Rights advocates have urged the United Nations to start war crimes trial proceedings against the Myanmar military for the systematic rape of Shan women and girls. They hope the confirmation from the US State Department that rape reports from Shan women's groups are credible will provide the basis for a UN trial. 'I think the UN should set up a team to investigate the events in order to bring the perpetrators to justice,' said Somchai Hamlaor, the secretary-general of the Asian Forum on Human Rights and Development. 'I think the US State Department decision will help. The US has a very powerful voice if it chooses to pursue the matter through the UN process.' The US confirmation of a report called 'Licence to Rape', issued in June by the Shan Human Rights Foundation and the Shan Women's Action Network, might also force the Thai government to offer sanctuary and support to the rape victims, he said. 'If the UN and the US and others in the international community will put more pressure on the Thai government, it could take measures to protect the victims.' Mr Somchai added that Thailand did not recognise people fleeing Shan state as refugees. The report confirmed that hundreds of women, and girls as young as five had been raped by the Myanmar military, which is fighting a Shan rebellion. From interviews with 625 traumatised women and girls, it concluded that 83 per cent of the rapes were committed by Myanmar military officers, usually in front of their troops. The use of rape as a war tactic in Myanmar dates back at least five years. A 13-year-old girl spoke of being raped in June this year, the women's groups report said. There appears to be a concerted strategy by Myanmar troops to rape Shan women as part of their anti-insurgency activities, it said. The rapes involved extreme brutality and often torture such as beating, mutilation and suffocation. A quarter of the rapes resulted in death, in some instances with bodies being displayed to local communities. Gang-rapes accounted for 61 per cent. Other women were raped in military bases and in some cases were detained and raped repeatedly for up to four months. Of the total 173 documented incidents, in only one case was a perpetrator punished by his commanding officer. More commonly, the complainants were fined, detained, tortured or even killed by the military, the report said. The US State Department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labour carried out its own investigation in August and found several women who had fled to northern Thailand who confirmed their testimony. 'All the victims under 15 appeared severely traumatised by their experiences, were disturbed mentally and spoke in whispers, if at all. The older women sobbed violently as they recalled horrific incidents of their own rapes as well as brutal rapes, torture and execution of family members,' the State Department said this month. It said that although the testimony was anecdotal, the stories were consistent with each other and therefore credible. The Myanmar regime has consistently denied the allegations, as it does with any claims of abuses. It tried to persuade the International Committee of the Red Cross and others to visit Shan state to help deny the charges, but the visit was cancelled when an independent investigation was made impossible by Yangon's constraints. Mr Somchai believes the junta will ignore the report. But he and other observers of Myanmar affairs say the confirmed rape allegations end the regime's hope that its release of democratic leader Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest will improve its image abroad.