GENEVA — The conflict between ethnic armed groups and the Myanmar military has expanded to the country’s eastern and western regions, with urban areas increasingly affected by intense fighting and aerial bombardment, UN agencies have reported.
In the fighting so far, about 70 civilians — and combatants who are out of action — have reportedly been killed and over 90 wounded, according to the UN human rights office (OHCHR).
The fighting has also fueled a fresh wave of displacement, driving over 200,000 people from their homes since Oct. 27.
In all, over two million people have been displaced across Myanmar.
According to the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), key transport routes in areas with active fighting have been blocked by both the military and the ethnic armed organizations.
There are also reports that at least one critical bridge was destroyed, and an airport has closed, restricting people’s movements to safer locations as well as access for humanitarians.
Spokesperson Jeremy Laurence, said OHCHR is closely monitoring developments in Myanmar, amid reports that several hundred soldiers have laid down their weapons.
“It is essential that all those captured are treated humanely,” he said on Friday, stressing that reprisals are absolutely forbidden under international law.
“Individual soldiers are not collectively responsible for crimes and human rights violations that have been committed by the military,” he added.
The OHCHR spokesperson said past behavior indicated that when the military junta’s forces suffered setbacks in the field, they use even greater force, through indiscriminate and disproportionate air strikes and artillery barrages.
“Over the past two years, we have documented the severe impact of such tactics on the civilian population,” he said.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres also voiced deep concern over the worsening situation in Myanmar.
“He calls on all parties to adhere to international humanitarian law and do their utmost to protect civilians,” UN Spokesperson, Stéphane Dujarric, said in a statement earlier this week.
Civilians should be protected in accordance with international humanitarian law, and those responsible for violations must be held accountable, Dujarric said.
“The Secretary-General appeals for unhindered access for the delivery of urgent humanitarian assistance and essential services through all channels. The safety and security for UN agencies and their partners is crucial,” he added.
Meanwhile, Myanmar’s Shan state, one of the provinces affected by the fighting, was struck by a 5.7 magnitude earthquake Friday morning shortly after 8 a.m. local time.
According to media reports, no casualties or major damage have been recorded. Earthquake modelling estimates suggest that about 20,000 people were exposed to significant tremors during the quake. — UN News