UN warns of ‘mass deaths’ in Myanmar after 100,000 flee fighting

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This picture taken on June 1, 2021 shows people taking refuge in a jungle area in Demoso, Kayah state, after they fled from conflict zones where fighting between the Myanmar military and members of the People's Defence Force (PDF) took place as the country remains in turmoil after the February military coup. (Courtesy: Photo by STR / AFP)

The United Nations has warned of “mass deaths from starvation, disease and exposure” in eastern Myanmar after “brutal, indiscriminate attacks” by the military. This has forced tens of thousands of people to flee their homes in Kayah State, a rights expert of the UN said.

Tom Andrews, the UN special rapporteur for Myanmar, in a statement on Wednesday, called for urgent international action. Attacks by the military – which took power after a February coup – were “threatening the lives of many thousands of men, women and children” in Kayah or Karenni state, he said.

“Let me blunt,” Andrews said.  “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.”

The plea came hours after the UN office in Myanmar said the violence in Kayah had displaced an estimated 100,000 people, who were now seeking safety in forests, host communities and southern parts of neighbouring Shan state.

Those fleeing and those in locations affected by the bombing and artillery fire were in dire need of food, water, shelter, fuel and access to healthcare, the UN office said in the statement.

“This crisis could push people across international borders seeking safety,” it warned, calling for all parties to “take the necessary measures and precautions to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure”.

Myanmar has been in chaos since the military takeover, with daily protests across the country and fighting in border areas between the military and armed ethnic minority groups. Human rights groups say security forces have killed at least 849 people since the coup and detained 5,800 others.

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