UN commissioner urges international effort on Myanmar 'before it is too late'

Tires burn on a street as protests against the military coup continue, in Mandalay, Myanmar on March 27, 2021.
PHOTO: Reuters

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on Thursday warned of a human rights catastrophe under military rule in Myanmar and urged the international community to do more to prevent conflict from worsening.

"The national consequences are terrible and tragic - the regional consequences could also be profound," Michelle Bachelet said in a statement.

"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 on Feb 1, ending a decade of tentative democracy and prompting outrage at home and abroad at the return of military rule.

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 pro-democracy strikes and protests, during which thousands 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. 

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 a shadow government, which earlier this month called for a "people's defensive war" against the junta.

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The military has called those "terrorists" whose campaign will fail.

Western countries have condemned the junta and imposed targeted sanctions, but critics say a tougher stand must be taken, including 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 a dialogue.

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