‘Horrified’ UN official condemns reported killings of civilians in Myanmar

Court postpones verdicts in two cases in the trial of ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi

A senior UN official called on Myanmar authorities to investigate the reported killing of at least 35 civilians that opposition activists blamed on government soldiers, saying he was "horrified" at the violence.

The ruling military has not commented on the killings near Mo So village in Kayah State on Friday and junta spokesman Zaw Min Tun could not be reached by phone for comment.

State media reported on Sunday that soldiers had fired on and killed an unspecified number of “terrorists with weapons” from forces fighting the military government. State media did not say anything about civilians.

UN under-secretary general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief co-ordinator Martin Griffiths said reports of the killing of civilians, including at least one child, were credible.

“I am horrified by reports of an attack against civilians ... I condemn this grievous incident and all attacks against civilians throughout the country, which are prohibited under international humanitarian law,” he said in a statement.

Mr Griffiths called for “a thorough and transparent” investigation so the perpetrators could be brought to justice.

Residents and a human rights group working in the area said soldiers had killed the civilians. Photographs posted by the rights group showed charred bodies, some in the back of a burned-out truck.

Myanmar has been in turmoil since the military overthrew the elected government of Nobel Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi on February 1st.

Some opponents of the military have taken up arms, some linking up with ethnic minority guerrillas who have for years been fighting the government for self-determination in various parts of the country, including Kayah State in the east.

On Monday, three sources in the western Thai city of Mae Sot, 330km to the south, said there were further signs of fighting on the Myanmar side of the border, including gunshots, plumes of smoke and an air strike.

According to Thai authorities, 5,260 refugees have fled the area into Thailand since a flare-up in fighting between the Myanmar army and the Karen National Union (KNU) insurgent group on December 16th.

Thailand's foreign ministry spokesman said Thailand was working with the UN refugee agency, the (UNHCR, in case "Thai authorities are unable to manage the situation", following calls by aid organisations for Bangkok to do more to help.

Suu Kyi verdicts

Since Myanmar's military launched the coup, more than 1,300 people have been killed in crackdowns on protests and more than 11,000 have been jailed, according to a tally by the Association for Assistance of Political Prisoners rights group.

The military disputes the group’s death toll.

On Monday a court in Myanmar postponed to January 10th verdicts it was expected to make in two cases in the trial of ousted leader Ms Suu Kyi.

The court had been due to rule on charges that included the possession of unlicensed walkie-talkies, the second of nearly a dozen cases against Ms Suu Kyi (76) that carry a combined sentence of more than 100 years in prison. She denies all charges.

Supporters of the Nobel laureate say the cases against her are baseless and designed to end once and for all the challenge she poses to the military’s grip on power.

Ms Suu Kyi led a civilian government until it was ousted and she was detained in a February 1st military coup.

She is already serving a two-year sentence at an undisclosed location after being found guilty on December 7th on charges of incitement and breaching coronavirus restrictions.

Ms Suu Kyi spent years under house arrest for her opposition to military rule but was freed in 2010 and led her National League for Democracy to a landslide victory in a 2015 election.

Her party won again in November last year but the military said the vote was rigged and seized power weeks later. The election commission at the time dismissed the military’s complaint.

Myanmar has been in turmoil since the coup with hundreds of people killed in protests and fighting against the army. – Reuters