AFGHANISTAN: The armed conflict seriously affects the civilian population during the month of January
The armed conflict in Afghanistan had a special impact on the civilian population during the month of January, with many attacks and clashes that killed a large number of civilians. One of the most serious attacks claimed by the Taliban insurgency took place in Kabul in a restaurant popular with foreigners in which 16 civilians were killed, most of them non-Afghans. Another grave incident was a bombardment by international forces in the province of Parwan that caused the death of eight Afghan civilians according to the government, although the international coalition only acknowledged the death of two civilians. A few days before, US soldiers shot an Afghan child. Eight other children were shot to death in different attacks by alleged insurgents in the provinces of Laghman and Kandahar when they were practicing sports. Furthermore, six civilians were killed and 13 were wounded when a bomb exploded in a road in the province of Helmand. These types of attacks are the main cause of death of civilians in the conflict in Afghanistan. Moreover, the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission denounced the fact that violence against women increased in the country throughout 2013 and became more brutal, with increasingly serious and inhuman attacks. The commission also stated that the culture of impunity and the imminent departure of foreign troops from the country are putting women at risk of greater levels of violence. (Reuters, 04/01/14; Dawn, 10/01/14; The New York Times, 15 y 17/01/14; Pajwhok Afghan News, 23/01/14; The Associated Press, 25/01/14)
BURKINA FASO: Tension in the country increases due to President Blaise Compaoré’s attempts to extend his term by five more years
Tensions rose in the ruling CDP party after 75 of its senior officials resigned, including a former speaker of Parliament and the former mayor of the capital in early January. In the resignation letter, they denounced the disappearance of democracy in the party and President Blaise Compaoré’s attempts to amend the Constitution in order to extend his term. Compaoré rose to power after the coup d’état that he led against President Thomas Sankara in 1987 and has ruled the country ever since. After his first two terms were endorsed at the polls (1991-1998 and 1998-2005), he lowered the presidential term of office from seven to five years and changed the Constitution to establish a maximum limit of two presidential terms, meaning that his presidency should end in 2015. In this regard, in mid-January the opposition organised the largest peaceful demonstration in the last ten years. According to opposition leaders, between 300,000 and 500,000 people demonstrated to protest the attempts to modify the Constitution. A few days later, the 75 former members of the CDP that had announced their resignation in early January formed a new party called the People’s Movement for Progress (PMM) to challenge the CDP in elections scheduled for next year. (AP, News24, 06/01/14; RFI, Fox, VOA, 18/01/14; New Division, 26/01/14)
CHINA (XINJIANG): More than 20 people die in two episodes of violence in Xinjiang and on the border between China and Kyrgyzstan
Twelve people were killed during an attack on a market and a police checkpoint in the county of Xinhue, in the prefecture of Aksu. According to the official version of events, two bombs exploded in a market and a group of armed people threw explosive devices at various police officers. Six of the assailants were shot to death by state security forces. Shortly thereafter, six more people (including two women) detonated the vehicle in which they were travelling when they were surrounded by police. Five people were arrested during the two episodes of violence. The day before, 11 alleged combatants were killed in a clash with the security forces of Kyrgyzstan in a region bordering with Xinjiang. The government of Kyrgyzstan did not rule out that the people that died were Uyghurs coming from Xinjiang, although it preferred not to give an official version of the events until it ends its investigation. Furthermore, in mid-January the government of China announced its intention to double the budget for fighting terrorism in Xinjiang. According to various analysts, in the last two years there has been a notable rise in the number and intensity of the episodes of violence in the province. (Global Times, 26/01/14; AP, 17/01/14; Xinhua, 27/01/14)
MYANMAR: New outbreak of violence against the Rohingya population in Rakhine State
New attacks against the Rohingya population in Rakhine State may have claimed the lives of 48 people from the community in a new outbreak of intercommunity violence. According to local sources, a group of Buddhists accompanied by Burmese security forces attacked a Rohingya community in an action that also displaced hundreds of people. The Burmese government denied the incident and said that nobody had been killed, asserting that only one police officer was missing and describing as false the information spread about the events by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay. Meanwhile, Pillay and representatives from other international organisations called for an investigation into what happened. The Burmese government criticised the United Nations and the international media for referring to local sources and because it was unable to supervise the information that was spread. (The Irrawaddy, 17 and 24/01/14)
PAKISTAN (BALOCHISTAN): A new sectarian attack by the group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi causes 29 fatalities
An attack perpetrated by the armed Sunni opposition group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi killed 29 Shia pilgrims along the road that links Iran and Pakistan. The bus in which they were returning from a religious trip was hit by a bomb attack in a new episode of sectarian violence. In addition, 31 people were injured. In early January, three other people were killed in a similar kind of attack. After the attacks, thousands of people demonstrated around the country to protest the government’s inaction regarding them. Moreover, family members of the victims protested in the street with their coffins and refused to bury the bodies until the government promised to act. This was a very serious form of protest, as Muslims generally bury their dead immediately. Notably, in its report on the security situation in Pakistan, the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies revealed that an increase in sectarian violence was observed in the country during 2013 and close to 700 people died as a result of the violence. (BBC, 23/01/14; Tolo News, 22/01/14; The Express Tribune, 06/01/14)
SOUTH SUDAN: The government and rebels achieve a ceasefire in Addis Ababa, even though clashes that have already killed 1,000 people persist
In mid-January, peace negotiations between the government and the rebels of former Vice President Riek Machar reached a critical point with the government’s refusal to release the 11 Machar sympathisers detained since the conflict began. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the UN Security Council asked for their release to facilitate the progress of the negotiations. Finally, on 23 January the government and the former Vice President’s rebels signed a ceasefire agreement in Addis Ababa. However, the government was sceptical about the rebels’ ability to control all their militias. Although the peace talks will resume on 7 February, both parties have mutually accused each other of continuing the fighting. Furthermore, Justice Minister Paulin Wanawilla Unago announced that six of the 11 senior politicians arrested and Riek Machar, whose whereabouts are unknown, must face charges of high treason. The other six will be released and sent to neighbouring countries due to a lack of proof and in accordance with the rebels’ requests. Meanwhile, it is worth noting that since the conflict broke out in December, 1,000 people are estimated to have been killed, although different sources raise that number to 10,000. Additionally, 494,000 people had to flee their homes and 86,100 sought refuge in neighbouring countries, according to data released by the United Nations. Only 40% of the displaced people have access to humanitarian aid. Faced with the situation of insecurity in the country and various attacks on its facilities, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) announced its withdrawal from Malakal, the capital of the second-largest region of the country. Various clashes in the government-controlled city forced thousands of inhabitants to seek refuge in the UNMISS mission’s facilities. Furthermore, fierce fighting between the SPLA and rebels left the city of Bor practically destroyed. Thousands of people took refuge in the UN’s facilities in the city, which the Minister of Information was not able to access because his bodyguards were warmed, fuelling the government’s criticism of the UN. (al-Jazeera, 13/01/14; Alertnet, 17, 20/01/14; VOA, 20/01/14; Sudan Tribune, 19, 20/01/14; BBC, 23/01/14; Reuters, 28/01/14; allAfrica, 29/01/14)
SUDAN (DARFUR): Persistent violence over the past year rises in the region in early 2014
Fighting continued in January, in keeping with the trend observed in 2013. The insurgent group SLA-AW announced an attack on a convoy in the state of North Darfur, in which 41 soldiers were killed. The spokesman for the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) did not comment on the incident. The SLA-AW has refused to participate in peace talks. Furthermore, an unidentified armed group attacked the Al-Salam camp for displaced persons in the vicinity of Nyala, killing five people and wounding seven. In another similar incident, SLA-MM guerrilla fighters assaulted another camp for displaced persons at Baleel, killing five people (four of them police). In this regard, the hybrid UN/AU (UNAMID) peacekeeping mission said that the security situation in the region deteriorated considerably in 2013. The UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative Mohammed Ibn Chambas deplored the death of the 16 UNAMID soldiers in 2013, as well as the increase in the number of displaced persons, which reached 400,000 and exceeded the number of people displaced between 2011 and 2012. The UN and the Sudanese government differ over the number of fatalities caused by the conflict since it began. The UN says that around 300,000 people may have died, while the Sudanese government lowers this figure to 10,000. Chambas also announced negotiations with the Ministry of Justice to allow observers to be sent to monitor implementation of the Doha Agreement in the country’s courts. (Sudan Tribune, 07, 11, 25/01/14; AP, 23/01/14)
UKRAINE: The crisis between the government and opposition groups leads to several deaths, the Prime Minister’s resignation and the repeal of anti-protest laws
The internal crisis between the government and different opposition groups of the population, including the political opposition, students and activists, deteriorated seriously in November since the government decided not to sign an association agreement with the EU, which sparked mostly peaceful permanent demonstrations with varying levels of participation. The government’s approval of new legislation in mid-January that criminalised protests and put strong limits on the freedom of assembly, association and expression was the trigger for serious unrest and violent repression by the security forces. At least five people died and hundreds of demonstrators and police officers were wounded. Protests in the capital, Kiev, spread to other cities. Moreover, parts of the opposition organised into self-defence groups occupied some government buildings, such as the Ministry of Justice building, which was seized by the group Spilna Prava (Common Cause). Warned of a possible declaration of a state of emergency and faced with some demonstrators’ disapproval of Spilna Prava’s actions, this building was evacuated while other buildings remained occupied. The deterioration of the crisis led to talks between the government and the political opposition. The heavy political and social pressure led to the resignation of Prime Minister Mykola Azarov and his cabinet, while the President remained in office, despite protestors’ demands that he step down. Parliament withdrew the anti-protest legislation and in late January it approved an amnesty for the people detained in protests since November on the condition that the occupied buildings are evacuated. By late January, the future course of the crisis was still uncertain and former President Leonid Kravchuk said that the country was on the verge of a civil war. Meanwhile, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Catherine Ashton, flew to Kiev to try to facilitate a way out of the crisis, while Russia warned the EU not to interfere in local matters. Russia was waiting for the formation of a new Ukrainian government to activate its financial aid to the country, around 11 billion euros, which is part of the agreement announced in December between Ukraine and Russia. (BBC, Reuters, 01-29/01/14)
ARMENIA – AZERBAIJAN (NAGORNO-KARABAKH): Co-mediators concerned about new incidents along the ceasefire line
The OSCE Minsk Group, a body that acts as a mediator in the peace process between Armenia and Azerbaijan regarding the de facto independent region of Nagorno-Karabakh, expressed its great concern about the continuous violence in the region and recent incidents, which it thinks have undermined negotiations. At least two Azerbaijani soldiers and one soldier from Nagorno-Karabakh died in different attacks in January along the ceasefire line. Moreover, Azerbaijan and Armenia accused each other of violating the ceasefire repeatedly throughout the month. The death toll in 2013 was 20, while 4,000 people remained missing since the war in the 1990s, which claimed the lives of 20,000 people and displaced 200,000 people. Despite the incidents in January, the Foreign Ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia held the meeting planned for late January with the co-chairs of the Minsk Group. According to a statement by the mediating body, the leaders pledged to continue with negotiations to reach a peaceful solution to the conflict. Since the ceasefire in 1994, negotiations have continued without coming to a final agreement. (Caucasian Knot, 07-29/01/14; OSCE, 24/01/14; RFE/RL, 08-29/01/14)
CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC: Battles persist in different parts of the capital and the UN Security Council approves the creation of an EU mission
Fighting continued among the remaining troops of the Central African Armed Forces, antibalaka militias and former Séléka fighters, killing scores of people, as did looting and attacks between Christian and Muslim civilians in various parts of the capital. Also participating in the combat was the intervention force under the control of the African Union (MISCA, by its French acronym) and the French Armed Forces (Operation Sangaris), which captured dozens of combatants. In late January, the French killed ten former Séléka fighters. The UN Security Council approved the creation of an EU mission in which Spain, Belgium, Estonia and Poland could participate. The Security Council invited the Central African Republic to speed up the political transition. This mission is a first step towards transforming the MISCA into a UN mission. This mission, EUFOR RCA Bangui, will include around 500 troops and a powerful military component that will support the 5,000 African soldiers and the 1,500 French ones. The Security Council threatened to impose selective sanctions on parties that endangered the peace and security of the country and said that it hopes to establish a UN mission that would consist of 10,000 soldiers, even though the African Union had initially show reluctance to allow time for the management and organisation of its own mission. In late January the MISCA, charged with re-establishing peace and security in the country and forcing armed groups to disarm, had 5,300 troops and police officers of the 6,000 established for it in mid-December. The contributing countries are Burundi, Cameroon, Congo, Gabon, Chad, Rwanda and Equatorial Guinea. Finally, it is worth mentioning that the AU’s Peace and Security Council announced its official support for the request made by the new President to send a UN peacekeeping mission to the country to stop the spiral of violence into which it fell over the course of last year and most seriously in December. In early February, the AU will organise a summit to raise funds for the MISCA. (RFI, 24/01/14; Jeune Afrique, 29/01/14; Xinhua, 30/01/14)
DR CONGO: The UN Group of Experts publishes its 2013 report, in which it reasserts that Rwanda is supporting the rebellion and that resources continue to be plundered to benefit the insurgencies
The latest report by the UN Group of Experts on DR Congo highlights the defeat of the M23 and the various human rights abuses committed by the group during the year and confirms the different forms of support that the group has received from Rwanda, including recruiting, ammunition supply and artillery support. In addition, the Group has received reliable information that the leaders of the M23 subject to be punished were travelling freely to Uganda and the M23 was still recruiting in Rwanda. Meanwhile, the victory of the Congolese Armed Forces (FARDC) with the support of the Stabilisation Mission’s Intervention Brigade sends a clear message to other armed groups that have adopted more aggressive, defensive or compromising stances. The persistent violence among the FDLR, the ADF and Kata Katanga is worth mentioning. Many armed groups in the eastern part of DR Congo have obtained funds from producing and selling natural resources. Specifically, the Group observed that many gold mining operations were located in areas where conflict was no longer being reported, but that the products coming from those zones are mixed with those of the areas of conflict, especially in the largest commercial cities of DR Congo and in many transit countries like Burundi, Uganda and Tanzania due to the lack of transparency. The Group estimates that 98% of the gold is smuggled out of the country and that almost all the gold sold in Uganda, the main transit country for Congolese gold, is imported there illegally from DR Congo. The armed groups and the FARDC continue to control many mining operations and profit from them and the sale of minerals, especially tin, tungsten and tantalum. Rwanda denied the veracity of the report. (Jeune Afrique, 30/01/14, S/2014/42 de 24/01/14)
EGYPT: A new Constitution is approved amidst a climate of persistent violence and General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi confirms his plans to run for president
The situation in Egypt continued to be marked by upheaval, political polarisation and acts of violence that caused the death of dozens of people. The greatest number of victims took place as part of the commemoration of the third anniversary of the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak when clashes claimed the lives of at least 49 people. Many other violent incidents took place throughout the month in places such as Cairo, Alexandria and Ismaïlia, including clashes between supporters and opponents of ousted President Mohamed Morsi, scuffles with police and armed attacks and bombings against security forces that left more than 30 people dead. Amnesty International warned that Egypt is experiencing an unprecedented escalation of violence since Morsi was driven from power, with more than 1,400 people dead due to the political violence since the military coup d’état in July 2013. The organisation reported on the security forces’ abuses and restrictions on freedoms in the country, while the media covered the arrests of many Islamists and critics of secular movements. During January, there were also incidents linked to the constitutional referendum in which 14 people were killed. The referendum was seen more as a vote for approval of Morsi’s ouster and a way to legitimise the coup. The campaign leading up to it was conducted amidst the harassment of supporters of the “no” vote and great institutional support for those who would vote “yes”. The new Constitution was approved with 98.1% of the votes and a turnout of 38.6%. The text of the Constitution, drafted by a panel of 50 experts in which only two Islamists participated, was challenged by the Muslim Brotherhood and other groups that questioned some of its precepts, such as the one granting the Armed Forces competence to try civilians and control the appointment of the Minister of Defence and military budgets without civilian oversight. In this context, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi admitted that he would run for president. The Egyptian Army promoted al-Sisi to marshal and in late January it publicly backed his presidential election campaign. The vote will be held in April, prior to the parliamentary elections scheduled for July. (BBC, 01-31/01/14; Amnesty International, 23/01/14; al-Jazeera, 14/01/14)
HAITI: Protests demanding social and health services grow in some towns and several camps for people displaced by the earthquake in 2010
One child died and another 18 people were wounded during demonstrations staged by hundreds of people for several days in the northern regions of Ouanaminthe and Fort Liberté to demand that the government re-establish water and electricity services, which have been shut off since the end of the year. During the demonstrations, clashes took place between police and protestors and work, school and business activities in the region were paralysed. Transport and business with the Dominican Republic were also affected. Meanwhile, to mark the fourth anniversary of the earthquake that caused the death of more than 222,000 people, there were protests in some of the 271 camps where tens of thousands of people are still being housed. Most of these protests demanded better social and heath conditions and relocation of the population. In one of the camps, four people died and 30 more were injured in a fire. According to the most recent data from OCHA, today more than 146,000 people live in camps. (EFE, 23/01/14; PL, 22/01/14)
NIGERIA (BOKO HARAM): Boko Haram’s attacks continue amidst a political crisis in the ruling party
Actions by the armed Islamist group Boko Haram (BH) persisted with a major impact in terms of deaths among civilians. In January, almost 200 people were killed in attacks allegedly carried out by BH. At the start of the month, 70 people were killed in a car bomb attack in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State. In another attack in the district of Kawuri (Borno), 52 people were killed and more than 300 homes were looted. In the town of Wada Chakawa, in Adamawa State, a BH attack on a church claimed the lives of 45 people. On the other hand, the Nigerian Army announced that it had foiled a BH attack on a military base in Damboa, with 38 BH militants killed and the rest fleeing. According to the United Nations, more than 5,000 people fled to Cameroon and Niger in January. In the last few days of January, 37 communities were looted in Damboa, Konduga and Gwoza. Meanwhile, the political situation in the country has shifted since the opposition All Progressive Congress (APC) party was created in 2013, which is decimating the ranks of the ruling party, the PDP. Five state governors of the PDP, President Goodluck Jonathan’s party, have joined the APC. Likewise, 37 members of the lower chamber of the National Assembly also left the PDP, depriving it of its absolute majority. This has led to the opposition blocking the state budget for 2014. Finally, the government was also criticised by the international community due to its enactment of a law that bans gay marriage and public displays of affection between people of the same sex. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and US Secretary of State John Kerry denounced this law and the discrimination it entailed. Amnesty International condemned the arrest of ten men as a result of this law, although the government denied it. (VOA, 01/01/14; al-Jazeera, 09, 28/01/14; BBC, 24/01/14; Vanguard, 27/01/14; CNN, 16, 28/01/14; BBC, 30/01/14)
RUSSIA (DAGESTAN): Local and international organisations warn of the serious human rights situation in the republic
The Russian organisation Memorial, the Dagestani organisation Mothers of Dagestan and the international organisations Human Rights Watch and International Crisis Group (ICG) warned of the fragile human rights situation in the Republic of Dagestan and expressed their disappointment with Dagestani President Ramazan Abdulatipov’s first year in office, according to the independent portal Caucasian Knot. The aspects that concern them include heavy pressure against the Salafist population, including through mass arrests in mosques, residential areas and establishments they frequent regularly; the creation of people’s militias encouraged by the President himself; the authorities’ abuse of power; and human rights violations. Even so, some of these organisations, like ICG, highlighted positive aspects such as the prosecution of corruption and nepotism. Thus, in January the Dagestani President forced Deputy Prime Minister Magomedgusen Nasrutdinov and two other ministers to step down. Although a reason was not given for his dismissal, the Deputy Prime Minister had been arrested on suspicion of committing fraud. Meanwhile, the violence linked to the conflict between local and federal authorities and the Islamist insurgency in the northern Caucasus continued to affect the Republic in January, killing nearly 30 people in Dagestan in the first three weeks of the year. Moreover, in a video posted on the Internet, the group Vilayat Dagestan claimed responsibility for two suicide attacks in December in the southern Russian city of Volgograd that caused the death of 36 people and wounded more than 70. The group, which some experts said was an unknown organisation in Dagestan, asserts that it is linked to Ansar al-Sunna, an organisation created in Iraq in 2003 to fight US troops and the local authorities. (Caucasian Knot, 13-23/01/14; RFE/RL, 1-29/01/14)
SOMALIA: The New Prime Minister selects his cabinet as the violence rages on
The new Somali Prime Minister, Abdiweli Sheikh Ahmed Mohamed, chose his cabinet in early January and Parliament ratified it by a large majority. Meanwhile, clashed and armed actions continued in different parts of southern Somali and the capital, Mogadishu. In an ambush by the armed Islamist group al-Shabaab in Afgoye, near Mogadishu, seven government soldiers were killed and 11 were wounded. Al-Shabaab threatened civilians that cooperate or work with international organisations active in the country and executed a Somali woman for working with a Turkish NGO in Mogadishu. In a sign of the situation of insecurity and instability, two groups of the Somali Army belonging to different clans clashed in the region of Lower Shabelle, killing seven soldiers and wounding several others. The federal government confirmed the existence of US military advisors giving support to the Somali Army. Finally, it is worth mentioning the integration of Ethiopian troops in Somalia into the AU mission in the country (AMISOM). Specifically, more than 4,000 soldiers will join the mission and carry out coordinated military actions under the mandate of the AU. (Garowe Online, 10, 14, 15, 20, 22 y 29/01/14)
SUDAN (SOUTH KORDOFAN AND BLUE NILE): Clashes continue despite the parties’ willingness to conduct peace negotiations in February
Rebel groups from South Kordofan ensured that they had defeated the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) in various parts of the state. According to the spokesman of the armed group JEM, Jihid Adam Dilal, an attack by the group on a battalion near Trogi killed dozens of soldiers. In the same period, the group coalition SRF declared that joint forces of the SPLM-N and the SLM destroyed a military base in Dalami, in Habila. Meanwhile, the spokesman of the SAF, Al-Sawarmi Khaled, emphasised the recovery of Trogi, Angolo and Al-Dabkaya. In mid-January, serious incidents began to be reported again. The SPLM-N announced an assault on the SAF in Malkan, in Blue Nile State, which allegedly claimed the lives of 70 government soldiers. However, the SAF denied the story, acknowledging the attack but ensuring that it was successfully repelled. In late January, the SPLM-N denounced an SAF bombardment in the city of Kaude. Human rights organisations have repeatedly denounced these indiscriminate aerial attacks by the Sudanese Air Force. Alongside the ongoing violence, Foreign Minister Ali Karti declared that the government was ready to reach an agreement over the conflict in South Kordofan and Blue Nile. The SPLM-N declared that it has received an invitation from the African Union to participate in negotiations with the Sudanese government in Addis Ababa on 5 February. The group has asked for a solution to the situation to reduce the humanitarian crisis affecting the region stretching from Blue Nile State to Darfur, as well as a political solution with the participation of all political forces and civil society. (Radio Dabanga, 05/01/14; Sudan Tribune, 06, 26/01/14; Africa Review, 18/01/14; Daily Nation, 18/01/14; AFP, 26/01/14; Radio Tmazuj, 27/01/14)
SYRIA: The opposition and the government meet in Geneva for the first direct talks since the beginning of the armed conflict, which claims the lives of hundreds of people in January
After months of delays and diplomatic pressure to establish a direct dialogue among the parties to the conflict, delegations from the Syrian opposition and government met on 22 January in Switzerland in an attempt to find a way to break the cycle of violence in the country. Known as Geneva 2, the talks were endangered until the last moment by the parties’ reluctance to give up their preconditions. Damascus continued to assert that Bashar Assad must remain in power. The opposing Syrian National Coalition refused to attend without guarantees that the Syrian leader would resign, but pressure from Western and Arab countries finally led to their participation in the initiative. The talks began in a climate of scepticism due to various factors (including the antagonism of the parties, the boycott of the talks by key dissenting groups, including many armed groups) and the absence of Iran, Damascus’ key ally, whose invitation to participate in Geneva 2 was withdrawn under pressure from the United States and the Syrian opposition. The talks in Geneva were also criticised for not guaranteeing significant participation from Syrian women. The first round of the talks ended on 31 January with no progress made, even though there had been speculation about the possibility of reaching particular agreements to permit access to humanitarian aid. In January, the UN warned that half the Syrian population would require aid urgently, especially in areas wracked by violence. Places such as Homs and Aleppo were the most affected by aerial attacks and clashes in January. Alongside these developments, fighting intensified among armed rebel groups, particularly between the organisation ISIS (of Iraqi origin and with a large amount of foreign combatants) and local groups opposing their attempt to hijack the rebellion. These acts of violence killed hundreds of people. A report published shortly before Geneva 2 accused the Syrian government of torturing and executing 11,000 detainees since the conflict began in 2011. (BBC y al-Jazeera, 01-31/01/14; New York Times, 04/01/14: The Guardian, 20/01/14)
THAILAND: The Prime Minister pushes ahead with her intention to call early elections for February despite the worsening protests
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra announced her intention to hold early elections on 2 February as a mechanism to put an end to the protests that have been rocking the country for months. Shinawatra is in favour of calling the elections despite the fact that the protests continue, that both the demonstrators and the main opposition party refuse to participate in the elections, that the Electoral Commission has expressed its support for postponing the elections for three of four months to give time for the political and social tension to lessen and that various analysts warned of the possibility that holding elections in the present circumstances may generate greater levels of violence. During the intense demonstrations that were staged in Bangkok in January, many people were injured and the number of fatalities since the protests began rose to ten, including a prominent opposition leader. On 21 January, the Thai government declared a state of emergency in Bangkok and also threatened to arrest the leader of the demonstrations, former Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban. No major acts of violence were reported during the day of the vote, but many people were unable to exercise their right to vote because the demonstrators blocked most of the polling stations. (Reuters, 28/01/14; Associated Press, 26/01/14; EFE, 26/01/14)
TURKEY (SOUTHEAST): The leader of the PKK warns that the dialogue cannot remain stagnant and urges the government to take steps
The top leader of the Kurdish armed group PKK, Abdullah Öcalan, who has been in prison since 1999, warned that the dialogue between the government and the PKK cannot remain in limbo forever and told the government that if it lets itself be guided by electoral calculations, the process could end. Öcalan has urged all parties to take steps to move the dialogue forward. This was made public in a message conveyed through the Kurdish nationalist movement after Öcalan was visited in December. A new visit was authorised by the authorities on 25 January, this time composed of MP Süreyya Önder of the HDP (a new political group of the Kurdish movement) and the independent Kurdish MP Leyla Zana. In a context of internal crisis in Turkey caused by the struggle between the ruling party (AKP) and the Islamist Hizmet movement, Öcalan also said in his message in early January that they would not heighten the tension, which he described as a coup attempt, in line with the discourse of the AKP government. Öcalan also warned that any solution to the crisis in Turkey requires resolving the Kurdish issue. Meanwhile, the leader of the PKK said that the resolution process in Turkey could not be addressed independently of what was happening in the Kurdish regions in Syria, where the Syrian branch of the PKK has begun to govern the areas under its control. Öcalan also sent a letter to the President of the Kurdish region in Iraq, Massoud Barzani, the political pretender to the Kurdish groups rivalling the PKK in Syria. Öcalan urged overcoming their differences and promoted holding the Kurdish National Congress, which is regularly postponed. Furthermore, the Turkish intelligence agency, the MIT, issued a statement considered unusual that denied its involvement in the murder of three Kurdish activists in January 2013, following the recent leak of some audio recordings and documents that supposedly showed the MIT’s connection with the murder suspect. Nevertheless, the MIT declared that it had launched an internal investigation. (AFP, Hürriyet, Firat, 01-29/01/14)
YEMEN: The National Dialogue Conference wraps up its work with an agreement on the principles that must inspire the future Constitution, while sources of instability in the country persist
After months of talks that began in March 2013, the more than 500 delegates of the National Dialogue Conference (NDC) of Yemen officially concluded their work and presented a report with more than 1,400 recommendations. This document is intended to serve as a roadmap and the basis upon which a new Constitution will be drafted for the country as part of the transition process agreed to facilitate Ali Abdullah Saleh’s departure from power in 2011. Despite the bumpy dialogue, analysts appreciated that different Yemeni groups succeeded in agreeing on a peaceful end to a conflict that was about to plunge the country into a civil war. The NDC was organised into nine working groups that covered subjects such as the south’s separatist demands, the conflict with the Houthis in the north, formulas for decentralisation and economic development policies. The agreement reached by the NDC includes reversing the marginalisation of the south, abolishing child marriage, promoting the rights of women (including 30% representation in the public sphere) and creating a federal system. This last issue was one of the thorniest and an agreement could not be reached on the number of regions to be created. Separatist groups from the south boycotted the NDC because it did not allow for the option of independence and it is feared they may be marginalised in a future constitutional referendum. The UN’s Special Envoy to Yemen heralded the agreement as an unprecedented step forward in the region, called on the groups of the south to seek a negotiated solution, warned those that intended to boycott the reconciliation and paid homage to the NDC delegates that had been slain, the last of which was a representative of the Houthis killed days after the NDC’s work ended. In late January, battles intensified in the north between the Houthis and Salafists despite the truce reached at the beginning of the month. It is estimated that more than 20 people were killed in these battles, which may have been revived in part as a reaction to the murder of the NDC delegate. (BBC, 21, 28/01/14; UN News, 25/01/14; al-Jazeera, 26/01/14; Yemen Post, 22, 30/01/14; Press TV, 30/01/14)
CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC: The situation forces President Djotodia to resign and the Transition Council selects the mayor of Bangui to serve as the new president during the transition
President Michel Djotodia was forced to resign on 10 January by the profound crisis shaking the country and regional pressures due to his responsibility and inability to cope with the situation and on 20 January, the National Transition Council (temporary Parliament) selected Catherine Samba Panza to be the new president during the transition period. The mayor of Bangui since May 2013, she was appointed by the Séléka administration after the coup d’état. Samba Panza is a lawyer and member of the Association des Femmes Juristes de Centrafrique (AFJC), an organisation specialising in the fight against genital mutilation and other forms of gender violence of which Central African women are victims, and has also been a trainer in human rights with Amnesty International. She was not a member of any political party previously and was chosen from among eight candidates, including Désiré Kolingba and Sylvain Patassé, sons of the country’s former presidents André Kolingba and Ange-Felix Patassé, respectively. After being appointed, Samba Panza began intense negotiations to form a new transitional government composed of 20 predominantly technocratic members, of which seven are women and three are former members of Séléka. Most of the key posts, which were previously in the hands of Séléka, were given to technocrats. Samba Panza’s Prime Minister is André Nzapayéké, the former Vice President of the Central African Development Bank (BDEAC). (Jeune Afrique, 20- 28/01/14)
MYANMAR: Most armed groups commit to a national ceasefire if it is accompanied by political dialogue
Virtually all the armed ethnic opposition groups operating in Myanmar committed to signing a national ceasefire on the condition that it is accompanied by a process of political dialogue. The government proposal posits that the talks would begin after the ceasefire is signed, but the insurgencies want the processes to take place at the same time. The leaders of the armed groups reached this agreement after a meeting held in Karen State and later met with the main government negotiator, Minister Aung Min, to give him a draft of the agreement. The draft was presented by the National Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT), which represents 16 armed opposition groups. Even though the government has already signed bilateral ceasefire agreements with most of the insurgencies, it wants to reach a single comprehensive agreement. In the case of the Kachin insurgency, the government said that even though a formal ceasefire agreement has not been achieved, the agreements on the ground are greater in scope than those signed with other armed groups. In February, a new meeting will be held between insurgencies and the government in Hpa-An, the capital of Karen State, which will be preceded by a meeting of the leaders of the different armed groups. (The Irrawaddy, 24, 28 y 29/01/14)
PHILIPPINES (MINDANAO-MILF): The government and the MILF sign an agreement about security and disarmament issues that opens the door to a comprehensive peace agreement in Mindanao
In Kuala Lumpur, the Philippine government and the MILF signed the fourth and last of the four annexes of the Bangsamoro Framework Agreement (signed in October 2012), thereby facilitating the possible signing of a comprehensive peace agreement. The agreement on “normalisation” (which deals with security issues like the disarmament and demobilisation of the MILF, among others) comes after the agreements on “wealth generation and wealth sharing”, “transitional arrangements” and “power sharing”, in negotiations that have lasted 17 years and that still must address some minor issues before a comprehensive peace agreement is signed. Both sides hailed the agreement and stressed the challenge involved in implementing a possible comprehensive agreement. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also congratulated the parties and the official mediator (the government of Malaysia) for the efforts they made. The MNLF had various reactions to the agreement. One faction was more belligerent and announced its willingness to continue fighting for the independence of Mindanao, while another declared that the content of a new peace agreement with the MILF could not invalidate or undermine the 1996 peace agreement signed between the MNLF and the government. It is worth noting that one of the spokesmen of the MNLF said that most of the 11,000 combatants estimated to belong to the MILF were deserting or joining the MNLF or the BIFF (a MILF breakaway group) because they refused to surrender their weapons. (Xinhua, 26 y 27/01/14; Philstar, 26/01/14; Inquirer, 27/01/14; Reuters, 25/01/14)
TUNISIA: The Constituent Assembly approves a new Constitution by majority, the first since Ben Ali’s overthrow and the transitional government takes over to prepare for elections
After three years of debate, on 26 January the National Constituent Assembly (NCA) of Tunisia approved a new Constitution for the country by a wide majority (22 votes in favour, 12 against and four abstentions), the first since the ouster of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. The lawmakers agreed to the text after the Islamist party that leads the government, Ennahda, made concessions regarding its previous approaches, such as references to Islamic law, for example. The new Constitution, which replaces the one from 1959, recognises Islam as the state religion, but guarantees freedom of worship; establishes a mixed parliamentary system with certain prerogatives for the president; and provides greater guarantees for equality between men and women. Observers stressed the importance and historic nature of Article 46 of the new Constitution, which demands that the government establish parity between men and women in all elected assemblies in the country and commits it to adopting measures to eradicate violence against women. The speaker of the NCA, Mustapha Ben Jafaar, said that while the Constitution was not perfect, it was the result of consensus. Some analysts highlighted that sectors of the Tunisian people have been sceptical about the impact of this constitutional change in their lives (at a time when the economic situation is so harrowing), while others said that they hoped the new Constitution was a signal of stability in the country after months of political turmoil marked in 2013 by the assassination of two opposition leaders. In this context, it is worth noting that the Islamist party Ennahda fulfilled its pledge to relinquish power to the new transition government that will lead the country until elections are held. Islamist Prime Minister Ali Larayedh resigned from his post in early January and was replaced by the Minister of Industry, Mehdi Jomaa, who unveiled a new cabinet made mainly of independent figures and technocrats. The new government won a vote of confidence at the end of the month. (BBC, 09, 27, 28/01/14; AFP y Reuters, 26/01/14; Le Monde, 10, 27, 29/01/14)
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