kelley further argued, however, that it would be extremely difficult for Myanmar, given its limited technical and financial capabilities, to develop nuclear weapons successfully. However, a number of outside experts were skeptical of the DVB's allegations and Kelley's supporting analysis. ISIS, for example, agrees that some of the equipment depicted in the report could be used in producing uranium metal, but stated it could alternatively be used for producing "rare earth metals or metals such as titanium or vanadium." /+\

Myanmar's vice president told a visiting U.S. delegation in 2011 that his country had halted its nuclear research program because, the "international community may misunderstand Myanmar over the issue." Myanmar's leaders also communicated to the IAEA that "Myanmar is in no position to consider the production and use of nuclear weapons and does not have enough economic strength to do so." In June 2012, Lt. Gen. Hla Min told an international audience that Myanmar had "already given up all activities on nuclear issues," indicating that even a civilian nuclear program was abandoned. He also commented on the military relationship with North Korea, saying "because of our opening and our new efforts, we have stopped such relationships with North Korea." /+\

Wikileaks Cables: North Korean is Helping Myanmar Build Secret Nuclear Sites

Myanmar’s military regime has reportedly signed a deal with Russia to build a small 10 megawatt “research” nuclear research reactors “at a secret location near the town of Magwe.” Two Pakistani nuclear scientists reportedly stayed in Myanmar for some period. This raises question about the possibility of the generals trying to build a nuclear weapon. In September 2011, senior Myanmar envoy Tin Win said Myanmar lacked the financial means to develop nuclear weapons.

Ewen MacAskill wrote in The Guardian: “Witnesses in Burma claim to have seen evidence of secret nuclear and missile sites being built in remote jungle, according to secret US diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks, heightening concerns that the military regime is seeking to develop nuclear weapons. A Burmese officer quoted in a cable from the US embassy in Burma said he had witnessed North Korean technicians helping to construct an underground facility in foothills more than 300 miles (480 kilometers) northwest of Rangoon. [Source: Ewen MacAskill, The Guardian, December 9, 2010 )( ]

"The North Koreans, aided by Burmese workers, are constructing a concrete-reinforced underground facility that is '500 feet from the top of the cave to the top of the hill above'," according to the cable. The man is quoted as saying the North Koreans were "blowing concrete" into the excavation. An expatriate businessman told the embassy in Rangoon he had seen a large barge carrying reinforced steel bar of a diameter that suggested a project larger than a factory. Other informants included dockworkers, who reported suspicious cargo. )(

“The reports add rare detail to rumours that have circulated since 2002, most recently from a military defector this year, that Burma is covertly seeking a nuclear bomb with the help of North Korea. Both countries have strenuously denied this in the past and Burma insists there are no North Koreans in the country. Burma has made no secret of wanting a civilian nuclear reactor, in part because of severe electricity shortages, and has signed a deal with Russia to build one. The project has so far failed to start because of lack of funds. A secret deal with North Korea would be in breach of international rules on nuclear proliferation. )(

“According to a 2009 cable, a well-placed source within the Burmese government last year made an apparently indiscreet remark to the Australian ambassador that the agreement with Russia was just for "software, training" and the North Korea agreement was for "hardware". The source said General Thura Shwe Mann, who had overall command of military activity, visited North Korea in 2008. The source backtracked six months later, insisting that the talks with North Korea were only exploratory. )(

“In February 2009 the Burmese deputy foreign minister, Khin Maung Win, called a US diplomat to deny there was collusion between his country and North Korea over missiles, missile technology or nuclear technology. Alarmingly, there is a report of a businessman offering uranium to the US embassy in Rangoon. The embassy bought it. "The individual provided a small bottle half-filled with metallic powder and a photocopied certificate of testing from a Chinese university dated 1992 as verification of the radioactive nature of the powder." He said that "if the US was not interested in purchasing the uranium, he and his associates would try to sell it to other countries, beginning with Thailand". )(

Myanmar Denies Having Nuclear Weapons Program

In June 2010, Associated Press reported: “Myanmar's military junta denied it is developing a nuclear weapons program, decrying such allegations as groundless and politically motivated. State radio and television news reported the Foreign Ministry's denial, which claimed that anti-government groups in collusion with the media had launched the allegations with the goal of "hindering Myanmar's democratic process and to tarnish the political image of the government." The Norway-based Democratic Voice of Burma, a Myanmar exile news service, charged that the junta, aided by North Korea, is actively pursuing a nuclear weapons program with the aim of developing a bomb and long range missiles. It said its conclusions were based on a five-year study and revelations by a recent Myanmar army defector. [Source: AP, June 11 2010 */]

“The Foreign Ministry statement said the weapons allegation were based merely on "information provided by army deserters, defectors and dissidents which are inaccurate, unfair and unreliable" and came at a time when the United States was trying to engage Myanmar. Alleging that Myanmar's government is pursuing nuclear capabilities is not "conducive to regional and international stability," the statement said. "Myanmar, which is a developing nation, lacks adequate infrastructure, technology and finance to develop nuclear weapons." */

“A separate Foreign Ministry press release said the Myanmar defector, Sai Thein Win, who had smuggled out files and photographs, was a captain in the army and had a Science in power engineering from State Technical University in Moscow in 2004. It said he was an army deserter who was absent from his job since February 2010, but did not specify where Sai had worked. */

Myanmar Officials Sentenced to Death for North Korean Leak

In January 2010, AFP reported: “A court in Myanmar has sentenced two officials to death for leaking confidential information on secret trips by junta leaders to North Korea and Russia.The men were arrested last year after details and photos were passed to exiled media about the visits by senior regime officials and about military tunnels built in Myanmar by nuclear-armed North Korea, reports said. A third man was jailed for 15 years, official sources said. "Two officials got the death sentence and another one was jailed for 15 years for leaking information. They were sentenced at the special court in Insein Prison on Thursday," an official source said on condition of anonymity. [Source: AFP, January 8, 2010]

“The two condemned men were retired army major Win Naing Kyaw and foreign ministry official Thura Kyaw, while the jailed man was Pyan Sein, also a foreign ministry employee, the sources said. Myanmar has the death penalty but sentences are almost always commuted to life imprisonment. Dozens of other officials in the defence and foreign ministries were arrested after the leaks but the status of their cases is not known, Irrawaddy said.

“The leaks by the three men included details of a 2008 trip to communist North Korea by junta number three General Shwe Mann, who is also the joint chief of staff of Myanmar's armed forces, exile-run media said. Shwe Mann's visit involved procuring arms and discussing tunnel-building and other matters, Irrawaddy reported. The men were also accused of leaking pictures of the alleged secret network of tunnels built by North Korean experts inside Myanmar, which were published in June by the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), based in Oslo, Norway. The documents the men released further showed that junta number two Maung Aye visited Russia in 2006 to discuss the procurement of a guided missile system with Moscow officials, the DVB said.”

Myanmar and Chemical Biological Weapons

According to the Nuclear Threat Initiative: “There is no evidence to suggest that Myanmar has a chemical weapons (CW) program, despite many decades of allegations to the contrary by Burmese dissident groups. While the U.S. government voiced suspicions about a possible CW program in the 1980s and early 1990s, Burma has not been named in relevant U.S. compliance reports since 1992. Myanmar is not a signatory to the 1925 Geneva Protocol, and despite signing the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) in 1993, has not yet ratified it. [Source: Nuclear Threat Initiative, January, 2013 /+]

“In 1997 Myanmar adopted Agenda 21, which established an official strategy for sustainable development, including environmental management of toxic industrial chemicals. Myanmar possesses only a limited chemical industry, and imports all toxic industrial chemicals it consumes. As it is not a significant exporter of industrial chemicals or chemical equipment, Myanmar does not participate in or adhere to the Australia Group's guidelines. In 1997 Myanmar adopted Agenda 21, which established an official strategy for sustainable development, including environmental management of toxic industrial chemicals. Myanmar possesses only a limited chemical industry, and imports all toxic industrial chemicals it consumes. As it is not a significant exporter of industrial chemicals or chemical equipment, Myanmar does not participate in or adhere to the Australia Group's guidelines. /+\

“There is no evidence to suggest that Myanmar has ever pursued a biological weapons (BW) program. The country signed the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) in 1972, but has not ratified the treaty. Myanmar has a limited biotechnology sector. In 2004, Myanmar established a Biotechnology Development Center at Pathein University in collaboration with the National Institute of Technology and Evaluation of Japan. /+\

North Korean Weapons Shipments to Myanmar

According to the Nuclear Threat Initiative: “The United States has confronted two North Korean ships, which it asserted were en route for Myanmar bearing missiles or missile-related equipment. In 2009, the Kang Nam I turned back after the U.S. trailed it, and in 2011 the M/V Light similarly returned to its North Korean port. In August 2012, Japan seized “50 metal pipes and 15 high-specification aluminum alloy bars” that could have been used in either a nuclear or – more likely – a missile program. The cargo was destined for a Yangon-based construction company that is alleged to be a front-company for military procurement. The material was stamped “DPRK,” and transported through China’s port of Dalian near the border with North Korea. [Source: Nuclear Threat Initiative, January, 2013 /+]

Press reports widely allege that other illicit shipments have occurred but successfully evaded interdiction. For example, Myanmar received a shipment of dual-use cylindrical grinders from a Japanese company called Toko Boeki in 2008. Japanese authorities later prosecuted Li Gyeong Ho, founder and president of the company, for again attempting to export cylindrical grinders and a magnetometer to Myanmar in September 2008 and January 2009. The items were procured on behalf of a North Korean front company known as New East International, which is controlled by the Second Economic Committee and responsible for military procurement. These items can be used to make magnets for a centrifuge-based uranium enrichment program, or for the gyroscopes of missile systems. Because of their special dual-use nature, their export is controlled under Japanese law. It is unknown if North Korea was attempting to use Myanmar as a transshipment point, or if Myanmar was using North Korea's network to solicit materials for its own use. /+\

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, The Irrawaddy, Myanmar Travel Information Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy,,, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

Last updated May 2014

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