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Fears For My Brothers
(Naing Luu Aung)

During my sixth year on the border I arrived in Manerplaw for the
completion of the first ever constitutional seminar of the
democratic opposition. After a few formalities with visitors at
the guest house, I headed  for the headquarters of the DPNS
Democratic Party for a New Society) where we usually stayed.

As I walked past the office of the DAB (Democratic Alliance of
Burma), I heard someone call out my name. It turned out to be an
old friend of mine who was working with the PLF (People's
Liberation Front) and who I had not seen for two years. We
greeted each other and chatted about the current situation. In
the course of our conversation, I was surprised to learn from him
that, among the group of eleven Slorc soldiers who had defected
and joined the NLD (National league for Democracy) a few months
back, there was a boy from my home town, Zaw Min. I became
excited about the possibility of getting some news from home and
finding out what had been happening since I had left. Ours was a
peaceful small town 27 miles to the south of Pegu. 

The following morning I got hold of a copy of Myayadana Magazine
published by Green November 32, an environmental group working on
the border. There I read an interview with one of the defectors
and saw a photo of them in their army uniforms. I was really
shocked when I realized that eight out of the eleven were barely
4, and they had been taken by force to join the army. I
immediately thought of my brothers, who were a similar age. 

Later that day I met up with Zaw Min and heard his story, and it
only increased my fears . On 1990 Zaw Min was fourteen years old.
He was a pupil at a local school, and was in the 8th standard. He
was a happy care-free boy, who was born and brought up in a small
peaceful town by parents who had an adequate income from running
a small snack shop as well as farming. One day he had stayed
behind at school to play football with a few of his friends. When
they had finished and were walking home, they were stopped by a
group of soldiers intent upon rounding up porters. They never
made it home, despite the fact that Zaw Min lived only 400 meters
from his school.

Still in their school uniforms, Zaw Min and four of his friends
were taken to a nearby military base in Pegu where porters,
recently rounded up from the cinemas, tea shops and street
corners were being assembled.

As they were being processed, the base commander noticed their
school uniforms, and decided that rather than draft them into
forced porterage, they should be sent to an army recruitment
center for training. They were to be soldiers. 

Back at home, their parents had no idea why the boys had not come
home that night. They suspected, of course, that they had been
taken by the army, but had no concrete information. It was not
until 1993, three years after the five friends had disappeared,
that Zaw Min and one of the other boys taken that night were
considered loyal enough to be given home leave, and so let their
parents know where they were and what they were doing. As the
other three friends who had been arrested together with them had
been posted to a different place, Zaw Min had lost touch with
them and was unable to give their families any news.
Zaw Min's experience in the army was tough. Morale was low, and
conditions hard. The friend, who had been taken and posted at the
same time, was based at another outpost in the Papun area, and
after three months he reached a point of such despair that he cut
off both his trigger fingers so that he would be sent back from
the frontline. Although he should have faced a court-martial for
self-inflicted injury, he was fortunate in that the commander's
wife intervened and saved his life. He is now working as a
domestic servant in the commander's house. As for Zaw Min and
many others, they too found themselves desperate to get out.
Instead of self-mutilation, in the end they decided to desert,
and escape to the KNU and the NLD.

In the time of the BSPP (the former regime in Burma), our small
town was a white area, meaning that it was completely under the
control of the government, and there was no problems of ethnic
insurgency. Before the 1988 uprising there were no military
personnel stationed in town, excluding a brief period when a
platoon of soldiers came to watch over the construction of large
wooden warehouses for storing rice while I was in middle school.

Although porterage was not unknown to the towns-people, we had
never experienced the indiscriminate round-ups of people which
are happening today. Instead soldiers would come to town and talk
to the Party or Peoples' Council members who collected a few Kyat
from each household and hired a few die-hard cash-starved men,
most of whom were of Indian origin, to work as porters for one or
two months. But the tranquility and peacefulness of the town
changed in 1988 when a group of soldiers with a stern looking
captain came to town, dug bunkers in front of the hospital
opposite the monastery where demonstrators had set up their
strike centre, in order to get ready for a small war against
It is traditional in Burma for teenage boys and the unemployed to
hang out near cinemas and teashops. But around 1986 in many parts
of the country small video theaters sprang up and these became
the new hangouts. They provided perfect targets for Slorc
military round ups. 

I have two brothers: one is the same age as Zaw Min and the other
is two years older. The youngest brother was in middle school and
the other in high school in 1988, when I left for the jungle.
They used to enjoy Western and Chinese movies. So he never they
had the opportunity, they would hang out at a video theater in
the neighbourhood. They too must face a great risk of becoming
targets in the military round-ups.

As our family was active in the struggle for democracy; they all
participated in the demonstrations. I remember when I came home
from Rangoon my youngest brother proudly showed me a yellow rag
with two eye holes, torn out from a monk's robe, which he used to
cover his face in the demonstrations. He was so young it seemed
like great fun to him, rather than the serious struggle it was,
in which the lives of many people depended on the mercy of the

Like my youngest brother, Zaw Min as a small boy might have
joined in the demonstrations that affected all the strata of
Burmese society. Even though the shooting in the streets has now
died down, his life is still at risk. When a teenage boy like him
is taken away by force from a tea shop, a cinema, a video theater
or while on his way home from school, to be a soldier, what is in
store for him is a very bleak and uncertain future. He will most
likely die for the well being of the military elite who send
their own offspring abroad to get a better life and a better

Speaking to Zaw Min and his comrades since their defection to the
KNU and the NLD, one can see that all of them need time to
recover from the mental scars which they have suffered since
1990, and also time to readjust to their new circumstances. They
are confused, and unsure of their future direction. He cannot
think about resuming his studies at the moment, but needs time to
sort out his thoughts.

Meeting Zaw Min and the others gave me a greater awareness and
concern for all teenage boys in Burma like them, who can fall
prey to systematic military round-ups and forced recruitment. I
worry about my brothers. And I worry about the brothers of all
those living under the boot of the military, in whose hands the
future of our motherland rests.