Chiang Mai – At least 40 child soldiers have joined the ranks of the Burmese regime’s new border forces, after a number of Democratic Karen Buddhist Army battalions this month came under junta command, a fellow soldier revealed today.

“In the past, they [the children] were DKBA soldiers but now they have become BGF soldiers,” a soldier from the Border Guard Force (BGF) central office told Mizzima. “As far as I know, there are about 40 child soldiers in the 999th Brigade and Kalohtoobaw’s battalion alone,” he added.

Some officers and soldiers from the DKBA (which reportedly had more than 7,000 troops) resigned, some retired and some joined the BGF, so it is estimated that about 1,000 DKBA troops have rejected the junta’s proposal to join the force.

A former DKBA soldier from the 7th battalion under the 999th Brigade said: “The force’s priority is to accept the youths. Some are about 16 years old, but they appear older than 20. Some children were forced to join the DKBA and some joined of their own accord.”

The DKBA recruited many child soldiers, Aung Myo Min, director of the Human Rights Education Institute of Burma (HREIB) based in Thailand, said.

“DKBA has become a subordinate of the junta’s army, so handling the child soldiers’ case has become the duty of the State Peace and Development Council [SPDC, Burma’s ruling military junta]. If it really wants to eliminate child-soldier cases, it must not allow this [accepting child soldiers into the BGF] to happen,” Aung Myo Min said.

“The SPDC … should give those children immediate help and send them home. The junta has the duty not to accept the children in the Border Guard Force”, he added.

Burma signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1992, so if the Burmese Army, or the BGF, used child soldiers, they could be charged with violation of that convention, he said.

The junta formed the committee for the prevention of military recruitment of underage children on January 5, 2004, with the co-operation of UN, but since then observers and some UN reports have said the committee had taken no action and that the Burmese Army was still recruiting child soldiers. The UN labour organisation, the ILO, has reported widespread cases of kidnapping used in such “recruiting”.