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US Calls for Probe of Reports of Myanmar Military Atrocities

FILE - Myanmar army soldiers patrol a road in Feb. 2015 as part of operations against ethnic rebels in Kokang, northeastern Shan State, Myanmar.

The United States on Thursday called for a credible, independent investigation by Myanmar's government of reports of military atrocities in the country's Shan State, saying they were reprehensible, if true.

A rights group, the Shan Human Rights Foundation, accused Myanmar's army last week of bombing schools and Buddhist temples, firing on civilians and committing rape in an offensive against ethnic rebels in eastern Myanmar that has uprooted more than 10,000 people.

"We are concerned by reports of Burmese military atrocities, including allegations of indiscriminate attacks on civilian populations and infrastructure, rape, and other acts of sexual violence," said Katina Adams, a spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department.

"These allegations, if true, are reprehensible, and we urge the Government of Burma to undertake a credible, independent investigation into these allegations, and to hold perpetrators accountable for their actions."

FILE - Rebel soldiers of Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) patrol near a military base in Kokang region, March 10, 2015.
FILE - Rebel soldiers of Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) patrol near a military base in Kokang region, March 10, 2015.

Last month, the senior U.S. diplomat for Asia, Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel, was in Myanmar, which is also known as Burma. He met Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing and urged the military to exercise restraint and to work to promote peace and reconciliation in conflict areas.

Decades-long conflict

Myanmar has fought ethnic groups in its borderlands off and on for decades, causing massive displacement within the country and forcing hundreds of thousands to seek refuge across the border in Thailand.

In October, a military-backed civilian government that replaced a military junta in 2010 signed a ceasefire with eight armed ethnic groups. But the deal fell short of its nationwide billing, with seven of the 15 invited groups declining to sign, including the Shan State Army-North and the Kachin Independence Army.

After 2010, the country embarked on U.S.-backed reforms toward elections that were held last month. Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy won in a landslide, but her party has yet to take power.

According to activists in Shan State, since Oct. 6 the army has shelled six villages, shot and injured three people, and fired on 17 villagers who are now missing.

The Shan Human Rights Foundation said it had documented eight cases of sexual violence since April 2015, including a 32-year-old woman gang-raped by 10 soldiers on Nov. 5 while her husband was tied up under their farm hut in Ke See township.

The Myanmar government has not responded to requests for comment about the fighting in Shan state.