CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC: Chaos reigns in the country one year after the coup d’état against François Bozizé
A year after François Bozizé was ousted in a coup d’état carried out by the Séléka coalition, the situation in the country remains volatile. In the final days of March, clashes between both armed sides in different neighbourhoods of north Bangui caused the death of 15 people and wounded dozens. A military detachment of French Operation Sangaris and of the African Union’s MISCA mission was deployed to the area and attempted to control the situation by getting between the factions, but in some cases it became a target and responded with the use of force. International forces did not give a death count after the intervention, which took place mainly in the PK-5 neighbourhood. Outside the capital, the humanitarian situation remained very serious, with a high level of insecurity. Exactions were made regularly against the civilian population in some areas by old militias linked to Séléka and in others by anti-balaka militias. The situation was especially acute for Muslim population centres still isolated in the southwestern part of the country and in Bangui; according to Human Rights Watch, around 15,000 people were in serious danger. The UN Secretary-General called for the UN Security Council to quickly establish a peacekeeping mission of around 12,000 blue helmets. The country’s civil servants received their first salary in six months and the EU announced that it would send 81 million euros in aid dedicated to the education, health and food security sectors. The humanitarian organisation MSF stressed that the international donor community is not up to the situation, which requires tending to the one million displaced people and refugees in the country. Transition President Catherine Samba-Panza has publicly asked for an end to the arms embargo imposed on the country and is seeking to rearm the Armed Forces, the police and the gendarmerie to restore an atmosphere of security in the country. On 2 April, a summit will be held in Brussels on the situation in the country. (Jeune Afrique, 25-27/03/14)
DEATH PENALTY: Amnesty International attributes the 15% increase in executions during 2013 mainly to Iran and Iraq
Amnesty International’s annual report on the use of the death penalty worldwide concluded that there were 15% more executions in 2013 than there were in 2012, a rise mainly attributed to measures adopted by the authorities in Iran and Iraq. The total number of acknowledged executions went from 682 in 2012 to 778 in 2013, excluding data on the use of capital punishment in China (the country that Amnesty International believes employs it the most) and contexts of conflict, including Syria. Excluding China, three Middle Eastern countries performed 80% of all executions around the world: Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, although the first two countries accounted for the greatest number of cases. Officially, Iran carried out 369 executions (358 men and 11 women), although Amnesty International indicated the existence of credible evidence of many secret executions that would bring the total to 704. The human rights organisation said that the situation of the death penalty in Iran had undergone no changes since the rise to power of new President Hassan Rouhani. Those condemned to death in Iran included people accused of armed insurrection or affiliation with banned groups, as well as members of ethnic minorities such as Ahwazi Arabs and Kurds. In Iraq, a total of 169 people were executed in 2013 (a third more than in 2012), most of them convicted under the Anti-Terrorism Act. Previously, Amnesty International had warned that at least 90 people sentenced to death for terrorism and other crimes in Iraq had been convicted based on forced confessions, 14 of them in 2013. Saudi Arabia executed 79 people, followed by the United States, which executed 39. According to Amnesty International, a total of 22 countries performed executions, four of which (Indonesia, Kuwait, Nigeria and Vietnam) resumed the use of the death penalty in 2013. (NYT, 26/03/14; BBC, 27/03/14; Amnesty International, 27/03/14)
INDIA (CPI-M): An attack by Naxalite insurgents kills 20 members of the security forces
An attack carried out by Naxalite insurgents in a jungle area in the state of Chhattisgarh claimed the lives of 20 members of the Indian security forces. Around 300 insurgents took part in an ambush of 50 police officers and members of other security forces, whom they shot and attacked with explosives. According to press reports, the ambush occurred in the same area as an attack last year that killed 27 people, including several leaders of the Congress party. Various sources said that more Naxalite attacks are expected in the weeks to come, ahead of the general elections that will be held at different dates in April and May. It was the deadliest attack so far this year. (The Hindu, AFP 11/03/14)
NIGERIA: The government warns that the humanitarian crisis in the north of the country caused by the conflict with Boko Haram is affecting more than three million people
Nigeria’s National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) warned of the urgent need to assist more than three million people living in the north of the country, in the area affected by the conflict between government forces and Boko Haram. According to the NEMA, Borno State is the state most affected by the crisis—unprecedented according to the Nigerian Red Cross—where 1.3 million people require aid, most of them women, children and the elderly. The armed group operates mainly in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa, where the government declared a state of emergency in 2013. However, voices critical of the government claim that the state of emergency has been ineffective. According to official figures, around 250,000 people have been forced to abandon their homes as a result of the violence. Attacks and clashes linked to the conflict continued to be reported in March, leaving many fatalities. Early in the month, Boko Haram was accused of carrying out attacks that killed at least 130 people in only four days. Twenty other people lost their lives in a government air strike as part of the Nigerian Army’s campaign against the armed group. In mid-March, people suspected of belonging to the group launched an attack on a military base in Maiduguri intending to release some fellow members detained there. The attack killed dozens of fighters on both sides, eyewitnesses said. According to some press accounts, at least 500 people died due to Boko Haram’s activity in 2014. Meanwhile, Nigeria launched a National Conference to discuss the future of the country in which 500 representatives from the country’s main ethnic, religious and linguistic groups participated. According to press reports, no possible division of the country may be raised at the assembly, which will take place over three months in the capital, Abuja. The initiative has sparked criticism from parts of the opposition, which consider it a waste of time and a pathway cleared by the President to promote changes in the Constitution prior to elections in 2015. (BBC, 2, 4, 14, 26/03/14)
SOMALIA: Clashes intensify between the forces of the federal government combined with AMISOM troops and the armed Islamist group al-Shabaab
Military operations conducted by federal government forces combined with AMISOM troops intensified against bases of the armed Islamist group al-Shabaab in the regions of Gedo and Bakool, in the southwestern part of the country, expelling the armed group from five towns. Clashes were also reported in the region of Lower Shabelle, in southeastern Somalia, and in the district of El Bur, in the region of Galaduud, which al-Shabaab was forced to abandon under military pressure and where battles have occurred in other locations. One of the areas where the Somali government and AMISOM troops aim to carry out a major offensive is in Bulo Barde, in the district of Hiraan, 250 km north of Mogadishu. Considered one of the armed group’s main strongholds, some sources have indicated that al-Shabaab has already evacuated its senior leaders from the location. Dozens of people were killed as a result of these government and AMISOM-led military operations, as well as by the actions that al-Shabaab has carried out in some of the “liberated” locations from where the group has been expelled, demonstrating the military capacity that the group still possesses. Meanwhile, the UN Security Council extended the partial embargo imposed on the country until next October. Finally, it is worth mentioning that for the first time, the President of the region of Puntland, Abdiweli Mohamed Ali Gaas, publicly accused the authorities of Somaliland of financially supporting al-Shabaab and even of giving them shelter in the area. The government and AMISOM-led offensive is forcing parts of al-Shabaab to flee north and Puntland is suffering a rise in attacks carried out by al-Shabaab. (Garowe Online, 06, 11, 13, 22-26/03/14)
SUDAN (DARFUR): Fighting in the Darfur region flares up and causes the displacement of half a million people in 2013, according to Amnesty International
Ferocious fighting took place between government forces and the armed group SLA-MM, backed by a small faction led by a rebel commander named Ali Karbino that caused the death of at least 78 people in mid-March in the state of North Darfur, according to government sources. The SLA-MM called attention to the capture of the town of Mellit, in North Darfur, after battling with government forces, a claim denied by the government. Meanwhile, government sources announced their recapture of the town of Haskanita, in a remote southern area of North Darfur. Since February, the SLA-MM and this faction have been carrying out many attacks in both states. Meanwhile, Amnesty International reported that almost half a million Sudanese have been forced to leave their places of origin in the region of Darfur due to the outbreak of violence in the country as a result of attacks against the civilian population described as deliberate and accompanied by looting, rape and extrajudicial executions. The organisation has pointed out that the militias of the Salamat and Misseriya communities have deliberately attacked the civilian population. (Europa Press, 14/03/14, Sudan Tribune, 13 and 25/03/14)
SYRIA: The number of children affected by the war in Syria doubles in a year, reaching 5.5 million
UNICEF warned of the serious impact that the war in Syria is having on boys and girls, saying that the number of children affected by it doubled from March 2013 to March 2014, going from 2.3 to 5.5 million. In a report entitled Under siege: the devastating impact on children of three years of conflict, the organisation explained that nearly three million boys and girls have forcibly been internally displaced (three times more than one year ago) and 1.2 million are in refugee situations after fleeing the violence in Syria (four times more than in early 2013). Among the refugee children, 425,000 are less than five years old. UNICEF has stated that all these children require urgent aid. Nearly one million live in areas affected by combat, which blocks access to humanitarian agencies, three million have not been able to continue their studies, many children have had to start working, others are being recruited as fighters by the warring parties and many girls have been forced to marry for financial reasons. Moreover, the children are affected by the lack of access to psychological assistance and medical care. One issue causing concern is the resurgence of polio. Alongside these reports on the extreme vulnerability of children, the Commission of Inquiry on Syria exposed other atrocities committed in the war. In a report to the UN Human Rights Council that covered the period from 20 January to 10 March, the commission detailed mass executions carried out by the armed group ISIS and accused the Syrian government of intensifying the indiscriminate use of weapons, including barrel bombs, in densely populated areas with a heavy impact on the civilian population. (Human Rights Council, 18/03/14; UNICEF, March 2014, BBC, 11, 18, 26/03/14)
UKRAINE: Russia incorporates Crimea into its federation after holding a referendum rejected by Ukraine in a context of instability in the southeastern part of the country and serious tension between Russia and the West
The situation in the peninsula of Crimea (Ukraine) was turned upside down in March as part of the serious political and social crisis gripping Ukraine since November, leading to the absorption of Crimea by Russia. In late February, the tension had extended to Crimea, a region transferred from Russia to Ukraine by the USSR in 1954 with the status of an autonomous region within Ukraine since that time, when unidentified armed men seized the seat of the regional government and Parliament, the latter of which dismissed the local government and passed a resolution for a referendum. There were some clashes between Russian and Tartar demonstrators, with various fatalities in the Crimean capital, Simferopol, on 27 February. Locally, the parties began to form self-defence groups. Self-defence militias and Russian forces without insignia deployed in the area over successive days, mainly around Ukrainian military facilities, blocking them and thereby taking effective control of major infrastructure and communication hubs with no bloodshed. Russia authorised sending troops to the peninsula, but also claimed that it had not actually done so and denied that the armed men without insignia were Russian troops. Finally, the Crimean Parliament approved speeding up the referendum and passed a unilateral declaration of independence before holding it while also increasing some rights of the Tartar community in the region. In the referendum, 96.77% of the voters approved of Crimea’s incorporation into Russia and only 2.51% voted for the other option, which was to continue being part of Ukraine but with increased powers and responsibilities. According to local electoral authorities, the turnout was 83.1%. According to the Crimean official television station, 40% of the Tartars participated (the Tartars make up 12.5% of the current population and Ukrainians form 24.3%), despite their leaders’ calls for a boycott. The Crimean Parliament passed a declaration of independence after the referendum and Crimea and Russia signed a treaty for Crimea to join the Russian Federation as a republic and Sevastopol as a federal city. The virtually bloodless annexation process (one Ukrainian soldier and one pro-Russian militia member were killed and several people were wounded in clashes at a base in Simferopol) triggered harsh criticism and warnings from the United States, the EU and NATO. Washington and Brussels announced economic sanctions while NATO called attention to Russian troops deployed along the eastern border of Ukraine. The Ukrainian government finally ordered Ukrainian troops to withdraw, even though 14,500 of the 18,800 soldiers stationed in Crimea chose to join the Russian ranks. Also in March, there was tension in parts of southeastern Ukraine. Analysts pointed to the organisation of some sectors into self-defence groups that do not recognise the new government of Ukraine that emerged after President Yanukovich’s ouster by the protests. The local government of Donetsk declared itself the sole legitimate power in the city and the local parliament created a working group to prepare a referendum. Two people were killed in the city in clashes between Russians and Ukrainians. In general, analysts pointed to the creation of self-defence groups in southeastern cities, as well as the formation of a popular movement that does not recognise Kiev and calls for greater rights and guarantees for these areas and for their Russian communities. Clashes were also reported in the west between ultra-nationalist militias that have refused to surrender their weapons to the new authorities. In late March, the UN General Assembly declared the referendum in Crimea invalid (with 100 votes in favour, 11 against and 58 abstentions) and urged a peaceful resolution to the situation. Moreover, the IMF approved an aid package conditional upon severe reforms, supported by the EU and accepted by the new government. (New York Times, El País, Eurasia net, UN, La Vanguardia, 27/2/14-27/03/14)
BANGLADESH: Opposition leader Khaleda Zia will be tried for corruption
Former Bangladeshi Prime Minister Khaleda Zia will be tried in April on corruption charges for allegedly embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars earmarked for charity organisations during her final term as Prime Minister from 2001 to 2006. The funds came from various organisations created in memory of her husband, who was assassinated in 1981. The trial could lead to a rise of tension in the country, since Zia says that the charges are politically motivated. Bangladesh went through a serious political and electoral crisis in December and January that caused several deaths when the opposing party boycotted the elections. Based on the charges, the former leader could be sentenced to life in prison. In recent weeks, various leaders of the BNP, led by Zia, have been imprisoned on charges of incitement to violence during the election period. Hundreds of people demonstrated outside the court to protest the charges. Both Zia and her rival, current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, were imprisoned from 2007 to 2008 by the military government at the time on charges of corruption, though they were eventually released and the charges were dropped. (The Guardian, 19/03/14)
BURUNDI: The crisis in the country worsens following the arrest of opponents and clashes with police
The political crisis in Burundi worsened after the arrest on 8 March of the chairman of the MSD party, Alexis Sinduhije, and 71 of its members. The police action against the party headquarters triggered violent clashes that wounded around 20 MSD members at varying levels of seriousness, some of them by gunshot. The police accused members of the MSD of starting the acts of violence. Days later, Burundian legal authorities accused the detainees of participating in an armed insurrection movement, which could sentence them to life in prison. Alexis Sinduhije is also the founder of the RPA radio station, one of the most popular in the country. The political opposition in the country has rebelled against the President’s intention to modify the Constitution for his own benefit after the peace agreements based on an ethno-political balance that put an end to the civil war (1993-2006, 300,000 deaths). On 21 March, the President submitted to Parliament the draft constitutional amendment that would allow him to participate in the upcoming elections and assume a third term in 2015. However, the draft amendment did not obtain the votes required for approval, as it fell short of the 85-vote majority by one. Eighty-one MPs from the CNDD-FDD party and three members of the Twa community voted for the bill. Now the government must modify some part of the body of the text or search for other ways to win the necessary support. (Jeune Afrique, 13, 18, 21/03/14)
DR CONGO (EAST): High levels of sexual violence persist in the country, according to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, indicated that despite the government’s efforts to halt sexual violence, it continues to be one of the main forms of violence afflicting the country. Pillay said that sexual violence continues to be used as a weapon on war to intimidate local communities and punish civilian populations when suspected of real or unfounded cooperation with rival forces. Another 15,352 cases were added in 2013 to the partial figures that the government had published for the period 2011-2012 in seven provinces, which reached 26,339 incidents of rape, sexual and gender-based violence. Pillay praised the efforts exerted by the government, which has turned the fight against this scourge into one of its top priorities by remodelling the justice system, thereby allowing it to increase the number of investigations and trials. The government had greater control over the areas affected by the conflict in the eastern part of the country as a result of the defeat of the armed group M23 in November 2013, but dozens of other armed groups (community-based militias, deserters of the Congolese Armed Forces and local armed groups, as well as armed groups coming from Rwanda and Uganda) were still active in the east and involved in the fight over natural resources. Experts pointed out that there was still an atmosphere of impunity and a lack of compensation and reparation for victims. Moreover, coinciding with publication of the High Commissioner’s report, the Enough Project organisation stated in a report that resolving the issue of sexual violence and gender-based violence is critical for the peace process in the country and urged the United States and the UN to include tools to put an end to sexual and gender-based violence in the negotiations established with the armed groups. (Enough Project, 20/03/14; AFP, 26/03/14)
EGYPT: The general that led the coup against Morsi confirms his bid for the presidency while the persecution campaign against the Muslim Brotherhood continues
General Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, the Minister of Defence and leader of the military coup that overthrew the Islamist government of Mohamed Morsi last July, announced his retirement from the Army in order to run in the upcoming presidential election in Egypt. Confirming the rumours of recent months, the military leader announced his decision in late March and promised to fight for an Egypt “free of terrorism”. The first round of Egypt’s presidential elections will be held on May 26 and 27. The announcement came amidst persistent political and social tension in the country, with student demonstrations put down by the police and various attacks against security forces that led to several deaths. One of the most controversial events in March was the death sentence handed to 529 alleged members of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) for the murder of a police officer during the protests to oust Morsi in the southern province of Minya. The ruling was criticised by the UN (the High Commissioner for Human Rights said that the verdict violates international law), the EU, the United States and international organisations. An appeal of the sentence is expected, so the case will not be resolved for a few more weeks. In late March, Egypt ordered the prosecution of another 919 suspected members of the MB (declared a terrorist organisation in late 2013) who will be subject to mass trials on various charges including murder. According to the BBC, around 16,000 Morsi sympathisers have been arrested in the country in recent months. Those in prison include former President Morsi and the senior leader of the MB, Mohammed Badie. At the beginning of the month, The UN Human Rights Council expressed concern about the current Egyptian government’s extensive use of violence in repressing its opponents. (New York Times, 8, 19, 20, 26/03/14; BBC, 13, 15, 24, 25, 26, 27/03/14)
GUINEA BISSAU: Uncertainty before the presidential and parliamentary elections in April, delayed several times during the transition after the 2012 coup
Uncertainty accompanied the final period of the campaign for presidential and parliamentary elections on 13 April in Guinea-Bissau, delayed three times as part of the political crisis affecting the transition since the military coup in April 2012 that followed the first round of the presidential election that year. The Supreme Court validated 13 presidential candidacies, including the candidate of the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC), which has dominated the political scene since independence from Portugal and whose presidential candidate in the 2012 election, Carlos Gomes Junior, won the first round and was the target of a military coup. The approval of the new PAIGC candidate and former Finance Minister, José Mario Vaz, came despite an appeal by the public prosecutor to block its validation. Some analysts point to internal divisions in the PAIGC’s rival party, the PRS, whose presidential candidate is Abel Incada. Experts also say that regardless of who wins, the enormous influence of military interests will continue to hold sway in a country affected by a long history of military coups and by the place Guinea-Bissau occupies in international drug trafficking routes from South America to Europe. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) will be in charge of guaranteeing security during the elections. (All Africa, Jeune Afrique, Global Post, AFP, 1-27/03/14)
ISRAEL-PALESTINE: The United States intensifies diplomatic efforts before a stall in negotiations
US Secretary of State John Kerry multiplied his efforts with Israeli and Palestinian representatives in order to prevent a suspension in contacts between both parties that are supposed to continue until 29 April, the deadline for agreeing on a framework to guide the peace negotiations. In late March, the talks hit an impasse when the Palestinian Authority (PA) demanded the release of the fourth group of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli gaols, a measure that forms part of the pact that allowed for the resumption of negotiations with Israel in mid-2013. The Israeli government refused to release them unless the PA pledged to extend the period of negotiations and to stop any initiative on Palestinian statehood at the UN or the International Criminal Court. Weeks before, US President Barack Obama met in Washington with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who maintained the requirement that Israel be recognised as a Jewish state. After a meeting in Kuwait in late March, the Arab League said that it would never accept this demand from Israel. Against this backdrop, revelations that Israel is planning to build another 2,000 new homes in the West Bank prompted fresh criticism and fostered an atmosphere of scepticism regarding the negotiations. Meanwhile, the leaders of Hamas demanded that the PA abandon the negotiations. In this context, press reports highlighted the divisions among the Palestinians regarding how they view a two-state solution and the generation gap over a possible bi-national state, which receives more support from young people. According to a study by the Palestinian Centre for Policy Survey published in December, 65% of the Palestinian population over 50 supports a two-state solution, compared with 47% in the 18-34 year-old cohort. Alongside these events, various episodes of violence took place in Gaza and the West Bank during the month in which several Palestinians were killed. (BBC, 01, 04, 17, 22, 26/03714; New York Times, 18, 26/03/14; Haaretz, 26/03/14)
MOLDOVA (TRANSDNIESTRIA): Tension rises around the breakaway region of Transdniestria because of the crisis in Ukraine
The crisis in Ukraine (which in March led to the deployment of Russian forces without insignia in the Crimean peninsula, a referendum in the region that approved its absorption into the Russian Federation and subsequent Russian ratification of its annexation) generated tension around the unresolved dispute over the status of Transdniestria, a region that is formally a part of Moldova but has exercised de facto independence since the 1990s. On 17 March, the speaker of the Parliament of Transdniestria, Mikhail Burla, asked Russia to incorporate the region of Transdniestria. Speaker Irina Kubanskikh made statements to the same effect. Moldovan President Nicolae Timofti warned Russia that any movement in this direction would be a mistake, while NATO was concerned about the heavy deployment of Russian troops along the eastern border of Ukraine, which the alliance said were enough to invade Transdniestria. The President of Romania, Moldova’s neighbour, also voiced concern about Moldova’s seriously dangerous situation. Meanwhile the small-scale Moldovan Party of Socialists began a campaign in March to support holding a referendum for the country to join the customs union promoted by Russia. (RFE/RL, 1-27/03/14, BBC, 18/03/14)
NORTH KOREA – SOUTH KOREA: Tension between the Koreas increase after North Korea launches new missiles to protest US-South Korean military exercises
In March, North Korea conducted four missile launchings as part of alleged military tests of which it did not inform its southern neighbour. The United States and South Korea criticised these military tests. Meanwhile, since February US and South Korean warships have been carrying out the military exercises they perform every year. North Korea launched four batches of dozens of short-range Scud missiles into the sea in March without notifying the South Korean government or the ships that may have been navigating through the area. According to various analysts, the missiles were launched as part of North Korea’s ongoing protest of the military exercises that the United States and South Korea conduct together, which the North Korean government views as preparations to attack it. Therefore, it carries out these tests to check its missile systems. This latest missile launch is a significant challenge to the recent improvement in relations between the two countries, as several analysts indicated. (CNN, 23/03/14; Al-Jazeera, 25/03/14)
RUSSIA (NORTHERN CAUCASUS): The Islamist insurgency confirms the death of the top leader of the armed groups in the region
On 18 March, the leadership of the Islamist insurgency of the northern Caucasus officially announced the death of its top leader, the Chechen Doku Umarov, who had not participated in the rebels’ statements in seven months. The insurgency’s statement did not explain the reasons for his death, which some analysts attributed to a counter-insurgency operation. Meanwhile, Umarov’s successor was announced to be Ali Abu Muhammad, a native of Dagestan, of Avar ethnicity and since October 2010 a qadi (judge in Islamic law) of the so-called Caucasus Emirate, the name the insurgency gives to the regions of the northern Caucasus where it hopes to set up an Islamic state. Various analysts stressed the fact that for the first time since the beginning of the Second Chechen War in 1999, when the insurgency became more regional in scope, a top insurgent leader has been chosen who is not Chechen. The appointment prompted different reactions and interpretations among analysts, some of which pointed to the weakening of the insurgency outside Dagestan, while others called for caution, citing events such as the attacks in Volgograd in 2013. In any case, in recent years Dagestan has been the republic most affected by the insurgent violence in the northern Caucasus. Nine incidents took place in March, mostly in Dagestan and in Kabardino-Balkaria, in which several people were killed. (Caucasian Knot, Jamestown Foundation, 1-27/3/14)
THAILAND: Anti-government protests resume after the Constitutional Court cancels the February general election
The high tension in February due to the rising violence against anti-government demonstrations decreased in the first few weeks of March due to the drop in protests and lifting of the state of emergency declared in January. However, a surge of protests against the government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra at the end of the month was partially strengthened by the Constitutional Court’s ruling that the general election of 2 February was not held on the same day throughout the country. The opposition boycotted the election and in one fifth of the districts voting was blocked. The ruling may delay the establishment of the new government, which is currently provisional. Government opposition leader Suthep Thaugsuban said that the opposition would block elections again if the reforms it demands are not implemented, which include the creation of an unelected people’s council to supervise the electoral changes they require. In any event, the Prime Minister faced accusations of negligence from the National Anti-Corruption Commission with regard to a subsidy programme. The Commission could recommend her removal from office. Meanwhile, the “red shirts” (traditional allies of the current government) announced a large demonstration for 5 April. (BBC, Reuters, The Guardian, 1-27/04/14)
TURKEY (SOUTHEAST): The leader of the PKK asks to restart talks after the local elections and to negotiate under a legal framework amidst stagnation and political electoral tension
A year after his historic speech, which led to a unilateral ceasefire still in force and to a withdrawal of guerrilla forces that was halted in September, the leader of the PKK, Abdullah Öcalan, urged giving a new push to talks after the local elections in Turkey on 30 March. In the speech, which was broadcast to mark the Kurdish New Year (Newroz, held on 21 March), Öcalan said that the talks had gone on until then and that they had been a test of both sides’ willingness and realism, an issue that Öcalan said both the Turkish government and the Kurdish movement had overcome, despite the strategy of delay he attributed to the government. The leader of the PKK called to enter a stage of negotiations under a legal framework, since the talks had not achieved binding results. Prior to Öcalan’s new message, the political and military structure that holds the PKK together, the KCK, warned in a statement that it no longer views the AKP-led Turkish government as a partner in peace negotiations due to its lack of response to the PKK’s calls for the steps needed to resolve the conflict. Thus, the KCK urged the population to resolve the problems and promote the democratisation of the country. Some analysts have said that the KCK could be preparing to declare an autonomous regime in the Kurdish region of Turkey if the AKP loses the elections and instability in the country increases. The former President of the KCK and current member of its Executive Council, Murat Karayilan, warned that the talks could end if steps were not taken after the elections. Also in March, Öcalan, who has been in prison since 1999, received a new visit from a Kurdish delegation. In addition, all Öcalan’s lawyers that had been detained since November 2011 as part of operations against the KCK were released. The atmosphere of stagnation surrounding the talks came amidst high internal political and social tension in Turkey linked to the election cycle, with local elections slated for 30 March, as well as the problems of corruption affecting the government and accusations that it is restricting freedoms and engaged in repression. (AFP, Firat, Today’s Zaman, 1-27/03/14)
MYANMAR: The government and the insurgency create a committee to draft the national ceasefire agreement
The Burmese government and Armed Forces and the leaders of the armed ethnic opposition groups that form part of the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team established a joint committee to work on the text of the nationwide ceasefire agreement whose signature, initially planned for late 2013, has been postponed several times. The committee will consist of 18 people, including nine ethnic group representatives, three Army commanders, three MPs and three government officials. Prior to this, both the armed groups and the government had submitted draft ceasefire agreements, but the joint committee will draft a single text containing the views of both parties. Once the ceasefire agreement is drafted, peace negotiations are planned to resume in Hpa-an, the capital of Karen State. One of the most controversial issues in the negotiations, which will be omitted from the talks leading to the ceasefire agreement, regards integrating the insurgency into the Burmese Armed Forces. Another one of the insurgency’s conditions is for political negotiations to begin within a maximum of 90 days after the ceasefire agreement is signed. The armed groups also demand formal acknowledgment that they will maintain control in their areas as long as the talks last. (The Irrawaddy, 10, 20, 21/03/14)
PAKISTAN: The government and the Taliban insurgency hold the first direct negotiations
Pakistani government representatives and leaders of the armed opposition Taliban group TTP met for the first time in the first direct negotiations between both parties, which were held on the border between the tribal agencies of Orakzai and North Waziristan, near Afghanistan, in an area described as “peaceful”. Both parties agreed to extend the ceasefire agreement that the Taliban announced on 1 March, as well as an exchange of prisoners. Various mediators also participated in the meeting (members of the religious parties Jamiat Ulema Islam-Sami and Jamaat-e-Islami). The government representatives moved to the area by helicopter and confirmed to their interlocutors that they were authorised to make decisions. The meeting took place after the Taliban leadership invited the government to a direct meeting in early March following various failed indirect attempts, an initiative welcomed by the government. The decision to hold this meeting is part of the impetus that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif wants to give to the process to end the armed conflict in the tribal areas of the country. However, many observers have warned that the differences between the various active Taliban factions may present a serious impediment to reaching a final agreement. (BBC and Dawn 26/03/14; The Express Tribune, 5, 7 and 26/03/14)
PHILIPPINES (MINDANAO-MILF): The Philippine government and the MILF sign a peace agreement
The Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro reached by both parties was signed on 27 March in Manila by main government negotiator Miriam Coronel Ferrer, MILF negotiator Mohagher Iqbal and Malaysian facilitator Ab Ghafar Mohammed in the presence of Philippine President Benigno Aquino in a ceremony attended by 1,000 guests consisting of MILF members, Philippine MPs and government officials and international dignitaries. The comprehensive agreement includes all the partial agreements reached beforehand and sets the basis for drafting the Bangsamoro Basic Law, which could be approved this year and would permit the creation of a new regional entity with greater autonomy than the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, which would be functional in 2016.The extent and form of the new regional entity will be established by referendum. In addition, it is expected that the Bangsamoro Transition Authority will be established by 2015, which will act as an interim government until the elections in 2016. These elections will likely be open to the MILF, which is then expected to transform into a political group. The agreement establishes that the MILF must dismantle its armed forces and surrender its weapons. The agreement was described as historic by many observers, as it comes after 17 years of negotiations and more than four decades of armed conflict. The parties called on the armed opposition group MNLF, which is still active, to join the agreement. (Philippine Daily Inquirer, 26 y 28/03/14; Reuters, 27/03/14)
VENEZUELA: The government and the opposition will talk in the presence of international witnesses
After a visit to Venezuela by a commission of UNASUR foreign ministers representing Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, Brazil and Uruguay, President Nicolás Maduro agreed to hold talks with the opposition in the presence of a good faith witness that has yet to be appointed—but may be a representative of the Vatican—though he also signalled that he would not accept preconditions to the talks. The opposition organisation Democratic Unity Roundtable announced its participation in the talks, but it was unknown if opposition leader Henrique Capriles would do the same. Tension between the government and the opposition has risen since February and many opposition protests were reported, especially by student organisations, as well as pro-government demonstrations, which led to violent clashes that claimed the lives of 34 people. Different political opposition leaders were also detained or removed from their duties. Meanwhile, the government accused the opposition of acting with the support of the United States government to destabilise the country. Hyperinflation, insecurity and crime, in addition to shortages of basic goods, are some of the problems cited by the opposition in its protests. Finally, Maduro announced the arrest of three Air Force generals for allegedly planning a coup d’état. (BBC, 27/03/14; AFP, 28/03/14)
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