Myanmar junta accused of war crimes over response to rebel offensive

(Reuters) – Myanmar’s military has likely perpetrated indiscriminate attacks on civilians and used banned cluster munitions in its fight against ethnic minority insurgents, Amnesty International said on Thursday, calling for an investigation of suspected war crimes.

The junta is facing its biggest battlefield challenge since its 2021 coup, with coordinated rebel attacks on military posts in Shan state, bordering China, and in western Rakhine state.

An air strike in Shan state earlier this month used bombs that were most likely cluster munitions, Amnesty said in a statement, citing evidence analysed by its weapon investigator.

According to the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), one of three groups in the rebel “Three Brotherhood Alliance”, the attack killed a resident and injured five people.

Civilians in Pauk Taw, Rakhine state, suffered looting, arbitrary arrests, inhumane treatment and torture, Amnesty said citing interviews with 10 civilians.

“The Myanmar military has a blood-stained resume of indiscriminate attacks with devastating consequences for civilians, and its brutal response to a major offensive by armed groups fits a longstanding pattern,” said Matt Wells, director of Amnesty’s Crisis Response Programme.

Reuters could not independently verify the report and the junta’s spokesperson, Zaw Min Tun, could not be reached for comment. He has denied state forces target civilians in operations he called legitimate actions against “terrorists”.

More than 300,000 people have fled the fighting that erupted in late October, with more than 2 million displaced overall since the coup, according to the United Nations.

The coup unravelled a decade of democracy and reform, with anger over a sweeping military crackdown fuelling a resistance movement and an intensification of fighting with ethnic minority rebels.

China last week said it mediated a ceasefire between the rebels and the military, although the alliance said its campaign would continue.

In a statement issued before the Amnesty report, the alliance said the military regularly threatened civilians including through arbitrary arrests, use of human shields, and torture.

Separately on Thursday, the New York-based Human Rights Watch accused one rebel alliance group of abducting and forcibly recruiting fleeing civilians in Shan state.

“The Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) is violating the laws of war,” said Elaine Pearson, its Asia director.

“Civilians should be able to seek safety from fighting without fearing that the Myanmar military or ethnic armed groups will force them into their armies.”

The MNDAA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

(Reporting by Reuters Staff; Editing by Martin Petty and Nick Macfie)