As Myanmar's army faces setbacks, it is stepping up attacks on civilians, a UN expert warns

BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) — Myanmar's military government is escalating violence against civilians as it faces more setbacks on the battlefield from a range of pro-democracy and ethnic armed groups, a U.N.-backed independent expert on human rights warned Wednesday.

Resistance to military rule in Myanmar has been gaining momentum, with the army on the run, Special Rapporteur Tom Andrews said at a news conference in Geneva after addressing the U.N. Human Rights Council a day earlier.

He acknowledged that “the world is obviously distracted by other crises around the world,” but that Myanmar’s situation offers ”a ray of hope” for restoring peace and democracy.

″The junta of Myanmar are like mushrooms,” he said. ”They thrive in the dark. And the more attention we can focus on this country, the greater the chance of success that we have.”

Myanmar’s military seized power in February 2021 from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi, triggering widespread nonviolent opposition that was met with deadly force. The repression gave birth to armed resistance and embroiled the country in a civil war.

Andrews said continuing “broad-based, vigorous citizen opposition and the success of opposition forces, resistance forces,” were grounds for optimism.

“The junta now controls less than half of the country,” he said. “They have lost tens of thousands of troops to defections, to casualties and to surrender. They have lost hundreds of military outposts. They have lost dozens of towns and villages.”

Other experts caution that reliable numbers are impossible to obtain, but the military government itself has acknowledged it is facing strong challenges, and recently instituted conscription to fill its ranks.

Andrews said the army had responded to resistance victories by stepping up attacks harming civilians.

He said there had been a sharp increase in aerial attacks on civilians, because "it’s dangerous for their troops to move around on the ground.”

He said there also has been a significant increase in the laying of landmines “in villages, in community centers, in temples, in farming fields” and consequently there has also been a sharp increase in casualties they cause.

Andrews, a former Democratic member of Congress from the U.S. state of Maine, has long been an advocate of greater international intervention to put pressure of Myanmar’s military.

“There could be an end to this nightmare if the international community were to mobilize and focus its attention on this country and to take action,” he said.

He suggested four points to put pressure on the military: economic sanctions to deprive it of operating funds; blocking the flow of weapons — though most already come from Russia and China, who treat the generals as allies; cease treating the military as a legitimate government; and ”focus on accountability (to) make it clear that those who are involved in these atrocities will be held accountable.”