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NEW YORK: The UN Security Council expressed its "deep concern" Wednesday about recent unrest in Myanmar and called for an "immediate cessation of violence" and for efforts to ensure that civilians are not harmed.

In a statement issued as reports emerged of clashes between junta troops and fighters from a major militant group in Rakhine state, the Security Council warned that "recent developments pose particular serious challenges for the voluntary, safe, dignified, and sustainable return of Rohingya refugees and internally displaced persons."

The clashes, reported by a rebel spokesman, broke a ceasefire that had kept the peace in the western region since a February coup by the military junta.

The Southeast Asian country has been in chaos since the February putsch, with a brutal crackdown on dissent and increased fighting in borderlands involving ethnic armed organizations.

The council members also called for an "equitable, safe and unhindered delivery and distribution of Covid-19 vaccines," as well as "safe and unhindered humanitarian access to all people in need."

"They underlined that vaccines should be accessible to all and called for greater international support to ensure the availability of Covid-19 vaccines and to expedite their roll out," the statement said.

Days after the February coup, the junta reaffirmed a commitment to a ceasefire with the Arakan Army (AA), which has fought a bloody war for autonomy for Rakhine state's ethnic Rakhine population.

The ceasefire freed up military troops to battle local "self-defence forces" that have sprung up across the country in opposition to the military.

An AA spokesman told AFP Wednesday that clashes broke out after the "Myanmar military entered the area. Casualty details are not known yet."

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