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Burma Army Deserters Fear, Torture, Fighting and Military Targeting Their Families

Hein Soe, a Burma Army soldier, who recently defected told Karen News, why he deserted.

“Since day one…I was always unhappy. I was unhappy because there was no individual liberty. We got no leave and could not withdraw our money from the bank…. If they did not like my manner, they would slap me in my face, just to relieve [their] boredom. I was slapped at least two or three times a day.”

“I was put in the main jail, handcuffed and beaten by four or five people. They were also drunk when they beat me.”

Hein Soe the abuse reached a new level when he returned to camp drunk from a home leave.

“I was drunk and could not join the morning assembly. I was put in the main jail, handcuffed and beaten by four or five people. They were also drunk when they beat me. They punched and kicked me for hours. They came around 8pm and left around 10 pm. Then they drank again, came back and hit me again. My eardrum was torn in the beating – I can’t hear well now.”

International Human Rights Law defines soldiers have ‘the right to life, free from slavery, and torture and inhuman treatment’.

Captain Nyi Thuta, a former Burma Army officer who after his own defection formed the People’s Embrace Organization to help soldiers to defect. Captain Nyi Thuta told Kren News Burma Army soldiers are denied their rights.

“Soldiers face human rights violations when they join the army. They are not allowed to leave the army. They are used as forced labor – they have to do it because they don’t have rights. They are being treated like prisoners.”

Dr Miemie Wynn Byrd, a security specialist at the Asia Pacific Centre for Security Studies, who served in the US Army for 28 years, explains there is a difference between toughness and brutality.

The Burmese military’s brutality in ethnic areas has been documented and reported for decades. It was also witnessed in the killing of thousands of Rohingya in Rakhine state in 2017, when the Burma Army burnt and forced 850,000 people to flee to Bangladesh.

Since the military coup in 2021, the Burma military has launched air attacks and ground bombardments on civilian populations. The UN agency for refugees, the UNHCR estimates that 28,000 homes and more than a million people have been displaced. The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners documented that at least 2,338 civilians have been killed and 12586 detained.

Defecting Burma Army soldiers cite the brutality against civilians as a factor along with abuse, poor living conditions for deserting.

Private Zaw Win Htay in an interview with Karen News explained being trapped on Ba Yint Naung Kone hill in April and risking death from snipers.

“They [military] can’t provide food for the troops. The battalion commander told us, “We’re in trouble, we’re out of food”. We depended on the rations. If they didn’t give us, we would starve… our clothes are torn… We only bathe every 20 days. Even a dog can bathe once a day.”

In recent battles around the Lay Kay Kaw area, Private Hein Soe cited similar experiences and complained of suicide.

In the past when we fought it was different. There were separate troops assigned to deliver arms and weapons, food supplies, carry the injured or bury the dead. But [in the Lay Kay Kaw fighting] we were deliberately pushed towards our grave. We were forced to go down a ravine and fight. We had no retreat route. The worst thing was we didn’t have enough water to drink or food.”

Private Hein Soe explains many of his former colleagues are in a difficult situation.

“Soldiers fear they will be killed either when they fight or when they refuse to fight. They also fear their families will be in danger if they run away.”

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