The shadow National Unity Government (NUG), which is leading efforts to undermine the junta's attempts to rule Myanmar, said it was time for an international response.

"The global community must punish their cruelty," said Kyaw Zaw, a spokesperson for the NUG president's office.

Myanmar has been in chaos since the coup, with the military, which has ruled the former British colony for five of the past six decades, engaged in battles on multiple fronts with newly formed militia groups.

United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet called the executions a "cruel and regressive step" by the military that would "only deepen its entanglement in the crisis it has itself created."

Human Rights Watch acting Asia director Elaine Pearson said it was "an act of utter cruelty."

"The junta's barbarity and callous disregard for human life aims to chill the anti-coup protest movement," Pearson said.

'Hiding bodies away'

The executions were the first carried out among some 117 death sentences handed down by military-run courts since the coup, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), which has been tracking arrests, killings and court verdicts in Myanmar.

Families of the executed men were denied the opportunity to retrieve their loved ones' bodies, said Thazin Nyunt Aung, wife of Phyo Zeyar Thaw, comparing it to murderers covering up their crimes.

"This is killing and hiding bodies away," she told Reuters. "They disrespected both Myanmar people and the international community."

Nilar Thein, wife of Kyaw Min Yu, said she would hold no funeral without a body.

"We all have to be brave, determined and strong," she posted on Facebook.

The men were held in Yangon's Insein prison, where families visited last Friday, according to a person with knowledge of the events, who said prison officials allowed only one relative to speak to the detainees via video call.

"I asked then 'why didn't you tell me or my son that it was our last meeting?'" Khin Win May, the mother of Phyo Zeyar Thaw, told BBC Burmese.

The junta made no mention of the executions on its nightly television news bulletin on Monday.

Its spokesperson last month defended the death sentences as justified, and used in many countries.

'Heinous execution'

The United States on Monday vowed to work with regional allies to hold the military accountable and called for a cessation of violence and release of political detainees.

"The United States condemns in the strongest terms the Burmese military regime's heinous execution of pro-democracy activists and elected leaders," a White House National Security Council spokesperson said in a statement.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), last month sent a letter of appeal to junta chief Min Aung Hlaing not to carry out the executions, relaying deep concern among Myanmar's neighbours.

France condemned the executions and called for dialogue among all parties, while Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi said the executions would further isolate Myanmar.

China's foreign ministry urged all parties in Myanmar to properly resolve conflicts within its constitutional framework.

The AAPP says more than 2,100 people have been killed by security forces since the coup. The junta says that figure is exaggerated.

The true picture of violence has been hard to assess, as clashes have spread to more remote areas where ethnic minority insurgent groups are also fighting the military.

Close to a million people have been displaced by post-coup unrest, according to a United Nations estimate.

The executions have shattered hopes of any peace agreement, said the Arakan Army (AA), one of more than a dozen ethnic minority armies in Myanmar that have fought the military for years.

The executions will close off any chance of ending the unrest across Myanmar, said analyst Richard Horsey, of the International Crisis group.

"This is the regime demonstrating that it will do what it wants and listen to no one," Horsey said.

"It sees this as a demonstration of strength, but it may be a serious miscalculation."

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