The United Nations has announced it fears a greater human rights catastrophe in Myanmar amid reports of thousands of troops massing in the north of the Southeast Asian country which has been in chaos since a February coup.
UN Special Rapporteur on Myanmar Tom Andrews, who was presenting the findings of an annual human rights report on Myanmar to the UN General Assembly on Friday, said he had received information that tens of thousands of troops and heavy weapons were being moved into restive regions in the north and northwest.
The findings, he stated, also indicated that the military government had engaged in probable crimes against humanity and war crimes.
“We should all be prepared, as the people in this part of Myanmar are prepared, for even more mass atrocity crimes. I desperately hope that I am wrong,” added Andrews.
More than 1,100 civilians have been killed in the country’s bloody crackdown on dissent and more than 8,000 arrested since the coup, according to a local monitoring group.
“These tactics are ominously reminiscent of those employed by the military before its genocidal attacks against the Rohingya in Rakhine State in 2016 and 2017,” Andrews addecontinued.
In 2017, about 740,000 Rohingya fled Myanmar’s Rakhine state after security forces launched a clampdown that the UN has said may amount to genocide.
Andrews urged countries to deny Myanmar’s military the money, weapons and legitimacy it desired, citing a prisoner release earlier in the week as evidence that pressure was working.
On Monday, Myanmar’s military chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing announced the release of more than 5,000 people jailed for protesting against the coup.
The move came just days after the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) delivered a major snub to the military regime in excluding its head from an upcoming summit of the 10-country bloc.
Christine Schraner Burgener, the UN special envoy for Myanmar, told Al Jazeera she fears a civil war may break out in the country.
“People are now equipped with iPhones and the main source of information in Myanmar is Facebook and Twitter,” she said.
“They are very determined not to give up. And if they don’t give up, and if they are so angry to also use violence, then that the violence will create more violence” that would lead to “a full-blown internal armed conflict”, Burgener added.
Andrews said Myanmar forces had displaced a quarter of a million people. Many of those who had been detained were tortured, he noted, including dozens who had died as a result. He added that he had received credible reports that children had also been tortured.
Myanmar’s military government has also decried the decision by its Southeast Asian neighbours to invite only a non-political figure to an upcoming regional summit in a snub to the leader of the February coup, as calls grow for more international pressure on the coup leaders.
The military government’s foreign ministry said in a press release on Friday that the heads of state or government of Myanmar enjoyed equal and full rights to participate in summits of the 10-member ASEAN.
The next summit is to take place on October 26-28. It is not clear who, if anybody, will now represent Myanmar at the meeting.
“Myanmar will not be in a position to accept any outcome of the discussions and decisions which are…contrary to the provisions, objectives and cherished principles of the ASEAN Charter,” the foreign ministry added in its release.