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Top UN official urges Myanmar action ‘before it’s too late’

Clashes Between Armed Resistance Forces And The Military In Recent Days Have Prompted A New Wave Of Evacuations In The Northwest Region.

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Myanmar has been in turmoil since the military seized power on February 1, ending 10 years of tentative democracy and prompting outrage at home and abroad at the return of military rule [Stringer/Reuters]

Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, has warned of a human rights catastrophe under military rule in Myanmar and urged the international community to do more to prevent the conflict in the country from getting worse.

“The national consequences are terrible and tragic – the regional consequences could also be profound,” Bachelet said in a statement on Thursday.

“The international community must redouble its efforts to restore democracy and prevent wider conflict before it is too late.”

Myanmar has been in turmoil since the military seized power in a coup on February 1, ending 10 years of tentative steps towards democracy and prompting outrage at home and abroad.

More than 1,120 people have been killed since the coup, according to the United Nations, many during a nationwide crackdown by security forces on strikes and protests by those opposed to the military returning to power. Thousands of people have been arrested.

Armed resistance forces have formed in various regions, which have clashed with the military, prompting many thousands to flee, including to neighbouring India in recent days.

On Thursday, civilians were reportedly forced to flee their village in the Sagaing Region after security forces allegedly burned down homes and opened fire on residents.

The violence in Sagaing also comes just a day after thousands of people fled Chin state near the Indian border following fighting between anti-coup dissidents and the military.

Bachelet said troops had used weapons against civilians that were intended for military conflict and carried out “indiscriminate airstrikes and artillery barrages”.

Local media in Myanmar reported deadly violence in at least five different regions and states on Thursday, which included the use of homemade bombs by militias allied with the shadow National Unity Government (NUG), which earlier this month called for a “people’s defensive war” against the generals.

The military has called the NUG and its supporters “terrorists” whose campaign will fail.

Strong accountability

Western countries have condemned the military and imposed selected sanctions, but critics say they must take tougher measures, including applying an arms embargo.

Bachelet said Myanmar had failed to deliver on its agreement with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to cease violence and start dialogue.

“This underscores the urgent need for strong accountability measures. It also runs in the face of commitments made to ASEAN leaders,” she said.

The former Chilean president also urged all parties – but especially the military – to allow unrestricted access to humanitarian aid, and called for the immediate release of all political prisoners.

She called for all armed forces to protect civilians and said the use of air attacks and artillery in residential areas must cease immediately.