Mass Graves Found in Myanmar Amid Alarm Over Human Rights Abuses

The United Nations expressed concern over human rights abuses Thursday after a mass grave was discovered in Myanmar. Twenty-five civilians were executed by the Karen National Defense Organization (KNDO), and government security forces burned down a village, according to reports.

The KNDO is a political organization of the Karen ethnic minority that has sought more autonomy from the central government for decades. The military regime said the bodies were road construction workers who were detained and killed by the KNDO, according to the Associated Press. A KNDO spokesman told the Irrawaddy news service the men were not civilians but government military personnel who were spies.

The U.N. called on "all actors in the current crisis to ensure that international human rights norms and standards are respected."

The statement added, "This includes upholding the obligation to minimize collateral harm to civilians and to civilian infrastructure, and prohibiting the application of collective punishments against communities, families or individuals."

Myanmar Human Rights Abuses
Protesters in Yangon, Myanmar, make a three-finger salute as they take part in a flash mob demonstration on June 14 against the country's military coup. STR/AFP via Getty Images

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

On Wednesday, the Karen National Union issued a statement saying it would form a team to investigate the incident, stating that the group "follows the Geneva Convention which does not condone the killing of civilians during armed conflict."

The statement added that action could be taken to prosecute any wrongdoing according to relevant laws, without providing specifics.

The U.N. statement called for "those responsible for human rights violations to be held accountable, including the perpetrators and their chain of command."

Tuesday's burning of Kinma village in the Magway Region of central Myanmar was also a matter of dispute.

A resident of the village confirmed to the AP accounts in independent media that government troops were responsible for burning down most of the village's roughly 250 houses, and that an elderly couple unable or unwilling to flee with the rest of the villagers were believed to have perished in the blaze. The villager spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals by the government.

Government-controlled media, however, reported that "terrorists" were responsible for the conflagration, charging that they had burned down the home of someone unsympathetic to their cause and that the wind had then spread the fire.

The government and its opponents each refer to the other side as "terrorists."