On the same day the United Nations Secretary-General called for a global ceasefire amid the coronavirus pandemic, the Myanmar military designated the United League of Arakan/Arakan Army (ULA/AA) — an ethnic Rakhine armed group fighting for greater autonomy in Rakhine state — as a “terrorist” group. Authorities then set about detaining journalists and blocking online access to media outlets reporting on the conflict. The military has ramped up its campaign of airstrikes and shelling in the region since the start of 2020, leading to a spike in reported civilian fatalities (see figure below). At the current rate, 2020 is set to become a deadlier year for civilians in Myanmar’s conflict zones than 2019.
Increased Civilian Fatalities
From January to April 2020, organized violence in Rakhine state and neighboring Chin state involving the military and the ULA/AA has increased by 74% relative to the same period last year (see figure below).
Likewise, civilian fatalities from the conflict have far outpaced the number reported in the first four months of 2019. In addition to direct civilian targeting, civilians are regularly killed in the crossfire of battles between the military and the ULA/AA. Altogether, ACLED records 106 civilian fatalities from the conflict so far in 2020. The number of reported civilian fatalities from military targeting of civilians is 75 (see figure below), the number of reported civilian fatalities from ULA/AA targeting of civilians is three, and the number of reported civilian fatalities from battles is 28. The number of reported civilian fatalities from battles was calculated by reviewing ACLED battle event notes for civilian fatalities, as this is not something that ACLED codes systematically. Many more civilians have been seriously wounded in the conflict.