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U.N. expert: Myanmar junta likely committing crimes against humanity

A Myanmar protester shouts during a demonstration against the military coup in Mandalay, Myanmar, in late February. Security forces continue to crack down on demonstrations against the military coup. Photo by Xiao Long/UPI
A Myanmar protester shouts during a demonstration against the military coup in Mandalay, Myanmar, in late February. Security forces continue to crack down on demonstrations against the military coup. Photo by Xiao Long/UPI | License Photo

March 11 (UPI) -- The top United Nations official on human rights in Myanmar said the military junta was likely committing crimes against humanity as the death toll rose to more than 70 on Thursday amid an escalating crackdown by security forces on protesters.

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners said in its daily update that more than 70 people had died due to the violent suppression by the military of protesters opposing its seizure of power early last month in a coup.

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At least eight people died Thursday in the small Myaing town in the middle of the country, the organization said.

The military opened fire on a crowd after it was confronted while trying to arrest two youths, it said, resulting in six deaths. Two others who were injured later died at the hospital.

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"Most of the people who died were shot to the head," the AAPP said.

Tom Andrews, the U.N. special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, said in a statement to the U.N. Security Council on Thursday that the military junta "is now likely engaging in crimes against humanity, including the acts of murder, enforced disappearance, persecution, torture and imprisonment in violation of fundamental rules of international law."

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The letter was sent to the council a day after the top U.N. body issued its own statement in condemnation of the violence.

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Andrews said the sentiment was appreciated but more needs to be done, calling on the U.N. member states to create a coalition to stop the flow of revenue to the military through multilateral sanctions on its leaders and enterprises.

They should also outlaw the export of arms to the junta, stop humanitarian and development aid to the military and initiate investigations into the alleged crimes.

"The people of Myanmar need not only words of support but supportive ACTION," he wrote. "They need the help of the international community, now."

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The death toll had risen from 23 deaths last week and Andrews said he fears it will continue to rapidly climb as the violence being committed against protesters steadily increases.

"It is a horrible truth that as soon as I issue a report, the number of murders and arbitrary detentions in Myanmar become outdated," he said.

According to the AAPP's update, 2,045 people have been arrested, charged or sentenced in relation to the military coup committed on Feb 1.

The military, known as the Tatmadaw, seized control of the government on unproven accusations that parliamentary elections last fall were fraudulent, arresting Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and other members of the country's democratically elected government.

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"The country of Myanmar is being controlled by a murderous, illegal regime. Its current leadership perpetrated the atrocity crimes that are the focus of the charge of genocide before the International Court of Justice," Andrews said, referring to accusations the military has perpetrated genocide against the country's Rohingya Muslim citizens.

The letter from Andrews followed a report on Thursday from Amnesty International that said the military was employing lethal tactics and weapons reserved for the battlefield against protesters.

Human Rights Watch on Friday also said the military has access to a new public camera system by Chinese company Huawei that has been equipped with facial recognition technology, stating it could be used to further escalate the military's violence committed against protesters.

"This powerful surveillance system bolsters the Myanmar junta's increasingly abusive crackdown on demonstrations," Manny Maung, an Asia researcher at HRW, said in a statement. "The authorities' ability to identify people on the streets, potentially track their movements and relationships and intrude into private lives poses a grave risk to anti-coup activists."

Following the coup, the United States placed import restrictions on sensitive materials and on Wednesday it sanctioned the adult children of the military's leader, as well as their companies.

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Jeffrey Prescott, deputy to the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said Thursday that the United States is prepared to take further actions.

"We'll continue to rally the world to help restore the democratically elected government, release all unjustly detained & stop attacks on protesters and journalists," he said on Twitter.

Meanwhile, Britain on Friday updated its travel advice for nationals in Myanmar urging them to leave the country.

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