The UN has warned of a worsening humanitarian crisis in Myanmar, where more than three million people now rely on aid one year after contested elections led to a military power grab.
The world body's top humanitarian, Martin Griffiths, described “increasing violence” in Myanmar, where clashes between the military and armed civilians as well as disease and economic woes have pushed millions into poverty and the country towards civil war.
Aid agencies have been able to reach more than 1.67 million people with food and other supplies, but fighting and financial shortages are hampering their work. A UN appeal for $385 million has only been half funded.
“Across the country, there are now more than three million people in need of life-saving humanitarian assistance because of growing conflict and insecurity, Covid-19 and a failing economy,” Mr Griffiths said on Monday.
“Without an end to violence and a peaceful resolution of Myanmar’s crisis, this number will only rise.”
The UN Security Council met privately on Monday to debate Myanmar. It marked the first anniversary of the landslide re-election of Aung San Suu Kyi's government, which was ousted on February 1 by the military, whose leaders claimed the election was fraudulent.
Since the takeover, Myanmar has been wracked by unrest, with peaceful demonstrations against the ruling generals morphing first into a low-level insurgency in many urban areas after security forces used deadly force, and then into more serious combat in rural areas.
In border regions, armed ethnic minority groups have been engaging in heavy clashes with government troops, pushing the resource-rich South-East Asian nation of some 54 million people ever closer to full-scale civil war.
Mr Griffiths said clashes since the coup have forced hundreds of thousands from their homes.
He described “extremely concerning” fighting in the north-west in recent weeks that pitted the military against forces from the Chin ethnic group as well as armed civilian anti-coup groups, known as the People’s Defence Forces.
More than 37,000 people have been displaced in the north-west in recent weeks and more than 160 homes, churches and a humanitarian office have been burnt, said Mr Griffiths.
“Attacks directed against civilians and civilian infrastructure, including humanitarian workers and facilities, are clearly prohibited under international humanitarian law and must stop immediately,” he said.
James Kariuki, Britain’s deputy UN envoy, said that a build-up in the north-west offered a grim reminder of 2017, when Myanmar security forces cracked down on the Rohingya minority there, driving more than 700,000 refugees into neighbouring Bangladesh.
Myanmar’s military should “know that we're watching,” said Mr Kariuki.
“The military junta in Myanmar has been clinging on to power, determined to do whatever is necessary to hold that power.”
Myanmar faces genocide charges at the International Court of Justice over the crackdown on the Rohingya. Naypyitaw denies the genocide charge and says the country's armed forces were legitimately striking militants who had attacked police posts.