AFGHANISTAN: The most deadly attack since 2007 recorded.
At least 54 people died and a hundred were wounded in an attack perpetrated by a group of Taliban insurgents against a government complex in the Afghan province of Farah. According to the provincial governor, Farah Akram Khpelwak, the majority of the fatalities were civilians who died when an attack was launched on a court located within the complex, in which some Taliban insurgents were being judged. The aggression started when the Taliban commando burst into the government premises, detonating explosives and then opening fire. This was the most deadly attack in Afghanistan since December 2007, when 70 people died in Kabul. At the same time, another suicide attack with a bomb in the province of Kunduz, on 13 March, caused the death of 10 people, among them three family members of the president of the Afghan Parliament, Abdul Rauf Ibrahimi. (El Pais, 3/4/2013; BBC, 3/4/2013; The Telegraph, 14/3/13)
CONGO, DR (EAST): An escalade in violence takes place alongside the division of the M23 and the handing over to the ICC of its leader, Bosco Ntaganda.
The leader of the M23, Bosco Ntaganda, handed himself in at the US Embassy in Kigali, asking to be transferred to the International Criminal Court (ICC). The ICC had issued an arrest warrant for Ntaganda, accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The splitting of the M23 into two factions, one headed by the political leader Jean-Marie Runiga, and another by the military commander Sultani Makenga is thought to be what led to the handover of Ntaganda. Runiga, who had provided protection to Ntaganda, has been deposed by the faction led by Makenga. Makenga appears to have shown his readiness to reach a peace agreement with the Congolese government of Joseph Kabila and to negotiate a fresh integration of his combatants into the Armed Forces. Rwanda has stated its willingness to comply with the transfer of Ntaganda to the Hague, although neither Rwanda nor the USA are party States to the Rome Statute. The split in the M23 and the subsequent desertion of some of its members have caused renewed combats between the factions of the M23 and of various Mai Mai militias seeking to take advantage of the situation, as well as of the Congolese Armed Forces, accused of sexual abuses and at risk of losing the support of the MONUSCO. (Enough Project, 18/03/13; The New Times, Xinhua, AFP, Radio Okapi, VOA, BBC, 19/03/13)
KOREA, PDR: Tension increases in the Korean peninsula after North Korea announces its intention of carrying out a nuclear attack against the USA.
Tension increased notably in the Korean peninsula after the North Korean government announced its intention to carry out a nuclear attack against the USA and to reactivate all its nuclear facilities. The US government called the announcement by North Korea a serious and real danger for the USA, and has announced the deployment of an anti-missile system on Guam. Despite the fact that North Korea has announced that the attack could be imminent, several analysts consider such an attack unlikely in that it is felt that North Korea does not yet possess the capacity to attach nuclear bombs to long-range ballistic missiles capable of impacting on the US coastline. Alongside this, the government of South Korea threatened to carry out a military action against its neighbouring country after the North Korean government prevented the access of South Korean workers to the Kaesong industrial complex, which is being managed jointly by the two countries and is located in North Korean territory, close the frontier. The increased tension in the Korean peninsula coincides with the carrying out of joint military exercises by the USA and South Korea. (CNN, BBC, El Pais, The Guardian, 03/04/13)
GUINEA: Tension increases between the Government and the opposition over the May elections, with various violent incidents.
The Guinean opposition, led by Cellou Dalein Diallo's UFDG and the Government, headed by the president Alpha Conde and his party, the RPG, stepped up their struggle around the holding of the next legislative elections, set for 12 May (having been postponed since 2011), preparations for which are being called into question by the UFDG. The opposition demonstration of 27 February was followed by two weeks of protests, including violent incidents that caused eight fatalities and left hundreds wounded. The National Observatory for Human Rights has denounced an ethnic element in the violence, with attacks against the population in the light of their ethnic origins. The UFDG has a broader power base among the Malinke population, and the RPG among the Peul population. Despite an agreement reached in March between government and opposition to negotiate the preparations for the elections –following severe opposition criticism of the company chosen by the Government to register voters, among other factors– the opposition pulled out of the negotiations at the beginning of April, warning of further protests. (Jeune Afrique, 02, 08-09, 18/03/13; Alert net, 01-31/03/13, 1-4/04/13)
IRAQ: A wave of attacks causes more than 60 deaths, marking the tenth anniversary of the war.
A series of coordinated attacks caused the death of more than 60 people and left a further 160 wounded in Iraq on 19 March, in the most bloody day of the last six months, coinciding with the tenth anniversary of the invasion of the country led by the USA. The attacks –suicide attacks and car bombs in markets, restaurants and at bus stops– mainly affected Shiite areas in Baghdad and its environs. The platform Islamic State of Iraq, which includes al-Qaeda in Iraq, claimed the wave of attacks. A further 55 people died in March in various violent episodes, among them an attack on the Ministry of Justice. This balance is added to the 715 civilians who died in the first two months of 2013. Amid this context of insecurity, the Government announced the postponement of regional elections scheduled for 20 April in the provinces of Anbar and Nineveh. The response of the security forces to the continuous demonstrations by Sunni sectors left another two dead and led to the resignation of two ministers in March. Following ten years of armed conflict, the total figure for victims of violence in the country amounts to 174,000 people. The organisation Iraq Body Count (IBC) stressed that most of the victims have been civilians, accounting for between 112,017 and 122,438 deaths, according to counts up to March 2013. (BBC, 04, 14, 17, 19/03/13; IBC, 20/03/13)
LEBANON: The primer minister resigns amidst a political crisis and a climate of increasing violence.
The Lebanese president accepted the resignation of the primer minister, Najib Mikati, due to serious political divisions within a climate of growing tension and violence in the country as a consequence of the conflict in Syria. Mikati, who had already threatened to resign in the past, stepped down due to his rejection of the government coalition backing for extending mandate of the chief of police, perceived by Hezbollah as a hostile figure and by Sunni sectors as a guarantor of their interests, amidst a growing politicisation of the security forces. Mikati's resignation was also a response to the inability of the parliament to agree an electoral law to govern the elections scheduled for this year. Mikati, who will remain in his post until the new authorities assume power, urged the formation of a government of national salvation to rescue the country from the spiral of sectarian divisions. His resignation led to fresh confrontations between Sunni and Shiite sectors that caused the death of a dozen people in Tripoli. Various episodes of violence also occurred in March on the frontier with Syria, including Syrian bombardments in Lebanese territory against presumed rebel positions. The UN Security Council expressed its concern at the incidents in the border zone, and particularly the offensives, kidnapping and arms trafficking. The Lebanese opposition requested the deployment of the army and of UN troops in the frontier zone. (New York Times, 22/03/13; al-Jazeera, 23/03/13)
PAKISTAN: The Sunni-Shiite sectarian violence worsens.
An attack on a Shiite mosque left 45 dead and 150 wounded in Karachi. The attack has led to manifestations of repulsion among the Shiite population, who note how an escalade of violence against their community has caused the deaths of nearly 250 of that faith since the beginning of the year. The Minister of the Interior claimed that the Sunni armed group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) was responsible for the attack, committed on 3 March. In the meantime, the Sunni groups responsible for the attacks appear to enjoy impunity: some human rights groups accuse the Pakistani Government of not taking sufficient measures to combat the Sunni sectarian armed groups. Moreover, on 24 March former president Musharraf returned to Pakistan, thus ending his self-imposed exile since 2008. The objective was to present himself for the May legislative elections as candidate and leader of his party, the All Pakistan Muslim League (APML). The latest confrontations between armed Islamist groups in the Tirah Valley (in the northwest of the country) have forced many inhabitants of the region to abandon their homes. According to the Norwegian Refugee Council, the flight of the Tirah Valley inhabitants began several weeks ago, but the exodus had accelerated over the last week of March. In total, some 40,000 people have fled from the Valley since the worsening of the combats. (Alert Net, 3, 24/3/2013; Dawn, 16/3/2013; Norwegian Refugee Council, 27/3/2013)
CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC: The Seleka rebel coalition defeats the Government of François Bozize.
The rebel coalition Seleka staged an offensive against the capital, Bangui, on 24 March, forcing the flight of the Central African president, François Bozizé, together with his family, who have sought refuge in DR Congo. Seleka had accused the Government of breaching the agreement reached on 11 January in Libreville. The exact number of mortal victims as a result of the offensive is unknown, although the Central African Red Cross has informed that it has recovered 78 bodies in the capital. Two hundred South African soldiers deployed since January in an attempt to contribute to security in the capital confronted 3,000 Seleka combatants, leading to the death of at least 13 soldiers and an unknown number of rebels. The international community has condemned the incidents, calling for freedom of access for humanitarian organisations, while the AU has expelled the Central African Republic from the organisation. The leader of the rebellion, Michel Djotodia, becomes the country's new president, and Nicolas Tiangaye has been renewed as prime minister, having appointed a new government made up of 34 ministers from the various political tendencies, as laid down in the Libreville agreement : nine from the rebels, eight from the former opposition, an ex-collaborator of Bozize, and the rest from civil society. (Xinhua, Sapa-AFP, VOA, 24/03/13, UN, 24, 25 and 29/03/13; Reuters, 27/03/13; New Times, 26/03/13)
SYRIA: March stands out as the most bloody month since the start of the conflict in the country.
The organisation Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) says that more than 6,000 people died in Syria in March, making that month the most deadly since the start of the uprising against the regime two years ago. This figure includes at least 291 women and 298 children, according to SOHR, which puts at 100,000 the total number of people who have died as a result of the conflict. There persist difficulties in corroborating that balance –according to UN estimates more than 70,000 have died– and the pattern of violence is maintained, with confrontations in various parts of the country and attacks against mosques, synagogues and university facilities in Damascus. The Government and the rebels accused each other of an attack with chemical agents in the proximity of Aleppo, in the first confirmed incident with this type of weapons since the start of the war. In this context the United Kingdom and France unsuccessfully proposed that the EU lift the arms embargo so that the Syrian rebels could be armed. The opposition Syrian National Coalition (SNC) chose a primer minister for the areas under rebel control (Ghassan Hitto), assumed representation of Syria in the Arab League and opened its first embassy in Qatar. At the end of March, the leader of the SNC, Moaz al-Khatib, resigned after complaining of lack of support from the international community. (BBC, 01/04/13, ICG, 01-31/03/13).
CYPRUS: The economic crisis that affects the south of the island slows down the peace negotiation process.
The UN Secretary-General's special advisor on Cyprus, Alexander Downer, admits that the current priority for the Greek Cypriot Government lies in resolution of the economic crisis, avoiding making any pronouncement concerning the timetable for negotiations on reunification of the island. He stated thus following his first meeting with the Greek Cypriot president, Nicos Anastasiades, since the latter took over the presidency in February this year. Downer nonetheless pointed out that the UN would work in parallel on preparations for the continuation of the peace process, and that talks would be held with various actors, including Turkey and members of the Security Council, to examine how to tackle the process. Downer also declared that Anastasiades had committed himself to resolving the conflict. The UN advisor also met the Turkish Cypriot leader, Dervis Eroglu, in a meeting he described as constructive. For his part, the Turkish foreign minister stated that Turkey would be prepared to negotiate a two-State solution if the dialogue on reunification failed and if agreement could not be reached either on the creation of a joint commission on the island's gas resources. (UN, 12/03/12; Hürriyet, 28/03/13)
CONGO, DR (EAST): The UN Security Council gives the green light to the creation of a rapid-intervention brigade to combat the armed groups.
The UN Security Council, at the request of the UN Secretary-General, has approved the creation of an intervention brigade to combat the armed groups that operate in the east of DR Congo. The decision was inspired in the result of a regional agreement reached in Addis Abeba on 24 February, laying down a commitment to pacifying the east of the country and cutting off the support of neighbouring countries for the armed groups operating in DR Congo. The brigade will be made up of 2,500 soldiers, and will reinforce the UN mission (MONUSCO) in the country, whose mandate to protect the civilian population will be reinforced by the offensive actions the brigade will carry out. This new brigade will act autonomously or in support of the Congolese armed forces. The M23 rebels have shown their rejection of this decision, for in the view of their leaders it involves opting for the military channel for tackling the problems suffered by DR Congo, instead of working to find a political solution such as the one that is being worked on in Kampala between the Government and the M23, facilitated by Uganda. Those talks, which started in December, have nevertheless been suspended due to the splitting of the M23 into two factions. The talks will be resumed with the Makenga faction, while some 600 combatants of the Runiga faction have fled to Rwanda. (AFP, Jeune Afrique, Xinhua, UN, The Huffington Post, 01/04/13)
IVORY COAST: The party of former president Laurent Gbagbo announces that it will boycott the local elections in April.
The Ivorian Popular Front (FPI, from its abbreviation in French) of the ex-president Laurent Gbagbo announced that it would be imposing a total boycott on the regional and local elections set for 21 April, complaining against what it sees as Government unilateralism in deciding the election date and a failure to consult. The FPI has also strongly criticised the independent electoral commission and has advanced that it will not recognise the election results and will penalise any members of its party found to be participating in any way in the elections. Some analysts alert to a potential risk that the measure will generate instability or violence. The FPI had earlier boycotted parliamentary elections at the end of 2011. On the other hand, in March, various attacks by armed men had occurred. Six people, including two civilians, died during an attack at the end of the month in a small locality in the region of Guiglo, bordering on Liberia, according to the UNOCI, which has reinforced its patrols in the zone. Seven people died in another attack in the region of Bloléquin (west) at the beginning of the month. (Jeune Afrique, 21, 24/03/13; Reuters, 22/03/13)
MACEDONIA: Government and opposition reach an agreement that halts the political crisis, though incidents with an inter-community dimension increase.
The Government of Macedonia and the opposition, led by the party Social Democratic party, reached an EU-facilitated agreement under which the opposition agreed to end the parliamentary boycott started in December and take part in the March local elections, while the Government committed itself to initiating a dialogue on a mutually acceptable timetable for the forthcoming general elections. The opposition nevertheless announced later that once the local elections had finished it would resume its campaign calling for early general elections. The first round of local voting passed off without incident and with a majority victory for the officialist party, the VMRO-DPMNE. In contrast with the improved political situation, various inter-ethnic incidents over the course of several days at the beginning of March caused some thirty wounded. The factor detonating the incidents was protests by some Macedonian citizens against the appointment of a former Albanian insurgent commander, Talat Xhaferi, as minister of defence. There followed protests by young Albanians, denouncing anti-Albanian policies. The incidents included clashes with the police and attacks on citizens and vehicles. (BIRN, 07-27/03/13)
MALI: United Nations considers options to stabilise the country in the midst of persistent violence.
The confrontations between jihadist militiamen and the operational forces led by France continued to produce victims in March, with various incidents in Gao and Timbuktu, including suicide attacks. The balance of mortal victims since the start of the hostilities in January is not known for sure, but probably amounts to at least five French soldiers, some thirty Chadians, a non-specified number of Malian soldiers and dozens of radical Islamists. The latter include the Algerian Abdelhamid Abou Zeid, a high-ranking leader of AQIM, who died in the Ifoghas mountains in an offensive claimed by Chad and by France. There also circulated during the month unconfirmed versions about the death of another AQIM leader, Mokhtar Belmokhtar. In parallel to this, the UN warned of an escalade in episodes of revenge being taken by Malian troops against members of the Tuareg, Arab and Peul communities, thereby increasing the risk of inter-ethnic clashes. Within this context, the UN Secretary-General revealed a twin-option plan for stabilisation of the country. The first option, a peace-keeping mission made up of 11,200 UN troops and 1,400 police officers, would nevertheless require a "parallel force" given over to tasks in the antiterrorist struggle, at least for a time. The second option is to reinforce the political mission of the United Nations in Mali, leaving the security tasks to the African mission, MIASMA. However, this last option does not have the capacity to take over from the French mission, which plans a steady withdrawal from the country from April. (Le Monde, 02, 05, 13, 23, 25, 26, 31/03/13; UN News, 12/03/13)
MYANMAR: A fresh outbreak of communitarian violence causes 40 deaths and leads to the forced displacement of more than 12,000 people.
A fresh outbreak of violence occurred between the Buddhist majority and the Muslim minority in the city of Meitkila, situated in the centre of Myanmar, in the region of Mandalay. As a result of several days of confrontations which began on 20 March, 40 people lost their lives and a further 61 were wounded. Nearly a thousand homes, Koranic schools and mosques were burned, leading to the displacement of 12,800 people. The violence spilled over to other towns and cities in Mandalay over the following days. President Thein Sein declared a state of emergency in four municipalities and deployed soldiers in order to restore order. According to Human Rights Watch, the magnitude of the destruction is similar to that suffered by various cities in the state of Arakan affected by sectarian violence in 2012, when large residential areas inhabited by Muslims of Rohingya ethnic group were burned. Alongside the disruption, peace negotiations continued between the Government and the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO). At their last meeting held on 11 March in Ruili, a city bordering on China, both sides undertook to maintain a dialogue in order to achieve a ceasefire agreement. This was later followed, however, by confrontations between the army and the armed section of the KIO, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) causing eight deaths. Both sides are expected to renew the talks in China on 10 April. (Human Rights Watch, 1/04/13; OCHA, 24/03/13; The Irrawaddy, 1/04/13; Kachin News, 16/04/13).
NIGERIA: Episodes of violence involving Boko Haram and the security forces cause over 80 deaths.
Acts of violence in various parts of Nigeria connected with the conflict between the armed group Boko Haram (BH) and the security forces caused over 80 deaths in March. The offensives attributed to BH included an attack on the city of Ganye, in the east of Nigeria, in which 25 people died, and a suicide attack with car bomb in the northern city of Kano in which another twenty people died. The Nigerian army claimed to have killed dozens of BH militia during March, twenty in combats in the northeastern state of Borno and a further fourteen during a raid in Kano. In a video, the presumed leader of BH, Abubakar Shekaku, denied that the group was holding peace talks with the Government. At the beginning of the year, a supposed leader of the organisation had announced a ceasefire. A leading religious figure suggested that an amnesty similar to the one granted in 2009 to MEND combatants in the Niger Delta zone could help to reduce the spiral of violence in the north of the country. On his first visit to the state of Borno, the region worst affected by the conflict, the Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan ruled out an amnesty, arguing that it was not known who the members of the group were or what its objectives were. Also in March, the armed group Ansaru, presumably a subsidiary of BH, claimed the killing of seven foreigners whom it had been holding. (BBC, 03, 10, 23, 31/03/13)
SOMALIA: The UN Security Council extends the mandate of the AMISOM and partially lifts the arms embargo on the country.
The UN Security Council extended the mandate of the AU mission in the country (AMISOM) and celebrated the progress made in reducing civilian deaths during military operations. In that respect, the Council urged the mission to step up its efforts to prevent collateral damage to the civilian population. The Council has also partially lifted (for one year) the arms embargo imposed on Somalia two decades ago; the aim is to allow the Somalian government to acquire small arms, in order to fortify Somalian security forces in their campaign against the Islamist armed group al-Shabaab and be able to ensure control and security in the areas recovered from the group. The decision does not permit the purchase of heavy armaments, however, and any purchase will have to be notified to the Sanctions Committee of the UN Security Council, which will have to give its approval. Various human rights organisations have condemned the decision, considering it to be premature. (AI, 05/03/13; Sudan Tribune, 07/03/13; Garowe Online, 07 and 08/03/13)
SRI LANKA: A resolution of the UN Human Rights Committee urges the Government to investigate reports of war crimes.
The UN Human Rights Committee approved by 23 votes in favour, 13 against and eight abstentions a US-led resolution calling on the government of Sri Lanka to fulfil its promises to investigate reports of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the armed conflict. In the UN resolution of 21 March, Sri Lanka was asked — in addition to applying the recommendations of the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Committee (a national investigation body charged with examining the reports and formulating recommendations to ensure reconciliation). Thousands of people had earlier demonstrated in Tamil Nadu, a region in the south of India, calling for the UN resolution to include an international investigation into the reports on crimes committed, together with the holding of a referendum in Tamil Eelam. Mahinda Samarasinghe, the presidential envoy of Sri Lanka to the United Nations, denounced the resolution that had been approved, calling it "highly intrusive", while the former head of the army, Sarath Fonseka, said that he was ready to reply to accusations of involvement in war crimes. (Reuters, 21/03/2013; The New York Times, 21/03/13; The Hindu, 22/03/13)
YEMEN: A national dialogue begins, though boycotted by some key actors.
After having repeatedly postponed talks, Yemen began a process of national dialogue which it is hoped will lead to agreement on a new Constitution and the holding of democratic elections in February 2014. The initiative forms part of the transitional agreement that allowed the departure from the presidency of Alí Abdullah Saleh, after 33 years in power. The conference started out with the participation of 565 delegates, who will meet for six months. The representatives were designated by the government of Abdo Rabbo Mansour Hadi and by a technical committee, with the assistance of a UN special envoy, Jamal Benomar. Various analysts have warned of the challenges faced by such a national dialogue, among them the marginalisation of some key players. Groups from the south aspiring to the independence of the southern zone called for a boycott and demonstrated in support of secession. Tawakul Karman, Nobel Peace Prize holder, decided to withdraw from the initiative in protest at the presence in the forum of senior functionaries of the former regime, whom she considered responsible for repression during demonstrations against Saleh, and at insufficient representation of young people, women and civil society. Three people died in a frustrated assassination attempt against the representative of the al-Houthis in the negotiations. (Periodismo Humano, 21/03/13; BBC and al-Jazeera, 18/03/13)
ARMS TRADE: The UN General Assembly approves a pioneering treaty for regulation of the international trade in conventional weapons.
In a historical decision, the UN General Assembly approved by a comfortable majority the first treaty regulating the international trade in conventional weapons. The agreement received 154 votes in favour as against three votes against, from Syria, North Korea and Iran. These last countries felt that the agreement was unbalanced and imposed restrictions that prevented States purchasing weapons for their own defence. Another 23 States abstained, among them Russia and China — the two largest arms exporters after the United States – as well as countries such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia, involved in supplying arms to the Syrian rebels. The treaty, which will come into force after being ratified by 50 countries, has among its objectives a prohibition on the sale of arms to countries under embargo and to governments or armed groups involved in serious human rights abuses, including war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. The text calls on States to adopt measures against the black market in conventional weapons. Seen as a step in the right direction by humanitarian, pacifist and human rights organisations, the agreement was received with scepticism by sectors entertaining doubts about its real impact. Press reports emphasised that the arms trade market moves 70 thousand million dollars and fuels armed violence that costs hundreds of thousands of lives each year. The treaty has finally been approved after years of negotiations and delaying tactics by the main arms producers. (Le Monde, 04/04/13; Washington Post and BBC, 02/04/13)
KENYA: The presidential elections in Kenya are held in a climate of normality.
Presidential elections in Kenya were held on 4 March within a climate of normality. They resulted in a win for Uhuru Kenyatta with 50.1% of the votes, followed by the current prime minister Raila Odinga. The latter has accepted the verdict of the Supreme Court of Kenya, which ratified the victory of Kenyatta, who is awaiting judgement by the ICC accused of crimes against humanity. The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, congratulated both candidates for the process. Kenyatta avoided a second round by winning with 50.1% of the votes, though with a margin of only 8,100 votes. A United Nations observation mission certified the peaceful climate in which the elections were conducted. A serious crisis had been unleashed in 2007 following the presidential elections, leading to the death of 1,200 people and the forced displacement of hundreds of thousands. The United Kingdom and the United States had brought pressure to bear on the contenders to exercise the utmost restraint during the elections. Seventeen people nevertheless died in Mombasa due to an intervention by the security forces to put down two mobilisations allegedly linked with the Mombasa Republican Council (MRC) independence movement. (Garowe Online, 04/03/13; VOA, 10/03/13; Ogaden Online, 09/03/13, BBC, 08/13/13; UN, 15, 30/03/13)
PHILIPPINES (MINDANAO-MILF): The Government and the MILF announce their intention of completing a peace agreement before the elections scheduled for 13 May.
The Government and the MILF committed themselves to resuming their peace talks at the beginning of April, after the president, Benigno Aquino, had ordered postponement of the 37th round of negotiations set for the end of March, in order to give the Government time to study the points agreed and to design a better peace agreement. Some analysts nevertheless consider that decision to have been motivated by an incursion of followers of the Sultan of Sulu into the Malaysian state of Sabah, claiming sovereignty over that territory, which has historically generated tensions between the governments of Malaysia and the Philippines. Sabah is home to some 800,000 Filipinos originally from southern regions such as Sulu or Tawi-tawi. For his part, the chief negotiator of the MILF, Mohaqher Iqbal, pointed out that the issue of Sabah had never figured on the negotiation agenda between the MILF and the Government, calling for a resolution of the dispute via dialogue. With a view to restarting the peace negotiations, both the Government and the MILF stated their intention of reaching agreement on the four outstanding issues on the negotiation agenda before the elections 13 May, in which the House of Representatives and half the Senate will be elected. (Inquirer.net, 25/03/13; Philippine Star, 26/03/2013; The News International, 03/04/13; Radio Australia, 26/03/13)
SERBIA – KOSOVO: Negotiations are advancing on possible autonomy for the Serbian areas of Kosovo, although the achievement of an agreement is being delayed.
Three further rounds of dialogue between the prime ministers of Serbia and of Kosovo, Ivica Dacic and Hashim Thaci, facilitated by the EU, have achieved substantial advances in discussions on the creation of an association to group together the Serbian municipalities of Kosovo, although no agreement was actually achieved despite the expectations created. Two of the rounds — the sixth and seventh — were held in March, and the other at the beginning of April. It was hoped that the last encounter, on 8 April, in which the vice-ministers would also be taking part, would lead to an agreement being reached. As later explained by the EU high representative for Foreign Affairs, Catherine Ashton, there would be no further meetings, although some days of reflection have been accorded to the parties in order to leave some margin for an agreement to be achieved. Ashton stated that the distance between Belgrade and Pristina was small, yet deep. The plan contemplates the creation of an entity that would group together ten Serbian municipalities — four in the north of Kosovo and another six in the rest of Kosovar territory — to which the municipalities would transfer their powers. The dispute revolves around the degree of competencies. Kosovo refuses to allow such a grouping competency over questions such as the police or the judiciary. (Balkan Insight, Reuters, 4-31/03/13, 1-4/04/13)
SUDAN (DARFUR): A faction of the JEM signs the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur (DDPD) promoted by the Sudanese government.
The JEM-Bashar, a breakaway faction of the JEM, has become the second rebel group to sign the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur (DDPD), promoted by the Sudanese government, after the LJM. One of the group's political leaders, Nahar Osmar, stated to the media that the peace agreement had to comply at all times with the three fundamental aspects of the process: the return of internal displaced persons, justice and reconciliation, and a redistribution of wealth. Note should also be taken of the episodes of violence registered in mid-March in the south of Darfur, when some sectors of rebel groups confronted government troops. The rebels in question were from the groups that opposed the DDPD: JEM, SLM-AW and SLM-MM. The main leader of the Darfur Regional Authority, Tijani Al-Sissi, declared in an interview with Sudan Radio that some 60% of the DDPD had already been implemented. (Reuters, 16/03/13; Sudan Tribune, 29/03/13).
SUDAN – SOUTH SUDAN: Sudan and Southern Sudan make progress in implementation of the cooperation agreement on the exploitation of crude oil.
The Sudanese secretary general of the Ministry for Petroleum, Awad Abdulfattah, and the under-secretary of the same ministry in South Sudan, Machar Achek, announced at a press conference given on 28 March in Khartoum that outside observers were going to monitor the crude oil extraction process at the largest oilfields. The cooperation agreement signed last year between Sudan and South Sudan on oil exploitation in the region is continuing to bear fruit. The agreement sets out to find common ground regarding extraction and exportation of the oil and a sharing out of the profits. At the end of March, the US Carter Center, in collaboration with the Sudanese Future Studies Center and the Ebony Center for Strategic Studies of South Sudan, agreed on the implementation of a one-year project whose objective was the creation of a space for debate with a view to bringing out creative ideas for consolidating peace. The authorities have received the initiative with satisfaction. (The New York Times, 12/3/13; Sudan Tribune, 30/03/13; Sudan News Agency, 29/03/13).
THAILAND (SOUTH): The Thai government and the armed opposition group BRN start exploratory peace talks facilitated by the government of Malaysia.
The government and the armed opposition group Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) began exploratory peace talks in Kuala Lumpur, facilitated by the government of Malaysia. In a joint statement, the two parties agreed the terms of reference for the dialogue, exchanged information, and laid the foundations for generating sufficient mutual confidence to reduce the current levels of violence and resolve the conflict affecting the south of the country. Both parties also agreed to hold another meeting on 29 April, after having informed their respective leaders of the content of the first encounter. The government delegation was headed by the secretary general of the National Security Council of Thailand, Paradorn Pattanatabut, while the insurgent group was led by Ustaz Hassan Taib. Last February, the two were thought to have agreed to hold this first public meeting. Malaysia accepted a facilitating role in the dialogue during a recent visit to Malaysia by the Thai prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra. According to some sources, the BRN had raised the issues of withdrawal of troops from the south of the country, the conversion of an amnesty for the insurgents and the creation of a special administrative zone for the south of the country, although the government seeks to focus the talks on a reduction of the violence. (BBC, 27/03/13; ABC News, 28/03/13; Bloomberg, 28/03/13; al-Jazeera, 27/03/13)
TURKEY (SOUTHEAST): The PKK declares a ceasefire following a call from its leader, Abdullah Öcalan, who also urges a withdrawal of the guerrillas from Turkey.
The leader of the PKK, Abdullah Öcalan, imprisoned since 1999, is calling for "silencing of the weapons" and a withdrawal of his forces from Turkey, though without setting a timetable. His message was conveyed through the Kurdish BDP during celebration of the Newroz, the Kurdish new year, and lies within the framework of the process of dialogue with the government. The PKK officially announced a ceasefire, in force from 21 March, though reserving the right to defence. It nevertheless conditioned the withdrawal on certain requirements, including the creation of commissions with decision-making and supervisory powers, and an improvement in the situation de Öcalan. The co-president of the BDP, Selahattin Demirtas, stated that the members of the armed group could withdraw from Turkey in August if the Parliament passes legislation to facilitate the process. The Turkish primer minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, described Öcalan's message as positive, although he urged the group to abandon their arms before withdrawing. Two further visits were also made by the parliamentary delegation of the BDP to Öcalan, one in March and the other in April, thereby lending continuity to the process of dialogue. (AFP, Bianet, 01-31/03/13; 01-04/04/13)
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