Myanmar residents lobby Japan to act over conscription law
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Myanmar residents lobby Japan to act over conscription law

A soldier from the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) carries an RPG launcher at a Myanmar military base at Thingyan Nyi Naung village on the outskirts of Myawaddy, the Thailand-Myanmar border town, April 15, 2024. (Photo: Reuters)
A soldier from the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) carries an RPG launcher at a Myanmar military base at Thingyan Nyi Naung village on the outskirts of Myawaddy, the Thailand-Myanmar border town, April 15, 2024. (Photo: Reuters)

KYODO - Members of Myanmar's expatriate community in Japan are lobbying local assemblies to pressure the central government to accept their fleeing compatriots in the wake of the enforcement of a controversial conscription law by the junta in February.

In petitions to assemblies, they are also requesting Japan and the international community urge the junta, which took power in a 2021 military coup, to stop the forced conscription that has incentivised a new wave of people to leave Myanmar.

The conscription -- which targets Myanmar nationals aged 18 and older, initially excluding women -- signals a serious shortage of recruits in the military, which has been fighting with anti-junta forces since it detained democratic icon Aung San Suu Kyi and toppled her democratically elected government.

Independent media in Myanmar reported the second round of conscriptions began in May after the junta rounded up 5,000 people in the first starting in late March. Numerous instances of civilians being abducted from their homes were reported during the process.

As of mid-May, petitions were filed to 13 assemblies in nine Japanese prefectures including the city assemblies of Sapporo, Nagoya, Kyoto and Osaka as well as the Koto and Nerima ward assemblies in Tokyo, according to Khin Zay Yar Myint, a Myanmar national who lives in Tokyo and is coordinating the petition campaign.

"We want to do something to help Myanmar people in despair, especially young ones targeted by the junta," she said in a recent interview, adding that Myanmar residents plan to submit petitions to a total of 44 assemblies in 18 prefectures.

"Besides a push on the junta to revoke the law, we would like Japan -- a leading Asian country that advocates human rights and the rule of law -- to extend humanitarian measures to these people, just like what Japan has been doing for displaced people from Ukraine," Khin Zay Yar Myint said.

The junta's drive to replenish its troop numbers came as the military has suffered a series of defeats and a growing number of defections since a coordinated offensive by three ethnic rebel groups in October last year.

Despite widely varied estimations of the military's size, ranging from 300,000 to 400,000, the number fell to no more than 130,000 following the offensive, dubbed "Operation 1027" for its start date, according to an analysis by Ye Myo Hein, a visiting scholar at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington.

Underscoring the military's struggles on the ground, the National Unity Government, the shadow civilian leadership launched after the Feb 1, 2021, coup, says it and its ethnic minority allies now control more than 60% of Myanmar's territory.

But the junta, led by Senior Gen Min Aung Hlaing, has shown no sign it is willing to bring the conflict to an end, with the United Nations (UN) and other data showing that since the coup, the military has killed about 5,000 demonstrators and other citizens and left 2.6 million people displaced.

Commander-in-Chief of Myanmar's armed forces, Senior Gen Min Aung Hlaing delivers his speech at the IX Moscow conference on international security in Moscow, Russia, on June 23, 2021. (Photo: Reuters)

Of the 13 local assemblies to which Myanmar residents filed petitions, the city assembly of Itoman in Okinawa Prefecture has adopted a document condemning the conscription law and urging Prime Minister Fumio Kishida's government to "proactively accept displaced people from Myanmar in a same way as it does for evacuees from Ukraine."

Satoru Urasaki, an Itoman city assembly member who led the adoption of the document, suggested that as a humanitarian measure, the Japanese government should make it easier for people from Myanmar to obtain temporary residence permits.

"Since the enforcement of the conscription law, I have received many inquiries from Myanmar residents in Okinawa and elsewhere in Japan as to whether they can have their relatives evacuate to Japan," Urasaki, a member of the Japanese Communist Party, said in a phone interview.

They are also asking if Japan could provide public accommodation and language training, services that evacuees -- be they from Myanmar, Ukraine or other countries -- would need in an initial phase of evacuations, according to Urasaki.

"The government should extend such services as humanitarian measures because the Myanmar crisis is no longer an internal issue of Myanmar but has become a source of concern for Thailand and other Asean members, as well as other countries like Japan," he said, in reference to the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).

Since the military takeover, the number of Myanmar people entering Japan has been increasing. As of the end of 2023, the number of Myanmar residents in the country surged 53.9% from a year earlier to 86,546, according to Immigration Services Agency data.

While expressing appreciation for the "serious concern" Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa has expressed about the conscription law, Khin Zay Yar Myint said she wants Japan to take specific actions like those Urasaki called for while providing scholarships for Myanmar youth wishing to study at Japanese universities.

Unlike Itoman, the city assemblies in Kobe and Nishinomiya in Hyogo Prefecture have decided not to carry Myanmar residents' petitions to the government, with Kobe saying diplomatic matters are being handled by the government and Asean, according to Khin Zay Yar Myint.

"We would like 10 other assemblies, plus other local assemblies we will lobby, to follow Itoman's lead in bringing our voices to Prime Minister Kishida," she said.

"Through our initiatives, we would like local assembly members and the broader public in Japan to know and support our fight for justice, freedom and democracy in Myanmar, which we believe will lead to peace, stability and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region."

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