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Myanmar: 12 killed and at least 30 injured by artillery shelling in Sittwe’s Myoma market,  Rakhine

On the morning of Thursday, 29th March, artillery shells fired from a naval base near Sittwe, in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, struck the city’s Myoma market. In particular, a vegetable warehouse suffered a direct hit. 12 civilians were killed and at least 30 injured, although estimates range up to 80. There is at least one child among the fatalities.

According to local residents, the city has been under almost constant shelling from bases in the area since Wednesday evening, apparently in anticipation of an attack by the Arakan Army, a long-established Ethnic Armed Organisation which aims to be in control of Rakhine state by the end of this year.

The armed conflict which erupted in the wake of a military coup in February of 2021 has devastated the country. Following the coup, civilians rose to protest, then mobilised into civilian defence forces loosely allied under the National Unity Government (NUG). In 2022 and 2023, these defence forces increased their attacks against the military junta and suspected collaborators, demonstrating the ability to adapt their military strategy and score significant military successes with improvised and makeshift weaponry.

Established Ethnic Armed Organisations (EAOs) also intensified their attacks against the military government, and alliances between EAOs and various People’s Defence Forces (PDF) units have held and borne military successes. The military junta, in response, has continued its tried-and-trusted ‘Four Cuts’ strategy, targeting the civilian networks which support the opposition. Towns and villages, schools and hospitals, have borne the brunt of the junta’s operations.

In Myanmar, 2023 was also the most harmful year since AOAV began recording in 2010. Incidents of explosive weapons use rose by 73% compared to 2022, from 550 to 952, and civilian casualties grew by 121%, from 980 to 2,164. Civilian fatalities rose by 155%, from 292 to 745. State actors, specifically the military junta, were the reported perpetrators of 46% (434) of incidents and 85% (1,846) of civilian casualties in 2023, including 87% (651) of civilian fatalities. 

So far, AOAV has recorded 112 incidents of explosive weapons use in Myanmar this year, 83 of which have caused 594 civilian casualties (202 killed). 69% (77) of incidents are attributed to state actors, specifically the military junta, as are 91% (542) of civilian casualties, and 95% (191) of civilian fatalities. If this rate of harm continues, 2024 will surpass 2023 in terms of civilian casualties from explosive weapons in the country.

AOAV’s casualty figures represent the lowest of estimations in terms of the number of people killed and injured by explosive weapon use. In an effort to quantify the explicit harm caused by specific explosive weapons, AOAV solely records incident-specific casualty figures, as reported in English-language media.

AOAV condemns the use of violence against civilians and the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. All actors should stop using explosive weapons with wide-area effects where there is likely to be a high concentration of civilians.