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Myanmar: Intensification of clashes Flash Update #4 (As of 14 November 2023)

November 15th, 2023  •  Author:   UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs  •  7 minute read
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  • A new front of fighting between Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs) and the Myanmar Armed Forces (MAF) in northern Shan since late October, has now expanded to the Northwest, Southeast, and Rakhine with increasing urban areas now affected by intense fighting and aerial bombardment.
  • As of 14 November, more than 200,000 people across these states and regions have been forcibly displaced due to the fighting. Many have also moved towards the border with China in northern Shan.
  • The temporarily ceasefire between the MAF and the Arakan Army in Rakhine since November 2022 is no longer holding, with clashes resuming on 13 November in Rathedaung township.
  • Active conflict is also being seen in Loikaw town in Kayah including aerial bombardment in urban areas causing civilian casualties.
  • A halt in clashes and provision of unimpeded humanitarian access by all parties are critical to safeguarding the lives and well-being of civilians and aid workers who are delivering life-saving services to people in need.
  • Key transportation routes in townships with active fighting have been blocked both by the MAF and EAOs, further restricting people’s movements to safer locations as well as humanitarian access.
  • Martial Law has been imposed on additional townships in multiple states.
  • Disruption in telecommunication services outside Lashio township remains in place with reports of limited services in townships in the Northwest and Southeast where fighting is taking place. Lashio and Loikaw airports remain closed.
  • Despite insecurity, access and telecommunication challenges, provision of essential humanitarian assistance to affected people continues in northern Shan to the extent possible. Humanitarian partners in the Northwest, Southeast and Rakhine are assessing new needs to respond accordingly. Various preparedness measures, including the pre-positioning of stocks, are ongoing.
  • While the US$1 million from the Myanmar Humanitarian Fund is being disbursed to local actors to support those responding to emerging needs in northern Shan, needs in the Northwest, Southeast and Rakhine are increasing by the day and require immediate response. Urgent additional donor support is critical given the 2023 Humanitarian Response Plan is severely underfunded with only 28 per cent of requirements received this year.

Situation Overview

Since late October, intense armed clashes, including artillery shelling and airstrikes, have persisted between the Myanmar Armed Forces (MAF) and various Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs), spanning multiple townships in northern Shan. This new front of the conflict has now expanded into the Northwest, Southeast and Rakhine. Initial reports from the field indicate that 75 civilians, including women and children, have lost their lives, and an additional 94 people sustained injuries in northern Shan, southern Shan, Kayah, Rakhine and Chin since 26 October 2023. In addition, more than 200,000 people have been forcibly displaced within these states and regions since the new surge in fighting began.

In northern Shan alone, fighting continues to rage in at least 10 townships, leading to a surge in civilian casualties, with 43 fatalities and 71 injuries reported. The number of new internally displaced people (IDPs) since the recent fighting began has climbed to 60,000 as of 14 November, seeking refuge in 100 locations across 12 townships, including religious compounds, host communities, or in forested areas and paddy fields along the China-Myanmar border. IDPs are seeking refuge in religious compounds, while pressure is mounting on these sites not to host IDPs and to encourage their return. People in northern Shan have reportedly crossed the border into China, but the exact number is still being verified.

In the midst of the ongoing conflict in northern Shan, a bridge on the Mandalay-Lashio Road in Hsipaw township was reportedly destroyed by EAOs on 12 November. Main roads remain blocked by checkpoints established by both conflicting parties, the Lashio Airport is closed, and mobile communication services outside Lashio township are disrupted or limited. The imposition of martial law by the State Administration Council (SAC) in several townships including Lashio, Hseni, Kutkai, Namhkan, Muse, Laukkaing, Kunlong, and Konekyan until further notice, is exacerbating the challenges faced by the civilian population. Ongoing conflict, insecurity, and access restrictions are severely hampering the civilian population’s ability to seek safety and access essential services. Simultaneously, humanitarian partners are confronting significant obstacles in reaching displaced and affected communities. Despite these challenges, efforts persist, with partners delivering cash, food, and essential relief items to those in need while risking their own safety.

In the Southeast, armed clashes have escalated in Loikaw, Demoso, Hpruso, and at the Shan-Kayah border. According to local partners and sources, a significant number of people (possibly as high as 35,000 people) have recently been displaced in Pekon township in southern Shan and Loikaw township in Kayah, as a direct result of the ongoing hostilities. This figure is currently being verified. Of them, about 1,000 IDPs in the eastern part of Loikaw urgently need shelter, food, and healthcare support. These hostilities have reportedly claimed the lives of at least 28 civilians, with an additional 10 people sustaining injuries in Moebye town of Pekon township and Loikaw township between 11 and 14 November. On 13 November, Loikaw airport was closed until the end of November. The SAC has imposed Martial Law in the urban area of Loikaw Town effective from 11 November and has reinforced its military presence. Responding to heightened tensions, local armed groups in Moebye had issued a warning statement on November 12, urging the civilian population to evacuate to the safest possible locations due to the escalated clashes in the town. Humanitarian access in Kayah remains extremely restricted due to the ongoing conflict, MAF aerial bombardment, and heightened scrutiny of partners at MAF checkpoints. In Mon, fighting intensified in Kyaikmaraw township since 10 November. Consequently, about 5,000 people have been displaced due to these armed clashes. In addition, the main road between Kyaikmaraw-Chaung Nakwa and Mudon-Chaung Nakwa has been blocked.

In the Northwest, armed clashes have taken place in 18 townships, including Kawlin, Tamu, Pinlebu, and Tigyaing, since late October. According to initial field reports, nearly 90,000 people have been displaced in Sagaing. Communications have been cut off and road access has been blocked in towns where fighting is taking place. Access from Pakokku town in Magway to all areas in Sagaing and Chin has also been blocked since 11 November. Local partners have been warned to move out from some townships, including Shwebo in Sagaing and Saw and Pakokku in Magway, as intense clashes are expected to take place in Magway and Chin in the coming days. There have been reports of explosions outside Pakokku on 15 November. In Chin, armed clashes have also been taking place in Falam township since 11 November, resulting in the reported injury of three civilians and destruction of several civilian properties. Partners also report that about 5,000 IDPs from Falam township have been displaced to the India-Myanmar border area in Chin. Of them, some 3,000 IDPs have reportedly crossed the border to seek refuge in India while the remainder sought safety in forested areas within Falam township. Local partners also report that the roads between Chin and Sagaing, and Chin and Magway remain inaccessible due to ongoing conflict and blockages. Humanitarian partners are closely monitoring these concerning developments.

In Rakhine and southern Chin, almost a year following the informal ceasefire between the MAF and the Arakan Army (AA), armed conflict reignited on 13 November, marked by reported clashes and exchanges of fire in Rathedaung, Buthidaung, Maungdaw, Minbya and Paletwa townships. At least four civilians lost their lives, and an additional 10 people, including a 9-year-old girl, sustained injuries due to gunfire and artillery shelling in Kyauktaw, Maungdaw, Minbya, and Mrauk-U townships. Initial field reports suggest that nearly 7,000 people in Rakhine, including 2,800 in Rathedaung township and 4,000 in Kyauktaw township fled their homes to safer locations since 13 November, though the exact number of IDPs is still under verification. Compounding the crisis, the Rakhine State de facto authorities have implemented road and waterway blockades, severely restricting movement and transportation to Rakhine. Sections of the Yangon to Sittwe road remain blocked. In Sittwe, the SAC and the MAF have introduced heightened security measures, deploying troops and armed vehicles, setting up additional checkpoints, and imposing a night-time curfew between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. Disruption to communication and internet services is expected in the coming days.

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