UN envoy: Myanmar faces possible civil war

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The United Nations special envoy for Myanmar warns the country faces the possibility of civil war "at an unprecedented scale".

Christine Schraner Burgener on Wednesday urged the UN Security Council to consider "potentially significant action" to reverse the Southeast Asian nation's February 1 military coup and restore democracy.

She didn't specify what action but painted a dire picture of the military crackdown in her virtual briefing to the council in which she also warned that Myanmar "is on the verge of spiraling into a failed state".

"This could happen under our watch," she said, "and failure to prevent further escalation of atrocities will cost the world so much more in the longer term than investing now in prevention".

Schraner Burgener urged the council "to consider all available tools to take collective action" and do what the people of Myanmar deserve - "prevent a multidimensional catastrophe in the heart of Asia".

The coup reversed years of slow progress toward democracy in Myanmar, which for five decades had languished under strict military rule that led to international isolation and sanctions.

As the generals loosened their grip, culminating in Aung San Suu Kyi's rise to power after 2015 elections, the international community responded by lifting most sanctions and pouring investment into the country.

In the virtual meeting, which was closed to outsiders, Schraner Burgener denounced the killing and arrest of unarmed protesters seeking to restore democracy.

She cited figures from Myanmar's Assistance Association for Political Prisoners that as of Wednesday, 2729 people have been arrested, charged or sentenced since the coup and an estimated 536 have been killed.

The Security Council adopted a presidential statement - one step below a resolution - on March 10 calling for a reversal of the coup, strongly condemning the violence against peaceful protesters and calling for "utmost restraint" by the military.

It stressed the need to uphold "democratic institutions and processes" and called for the immediate release of detained government leaders including Suu Kyi and President Win Myint.

Schraner Burgener told council members she fears serious crimes and violations of international law by the military "will become bloodier as the commander-in-chief seems determined to solidify his unlawful grip".

"Mediation requires dialogue but Myanmar's military has shut its doors to most of the world," she said.

"It appears the military would only engage when it feels they are able to contain the situation through repression and terror."

"If we wait only for when they are ready to talk," Schraner Burgener warned that "a bloodbath is imminent".