US and other countries concerned about Myanmar military offensive

A photo taken on Oct 29 shows buildings destroyed by military shelling in Thantlang town in Myanmar's Chin State. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - The United States on Friday (Nov 26) issued a joint statement along with Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Norway, South Korea and Britain expressing concern over a military offensive in Myanmar that they say is disproportionately harming civilians.

Washington and other nations have repeatedly denounced a Feb 1 coup that threw the South-east Asian country into turmoil, with regional militias taking up arms after the military attempted to crush widespread protests.

In their joint statement, the nations expressed their "grave concern" over reports of abuses, including sexual violence and torture, especially in the north-western area that comprises Chin State and the regions of Sagaing and Magwe, where at least 50,000 people are reported to have been displaced.

They called for the junta, which has been accused of destroying homes and churches, to immediately end the violence.

"We are concerned about allegations of weapons stockpiling and attacks by the military, including shelling and air strikes, 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," said the countries.

Myanmar's army has called the militias terrorists who are intent on destroying the country.

The United Nations Security Council on Nov 10 issued a statement expressing concern and calling for the cessation of violence.

The seven nations went further on Friday, calling for countries 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."

The joint statement came after Myanmar's ruling military threatened on Friday to arrest citizens who invest in bonds offered by a shadow government, warning of lengthy prison sentences for their involvement in what it called terrorist financing.

The National Unity Government (NUG), an alliance of pro-democracy groups, ethnic minority armies and remnants of the civilian government overthrown by the military, said this week that it had raised US$9.5 million (S$13 million) in the first 24 hours of its bonds sale.

The NUG said the proceeds from the zero-interest bonds will fund its revolution against the military in response to its Feb 1 coup and bloody suppression of protests. It has not said how the funds would be used.

Mr Zaw Min Tun, the junta's spokesman, said the NUG has been outlawed as a terrorist organisation, so those providing it funding face serious charges.

"Action can be taken under terrorism charges, with heavy sentences for those financing the terrorist groups," he told a regular televised news conference. "If you buy the money bonds, it falls under that (provision)."

The bonds went on sale on Monday to mainly Myanmar nationals overseas in denominations of US$100, US$500, US$1,000 and US$5,000, with two-year tenures.

The NUG did not disclose how many buyers took part in the sale, which requires participants to transfer funds to an account in the Czech Republic.

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