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UN agency raises alarm about food, fuel price hikes since coup in Myanmar

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
A protester carrying a sword runs along a street during a crackdown on demonstrations against the military coup, in Yangon, Myanmar, on March 16, 2021. (Photo by AFP)

The United Nations (UN)'s food agency says an unprecedented increase in food and fuel prices in Myanmar since the February 1 military coup risks undermining the ability of poor families to feed themselves.

The World Food Programme (WFP) said in a statement on Tuesday that price hikes of up to 35 percent in food and fuel since the coup had made it harder for the poor to feed themselves.

Major cities, including Yangon, Mandalay, and some parts of Kachin State in the north, were among the regions the hardest hit in terms of rising prices.

The cost of fuel had risen by 15 percent nationwide, it said.

"These rising food and fuel prices are compounded by the near-paralysis of the banking sector, slowdowns in remittances, and widespread limits on cash availability," the statement read.

Meanwhile, Stephen Anderson, the agency's country director, said the signs were troubling and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic had exacerbated the situation.

"Coming on top of the COVID-19 pandemic, if these price trends continue, they will severely undermine the ability of the poorest and most vulnerable to put enough food on the family table," Anderson said.

He reiterated a call from the UN secretary-general for the will of the Myanmarese people expressed in the November 2020 elections, which brought de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi to power for another term, to be respected.

"At WFP, we know all too well how hunger can quickly follow when peace and dialog are sidelined," the UN official said.

Security forces stand guard during a protest against the military coup in Yangon's Hlaing Tharyar Township, on March 14, 2021. (Photo by AFP)

UN decries surging deaths in anti-coup unrest

Separately, the UN rights office spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani on Tuesday decried the surging deaths in Myanmar during the ongoing anti-coup protesters.

"The death toll has soared over the past week in Myanmar, where security forces have been using lethal force increasingly aggressively against peaceful protesters," she said.

Shamdasani also warned that security forces were continuing to arbitrarily arrest people throughout the country.

"Deeply distressing reports of torture in custody have also emerged," she said.

The office has determined that "at least five deaths in custody have occurred in recent weeks," she said. "At least two victims' bodies have shown signs of severe physical abuse indicating that they were tortured."

In addition, "hundreds of people who have been unlawfully detained remain unaccounted for and have not been acknowledged by the military authorities." This, Shamdasani said, "amounts to enforced disappearances."

Security forces in Myanmar have escalated the use of lethal force against anti-coup protesters.

More than 80 people have so far been killed in the widespread protests against the seizure of power by Myanmar's military and over 2,100 people have been arrested, according to data from the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners monitoring group.

The junta, which has declared a one-year emergency across Myanmar, claims that it seized power after it found fraud in the November 2020 elections that the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) had won in a landslide.

Since then, hundreds of thousands of people have held numerous protests against the coup leaders in the Southeast Asian country, demanding the release of Suu Kyi and other detainees.

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