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Armed Conflict Spreading Across Myanmar as Violence Escalates

FILE - Protesters against Myanmar's junta burn the flag of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), in Mandalay.
FILE - Protesters against Myanmar's junta burn the flag of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), in Mandalay.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michele Bachelet says armed conflict is intensifying and spreading across parts of Myanmar in opposition to the military coup in February and could result in the heavy loss of life.

Violence and gross human rights abuse continues to escalate against civil society opposed to the military takeover of the country’s democratically elected government.

Rather than efforts to de-escalate the crisis, U.N. rights chief Bachelet says the military leaders are building up troops in key areas. That is happening primarily in areas with significant ethnic and religious minority groups, including Kayah State, Chin State and Kachin State.

The high commissioner’s spokeswoman, Ravina Shamdasani, says state security forces continue to use heavy weaponry, including airstrikes against armed groups and civilians, as well as civilian objects, including Christian churches.

"Credible reports indicate that security forces have used civilians as human shields, shelled civilian homes and churches … and they have blocked humanitarian access, including by attacking humanitarian actors," said Shamdasani. "Already, more than 108,000 people have fled their homes just in Kayah State over just the last three weeks. Many into forest areas with little or no food, water, sanitation or medical care.”

Shamdasani says the high commissioner’s office has received credible reports that military armed forces have occupied, fired upon, and damaged hospitals, schools, and religious institutions in military action.

She says at least 860 people reportedly have been killed by security forces since protests erupted against the military coup on February 1.

“Meanwhile, sweeping arrests of activists, journalists and opponents of the regime have continued across the country, with credible sources indicating that at least 4,804 people remain in arbitrary detention," said Shamdasani. "The high commissioner is deeply troubled by reports of detainees being tortured, and of collective punishment of family members of activists.”

High Commissioner Bachelet says Myanmar’s military has a duty to protect civilians. She says the international community must demand that it stop the outrageous use of heavy artillery against civilians and civilian objects and hold Myanmar’s leaders responsible for their actions.

She notes in just over four months, Myanmar has gone from being a fragile democracy to a human rights catastrophe. She adds the military leadership is responsible for the crisis and must be held to account.