BANGKOK – The United States and six other nations issued a joint statement Friday calling on the international community to suspend all assistance to Myanmar's military, and expressing grave concern over reports of human rights abuses by its security forces.
The statement comes as fears of an escalation of violence grow in the Southeast Asian nation, whose army is attempting to crush an increasingly active armed opposition movement seeking to end military rule.
“We are concerned about allegations of weapons stockpiling and attacks by the military, including shelling and airstrikes, use of heavy weapons, and the deployment of thousands of troops accompanying what security forces assert are counter-terrorism operations, which are disproportionately impacting civilians,” the statement said.
It said the rights violations include “credible reports of sexual violence and torture,” and highlighted the country’s northwest, where tens of thousands of people have been reported to have been displaced by government attacks.
The countries issuing the statement -- the U.S., Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Norway, South Korea and the United Kingdom -- already have embargoed arms sales to Myanmar, whose army seized power from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in February. They also have instituted targeted diplomatic and economic sanctions meant to pressure the ruling generals behind the takeover.
Such measures, though hurting Myanmar’s economy, have done little to help restore democracy and peace. China and Russia are allies of the military-installed government, and as members of the U.N. Security Council, have effectively blocked concerted international action to isolate the generals. Beijing and Moscow are also the top suppliers of arms to Myanmar.
Friday’s statement, released by the U.S. State Department, applauded a consensus declared earlier this month by the U.N. Security Council, which called for “the immediate cessation of violence, protection of civilians, and full, safe and unhindered humanitarian access.” The consensus, issued as a press statement, has no binding power and falls short of the influence a formal resolution would carry.
Friday's seven-nation statement called on the international community “to suspend all operational support to the military, and to cease the transfer of arms, materiel, dual-use equipment, and technical assistance to the military and its representatives.″
Myanmar’s crisis escalated quickly after February’s military takeover, which sparked widespread non-violent pro-democracy demonstrations. Security forces used lethal force to put down the protests, killing almost 1,300 civilians, according to a tally kept by a political prisoner research organization.
The repression led the military’s opponents to take up arms, and U.N. experts have said the country now risks sliding into civil war.
Faced with increasing opposition in both the cities and the countryside, there is fear the military may launch an all-out offensive, especially as the annual rainy season comes to an end, allowing it to more easily maneuver.