Thursday, November 1, 2007

My Gun was as Tall as Me

There are so many poor people in a country where the unemployment rate is 10.2% and a GDP per capita of only $1,800. Naturally, it is good that any government would take the task of taking care of their children, providing them with food and jobs when they grow up. But in Burma hell no, as Jo Becker, Advocacy Director of Children’s Rights at Human Rights Watch has mentioned:

Burma's army preys on children, using threats, intimidation and often violence to force young boys to become soldiers. To be a boy in Burma today means facing the constant risk of being picked up off the street, forced to commit atrocities against villagers, and never seeing your family again.

Some testimonials depicting the lives of former child soldiers

About their recruitment into the Burma Army:

"All of us told the soldiers we didn't want to join the army and some said they were students, and the soldiers punched us. They asked me, 'Do you want to join the army?' I refused and they punched me. Then they asked again, 'Do you want to join the army?' I refused again and they punched me again. They did this seven times and I still refused. They punched my face, my chest, my forehead, and they cut open my eyebrow and it bled. I was bleeding from the eyebrow and the mouth. I hadn't agreed, but then they sent me to the clinic. . . . Then the second boy was punched and kicked, and he was sent to the clinic too. Then they said to the other five, 'You see your friends? You see my boot? Now would you like to join the army?' Then the others were afraid and agreed to join the army."
-Soe Naing, recruited at age twelve (all names of former soldiers have been changed)

About their detention in the Burma Army's recruit holding centers:

"When we arrived the soldiers asked us, 'Would you like to join the army or would you like to go home?' Many of us said we'd like to go home. Then they took the thirty or forty of us who'd said that, stripped us naked, put us in the lockup and gave us just a tiny bit of rice. . . . There were about sixty of us in a room the same size as this one. . . . I don't think any were over eighteen. There were ten children who were just thirteen years old. The youngest was my friend who was eleven. He often cried because he didn't get enough food, and then he was beaten by the guards. I also cried often because I didn't want to join the army. I was beaten twice a day for crying. . . . We couldn't sleep. There were also rats and ants in the room. . . . For a toilet they'd dug a hole in the ground and it had a wooden cover over it. . . . There was a terrible smell. . . . Some of my friends were crying. . . . Two or three boys got sick and died."
-Than Aung, recruited at age fourteen

About the Burma Army's military training:

"The youngest were about twelve. There were five of them. They couldn't carry a weapon because it was too heavy for them. . . . They beat them. There were often beatings, then they ordered them to carry two weapons. I dropped my weapon one time, and the trainer said 'You are a soldier. Can't you carry a weapon?' Then he whipped me on the neck with the rope of his whistle."
-Thein Oo, who was trained at age fourteen

About a trainee who was caught trying to escape:

"He was sixteen or seventeen. They ordered him to kneel down. Then three or four NCOs beat him on the head and back with sticks for about half an hour. When he fell the NCOs pulled him back up to his knees. He was unconscious. There was blood all over his face. . . . Then they put him in the leg stocks, and he regained consciousness. They left him in the leg stocks for a week. I saw him there about three times. He looked like he was getting worse. He couldn't eat rice, just a little rice soup. Then he couldn't eat anything and they sent him to hospital. He died in the hospital."
-Salaing Toe Aung, trained at age sixteen in 2001

About their time with Burma Army battalions in the field:

"When I first heard the gunshots I was very afraid. I stayed in a hole and cried. I'd never heard that noise before. I was fifteen. That first time I didn't shoot at all. The battle lasted two hours. Three of ours were killed. I saw it, and it made me afraid."
- Moe Shwe, recruited at age thirteen

"We captured about fifteen women and children. . . three babies and four others who were under eighteen. They took the babies away from their mothers. We gathered them in one place and sent a report to headquarters by radio. . . . The order that came over the radio was to kill them all. . . . Then six of the corporals loaded their guns and shot them. They fired on auto. The women had no time to shout. I saw it. I felt very bad because there were all these people in front of me, and they killed them all. Their bodies were left there. The soldiers were holding the babies and the babies were crying. Two of them were less than a year old, maybe nine or ten months. One was maybe fourteen or fifteen months old. After the mothers were killed they killed the babies. Three of the privates killed them. They swung them by their legs and smashed them against a rock. I saw it."
-Khin Maung Than, age thirteen at the time

According to the Human Rights Watch, the children as young as 12 years old are abducted, trained as soldiers and are used to engage in combat against opposition groups, and are forced to commit human rights abuses against civilians, including rounding up villagers for forced labor, burning villages, and carrying out executions. Goodness, it is so hard to believe that children are trained to commit such atrocities on their fellow Burmeses.

The Burmese army has also doubled its size since the eventful pro-democracy protest in 1988 which took away some 3,000 civilian lives. The army is now the largest army in Southeast Asian with around 350,000 soldiers and as much as 20% of them are below the age of 18. And with a check on the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child, the organisation recognises the recruitment of children in armed forces under the age of fifteen as illegal and it is considered as a war crime under the statute for the International Criminal Court.

So what are the various governments in ASEAN going to do about this? They have already made a fatal mistake ten years ago in admitting Burma into ASEAN. The junta has killed its citizens, and has committed uncountable human rights abuses, many of which may not be even known to people outside Burma. How much more bloodbath is needed to make the ASEAN leaders work to force the junta to honour its undertaking to work towards national reconciliation and democratisation in the country? And for goodness sake, dear leaders, save the poor children!


Someone said...

heart-rending, heart-wrenching and horrifying eyewitness-accounts. Babies smashed against the rock after being suwng by their legs- these blood-stained atrocities leave the Burmese Army with no room for explanation and acceptance. If there is really Hell, let the Devil welcome the soldiers with open arms. This highly corrupted and barbaric gang of violent thugs should be disbanded and put on international trial to face universal condemnation and utimately, just reprisals for their unacceptable bloodiness.

Someone said...

Asean should expel burma from its ranks until we see a change in the cruelly iron-fisted regime ruling the poor and destitute country

James Chia said...

Thank you for your comments.

It's indeed horrifying to read how they treated their own people. I think death is too easy an ending for these cruel people.