(Reuters) – Myanmar’s Kayah State could suffer a “massive” loss of life beyond anything seen since the military seized power, with more than 100,000 people fleeing their homes to escape conflict, a U.N. human rights investigator warned on Wednesday.

Myanmar’s military has been battling on multiple fronts to impose order since its Feb. 1 coup against Aung San Suu Kyi and her elected government sparked nationwide protests.

Kayah State, which borders Thailand, is one of several regions where volunteer People’s Defence Forces have clashed with Myanmar’s well-equipped army, which has responded with artillery and air strikes, triggering an exodus into nearby forests.

“The junta’s brutal, indiscriminate attacks are threatening the lives of many thousands of men, women and children in Kayah State,” Thomas Andrews, U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, said in a statement.

“Let me blunt. Mass deaths from starvation, disease, and exposure, on a scale we have not yet seen since the February 1 coup, could occur in Kayah State absent immediate action,” he said.

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An activist in Kayah State said many displaced people could not be reached including in an area east of Demoso town, about 15 km (9 miles) from the state capital, Loikaw.

“Some people to the east of Demoso have to survive on rice broth as we cannot deliver rice bags to them,” said the activist, who asked not to be identified. She said that military authorities had arrested three people trying to deliver aid in the last two weeks.

Power had also been cut in many areas and, along with food, materials for shelter and petrol were also desperately needed, said the activist, who also called for urgent international help.

A spokesman for the junta did not immediately respond to calls requesting comment.

Thailand, which fears a flood of refugees, has expressed its concern about the fighting in Myanmar and urged the junta to take steps agreed with other Southeast Asian countries aimed at setting a course out of the conflict.

The junta has paid little heed to demands from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to respect a “consensus” agreed in late April to end violence and hold political talks with its opponents.

A rights group says Myanmar security forces have killed at least 857 protesters since the coup, though the army disputes that figure.

(Reporting by Reuters Staff; Writing by Ed Davies; Editing by Robert Birsel)

Copyright 2021 Thomson Reuters.

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