• Tuesday, Jun 22, 2021
  • Last Update : 01:38 am

UN rights envoy warns of risk of starvation in Myanmar's Kayah State

  • Published at 04:45 pm June 9th, 2021
Displaced People Myanmar
People displaced by fighting from Myanmar's north-western town of Mindat are pictured in Chin State, Myanmar on May 20, 2021 Reuters

Biden’s top official in Asia expressed concern about the worsening situation in Myanmar

Myanmar's Kayah State could suffer a "massive" loss of life beyond anything seen since the military seized power, with more than 100,000 people fleeing their homes to escape conflict, a UN human rights investigator warned on Wednesday.

Myanmar's military has been battling on multiple fronts to impose order since its February 1 coup against Aung San Suu Kyi and her elected government sparked nationwide protests. Kayah State, which borders Thailand, is one of several regions where volunteer People's Defence Forces have clashed with Myanmar's well-equipped army, which has responded with artillery and air strikes, triggering an exodus into nearby forests.

"The junta's brutal, indiscriminate attacks are threatening the lives of many thousands of men, women and children in Kayah State," Thomas Andrews, UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, said in a statement.

"Let me blunt. Mass deaths from starvation, disease, and exposure, on a scale we have not yet seen since the February 1 coup, could occur in Kayah State absent immediate action," he said.

An activist in Kayah State said many displaced people could not be reached including in an area east of Demoso town, about 15 km from the state capital, Loikaw.

"Some people to the east of Demoso have to survive on rice broth as we cannot deliver rice bags to them," said the activist, who asked not to be identified. She said that military authorities had arrested three people trying to deliver aid in the last two weeks.

Power had also been cut in many areas and, along with food, materials for shelter and petrol were also desperately needed, said the activist, who also called for urgent international help.

A spokesman for the junta did not immediately respond to calls requesting comment.

Thailand, which fears a flood of refugees, has expressed its concern about the fighting in Myanmar and urged the junta to take steps agreed with other Southeast Asian countries aimed at setting a course out of the conflict.

The junta has paid little heed to demands from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) to respect a "consensus" agreed in late April to end violence and hold political talks with its opponents.

On Tuesday, President Joe Biden's policy coordinator for the Indo-Pacific region said the situation inside military-ruled Myanmar was deeply concerning and continuing to get worse and the United States was looking at all possible scenarios there.

"It's undeniable that the violence is spiralling," Kurt Campbell told an online event hosted by the Centre for a New American Security think tank.

"We're seeing not only challenges from the ethnic insurgencies, but increasingly, much more organized and purposeful and determined opposition on democratic side that has refused to go down."

"It's hard not to be discouraged by what we've seen," he said, when asked if he saw the possibility of state collapse in Myanmar. 

"I would say the situation inside the country is concerning. And the situation is continuing to get worse. I think we are looking at all scenarios."

Myanmar has been in turmoil since a February 1 military coup, with daily protests in towns and cities and fighting in borderlands between the military and ethnic minority militias, some of which have only existed for a few weeks.

A rights group says Myanmar security forces have killed at least 857 protesters since the coup, though the army disputes that figure.

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