Myanmar military is fighting ill-armed volunteers, aligned with anti-coup lawmakers, in Kayah State near the Thai border, with locals accusing the army of firing artillery shells that landed near villages.
The UN's special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar has warned of "mass deaths" from starvation and disease in the wake of fighting between rebel groups and junta forces in the east of the coup-stricken country.
Fighting has flared in several communities – especially in townships that have seen a high death toll at the hands of police – and some locals have formed "defence forces."
Clashes have escalated in Kayah state near the Thai border in recent weeks.
Locals have accused the military of firing artillery shells that have landed near villages and the UN estimates around 100,000 people have been displaced.
Mass deaths from starvation, disease and exposure could occur in Kayah State after many of the 100,000 forced to flee into forests from junta bombs are now cut off from food, water and medicine by the junta. The international community must act. My full statement below. pic.twitter.com/69fxZHRMN7— UN Special Rapporteur Tom Andrews (@RapporteurUn) June 8, 2021
"The junta's brutal, indiscriminate attacks are threatening the lives of many thousands of men, women and children in Kayah state", Tom Andrews said in a statement posted on Twitter Tuesday.
"Let me be blunt. Mass deaths from starvation, disease, and exposure, on a scale we have not yet seen... could occur in Kayah state absent immediate action."
AFP images from Kayah state have shown villagers manufacturing guns in makeshift factories as local defence groups go up against Myanmar's battle-hardened military.
An activist in Kayah State told Reuters many displaced people could not be reached including in an area east of Demoso town, about 15 km (9 miles) from the state capital, Loikaw.
"Some people to the east of Demoso have to survive on rice broth as we cannot deliver rice bags to them," said the activist, who asked not to be identified. She said that military authorities had arrested three people trying to deliver aid in the last two weeks.
Power had also been cut in many areas and, along with food, materials for shelter and petrol were also desperately needed, said the activist, who also called for urgent international help.
Halting international pressure on junta
Diplomatic efforts to halt the bloodshed have been led by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) – of which Myanmar is a member – but the bloc is riven with infighting and has managed to put little pressure on the junta.
An emergency summit in April produced a "five-point consensus" statement that called for an immediate halt to violence and a visit to Myanmar by a special envoy.
But a special envoy has yet to be appointed, and violence has continued across the country.
China – which enjoys exceptional leverage over Myanmar – has also been unwilling to condemn the junta and has refused to label its power-grab a coup.
Its foreign minister Wang Yi said Tuesday that Beijing's policy towards its neighbour "is not affected by changes to Myanmar's domestic and external situation."
"China has supported, is supporting and will support Myanmar in choosing a development path that suits its own circumstances," Wang said at a meeting with junta-appointed foreign minister U Wunna Maung Lwin in Chongqing.