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UN Rights Chief Warns Myanmar Heading Toward Syria-like Civil War

Protesters take part in a demonstration against the Myanmar military coup in Inle lake, Shan state, Myanmar, Feb. 11, 2021.
Protesters take part in a demonstration against the Myanmar military coup in Inle lake, Shan state, Myanmar, Feb. 11, 2021.

The U.N. high commissioner for human rights, Michele Bachelet, warns Myanmar could be headed toward a bloody civil war like Syria unless the violence is brought under control.

Bachelet is calling on all states with influence, especially Myanmar's neighbors, to apply concerted pressure on the ruling military junta to end its campaign of repression and slaughter of its people.

She said many of the grave human rights violations being committed by Myanmar's military might amount to crimes against humanity and must be stopped. Bachelet's spokeswoman, Ravina Shamdasani, said the high commissioner fears a continuation of these crimes could tear the country apart and lead to a civil war.

"The high commissioner states that there are clear echoes of Syria in 2011," Shamdasani said. "There too, we saw peaceful protests met with unnecessary and clearly disproportionate force. The state's brutal, persistent repression of its own people led to some individuals taking up arms, followed by a downward and rapidly expanding spiral of violence all across the country."

Syria's decadelong civil war has had disastrous consequences. The United Nations estimates 400,000 people have died, 11.7 million are displaced both within Syria and as refugees, and more than 11 million people need international aid to survive.

Shamdasani said credible reports indicate the past weekend in Myanmar was particularly deadly. She said the country's armed forces, known as the Tatmadaw, attacked civilians with rocket-propelled grenades and mortar fire, killing at least 82 people.

Some people are using makeshift or primitive weapons in self-defense, she said, and clashes between the military and ethnic armed groups in Kachin, Shan and Kayn states are intensifying.

"As arrests continue, with at least 3,080 people currently detained, there are reports that 23 people have been sentenced to death following secret trials — including four protesters and 19 others who were accused of political and criminal offenses. The mass arrests have forced hundreds of people to go into hiding," Shamdasani said.

She added that the country's economic, education and health infrastructure are at the point of collapse. Millions of people have lost their livelihoods and COVID-19 measures have been brought to a standstill, she said.

Bachelet has called the situation untenable. She said nations must cut off the supply of arms and finances to the military leadership that allow it to kill and seriously violate its people's human rights.