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UN Warns of 'Massive Loss of Life' in Eastern Myanmar   

FILE - This picture taken on June 3, 2021 shows people taking refuge in a jungle area in Demoso, Kayah state. (Photo by STR / AFP)

A United Nations official says Myanmar’s eastern Kayah State is on the brink of a humanitarian crisis, with thousands of people facing starvation after fleeing their homes to escape fighting between security and ethnic rebel forces.

Tom Andrews, the U.N.’s special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, issued a statement Wednesday saying more than 100,000 people in Kayah State, which lies along the border with Thailand, have been forced to flee their homes and villages to escape “bombing raids and artillery fire” by security forces, with many forced into nearby forests without food, water or shelter.

Andrews said he’s received reports of junta forces setting up blockades in Kayah State to prevent humanitarian aid from reaching the refugees, even going so far as to lay landmines on public roads.

He warns that “mass deaths from starvation, disease and exposure” could occur in Kayah State “without immediate action,” and called on neighboring countries to do “everything possible to support the movement of cross-border aid into Myanmar.”

Myanmar has descended into chaos since the military’s February 1 overthrow of the civilian government and its leader, Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

The junta has launched a bloody crackdown in response to daily nationwide protests against the takeover. A human rights monitoring group estimates that at least 850 protesters have been killed since the coup, though the army disputes that figure.