It was a “lucky” lottery, the men assembled were told.
Flanked by recent soldier recruits, the local administrator told them that eight “lucky” men from each of the town’s wards would be chosen to join a pro-junta militia group that had terrorized villages across the country following the 2021 coup.
Those who weren’t selected would be required to contribute money to support the so-called Pyu Saw Htee (PU-SAW-TEE) bands fighting the People’s Defense Force, or PDF, or other rebel groups opposed to the military rulers.
“They forced us to join the Pyu Saw Htee militia,” a resident of Kyun Hla, in Kanbalu township in the northern Sagaing region, told Radio Free Asia, insisting on not being identified for security concerns.
“They said that any of us who would like to join are welcomed but if no one wanted to join them, they would hold a lucky draw and those who won would have to join their training, while those who did not would have to pay,” he said.
Similar meetings were held in the town’s eight other wards, residents said.
When asked about the meeting, nearly all of the residents RFA spoke with said that they were being forcibly recruited and wanted nothing to do with the Pyu Saw Htee – a militia group formed by the junta in 2022 under the pretext of maintaining peace and stability in rural areas.
In reality, the bands have been responsible for some of the junta’s worst atrocities in its scorched earth offensive against the PDF and armed ethnic groups. The proxy groups regularly torch villages, loot property, and torture and kill residents, allowing the military to claim that its regular troops do not target civilians.
Surrounding villages targeted
Another resident of Kyun Hla told RFA that junta administrators of the nearby villages of Shan Su and Tat Kone also announced that they would be entered into a lottery if they did not join Pyu Saw Htee training of their own accord. At least 10 villages in the area reported forced recruitment.
“The ones who win the lucky draw will have to join the Pyu Saw Htee training without fail,” the resident said. “They are forcing them to do it against their will. Residents in Kyun Hla and its surrounding villages are living in fear as they are under the control of the military junta and they have no choice.”
The same resident said that Pyu Saw Htee training started in Kyun Hla at the end of 2021. He said those who do not want to join are “forced by the junta authorities to substitute someone for them or pay a fine.”
Some residents have even fled their villages in fear.
Training increasingly brief
One of the heads of the District 5 Kyun Hla People’s Defense Force told RFA that while Pyu Saw Htee training courses lasted for at least a week in the past, they have become increasingly brief.
Trainees are now taught a general overview in just one day, he said.
“They taught several basics [in the past], but their recent training is not like that anymore,” the PDF leader said.
“I’m not sure if the reason is that they are scared they might be raided by resistance forces while providing training, but they now teach how to assemble and disassemble weapons in a day and give the trainees carbine rifles and shotguns.”
He said that local defense groups are only focused on fighting against the military and have no interest in attacking fellow villagers.
Security training on offer
Junta Social Affairs Minister Aye Hlaing, who is also the regime’s spokesman for Sagaing region, told RFA that authorities do not recruit residents for military training, but are willing to provide it for their own safety if they request help.
“We do not draft them or recruit them for training – we never dictate how many people must join. But if they want the training in their village or ward, we make it happen for them,” he said.
“Security forces – such as police and military forces – provide the training. Not just in Kyun Hla and Kanbalu, but in many places, residents are working to defend their own areas.”
However, the junta’s head of public administration in Kyun Hla confirmed that military training was “mandatory” for residents of villages within a eight-kilometer (five-mile) radius of the town.
“We can only give military training to residents of villages in a five-mile radius of the town by holding lucky draws to make them join,” he said. “If we look at all the remaining areas [of the township], we can say that four out of five are under our control. I see no way for the resistance groups to succeed.”
According to Thailand’s Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma), authorities in Myanmar have killed at least 3,317 civilians and arrested more than 20,000 others since the military seized power in a Feb. 1, 2021 coup d’etat – mostly during peaceful anti-junta demonstrations.
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