The UN Security Council agreed to a statement on Wednesday that condemns the violence against demonstrators in Myanmar and urges the military to exercise restraint, but stops short of condemning the coup last month.
The statement, drafted by Britain and agreed to by consensus by the 15-nation body, dropped language calling the military takeover a coup after opposition from Russia and China, a major investor in Myanmar.
The South-East Asian nation has been plagued by protests since the army toppled leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s elected government in a coup last month, jailed her and other officials from her National League for Democracy party and returned the country to military rule.
“The Security Council strongly condemns the violence against peaceful protesters, including against women, youth and children,” the UN statement read.
“It expresses deep concern at restrictions on medical personnel, civil society, labour union members, journalists and media workers, and calls for the immediate release of all those detained arbitrarily.”
The council demanded the “immediate release” of Ms Suu Kyi and others, called for a return to democratic rule and the opening of the flow of aid supplies, particularly to the marginalised Rohingya Muslims in the west of the country.
In a separate statement, China’s ambassador to the UN, Zhang Jun, struck a different tone, insisting that the role of the international community was to help “relevant parties in Myanmar to address differences”.
“Now it’s time for de-escalation,” the Chinese envoy said. “It’s time for diplomacy. It’s time for dialogue.”
At least 67 men, women and children were killed and hundreds more injured during the military crackdown on peaceful protests, said UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric.
“The use of lethal force against non-violent demonstrators is never justifiable under international human rights norms,” Mr Dujarric said on Wednesday.
He also criticised the military’s “increased pressure on independent media outlets”.
An independent UN human rights investigator on Myanmar and pressure group Human Rights Watch urged the Security Council to impose a global arms embargo and targeted economic sanctions on the junta.
The council met after another day of violent crackdowns on protesters in Myanmar, growing international anger towards the junta and new US sanctions focused on family members of the military elite.
The military complained of fraud in November’s landslide electoral victory of veteran democracy champion Ms Suu Kyi and her pro-democracy party. The election commission said the ballot was fair.
The military pledged to hold new elections at an unspecified date, but pro-democracy campaigners rejected that promise and are demanding Ms Suu Kyi’s release.
The junta, which ruled directly for nearly 50 years until it embarked on a tentative transition to democracy a decade ago, is struggling to stamp its authority on a country where many people reject a return to military rule.