Explosive Violence in Myanmar in 2023

2023 saw civilian casualties of explosive weapons use surge in Myanmar, as the military junta continues to target populated areas and civilian infrastructure across the country. Non-state actors, including the People’s Defence Forces (PDF), informal civilian defence defence forces and local militias, and long-established Ethnic Armed Organisations (EAOs), intensified their attacks on the military and suspected collaborators last year, with the military in turn escalating attacks on the civilian networks that sustain them.

Last year, AOAV recorded 952 incidents of explosive weapons use across Myanmar, a 73% increase compared to 550 in 2022. These attacks resulted in 2,164 reported civilian casualties, a 121% increase from 980. Civilian fatalities of explosive weapons in the country rose by 155%, from 292 to 745. Among the civilians harmed by explosive violence, at least 344 were reported as children, 287 as women, and 385 as men. Civilians accounted for 37% of all 5,802 casualties recorded in Myanmar last year – compared to 28% in 2022 – as 3,638 armed actor casualties were also recorded (2,304 killed).

58% (553) of recorded incidents took place in populated areas, 379 of which were attributed to the military junta. These attacks resulted in 96% (2,071) of civilian casualties, 1,820 of which were attributed to the military. When explosive weapons were used in populated areas, civilians constituted 71% of all 2,922 recorded casualties.

Villages were the worst hit locations in Myanmar last year, accounting for 54% (1,165) of civilian casualties and 35% (334) of recorded incidents. Other impacted locations were urban residential areas (303 civilian casualties), places of worship (159), and encampments (138).

While non-state groups were the reported perpetrators of the majority of incidents, 50% (478), the vast majority of civilian casualties, 85% (1,846), were attributed to the military junta (651 killed) across 434 recorded incidents. The junta increased their recorded use of explosive weapons by 114% in 2023, compared to 203 attacks recorded in 2022, and the resulting civilian casualties rose by 144%, up from 758.

The landscape of non-state actors in Myanmar is highly complex and fragmented, with myriads of distinct groups loosely allied under the umbrella of the PDF (AOAV recorded at least 35 such groups in 2023), local militias operating more independently or in alliance with the PDF (at least 19), the larger and more established EAOs (at least 11), and many others. Attacks by non-state groups rose by 54% last year, up from 310 in 2022, and the resulting civilian casualties by 31%, from 140 to 183 (48 killed).

Air-launched weapons accounted for 46% (1,001) of civilian casualties in 2023 (397 killed), across 145 recorded incidents, while ground-launched weapons accounted for 39% (847) across 310 incidents (262 fatalities). Air strikes consequently harmed an average of 6.9 civilians per attack, and killed an average of 2.7, making them the deadliest type of explosive weapon for civilians in Myanmar last year.

The use of air strikes in Myanmar increased by 174%, up from 53 incidents recorded in 2022, while ground-launched attacks rose by 74%, up from 178. 99.8% (999) of civilian casualties of air-launched weapons were attributed to the military junta, and two to actors of unknown name and status.

AOAV recorded incidents of explosive weapons use across 14 states in Myanmar in 2023, the worst affected being Sagaing (759 civilian casualties), Shan (329), Karen (174), Chin (165), and Kachin (155). In 2022, 15 states were impacted by the use of explosive weapons.

Reflecting the state of hostilities in the country, recorded armed actor casualties continue to rise. They increased by 635% in 2022, from 345 to 2,353, and by a further 44% last year, reaching 3,638. The conflict is only becoming increasingly hostile and complex as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) continues to struggle with ways to engage the military junta and limit civilian harm.

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