The United Nations' humanitarian relief agency says the number of people displaced within strife-torn Myanmar has for the first time exceeded 1 million, with well over half the total losing their homes after a military takeover last year. The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says in a report that an already critical situation is being exacerbated by ongoing fighting between the military government and its opponents, the increasing prices of essential commodities, and the coming of monsoon season, while funding for its relief efforts is severely inadequate. Its report covers the situation up to May 26. The military has hindered or denied independent access to areas not under its control, hampering aid efforts. Myanmar’s army in February last year seized power from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi, triggering widespread peaceful protests. When those were put down with lethal force by the army and police, nonviolent opposition turned into armed resistance, and the country slipped into what some U.N. experts characterize as a civil war. Also read: Myanmar situation continues to remain unsafe for civilians: Bangladesh OCHA says that fighting has recently escalated. “The impact on civilians is worsening daily with frequent indiscriminate attacks and incidents involving explosive hazards, including landmines and explosive remnants of war," the report says. It says that more than 694,300 people have become displaced from their homes since the army takeover, with thousands being uprooted a second or third time, and an estimated 346,000 people were displaced by fighting before last year’s takeover — mostly in frontier regions populated by ethnic minority groups who have been struggling for greater autonomy for decades. The report also says about 40,200 people have fled to neighboring countries since the takeover and more than 12,700 “civilian properties,” including houses, churches, monasteries and schools are estimated to have been destroyed. As of the end of the first quarter of this year, humanitarian assistance reached 2.6 million people in Myanmar, or 41% of the 6.2 million people targeted, OCHA says. The country's total population is over 55 million. But it warns this year’s Myanmar Humanitarian Response Plan is only 10% funded so far, falling short by $740 million. An official of the military government's Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement said Wednesday at a news conference in Myanmar's capital Naypyitaw that the government distributed humanitarian aid to more than 130,000 displaced people from May 2021 through May 27 this year. The official, whose testimony was broadcast but who was not identified by name, said 1,255 houses and five religious buildings were burned or destroyed in fighting between the army and local resistance militias, and consequently received government aid for rebuilding. Also read: FM urges UNHCR to expedite efforts at Rohingya repatriation to Myanmar U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said last month that the number of people worldwide forced to flee conflict, violence, human rights violations and persecution has crossed the milestone of 100 million for the first time on record. That's more than 1% of the global population and comprises refugees and asylum-seekers as well as people displaced inside their own countries by conflict. Violence and conflicts in countries including Ethiopia, Burkina Faso, Myanmar, Nigeria, Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo had driven the total to almost 90 million by the end of last year. The war in Ukraine pushed the number past the 100 million mark. The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, an independent Geneva-based non-governmental organization, said 53.2 million people were displaced within their countries as a result of conflict and violence as of Dec. 31.
Violence in eastern Myanmar, including air raids that drove thousands of members of the Karen ethnic minority to seek shelter across the border in Thailand, deepened Tuesday with new air attacks by the military that seized power from an elected government last month. Thailand's prime minister denied that his country's security forces had forced villagers back to Myanmar who had fled from military airstrikes over the weekend, saying they returned home on their own accord. But the situation in eastern Myanmar appeared to be getting more, not less, dangerous. Saw Taw Nee, head of the foreign affairs department of the Karen National Union, the main political body representing the Karen minority there, confirmed that new raids Tuesday left six civilians dead and 11 wounded. Dave Eubank, a member of the Free Burma Rangers, which provides medical assistance to villagers in the region, provided the same information. The attacks by Myanmar's military led the KNU to issue a statement from one of its armed units saying that the government's "military ground troops are advancing into our territories from all fronts," and vowing to respond. "We have no other options left but to confront these serious threats posed by the illegitimate military junta's army in order to defend our territory, our Karen peoples, and their self-determination rights," said the statement, issued in the name of the KNU office for the district that was first attacked on Saturday. It said the attacks were the latest in a series of actions by Myanmar's military breaking a cease-fire agreement. The KNU has been fighting for greater autonomy for the Karen people. Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, speaking before the latest air attacks, said his country is ready to shelter anyone who is escaping fighting, as it has done many times for decades. His comments came a day after humanitarian groups said Thailand has been sending back some of the thousands of people who have fled the air attacks by Myanmar's military. "There is no influx of refugees yet. We asked those who crossed to Thailand if they have any problem in their area. When they say no problem, we just asked them to return to their land first. We asked, we did not use any force," Prayuth told reporters. "We won't push them back," he said. 'If they are having fighting, how can we do so? But if they don't have any fighting at the moment, can they go back first?" The governor of Thailand's Mae Hong Son province, where as many as 3,000 refugees had sought shelter, said later that those still on Thai soil were expected to return to their own country in a day or two. The attacks are a further escalation of the violent crackdown by Myanmar's junta on protests against its Feb. 1 takeover. At least 510 protesters have been killed since the coup, according to Myanmar's Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, which says the actual toll is likely much higher. It says 2,574 people have been detained. Protests continued Tuesday despite the deaths of more than 100 people on Saturday alone. Engineers, teachers and students from the technology university in the southern city of Dawei marched without incident. The number of protesters killed in the city rose to eight with the announcement of the death of a teenager who was shot by soldiers on Saturday as he rode a motorbike with two friends. According to local media, a hospital certificate attributed his death to "serious injuries as he fell from a motorbike." Medical workers in Mandalay, the country's second biggest city, honored three of their colleagues who have been killed by security forces. The two doctors and a nurse were remembered in a simple ceremony in front of a banner with their photographs and the words "Rest In Power." At a cemetery in the biggest city, Yangon, three families gave their last farewells to relatives killed Monday in a night of chaos in the South Dagon neighborhood. Residents said police and soldiers moved through the streets firing randomly with live ammunition. The coup that ousted the government of Aung San Suu Kyi reversed the country's progress toward democracy since her National League for Democracy party won elections in 2015 after five decades of military rule. At Thailand's Mae Sam Laep village along the Salween River, which forms the border with Myanmar, paramilitary Thai Rangers on Tuesday twice waved off a boat that had come from the other side carrying seven people, including one lying flat and another with a bandage on his head. But ambulances soon arrived on the Thai side and it landed anyway. Thai villagers helped medical staff carry the injured people on stretchers to a small clinic at a nearby checkpoint. One man had large bruises on his back with open wounds, an injury one medical staffer said could have been caused by an explosion. An elderly woman in the group had small cuts and scabs all over her face. Thai nurses in protective gear to guard against COVID-19 attended to her, giving her and others tests for the coronavirus. Another villager from the boat, 48-year-old Aye Ja Bi, said he had been wounded by a bomb dropped by a plane. His legs were hit by shrapnel and his ears were ringing, he said, but he was unable to travel to get help until Tuesday. The airstrikes appeared to be retaliation for an attack by guerrillas under the command of the KNU on a government military outpost in which they claimed to have killed 10 soldiers and captured eight. Tuesday's KNU statement charged that the strikes had been planned before that. About 2,500-3,000 refugees crossed into Thailand on Sunday, according to several humanitarian aid agencies who have long worked with the Karen. They said on Monday, however, that Thai soldiers had begun to force people to return to Myanmar. "They told them it was safe to go back even though it is not safe. They were afraid to go back but they had no choice," said a spokesperson for the Karen Peace Support Network, a group of Karen civil society organizations in Myanmar. The army has restricted journalists' access to the area where the villagers crossed the border. Myanmar's government has battled Karen guerrillas on and off for years — along with other ethnic minorities seeking more autonomy — but the airstrikes marked a major escalation of violence. Political organizations representing the Karen and Kachin in northern Myanmar have issued statements in recent weeks warning the government against shooting protesters in their regions and threatening a response. They were joined Tuesday by the Three Brothers Alliance, which represent the guerrilla armies of the Rakhine, Kokang and Ta-ang -- also known as Palaung -- minorities. The alliance condemned the killing of protesters and said if it did not stop immediately, they would abandon a self-declared cease-fire and join with other groups to protect the people. Their statement, like those of the Karen and Kachin, seemed to suggest that any military response by them would be in their home areas, not in the cities of central Myanmar where the protests and repression have been the strongest. Supporters of the protest movement are hoping that the ethnic armed groups could help pressure the junta. Protest leaders in hiding say they have held talks, but there have been no commitments. The United States on Monday suspended a trade deal with Myanmar, also known as Burma, until a democratic government is restored in the Southeast Asian country. The office of the U.S. Trade Representative said the country was immediately suspending "all U.S. engagement with Burma under the 2013 Trade and Investment Framework Agreement." Under the agreement, the two countries cooperated on trade and investment issues in an effort to integrate Myanmar into the global economy, a reward for the military's decision to allow a return to democracy — a transition that ended abruptly with last month's coup. The announcement Monday doesn't stop trade between the two countries. Last week, the United States restricted American dealings with two giant Myanmar military holding companies that dominate much of that country's economy. END/AP/UNB
Myanmar security forces opened fire Sunday on a crowd attending the funeral of student who was killed on the bloodiest day yet of a crackdown on protests against last month’s coup, local media reported. The escalating violence — which took the lives of at least 114 people Saturday, including several children — has prompted a U.N. human rights expert to accuse the junta of committing “mass murder” and to criticize the international community for not doing enough to stop it. The Security Council is likely to hold closed consultations on the escalating situation in Myanmar, U.N. diplomats said Sunday, speaking on condition of anonymity ahead of an official announcement. The council has condemned the violence and called for a restoration of democracy, but has not yet considered possible sanctions against the military, which would require support or an abstention by Myanmar’s neighbor and friend China. The mounting death tolls have not stopped the demonstrations against the Feb. 1 takeover — or the violent response of the military and police to them. Myanmar Now reported that the junta’s troops shot at mourners at the funeral in the city of Bago for Thae Maung Maung, a 20-year-old killed on Saturday. He was reportedly a member of the All Burma Federation of Student Union, which has a long history of supporting pro-democracy movements in the country. Also read: Myanmar crackdown: UN chief demands firm, unified and resolute international response According to the report, several people attending the funeral were arrested. It did not say if anyone was hurt or killed. But at least nine people were killed elsewhere Sunday as the crackdown continued, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, which has been documenting deaths during demonstrations against the coup. Some of the funerals held Sunday became themselves opportunities to demonstrate resistance to the junta. At one in Bhamo in the northern state of Kachin, a large crowd chanted democracy slogans and raised the three-finger salute that has come to symbolize defiance of the takeover. Family and friends were paying their respects to Shwe Myint, a 36-year-old who was shot dead by security forces on Saturday. The military had initially seized her body and refused to return it until her family signed a statement that her death was not caused by them, according to the Democratic Voice of Burma, a broadcast and online news service. In Yangon, the country’s largest city, meanwhile, mourners flashed the three-finger salute as they wheeled the coffin of a 13-year-old boy. Sai Wai Yan was shot dead by security forces as he played outside his home. The Feb. 1 coup that ousted Aung San Suu Kyi’s elected government reversed years of progress toward democracy after five decades of military rule. It has again made Myanmar the focus of international scrutiny as security forces have repeatedly fired into crowds of protesters. At least 459 people have been killed since the takeover, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. The crackdown extends beyond the demonstrations: Humanitarian workers reported that the military had carried out airstrikes Sunday against guerilla fighters in the eastern part of the country. Henrietta Fore, head of the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF, said in Saturday’s bloodiest day since the coup “an 11-year-old boy, an 11-year-old girl, two 13-year-old boys, a 13-year-old girl, three 16-year-old boys and two 17-year-old boys, (were) all reportedly shot and killed.” She said “a 1-year-old baby girl gravely injured after being struck in the eye with a rubber bullet.” “In less than two months, at least 35 children have allegedly been killed, countless others seriously injured and almost 1,000 children and young people reported arbitrarily detained by security forces across the country” she said, condemning the indiscriminate killings and demanding that those responsible be held accountable. The junta has accused some of the demonstrators of perpetrating the violence because of their sporadic use of Molotov cocktails and has said its use of force has been justified to stop what it has called rioting. While protesters have occasionally hurled firecrackers at troops and on Saturday carried bows and arrows, they remain vastly outgunned and have shown commitment to methods of nonviolent civil disobedience. Saturday’s death toll far exceeded the previous single-day high that ranged from 74 to 90 on March 14. The killings happened throughout the country as Myanmar’s military celebrated the annual Armed Forces Day holiday with a parade in the country’s capital, Naypyitaw. “Today the junta of Myanmar has made Armed Forces Day a day of infamy with the massacre of men, women and very young children throughout country,” said Tom Andrews, the U.N.’s independent expert on human rights for Myanmar. “Words of condemnation or concern are frankly ringing hollow to the people of Myanmar while the military junta commits mass murder against them. ... It is past time for robust, coordinated action.” Also read: Myanmar protests continue a day after more than 100 killed Those calls were echoed by others. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was shocked by the killings of civilians, including children, and a group of defense chiefs from 12 countries also condemned the violence. U.N. Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Alice Wairimu Nderitu, and U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, said: “The shameful, cowardly, brutal actions of the military and police – who have been filmed shooting at protesters as they flee, and who have not even spared young children – must be halted immediately.” President Joe Biden told reporters: “It’s terrible. It’s absolutely outrageous. Based on the reporting I’ve gotten, an awful lot of people have been killed. Totally unnecessary.” Biden said his administration is working on a response but offered no details. It’s still not clear what action is possible — or how quick it could be. The U.N. Security Council has not advocated concerted action against the junta, such as a ban on selling it arms. China and Russia are both major arms suppliers to Myanmar’s military as well as politically sympathetic. If the Security Council isn’t able to do anything, Andrews called for an emergency international summit. Human rights group Amnesty International also criticized the hesitancy to do more. “U.N. Security Council member states’ continued refusal to meaningfully act against this never-ending horror is contemptible,” said Ming Yu Hah, the organization’s deputy regional director for campaigns. In the meantime, protesters have continued to rally in Myanmar’s streets. In one demonstration in Yangon on Sunday, a small group made its way through a residential area that the day before had seen chaos with police shooting at demonstrators and the protesters responding with fireworks and Molotov cocktails. The march finished without incident. In addition to unleashing violence against demonstrators, the military is also continuing to battle ethnic Karen fighters in the country’s east. About 3,000 villagers from territory controlled by the Karen fled across the border to Thailand on Sunday after Myanmar military aircraft dropped bombs on a Karen guerrilla position, said workers for two humanitarian relief agencies. The Karen National Union is one of more than a dozen ethnic organizations that have been fighting for decades to gain more autonomy from Myanmar’s central government. The tension at the border comes as the leaders of the resistance to the coup are seeking to have the Karen and other ethnic groups join them as allies. So far the ethnic armed groups have only committed to providing protection to protesters in areas they control.
In response to the killing of at least 18 protesters demonstrating against Myanmar’s military coup, the UN human rights office (OHCHR) on Sunday together with the UN chief, strongly condemned the “escalating violence” and called for an immediate end to the use of force.
An increased use of force and the reported deployment of armoured vehicles to major cities throughout Myanmar have sparked the deep concern of UN Secretary-General António Guterres.
Outgoing Australian High Commissioner to Bangladesh Julia Niblett has said Australia and Bangladesh will continue to work together on various fronts, including the humanitarian response to the Rohingya crisis.