ALGERIA: The takeover of gas plant by a jihadist group ends with dozens dead following the intervention of the security forces.
The kidnapping of nearly a thousand employees at a gas plant in Amenas (in south-east region, and producing 10% of the country's gas) led to an operation by the Algerian military forces. According to the official though as yet provisional balance, at least 68 people died since the start of the kidnap operation on 16 January, among them 39 hostages (most of them foreigners, from Japan, the Philippines, the United States, the United Kingdom, Norway, Romania and France) and 29 militias from North African and West African countries. Three jihadists were captured. The kidnapping was claimed by an armed group that broke away in 2012 from AQMI, the Signed in Blood Batallion, led by the Algerian Mokhtar Belmokhtar. The kidnappers were seeking an end to the French military intervention in Mali, criticised Algeria for allowing the use of its air space and demanded the release of imprisoned jihadists. Algeria ruled out any negotiation and rejected any connection with Mali, arguing that the kidnapping had been planned two months earlier. The Algerian military operation was criticised by some governments, but defended by France and the United Kingdom. (Reuters, 21/01/13; Jeune Afrique, 25/01/13; BBC, 16-30/1/13; New York Times, 27/01/13)
EGYPT: The worst wave of violence since the coming to power of the Islamist Mohamed Mursi causes more than 60 fatalities.
The demonstrations on the occasion of the second anniversary of the fall of Hosni Mubarak resulted in protests against the government of Mohamed Mursi and in violent acts that caused the death of at least 60 people throughout the country. The incidents, the worst outbreak of violence since the coming to power of the leader of the Muslim Brothers (MB), led to the imposing of a state of emergency in Ismailia, Suez and Port Saïd (north). In this last city the violence also arose out of a death sentence imposed on 21 football club supporters involved in incidents in 2012. Critical sectors accused Mursi of betraying the revolution and of concentrating powers, while the MB claimed that the opposition were seeking to overthrow the country's first elected leader. Mursi offered the opposition a dialogue, which called for the formation of a government of national unity. But this condition was not fulfilled, opposition leaders took part in talks to curb the violence in late January, following the intervention of the influential leader of the al-Azhar mosque. His mediation came following a warning from the army that the violence could lead to the collapse of the State. (Reuters, BBC, al-Jazeera, 17-31/01/13)
INDIA – PAKISTAN (KASHMIR): A serious escalation of violence between the two countries in the territory of Kashmir.
India and Pakistan agreed to scale back the escalation of tension in the disputed region of Kashmir and to comply strictly with the ceasefire agreement reached in 2003. An exchange of fire over the course of several days in January had led to the death of three Pakistani and two Indian soldiers, in the worst escalation of violence in recent years. India stated that one of its soldiers had been decapitated. Both countries levelled serious accusations against each other, while at the same time denying having breached the terms of the agreement. Pakistan stated that UN on-site observers should open an investigation into what happened, but India rejected that possibility, stating that it did not want to internationalise the incident. (Associated Press, 16/01/13)
PAKISTAN: The political and security crisis in the country worsens.
A series of attacks caused the death of 93 people in Quetta, capital of Baluchistan. The first of them, targeted at the Pakistani security forces, caused 12 fatalities and was claimed by the United Baloch Army armed group. The other two, which caused 81 deaths and were claimed by Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, occurred consecutively shortly afterwards in a zone inhabited by a Hazara Shiite population, unleashing intense protests from that community. Elsewhere, a court ordered the arrest of the prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf, accused of corruption. Moreover, tens of thousands of people demonstrated in Islamabad, led by the Sunni cleric Tahirul Qadri and calling for the early holding of elections –scheduled for the month of May– and dissolution of the government. The Executive accepted the dissolution of parliament ahead of 16 March in order to allow elections to be held within 90 days, but it has not acceded to the other demands from Qadri. (BBC, 11, 15, 17/01/13; New York Times, 11/01/13)
UNITED KINGDOM (NORTHERN IRELAND): Disturbances continued in Belfast following a restriction on official flying of the Unionist flag; over 120 police officers injured.
The disturbances that began in December in the wake of a local government decision to restrict the official use of the Unionist flag continued into January, with fresh confrontations between Unionist demonstrators and the police. In one of the protests, shots were fired against the security forces, which was interpreted as a qualitative leap in the scale of the disturbances, in which Molotov cocktails and other objects were also thrown. The police accused a sector of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) paramilitary group of having orchestrated the altercations. According to the State press, 127 police officers were injured over the December to January period and 174 people were arrested. The protests also led to some clashes with nationalist sectors. The political class has called for the exclusive use of peaceful methods. The tension aggravated a context also marked by a recent increase in threats against the police from armed Republic factions in Northern Ireland. (The Guardian, 1-24/01/13)
RUSSIA (DAGESTAN): The insurgency claims the assassination of a Supreme Court judge, within a context of escalating violence, and the Russian president removes the Dagestani president from office.
The security situation in the Dagestan Republic of the Russian Federation continued to deteriorate in January, with further security operations and attacks from the insurgency. The latter claimed the death of a Supreme Court judge in capital, Makhachkala, among other incidents. The independent portal Caucasian Knot made public its balance of victims in the north of the Caucasus in 2012, putting it at 405 killed and 290 injured in Dagestan over the course of the year. For his part, the Russian president Vladimir Putin ordered the removal from office of the Dagestani president, Magomedsalam Magomedov, whom he went on to appoint as number two in the Office of the Presidency. (Moscow Times, 29/01/13; Jamestown Foundation, 24/01/13; Caucasian Knot, 21/01/13)
SYRIA: Thousands of people leave the country because of the conflict, aggravated by an Israeli attack.
The situation continued to deteriorate due to high levels of violence, which have forced more than 200,000 people to abandon the country since the beginning of December 2012. According to the UN, the figure for refugees now exceeds 700,000, while another four million people in Syria were in need of assistance. The most serious events included, among others, the discovery of the bodies of 71 people presumably executed by government forces in Aleppo (while Damascus blamed the jihadist al-Nusra Front armed group), a suicide attack that left dozens of fatalities in Hama, and armed clashes between rebels and Kurdish militia. The internationalisation of the conflict was revealed by the deployment of NATO Patriot missiles in Turkey and by an Israeli air attack. According to press reports, the offensive was directed against a convoy that was transporting arms to the Lebanon, though Damascus asserted that the objective had been a military research centre. The attack was seen as a warning from Israel to Syria not to transfer weapon arsenals to Hezbollah. (BBC and Reuters, 01-31/01/13)
AFGHANISTAN: Barack Obama undertakes to speed up the withdrawal of troops from the country.
The recently appointed president of the United States, Barack Obama, undertook to bring forward the timetable for withdrawal of combat troops from Afghanistan, in an announcement which came during a meeting with his Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai. Obama did not reveal figures concerning the military presence in that Asian country, but did state that the withdrawal would begin this spring, and that following the planned end of the combat mission set for 2014, the US military presence would be very small. He also pointed out that by the spring nearly 90% of the Afghan population would be living in zones entirely under the control of the local security forces. These statements nevertheless contradicted prior reports from the American government itself, noting the lack of operational capability of the Afghan forces. For his part, Karzai expressed satisfaction at having achieved a transfer of control over prisons housing terrorism suspects, as well as at the earlier withdrawal of US troops. (The New York Times, 11/12/13)
CHINA (TIBET): The Tibetan prime minister urges the international community to denounce the situation suffered by the Tibetan community in China.
The Tibetan prime minister in exile, Lobsang Sangay, is urging the international community to become more actively involved in defending the rights of the Tibetan population and in denouncing what it considers to be oppressive and repressive policies on the part of the Chinese government. Lobsang Sangay also expressed regret that the support of the international community for the Tibetan cause (which had always practised non-violence) had been less than that obtained by other movements that had chosen armed struggle. His declarations came during a Campaign of Solidarity with the Tibetan People organised in New Delhi and attended by thousands of people and leading figures of the Tibetan government and parliament in exile. Finally, Lobsang Sangay urged the Tibetan population not to stage acts of self-immolation by fire, while recognising that such acts reflected the desperation and at the same time the determination of the Tibetan population. According to Tibetan organisations in exile, some 100 people had set themselves on fire (most of them dying in the process) since February 2009 in protest against the Chinese authorities. (Reuters India and phayul.com, 29/01/13; International Business Times, 30/01/13; AFP, 31/01/13)
KOREA, RPD – KOREA, Rep.: Rise in tension in the Korean peninsula following the South Korean announcement of launching of a satellite into orbit for the first time.
The South Korean government announced the launching into orbit of a satellite for scientific purposes, following two failed attempts in 2009 and 2010. The announcement came days after North Korea had in turn announced ballistic trials, and after intelligence sources stated that Pyongyang was ready to carry out a third nuclear test. In mid-December, South Korea had carried out a trial with long-range missiles, although the North Korean government had announced that the putting into orbit of a satellite was for civil purposes. That led to a unanimous condemnation of North Korea by the international community; international sanctions had previously been imposed on the country for carrying out tests prohibited by the United Nations, leading to fears that the North Korean regime had the technological capacity to launch missiles that could impact on US territory. Pyongyang stated that the international community had a dual yardstick when it came to evaluating the space programmes of North Korea and South Korea. (BBC, ABC, Wall Street Journal, CNN, The Guardian, 30/01/13)
HAITI: Supporters and detractors of ex-president Aristide mobilise in the capital after he had been summoned to declare concerning a case occurred in the eighties.
Hundreds of followers and opponents of ex-president Jean Bertrand Aristide demonstrated in Puerto Príncipe over of a judicial summons issued against Aristide by the State Prosecution Department to declare concerning accusations that had been brought against him. The police and some members of the MINUSTAH had to evacuate several opponents of the ex-president and to use tear gas to disperse Aristide supporters, mainly led by MOLEGHAF – Movement for the Freedom, Equality and Fraternity of Haitians, which forms part of Fanmi Lavalas, a political formation founded and led by Aristide. The report against him had been filed by several people who claimed that they had been physically and financially exploited by an organisation created by Aristide in the 1980s to provide care for minors in situations of vulnerability. The mobilisations came a few days after the government had authorised renewal of a diplomatic passport for the former dictator Jean Claude Duvalier, who is being tried for corruption. A court had rejected accusations of crimes against humanity brought against him. That discharge gave rise to numerous criticisms from human rights organisations. (Reuters, 03, 09/01/13; AFP, 03/01/13; HaitiAction.net, 10/01/13; Workers World, 20/01/13)
ISRAEL-PALESTINE: The UN Human Rights Council condemns the Israeli settlements.
The UNO Human Rights Council issued a report condemning the Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories. The document argued that the colonies breached the human rights of the Palestinians and exposed them to situations of violence, underlining that the settlements had expanded and consolidated during the government of Benjamin Netanyahu. Israel refused to collaborate with the investigation, describing the report as counterproductive. The Palestinian Authority (PA) asserted that Israel left it no alternative but to denounce the settlements before the International Criminal Court. However, the PA awaited the formation of a new Israeli Executive in case a change of direction arose in that policy. Elections were held in Israel in January, in which the Netanyahu coalition won by a small margin, thereby leading to an expectation of arduous negotiations for the setting up of the new government. (Al-Jazeera, 24/01/13; Haaretz, 30/01/13; BBC, 31/01/13)
MALI: France intervenes militarily and forces a withdrawal of the Islamist militia in the north of the country.
Faced with the advance of Islamist forces towards the south, France intervened militarily in Mali. "Operation Serval" set itself the objectives of preventing the jihadists from reaching Bamako, recovering the country's territorial integrity and preventing the zone from being converted into a sanctuary for radical Islamists. France denied having economic motivations, stressing that it had acted at the request of the Mali government. French government also pointed out that the intervention would be limited and that it would hand over to ECOWAS. The UN had approving the sending to Mali of a mission led by African countries, though their deployment was not expected until September, in order to give time for political stabilisation of the country and the restructuring of its armed forces. The troops of ECOWAS and of other countries in the region began to arrive in Mali in January, while the offensives of the French and Malian forces regained control Diabaly, Gao and Timbuktu. The armed Tuareg group MNLA offered to collaborate in the struggle against the jihadi militias. Human rights groups alerted to Malian army reprisals against people suspected of collaboration with the rebels. Analysts warned of the challenges faced in keeping the north under control and of dispersion of jihadist groups across the Sahel. (BBC, Jeune Afrique, Le Monde, 06-31/01/13)
MYANMAR: Government announcement of a unilateral ceasefire does not put an end to the confrontations with the KIO.
The government and the armed group KIO agreed to uphold an informal agreement after a unilateral government announcement of a ceasefire did not succeed in bringing the armed confrontations to an end. Despite the government announcement made before international donors, the KIO accused the armed forces of continuing their offensive in the vicinity of its stronghold in Laiza, and of having announced the ceasefire as a strategy to obtain provisions for the troops. For its part, the army explained the failure of the ceasefire by pointing out that it was obliged to respond to the attacks of the insurgency. The Chinese government, which has substantial economic interests in the state of Kachin, expressed its concern at the escalation of violence and at the possibility of an increased flow of refugees. The KIO reaffirmed its wish that the organisation UNFC, grouping together several ethnic insurgencies, be the one to head the peace negotiations in the event of such negotiations arising. (The Irrawaddy, 21 and 30/01/13)
NIGERIA: Boko Haram declares a unilateral ceasefire, though the announcement was received with scepticism.
A high-ranking commandant of Boko Haram, presumably the number two of the armed group, declared a unilateral ceasefire. The announcement was received with scepticism by some Nigerian sectors due to a lack of clarity about whether Abu Mohammed Ibn Abdulazeez was speaking in the name of the organisation or whether he represented a rival faction prepared to negotiate with the government. Abdulazeez assured that the measure was the fruit of prior contacts with government functionaries and functionaries of the state of Borno (north). In November, he had set a number of conditions for a truce, among them the immediate release from prison of all the members of the group and negotiations in Saudi Arabia. The Nigerian authorities saw the announcement as a positive step, while military representatives demanded of Boko Haram a guaranteed period of 30 days without attacks. Analysts consider that the announcement of a truce could reflect the fragmentation of the group. In January, Boko Haram was held responsible for the deaths of over thirty people, including several cases of victims who had had their throats cut. (BBC, 23/01/13; Reuters, 28/01/13; AFP, 30/01/13; All Africa, 30/01/13)
NIGERIA (NIGER DELTA): The federal government warns of the forthcoming end of the amnesty programme, while ex-militants in the region threaten to withdraw their support from the president.
The special advisor to the President on the Niger Delta, and director of the presidential amnesty programme, warned that the amnesty would be ending in 2015 and urged the governments of the states in the region to involve themselves in creating jobs and opportunities for young people, insisting that the federal programme could not be an employment platform. The warning came within a context of further arms deliveries. Additionally two former high-ranking militants, Ateke Tom and Ebikabowei Victor Ben, threatened to withdraw their support from the Nigerian president in the face of the scant repercussion of the peace dividend in the region, criticising the Ministry's lack of results on Niger Delta issues and the failure of the Niger Delta Development Commission. The criticisms also come in a period characterised by protests and mobilisations of ex-combatants in recent months. (This Day, 17, 28/01/13)
RD CONGO (EAST): Postponement of the agreement on the creation of an intervention force under UN umbrella to combat armed groups in the east of the country.
During the African Union (UA) summit, the heads of state of DR Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, Angola, Congo-Brazzaville, South Africa and Tanzania proposed the creation of an intervention force that would have the mission of neutralising and disarming the armed groups in the east of DR Congo, and particularly the M23 and the FDLR. The leaders of the two organisations involved, SADC and CIGLR, have requested more time to analyse the document proposed. The mission will be made up of 2,500 soldiers from Tanzania and South Africa. This peace enforcement mission would have to be approved by the UN Security Council, although its Secretary General has been fostering the process. This new mission will be under the umbrella of MONUSCO, a mission much criticised for its lack of action in the face of the advances of the M23 rebellion. In recent days the Security Council approved the use of drones to supervise the situation, despite the reticence of Russia, China and Rwanda. (BBC, UN, Xinhua, AP, al-Jazeera, AFP, RFI, New Times, 24/01/13-28/01/12)
PHILIPPINES (MINDANAO-MILF): The government and the MILF express their conviction that a definitive peace agreement would be signed shortly.
The government, the head of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the facilitator of the negotiations, the Malaysian Ghafar Tengku Mohammed, expressed their conviction that shortly (by the month of March, according to the government) a definitive peace agreement could be signed. The declarations arose following the end of the 35th round of negotiations in Kuala Lumpur, in which the parties agreed the terms of reference of the Third Party Monitoring Team, which would supervise, evaluate and advise upon implementation of the Framework Agreement on Bangsamoro and its four annexes. It was precisely in this latest round of negotiation that two of the four annexes still pending were completed and power sharing and wealth sharing annexes were nearly finalised. On 15 October last, the government and the MILF signed the Framework Agreement on Bangsamoro, an agreement including the essential content of a future all-round peace agreement that principally provides for replacement of the present Autonomous Region of the Muslim Mindanao by a new entity with increased territory, powers and resources. (Sun.Star, 26/01/13; Philippine Star, 17, 27/01/13; GMA News, 26/01/13)
CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC: The government and the Séléka rebels sign a peace agreement.
The government and the Séléka Coalition reached agreement in Libreville, the capital of Gabon, on the formation of a government of national unity in exchange for a ceasefire. The present government has been dissolved in order to facilitate the formation of the new government. The president, François Bozizé, has appointed as new prime minister Nicolas Tiangaye, leader of the Convention Républicaine pour le Progrès Social (CRSP) opposition party, who had been designated by the rebels and the political opposition, in exchange for which the insurgency has declared a ceasefire and will allow Bozizé to complete his current presidency, which ends in 2016. The insurgency began its activities in December in the north of the country, rapidly reaching the gateways of the capital despite the deployment of hundreds of soldiers from countries in the region in support of the Central African armed forces. In spite of the agreement, some days later two Séléka groups, the FDPC and the A2R, which had demanded the removal of Bozizé, attacked and sacked two mining localities in the south-east of the country. (IRIN, 11/01/13; Reuters, 11, 12 and 17/01/13; AFP, 23/01/13)
RD CONGO (EAST): The M23 declares a unilateral ceasefire in parallel with timid advances in the dialogue between the Congolese government and the insurgency.
The M23 announced a unilateral ceasefire while peace talks continued under the mediation of Uganda between the Congolese government and the group, in talks that had started on 9 December in Kampala. The only advance has been an agreement on the negotiation agenda (which includes a review of the 2009 agreement, security issues, social, economic and political matters and mechanisms for implementation of the agreements). The Ugandan mediators stated that the UN Security Council sanctions (arms embargo, freezing of funds, prohibition of flights) against the M23 could have an adverse effect on the talks, in response to which the United States and UN have declared that the sanctions would not affect the representatives of the group. A request from women's organisations to be involved in the peace negotiations has been rejected, as has a call from Congolese opposition political parties for national dialogue with international mediation. An assessment of the material damage occasioned by the M23 occupation of Goma for eleven days put the figure at 150 million dollars, according to the governor of the province of North Kivu, while OCHA registered 2.5 million people displaced over the course of 2012. (RTL.be, BBC, 08/01/13; New Times, 10/01/13; AFP, 11/01/13, RFI, 16 and 26/01/13, New Times, 17/01/13)
SERBIA – KOSOVO: Progress in technical negotiations on running of the frontier, while the Serbian Parliament passes a resolution aimed at a solution for the north of Kosovo.
The prime ministers of Serbia and Kosovo reached a provisional agreement on customs duties collection, with the funds to be used for developing the north of Kosovo, which has a Serb majority. This is a new pact in the process of dialogue facilitated by the EU, though discrepancies later emerged over the terms. According to the Kosovo government, the presidents of Serbia and Kosovo will likewise be meeting shortly, in what will be the first meeting of the two presidencies. Alongside this, in January the Serbian Parliament passed a resolution ratifying the non-recognition of Kosovar independence, though it has authorised implementation of the agreements reached with Kosovo, sets as an objective of the dialogue the protection of the rights of the Serbian population of Kosovo, makes new agreements compulsory in the technical dialogue process in line with the resolution, as well as aiming for a broad agreement with Pristina, while at the same time showing itself open to further concessions. (B92, 13/01/13; Balkan Insight, 18/01/13)
SOMALIA:The federal government of Somalia receives the official recognition of the United States for the first time since the fall of Siad Barre in 1991.
The new president-elect of Somalia, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, and the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, exchanged diplomatic notes on 17 January, thereby signifying formal US recognition of the Somali government for the first time since it was overthrown in 1991. On the same day, the US president, Barack Obama, met his Somalian counterpart in what amounts to substantial backing for the country and its government. This recognition not only allows it to have renewed relations with USAID and other United States development agencies, but also opens up a chance for the Somalian government to receive assistance from the international financial community. The government of the state of Puntland expressed its pleasure at recognition by the United States. The US recognition has nonetheless unleashed a political storm in the republic of Somaliland, and all political and social actors in the self-proclaimed independent region have stated their disagreement with it, since it poses an obstacle to their ambition to achieve international recognition. (Garowe Online, 18, 20 and 21/01/13)
SUDAN (DARFUR, SOUTH KORDOFAN, BLUE NILE): Two insurgent movements declare their wish for dialogue with the Sudanese government.
The leader of the SPLM-N, Malik Agar, announced his readiness to negotiate a humanitarian agreement involving a cessation of hostilities and to allow humanitarian aid to reach the civil populations of the areas in dispute, in reference to the states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile, affirming that an agreement of those characteristics would create a conducive environment for comprehensive political peace talks to be held, despite the gravity of the current confrontations. Agar, who also heads the SRF rebel coalition, called upon the AU to bring pressure to bear on Khartoum, and has proposed merging the two mediation forums that currently exist in relation to Sudan: Doha and Addis Ababa. Alongside this, a faction of the JEM, the JEM-MC, is negotiating with the government (in the Qatar capital, Doha) a temporary ceasefire agreement renewable every three months. On 24 January, the government and JEM-MC signed a negotiations agenda. (AFP, 12/01/13; Sudan Tribune, 29/01/13)
TURKEY (SOUTH-EAST): Progress in the dialogue between the government and the leader of the Kurdish PKK group, with discussions on a possible end to hostilities, departure of combatants from the country and disarmament.
The dialogue between the Turkish government and the imprisoned PKK leader, Abdullah Öcalan, publicly admitted in December, is making progress with an apparent initial agreement on a suspension of hostilities, the departure of PKK combatants from Turkish territory and subsequent disarmament depending on the progress of the dialogue, according to Turkish media sources, though without official confirmation. In parallel with this are government measures such as the gradual release of hundreds of currently imprisoned members of the Kurdish movement and reforms for recognition of the Turkish identity. Within the framework of this new process of dialogue, at the beginning of January the government authorised a visit to Öcalan by two Kurdish members of parliament. This, and other steps such as authorisation of the use of Kurdish in legal defence during hearings, mark positive advances. Nonetheless, the assassination of three Kurdish activists in Paris suggests the existence of actors opposed to the peace process. (Firat, AFP, Hürriyet, 1-29/01/13)
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