GENEVA/YANGON (AFP) - Myanmar's military is likely committing "crimes against humanity" in its attempt to stay in power, a UN expert said on Thursday (March 11), as the junta claimed that ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi accepted illegal payments of cash and gold.
At least 70 people have reportedly been "murdered" since the Feb 1 coup, said Mr Thomas Andrews, the UN's top expert on rights in Myanmar.
The country is "controlled by a murderous, illegal regime" that was likely committing "crimes against humanity", Mr Andrews told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
These crimes likely include "acts of murder, enforced disappearance, persecution, torture" carried out with "the knowledge of senior leadership", including junta leader Min Aung Hlaing, Mr Andrews said.
While stressing that such offences can only be determined in a court of law, he said there was clear evidence that the junta's crimes were "widespread" and part of a "coordinated campaign".
Diplomatic pressure has been building on the generals, who have tried to quell daily protests by force.
The United Nations on Wednesday condemned the junta's crackdown, which has seen more than 2,000 arrested, with even traditional Myanmar ally China calling for "de-escalation" and dialogue.
Cash and gold?
The military - which defends its takeover by citing alleged voting irregularities in November elections won by Ms Suu Kyi's party - held a rare news conference accusing the civilian leader of corruption.
In the capital Naypyidaw, junta spokesman Zaw Min Tun said the detained chief minister of Yangon admitted giving Ms Suu Kyi US$600,000 (S$805,000) in cash, along with more than 11kg (US$680,000 worth) of gold.
"We have learned Daw Aung San Suu Kyi herself took this US$600,000 and seven visses (11.2kg) of gold. The anti-corruption commission is investigating," Mr Zaw Min Tun said.
Nobel peace laureate Suu Kyi, detained since the coup, faces other criminal charges including owning unlicensed walkie-talkies and violating coronavirus restrictions by staging a campaign event in 2020.
State-run newspaper the Mirror announced on Thursday that the Arakan Army (AA) - which fights for autonomy for the ethnic Rakhine people in northern Rakhine state - was no longer considered a terrorist organisation.
The AA has been fighting the army for years, with hundreds killed and some 200,000 civilians forced to flee their homes.
Myanmar expert Herve Lemahieu with Australia's Lowy Institute said the military - known as the Tatmadaw - likely wants to focus on the protests.
"The Tatmadaw has many enemies, they don't want to operate on too many fronts at once and the most pressing front at this point in time is against the ethnic Burman majority in the major urban centres," he told AFP.
As the crackdown continues, the Sanchaung township in Myanmar's commercial hub Yangon had another sleepless night as security forces raided apartments searching for lost police weapons.
"They used sound bombs on every street," said one resident.
Another part of Yangon, North Okkalapa, was reeling after 300 arrests on Wednesday, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners monitoring group.
Thursday saw more hardline action against demonstrators, with nine people killed, including six in central Myanmar's Myaing township.
"Six men were shot dead while eight people were wounded - with one man in a critical condition," a rescue worker told AFP.
A witness said five of them were shot in the head.
In Bago, a city north east of Yangon, Zaw Zaw Aung, 33, who is deaf, was shot in the head, his father Myint Lwin told AFP.
"As a father, I am deeply sad for his death," he said.
A rescue worker told AFP a 30-year-old man was killed in Mandalay, Myanmar's second-largest city and another two people were injured.
"We couldn't pick up his dead body because rescue teams are being targeted these days as well," he said.
There was also a fatality in Yangon's North Dagon, where Chit Min Thu, 25, died after being shot in the head.
"I recently learnt that his wife is two months pregnant," his mother Hnin Malar Aung told AFP.
"No one will be in peace until this situation ends. They were so cruel with my son. I never expected my son would be shot in the head... I'm worried about all the unarmed youth, they will be in trouble."
A man who was wounded eight days ago at Monywa in central Myanmar died from his injuries on Thursday and a 26-year-old bank worker from Myingyan who was shot on Wednesday also lost his life.
An Amnesty International report has accused the military of using "battlefield weapons" on unarmed protesters and carrying out premeditated killings.
The group catalogued the security forces' use of firearms that are "completely inappropriate for use in policing protests", including sniper guns and semi-automatic rifles.