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Two lost their lives in a stampede as hundreds lined up for Thailand visas in Myanmar

Two lost their lives in a stampede as hundreds lined up for Thailand visas in Myanmar

Yangon, MYANMAR (AFP/ABC) — Two people were killed in a crush outside a passport office in Myanmar on Monday, a rescue worker said, as thousands rush to leave the country to escape a junta military service law.

Two women aged 52 and 39 died early Monday after hundreds of people surged to get in line at the passport office in second city Mandalay, a rescue worker who arrived at the scene told AFP.

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“There was a ditch near the crowd. They fell into the ditch and died from a lack of oxygen,” the rescue officer said, requesting anonymity for security reasons.

The queues resembled a rush to buy tickets for a football match or concert, but those lining up for hours simply wanted to leave the country as soon as possible.

After last week’s announcement of compulsory military service for Myanmar youngsters, the Thai embassy in Yangon was flooded with requests for tourist visas.

They were hoping to travel over the border before the chance of being conscripted as they weighed up their options in Thai cities like Bangkok or Chiang Mai.

“I will go to Bangkok with a tourist visa and hope to stay there for a while,” 20-year-old Aung Phyo told AFP.

“I haven’t decided yet to work or study. I just wanted to escape from this country.”

Aung, a student, said he arrived at the embassy at 8pm and slept in his car before starting to queue about midnight ahead of its opening at 9am the following day.
“We had to wait for three hours and police opened the security gate around 3am and we had to run to the front of the embassy to try to get places for a token,” Aung said, using a pseudonym because of fears for his safety.
“After we got a token, people who didn’t get one were still queuing in front of the embassy, hoping they might give out extras.”
Many young Myanmar people have opposed the ruling military government.(ABC News: Phone Myint Min)

Last Friday, a queue of between 1,000 and 2,000 people snaked through the streets of Yangon towards the embassy, compared with fewer than 100 before last week’s announcement.

Myanmar authorities said they would enforce a law allowing it to call up all men aged 18 to 35 and women aged 18 to 27 to serve in the military for at least two years, as it struggles to quell opposition to its 2021 coup.

The junta has said it is taking measures to arm pro-military militias as it battles opponents across the country — both anti-coup “People’s Defence Forces” and more long-standing armed groups belonging to ethnic minorities.

Junta spokesman Zaw Min Tun said the military service system was needed “because of the situation happening in our country”.

More than 4,500 people have been killed in the military’s crackdown on dissent since its February 2021 coup and over 26,000 arrested, according to a local monitoring group.

The conscription law, which is due to begin in April, was first introduced in 2010 but had not been enforced until the recent announcement by Myanmar’s junta.

Burmese army general Min Aung Hlaing has ruled Myanmar for the past three years and became prime minister in August 2021.  (AP: Aung Shine Oo)

It comes after the junta lost control of swathes of territory along a frontline that stretches from the highlands bordering China to the coastline near Bangladesh, some of it in a coordinated offensive by rebel groups that started in October, dubbed Operation 1027.

“The military is clearly facing significant manpower shortages, which is why it is introducing a draft for the first time in its history,” said Richard Horsey, the Crisis Group’s senior Myanmar adviser.

Ye Myo Hein, senior advisor to the United States Institute of Peace think-tank, assessed most military battalions are struggling to meet even half the recommended troop strength of 200 soldiers.

“There has been a notable decline in the number of officer enlistments as well,” he said.

“Additionally, the loss of officers, including brigadier generals … have been significantly higher due to shrinking battalion sizes and decreasing rank-and-file soldiers.”

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