- Burma’s military junta has reportedly begun freeing police and soldiers who had previously been jailed for desertion or going absent without leave.
- The alleged move was made after a notable struggle with personnel shortages.
- Burma has been a military dictatorship since the successful ouster of democratically-elected State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi in 2021.
Burma’s military government has been freeing soldiers and police who had been jailed for desertion and absence without leave, seeking to get them to return to active duty, a police officer and an army officer said Thursday.
The releases follow an an amnesty plan announced earlier this week to get them back into service in order to ease an apparent manpower shortage.
The plan was an apparent consequence of the military facing the greatest battlefield pressures since it seized power from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in February 2021. It began to encounter severe challenges after fierce fighting erupted in late October when an alliance of three ethnic minority armed groups launched an offensive in the northern part of Shan state, on the northeastern border with China.
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The offensive sparked renewed fighting nationwide on the part of both the pro-democracy Peoples Defense Force and their allies among other ethnic minority armed groups, spreading the military’s forces thin and exposing an evident shortage of troops.
A police captain in the capital, Naypyitaw, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to release information, told The Associated Press that many police who were convicted of offenses including desertion and absence without leave were released Thursday, which marked National Victory Day, the anniversary of the 1920 breakout of organized activities against British colonial rule.
It’s traditional to have mass prisoner releases on national holidays.
An army officer in the capital, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said that the military since last month has been granting amnesty to convicted soldiers and police who were serving prison sentences of up to three years.
The action of the military government came after state-run newspapers on Monday reported that the military would grant amnesty to soldiers who have committed minor crimes who wish to return to active service.
Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun, the spokesperson for the ruling military council, was quoted Tuesday in state media as saying that about 1,000 soldiers who deserted, or went absent without leave or had retired, had gone through the process of requesting the military for their return to service.
“If the soldiers who have been declared absent without leave before Dec. 3 return with the intention of serving in the army again, we will consider it as a case of absence without leave instead of desertion and will carry out the acceptance process in order for them to serve,” he said.
According to Burma’s Defense Services Act, deserting the army is punishable by a minimum sentence of seven years imprisonment up to the death penalty.
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According to a Nov. 30 report by the underground group People’s Goal, which encourages and supports defections from the security forces, nearly 450 members of the military surrendered, defected or deserted after the Arakan Army, the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, calling themselves the Three Brotherhood Alliance, launched a coordinated offensive against military targets on Oct. 27.
The alliance has claimed widespread victories, including the seizure of more than 200 military posts and four border crossing gates on the border with China, controlling crucial trade, and has said the military has suffered hundreds killed in action.
In September, the defense ministry of the National Unity Government, a major opposition group that acts as a shadow government, said that more than 14,000 troops have defected from the military since the 2021 seizure of power.
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The Associated Press was unable to verify these claims.