Police have denied rumours that army press gangs are forcibly recruiting men and boys as military porters to serve in the fighting against the Kokang armed group headed by Pheung Kya-shin.
Despite the official denial, the rumour was rife in Nay Pyi Taw and other parts of the country last week.
Some men are even reportedly climbing trees to avoid being inducted.
The stories began following a February 21 press conference about the fighting in Laukai, northern Shan State, and spread rapidly. The next day it was circulating in Pyinmana township.
An instructor who runs a computer class in Nay Pyi Taw’s Lewe township told The Myanmar Times that many of his students left class early to go home “because they said the government was recruiting porters on the roads to the villages”.
Daw Khin Win, of Aye Chan Thar village tract in Lewe, said the rumour had also spread in her area. “No one knows exactly where it came from. We heard that people in Yeni, Bago Region, had been forced to serve as porters,” she said. “In our village, the men and boys stay off the streets after dark.”
Police Colonel Zaw Khin Aung, deputy head of Nay Pyi Taw Police, acknowledged the rumours, but said they were not true.
“We go to the villages and explain the real situation. No such labour force exists. The Tatmadaw aren’t doing that now,” he said.
But U Phar, who runs an agriculture and livestock business in Pyinmana township, said, “Men from the village hide in my banana plantation at night because they don’t want to be forced to act as porters in the war. They say some men climb trees to hide there.”
Pol Col Zaw Khin Aung dismissed the reports, saying, “Who would dare to recruit porters in Nay Pyi Taw, an administrative town? It’s not like the army were doing it in the countryside, where it would be harder to deny. People should not spread these rumours in time of war.”
Human rights activists have long accused the Tatmadaw of recruiting local civilians for dangerous work as military porters during the country’s decades-long ethnic conflicts.
Translation by Thiri Min Htun