Myanmar has been in turmoil since a military coup on February 1, with daily protests in towns and cities and fighting in borderlands between the military and ethnic minority militias, some of which have only existed for a few weeks.
“This crisis could push people across international borders seeking safety, as already seen in other parts of the country,” the UN in Myanmar said in a statement.
It urged all parties to “urgently take the necessary measures and precautions to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure.”
Myanmar’s foreign minister defended the junta’s plan for restoring democracy, state media reported on Tuesday, after a meeting at which his counterparts from ASEAN (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations) member states pressed the junta to honor a consensus agreement to halt violence and start dialogue with its opponents.
State media cited the junta’s envoy, retired army colonel Wunna Maung Lwin, as telling the meeting the military had made progress on its own five-step road map, unveiled after the coup.
That plan has few similarities with the ASEAN blueprint and centers on investigating alleged fraud in November’s election, managing Myanmar’s coronavirus epidemic and organizing another election, after which the junta has promised to cede power.
“The minister apprised the meeting that the only way to ensure the democratic system that is disciplined and genuine was through the five-point future program that was declared in February,” the daily Global New Light of Myanmar reported.
The military has defended its takeover by saying that the old election commission ignored its complaints of fraud by Aung San Suu Kyi’s ruling party.
Wunna Maung Lwin on Tuesday met separately with his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, and told him Myanmar was “committed to maintaining national stability and social tranquility”, according to a statement by China.
He said Myanmar “appreciates China’s support for the peace and reconciliation process”, it said.
Wang said the ASEAN plan should be implemented, violence avoided, stability restored and the democratic process restarted, the statement added.
Opponents of the junta have been wary of China, one of the few countries that previously had influence over Myanmar’s generals. Unlike Western countries, China has not been vocal in criticizing the coup.
A ‘shadow government’ named by the opposition was angered by a Chinese Embassy statement that referred to junta head Min Aung Hlaing as “leader” of Myanmar.
The United Nations, Western countries and China all back ASEAN’s effort to mediate in the crisis, which was triggered by the military’s decision to end a decade of tentative democracy and international integration that it had itself initiated.
But in taking back control, it has been unable to stop protests flaring up and down Myanmar. A rights group says government forces have killed at least 849 protesters, though the army disputes that figure.
The United Nations on Monday said those who had fled Kayah urgently needed shelter, food, water and healthcare, and urged security forces to let aid workers and supplies through.
Kayah, also called Karenni and which borders Thailand, is one of several regions where volunteer People’s Defense Forces have attacked the well-equipped military, which has responded with heavy weapons and air strikes, triggering an exodus into nearby forests.
Thailand, which fears a flood of refugees, has expressed its concern about the fighting and urged the junta to take the steps agreed with ASEAN.
Images taken on Monday and obtained by Reuters showed a plume of smoke above the Kayah town of Mobye, which anti-junta militias were forced to flee after the army used heavy weapons, one fighter told Reuters.
Reuters is unable to independently verify the accounts. State television made no mention of conflict in Kayah in its nightly newscast and a junta spokesman did not answer several calls seeking comment.
Fighting has also taken place in the past few weeks in Demoso, Hpruso and the state capital Loikaw, where a resident described a climate of fear, with troops looting shops and questioning local people.
“People are scared to go out,” said the 25-year-old woman, who asked not to be identified for security reasons.
“If people go out, soldiers stop them and interrogate them and sometimes shoot at them.”