The death toll in the Myanmar military’s crackdown on protesters has passed 500, as armed rebel groups on Tuesday threatened the junta with retaliation if the bloodshed does not stop. World powers have ramped up their condemnation of the military’s campaign against the anti-coup movement that is demanding the restoration of the elected government and the release of civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Washington suspended a trade pact with Myanmar and UN chief Antonio Guterres called for a united global front to pressure the junta after more than 100 protesters were killed in a bloody weekend.
Adding to that pressure campaign, a trio of ethnic rebel groups on Tuesday condemned the crackdown and threatened to fight alongside protesters unless the military reined in its violence. Daily rallies across Myanmar by unarmed demonstrators have been met with tear gas, rubber bullets and live rounds.
The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) said it had confirmed a total of 510 civilian deaths but warned the true toll was probably significantly higher. On Tuesday, protesters in Yangon emptied rubbish bags in the streets as part of the latest action.
Three of the country’s myriad armed ethnic insurgent groups — the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, the Myanmar Nationalities Democratic Alliance Army and the Arakan Army (AA) — issued a joint statement threatening retaliation.
“If they do not stop, and continue to kill the people, we will cooperate with the protesters and fight back,” the statement said.
If such groups take up arms, Debbie Stothard at the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) warned that the situation could degenerate towards civil war. The military has sought to cut deals with some armed groups and earlier this month took the AA off the list of terrorist organisations.
But over the weekend it launched airstrikes in eastern Karen state — the first such strikes in 20 years — targeting the Fifth Brigade of the Karen National Union (KNU) after the group seized a military base.
An estimated 3,000 people fled through the jungle to seek safety across the border in Thailand, according to local groups. Hsa Moo, a Karen human rights activist told AFP that the Thai authorities had pushed the refugees back and accused them of blocking UN refugee officials from the area.
Thai foreign ministry spokesman Tanee Sangrat insists the reports of pushback are inaccurate.
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