BANGLADESH: Thirty-four people are killed in riots following protests on the anniversary of the 2014 elections
At least 34 people were killed in riots and clashes between the police, opposition demonstrators and government supporters during protests convened by the opposition one year after the legislative elections of 2014, which were boycotted by the main opposition party, the BNP, and preceded by a serious political crisis and great violence. The protests took place on 5 January and included a general strike and blocked roads and rail and river transport all over the country. Clashes continued for several days, including attacks and the burning of lorries, buses (200 buses were burned) and private vehicles. Many civilians died from burns and many others were injured. The authorities restricted the circulation of public transport and deployed thousands of security force members, leaving the streets of Dhaka empty. Opposition leader Begum Khaleda Zia refused to call off the protests and was placed under house arrest by the Bangladeshi authorities for 17 days. Seven thousand people were arrested in January and Khaleda Zia was formally charged by the police with instigating an attack on a passenger bus that wounded 29 people. (Reuters, 25/01/15; CNN, 22/01/15; AP, 05/01/15; The Hindu, 05, 15/01/15; PTI, 19/01/15; The Wall Street Journal 19/01/15)
DR CONGO: Vigorous protests are sparked against the adoption of a law to conduct a census, causing changes to the electoral calendar
Dozens of people were killed in vigorous protests staged by the political opposition in Kinshasa and the public university there following a proposal to conduct a census of the population prior to holding elections in 2016, which would surely involve changes to the electoral calendar because it would not be possible to conduct a census in under a year in a country the size of Western Europe. Human rights organisations reported that at least 42 people may have died in these protests, the most serious since the alleged detection of fraud in the elections of 2011, when security forces may have used lethal ammunition to stop the demonstrators. The government has admitted that the elections could be postponed, but also states that the census is indispensable for guaranteeing transparency in them. The Catholic Church has announced its support for the protests. Cardinal Monsengwo Pasinya appealed to using only legal and peaceful mechanisms to deal with attempts to change laws essential for holding elections. The opposition described the government’s decision as a constitutional coup, as it estimates that a census will take three years. Since winning independence in 1960, DR Congo has never conducted a true census of the population. Faced with the size of the protests, the government announced the approval of a new law indicating that the census will not be linked to the electoral law or presidential election, although it is still not known how much time will be required to conduct it and where the necessary budget would come from, estimated at 500 million USD. (BBC, 21 and 22/01/15; Jeune Afrique, 28/01/15; RFI, 27 and 29/01/15)
EGYPT: At least 18 people are killed in various incidents during the fourth anniversary of the revolt against Mubarak, including a prominent activist and a minor
Various acts of violence during the fourth anniversary of the revolt that led to the overthrow of the regime of Hosni Mubarak claimed the lives at least 18 people in Egypt, while hundreds were arrested. According to official sources, three of the fatalities were alleged militants that were trying to set up explosive devices in two locations in the Nile Delta. At least 12 other people, all civilians, lost their lives in clashes between protestors and security forces in the district of Matariya, in north Cairo. However, the deaths that caused that most consternation were those of Sondos Reda Abu Bakr, a 17-year-old student shot to death by the police during a pro-Islamist demonstration in Alexandria, and 32-year-old Shaimaa al-Sabbagh, a poet, activist and member of the socialist Popular Alliance party killed while participating in a peaceful march to carry flowers to Tahrir Square in Cairo in remembrance of the demonstrators that died during the revolt. Images of al-Sabbagh’s shooting death by security forces were seen all over the world and her funeral summoned hundreds of people to her hometown, Alexandria, where proclamations were made against the government. Analysts and human rights advocates said that al-Sabbagh’s death confirmed the risks for activists of all political leanings in Egypt. Meanwhile, on the eve of the anniversary of the revolt, two sons of Hosni Mubarak, Alaa and Gamal, were released after remaining in custody, pending a new trial. Another court ruling ordered a retrial for 37 members of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) sentenced to death for their alleged involvement in an attack on a police station in 2013. The three-year prison sentences of two other activists of the April 6 Movement and a prominent blogger were confirmed for participating in unauthorised protests in late 2013. Finally, the Egyptian authorities set 22 and 23 March as the dates for parliamentary elections. (The New York Times, 23, 25/01/15; BBC, 8, 24, 26, 27/01/15; Le Monde, 27/01/15)
INDIA – PAKISTAN: Fresh clashes claim seven lives
Clashes between troops from India and Pakistan intensified along the Line of Control, the de facto border separating both countries, which caused the death of seven people (four civilians, two Pakistani soldiers and one Indian soldier). Both parties traded blame for the ceasefire violations and claimed that their own troops were only responding to the provocations of the other army. As a result of the intensified violence, especially in early January, at least 10,000 people were forcibly displaced from their homes in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. Moreover, faced with US Secretary of State John Kerry’s calls for the Pakistani government to resume dialogue with India to resolve the issue of Kashmir, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif ruled out any possibility of talks after India cancelled the process in 2014. Dawn, 01, 03, 06/01/15; Indo-Asian News Service, 06/01/15; Zeenews, 13/01/15
ISRAEL–SYRIA–LEBANON: Escalating violence in the border area claims the lives of six Hezbollah militiamen, an Iranian general, two Israeli soldiers and a member of the UN mission in Lebanon
The border area between Israel, Syria and Lebanon became a scene of escalating violence in January that killed ten people and wounded several others. The violence was set off by an Israeli helicopter strike in mid-January that killed six Hezbollah militiamen and an Iranian general near the Golan Heights, in the Syrian governorate of Quneitra. The casualties of the Lebanese Shia group included Jihad Mughniyeh, the son of a senior military leader killed in 2008, presumably also by Israeli action, and Mohammed Issa, a senior commander. The Iranian general killed was Mohammad Ali Allahdadi, a member of the Republic Guard who, according to the official Iranian version, was in Syria to provide assistance to the forces of Bashar Assad’s regime. According to Israeli sources, the group was plotting attacks against Israeli military personnel and civilians. The Israeli offensive came days after the leader of Hezbollah, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, warned Israel that its forces could respond to the repeated Israeli offensives on Syrian soil in recent months that Israel says are aimed at blocking the transfer of weapons to the Lebanese Shia group. The incident prompted immediate speculation over possible retaliation by Hezbollah. Although the group likely has no interest in opening a new front with Israel at the same time that it is intensively involved in the war in Syria, it was considered quite likely that it would respond to such a direct attack, which it described as Israeli provocation. In this context, exchanges of fire at the border intensified. In late January, mortar fire hit Israeli positions in the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights area, though no casualties were reported. Meanwhile, there were several exchanges of artillery in southern Lebanon. In one of them, two Israeli soldiers were killed and seven were wounded in an attack for which Hezbollah claimed responsibility. Moreover, an Israeli shell killed a Spanish soldier of the UN mission deployed in southern Lebanon (UNIFIL), in the disputed Shebaa Farms area. (BBC, 18, 19, 28/01/15; The New York Times, 18, 28/01/15; El País, 28/01/15)
KOSOVO: Over one hundred people are injured in clashes between demonstrators and police in protests calling for the resignation of a Serbian minister accused of offending war victims
Internal tension rose in Kosovo after Minister for Communities and Returns Aleksandar Jablanovic, of Serbian origin, described Kosovar Albanian demonstrators as savages for picketing and throwing ice at Serbian pilgrims visiting an orthodox church in Gjakova/Djakovica and claimed that he had no information that massacres had been committed in Kosovo by the Serbian Army and police. These statements set off protests in Pristina and other locations in mid-January, such as Peja/Pec and Fushe/Kosovo Polje. After the first protests, Jablanovic publicly apologised for his statements and expressed sorrow for everyone that had lost somebody close to them. However, these apologies were not enough for some groups and they organised new protests to demand his removal from office. The demonstrations lasted several days, with clashes between protestors and the police in which scores were injured and arrested. During the protests on 27 January, 107 police officers, 53 demonstrators and 10 passersby were injured. Some journalists were also attacked. Various opposition parties, like Vetëvendosje (Self-determination) and Alliance for the Future of Kosovo, helped to organise or participated in the protests. The government of Kosovo (a coalition between the Democratic Party of Kosovo and the Democratic League of Kosovo) accused the opposition of trying to seize power through violence. It also rejected the ultimatum issued by the demonstrators to dismiss Jablanovic. Vetëvendosje announced new protests in February. Furthermore, in late December Kosovo and Serbia expressed a willingness to resume talks to normalise relations. The EU-facilitated process had come to a halt in recent months due to the power vacuum in Kosovo following the elections in June. (Balkan Insight, Reuters, BBC, 1-29/01/15)
MYANMAR: The Armed Forces are accused of raping and murdering two Kachin women
Human rights organisations urged the Burmese government to investigate the rape and murder of two teachers of Kachin ethnicity. The country’s Armed Forces are accused of being behind the events. The women’s bodies were discovered in a town where the Army is authorised to shoot without warning and soldiers of the 88th Battalion, 503rd Infantry Division were present there. The Burmese Armed Forces have repeatedly been accused of using sexual violence against civilians and especially against women of different ethnic communities in the areas affected by the armed conflict. Local and international organisations and the US government have demanded a full investigation into the crime. Thousands of people attended the funerals of the young women, aged 19 and 20. The organisation Women’s League of Burma called for the withdrawal of troops from Kachin State and the end of the armed offensive in the area. (Women’s League of Burma, 22/01/15; Amnesty International, 22/01/15; BBC, 23/01/15; The Irrawaddy, 20/01/15)
NIGERIA: Attacks by Boko Haram in Baga claim the lives of hundreds of people (up to 2,000, according to some counts) and concern intensifies about the group’s brutal tactics
Boko Haram (BH) continued to carry out many attacks in different parts of northeastern Nigeria, some of which confirmed its brutal tactics and raised international alarm. The armed group’s actions included its bloody offensive against Baga and Doron Baga. According to the official figures released by the Nigerian government, over 150 people died in BH’s attacks in the area, although NGOs like Amnesty International said that the body count of the victims was around 2,000. Based on satellite imagery, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch confirmed that both towns were razed. Local residents that witnessed the slaughter managed to escape, but in late January there was still no agreement on the number of people killed in the offensive. Baga was supposed to be the base of operations for a regional force to fight BH, but it has not yet materialised. The use of minors in BH’s attacks was also a cause of great consternation. According to various reports, the group forced girls, some of them only 10 years old, to carry out suicide attacks in markets in Maiduguri and Potiskum. The UN Security Council openly condemned these events and asserted that many of acts perpetrated by BH could be described as crimes against humanity. The UN also denounced BH’s abduction of dozens of people in Cameroon. Meanwhile, UNHCR warned of the precarious situation of people that have sought refuge in neighbouring countries, including Chad, where the number of people displaced by BH’s violence has quadrupled in just a few weeks. Near the end of the month, the city of Maiduguri (the largest in northeastern Nigeria, with more than two million inhabitants) faced the worst attack launched by BH militants to date, which seized control of a military base nearby. The offensive coincided with the US Secretary of State’s visit to the country, despite the friction between both governments that led President Goodluck Jonathan to cancel a US military training programme for Nigerian forces in December. The Nigerian authorities continued to face criticism for their handling of the crisis, including after evidence emerged that they had received alerts from Baga about a possible BH attack in November and December. (UN News, 19/01/15; BBC, 28/01/15; The New York Times, 14, 25/01/15; Washington Post, 21/01/15; The Guardian, 06/01/15)
SUDAN (DARFUR – SOUTH KORDOFAN): Clashes persist in the Sudanese regions of Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile
Clashes in the Darfur region did not let up in January. At the beginning of the month, the United Nations condemned attacks against the forces of the hybrid UN-AU peacekeeping mission in Darfur (UNAMID). Meanwhile, Sudanese forces regained some parts of Darfur and South Kordofan that had thus far been controlled by the insurgency, with various people killed and wounded. Likewise, many villages were razed in recent fighting between the Sudanese Army and SPLM-N rebels. The SPLM-N said that at least 37 government troops had been killed in clashes in the regions of South Kordofan and Blue Nile. In this regard, OCHA announced that it had sent a team due to the large number of people displaced by the fighting, which according to its estimates has reached nearly half a million. Regarding the peace process in the Darfur region, the opposition party PCP, led by Kamal Omer, said that the armed group SLA-AW had demonstrated its intention to participate in the dialogue facilitated by the AUHIP as long as it obtained certain guarantees, but an SLA-AW spokesman denied that any such meeting had taken place. Kamal Omer also sits on the 7+7 Committee, charged with organising the National Dialogue. In November, the SLA-AW refused to participate in the AUHIP-facilitated round of negotiations between the government and a joint delegation formed by the Darfuri armed groups JEM and SLA-MM. (Europa Press, 07, 09 and 12/01/15; Agencia EFE, 13/01/15; allafrica.com, 25/01/15; New Kerala.com, 22/01/15; Sudan Tribune, 24/01/15)
UKRAINE: The war in the east worsens, with a broadening of military offensives by both sides, including rebel attacks on the strategic port city of Mariupol
The armed conflict pitting state forces against pro-Russian forces in the eastern part of the country returned to levels of violence last seen before the ceasefire in September, with many people killed in January. Both sides in the conflict launched new military offensives, with intense bombardments of rebel locations in the middle of the month, as well as rebel attacks on Mariupol, a port city on the Sea of Azov under Ukrainian government control and the provisional seat of the regional administration of Donetsk. The assault on Mariupol claimed the lives of around 30 civilians and injured about 100, according to local authorities. OSCE staff said that the missiles came from areas under rebel control. The rebel offensive on Mariupol raised new doubts about the possible intention of the insurgents (and, at the highest levels, Russia) to open a land corridor linking the rebel areas to Crimea due to the blockade on transport imposed by the Ukrainian government. Particularly serious acts of violence during the month included a projectile that killed 12 civilians and wounded around 20 when it hit a bus at a checkpoint in Volnovakha (Donetsk province), for which the government and rebel forces traded blame. Rebel forces also blamed the Ukrainian government for a bomb attack on a tramway and car in Donetsk that caused the death of 13 civilians, but Kiev denied any involvement. Attempts to give new impetus to the dialogue collapsed and a meeting between the presidents of Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France was not held in Astana, Kazakhstan because it was not expected to yield results. The meeting had been considered for 15 January. There had been previous ministerial meetings, such as that of the Russian, German and French prime ministers in early January, aimed at addressing the conflict and assessing prospects for the presidential meeting, but the drift of the conflict made it impossible to reach common ground. The Contact Group (Ukraine, Russia and the OSCE) also postponed its meeting planned for 16 January. The ministries urged the Contact Group to meet as soon as possible. It convened an emergency meeting on 24 January in which it condemned the increase in violence, especially in Mariupol, described it as a breach of the Minsk Protocol and Memorandum of September and urged an immediate end to the hostilities and direct talks as soon as possible between the parties that signed the accords. Meanwhile, the heads of state and government of the EU approved extending sanctions against Russia. (The New York Times, Reuters, El País, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Interfax, 1-28/01/15)
YEMEN: The resignation of the president and prime minister amidst the dispute with the Houthis aggravates the situation of instability and raises the risk of fragmentation in the country
The crisis in Yemen worsened, with continuous clashes between various armed actors and bomb attacks that left scores of people dead across the country and led to the resignation of President Abdo Rabbo Mansour Hadi and Prime Minister Khaled Bahah. These events gathered steam after Houthi militia members kidnapped presidential advisor Ahmed bin Mubarak in mid-January. According to media reports, the abduction was an attempt by the group to block a proposal for the new Constitution to enshrine a federal system of six states, which Mubarak and others support. The dispute led to an armed confrontation between security forces and the Houthis, who managed to take control of the presidential palace and place Hadi in a situation of house arrest. After days of uncertainty, the Houthis and Hadi signed an agreement on 20 January that was considered capitulation by the president to the insurgents’ demands. He ended up resigning shortly thereafter with the rest of the government. Faced with a boycott by southern groups, Parliament called off the session scheduled to decide whether or not to accept Hadi’s resignation. The crisis has intensified demands for secession in the south and southern leaders declared that they would no longer obey orders from Sana’a. In this context, various analysts warned of the risk of fragmentation and civil war in the country, cautioning that the al-Qaeda branch in Yemen, AQAP, could take even better advantage of the situation. In late January, the Houthis released the presidential advisor in what they described as a gesture of goodwill to try to overcome the crisis. (The New York Times, 18, 20, 22, 23, 28/01/15; ICG, 27/01/15; The Guardian, 22/01/15; Middle East Eye, 22/01/15; Reuters, 25/01/15)
ARMENIA – AZERBAIJAN (NAGORNO-KARABAKH): Multiple ceasefire violations cause new fatalities
Tension remained high between the forces of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh on one side and those of Azerbaijan on the other, with new ceasefire violations in January that killed over 10 people and wounded several others. The co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group (Russia, the United States and France), which met in later January with the foreign minister of Azerbaijan, expressed grave concern about the alleged incursions across the Line of Contact and the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan and the resulting victims. They urged all parties to respect the terms of the ceasefire agreement and to adopt measures to reduce the tension. Analysts highlighted the seriousness of the escalation in recent months, including the use of weapons by Azerbaijan that had not been used since the ceasefire. The authorities of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh traded blame with the authorities of Azerbaijan for countless ceasefire violations. (Caucasian Knot, OSCE, Jamestown Foundation, 1-29/01/15)
BURUNDI: Tension rises following the clashes in late December
Tension continued to rise in the country after the serious clashes that took place in later December in the northwestern province of Cibitoke, where at least 100 combatants of unidentified origin were killed. Meanwhile, three activists of the ruling party, the CNDD-FDD, were executed in Gisuru, in the province of Ruyigi, by five armed individuals wearing military uniforms that later burned down a house that was the party headquarters of the area. A CNDD-FDD spokesman accused the opposition of being behind the events. In this respect, one of the country’s top civil society leaders, Pacifique Nininahazwe, raised alarm when he claimed that local opposition figures are being arrested, opposition leaders are being persecuted and the presidency of the Republic is publishing information and insinuations against civil society leaders. Finally, the journalist and director of Radio Publique Africaine (RPA), Bob Rugurika, was arrested and imprisoned on charges of being an accessory to murder for publishing an interview in which a man claimed to have participated in the rape and murder of three Italian nuns in September 2014. RPA is one of the main media outlets in the country. The European Union demanded the journalist’s release and voiced concern about the international impact this could have on the funding of the elections that will be held in May and June of this year. (Jeune Afrique, 04-06, 27, 28/01/15)
HAITI: Tensions rise with new anti-government protests, the dissolution of Parliament and the appointment of a new government criticised by the opposition
The social and political crisis in Haiti worsened due to the lack of agreement between the government and the opposition to renew the term of the MPs and approve new electoral legislation, with municipal and legislative elections postponed since 2011 and continuous protests in recent weeks against current President Michel Martelly, demanding his resignation. Parliament was dissolved after its term expired on the morning of 12 January, after which Martelly was going to govern by decree. The protests continued after the dissolution, with the police using tear gas and water cannons. Days later, Martelly announced that a deal had been reached to form a consensus government. The new government took office on 20 January, led by former mayor and journalist Evans Paul as the new prime minister and with allies of Martelly given key portfolios. According to Martelly it was a pluralistic government, while the opposition said it was not a consensus government. At the end of the month, a Provisional Electoral Council was formed to organise the elections. Furthermore, the police stated that a politically motivated armed band in the north of the country was ready to take up arms against Martelly’s government and all groups related to it. The police conducted operations against the alleged band near the northern city of Milot, which resulted in one person killed and another wounded. Former Senator Jean-Charles Moise described the measures as persecution of the local population and political opposition. Critics of Moise accused him of having contact with the band, but Moise denied this. (BBC, Reuters, Caribbean News Network, AP, 1-29/01/15)
PHILIPPINES: Clashes between police and MILF militants kill more than 40 people in the worst episode of violence since the peace agreement between the government and the armed group
At least 44 members of a police command and several members of the MILF were killed in clashes that went on for hours on 25 January in the province of Maguindanao. In late January, there were still doubts about the circumstances of the fighting, considered the worst violence between the MILF and government forces since the peace agreement was signed in late 2014. According to press reports, the clashes began after police launched a surprise nighttime operation in the town of Mamasapano in order to capture two suspects that were allegedly there. The targets of the operation were Abdul Basit Usman, a commander of the BIFF (a splinter faction of the MILF opposed to a cessation of hostilities) and Zulkifli bin Hir (alias “Marwan” ), a Malaysian citizen identified as a top leader of Jemaah Islamiyah, the largest al-Qaeda affiliate in Southeast Asia. The MILF blamed the government for the escalation, ensuring that its militiamen had acted in self-defence after the police opened fire in Mamasapano. The group and local sources said that the MILF should have been warned of the operation, as established in the peace agreement. The minister of the interior attributed the incident to a “misunderstanding” and announced an investigation, while President Benigno Aquino called for continued support for the peace agreement. He also asked the MILF to cooperate in clarifying the facts and to help to identify who killed the policemen. According to press reports that prompted criticism of Aquino, he had been notified of the police operation but was unable to establish proper coordination with the Philippine Army and the MILF as provided in the peace agreement. Meanwhile, military sources quoted in the media suggested that since the police operation was launched against two high-level targets (the United States is offering rewards worth millions for the capture of Usman and Marwan), it is likely that the police did not want to involve the Philippine Army to keep it from claiming credit. After these events, MILF leaders confirmed that the group was still committed to the peace process. In addition, two MNLF factions led by Abul Khayr Alonto and Muslimin Sema expressed their support for the draft of the Bangsamoro Basic Law, the result of the agreement between the MILF and the Philippine government. (Al-Jazeera, 26, 28/01/15; BBC, 26/01/15; Philippine Star, 21/01/15)
SYRIA: Kurdish forces win the upper hand over ISIS and regain control of Kobane, while opposition groups and the Syrian regime resume contact and meet in Moscow
The expulsion of the armed group Islamic State (ISIS) from the city of Kobane by Kurdish militias after more than four months of fierce combat became one of the most prominent events of the armed conflict in Syria in January. Kurdish forces managed to regain control of the city, which lies on the Turkish border, after receiving air support from the United States. The recapture was considered a tough setback for ISIS, given the importance it gives to propaganda and to projecting an image of power. However, the group continued to attract attention with other actions, like the execution of a Japanese hostage and threats to kill two others (one Japanese and the other Jordanian) if their demands were not met. Meanwhile, attempts to end the hostilities continued. UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura resumed meetings with Damascus and opposition forces to halt fighting in Aleppo as a preliminary step towards promoting other ceasefire initiatives in the rest of the country. Moreover, in late January Russia hosted a meeting between representatives of the rebellion and the Syrian government in Moscow in order to find a possible solution to the crisis. These are the first meetings since the failed negotiations promoted by the UN in early 2014, which were known as the “Geneva II” process. The meeting was held with low expectations because important opposition groups refused to participate, such as the Syrian National Coalition, considered the largest dissident conglomerate. The coalition did not view Russia as a neutral party for hosting talks. Nevertheless, Moscow’s efforts were backed by the United States. Washington’s support was interpreted as a sign that it could accept an approach that does not necessarily require Bashar Assad to step down immediately, as it has been demanding thus far. According to some analysts, the military stalemate, the rise of ISIS and the war’s repercussions on the population may have led the US government to consider some gradual change. On the ground, US forces continued bombing ISIS positions in Syria and have not targeted the forces of Damascus. Nevertheless, the United States maintains its support for the rebel forces it considers “moderate” and in January it was revealed that the Pentagon was planning training some of them in Saudi Arabia. In humanitarian terms, harsh winter conditions in the Middle East worsened the situation of millions of people displaced by the war in Syria. (The New York Times, 7, 14, 15, 17, 19/01/15; Le Monde, 28/01/15; Al-Jazeera, 27/01/15)
SOMALIA: Insurgent actions persist in the centre and south of the country as a new government is formed
The offensive launched by the AU mission in the country (AMISOM) along with the Somali Armed Forces persisted in different parts of southern Somalia. The offensive managed to expel the Islamist group al-Shabaab from three towns in the region of Bakool. Al-Shabaab carried out a suicide attack near Mogadishu Airport, where AMISOM has its military base. At least four people lost their lives in the attack. Djibouti announced that it would increase its support for AMISOM. Meanwhile, the United States conducted an air strike against the Islamist group, killing the man in charge of al-Shabaab’s secret services, Abdishakur Tahlil. Furthermore, al-Shabaab kidnapped dozens of people, including around 40 civilians, and demanded ransom for the military defeats it has suffered that took away territories from which it earned significant income, especially on the coast. The new prime minister appointed in December, Ali Shamarke, named his cabinet. Finally, a meeting of the regional organisation IGAD was held in the country for the first time in 25 years and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made his second visit to the country. (Garowe Online, 10, 27/01/15; Jeune Afrique, 24, 25/01/15, 27/12/14, 04/01/15)
TURKEY (SOUTHEAST): Tension rises again in Cizre, with various people killed, including several children, while the PKK accuses the government of protracting the peace talks
Seven people were killed in the district of Cizre (province of Sirnak, bordering with Syria and Iraq) between late December and January amidst prolonged tension in recent months between groups linked to the PKK, and especially its youth wing YDG-H, Hüda-Par Islamist militants and security forces. The victims included a 14-year-old coming home from work that was allegedly shot dead by the police in early January. A 12-year-old was also shot to death, supposedly by agents a few days later. Media reports indicated that police vehicles without license plates and unregistered weapons were used by the alleged police agents and that YDG-H militants in Cizre conducted checks on identification, vehicles and people and raised barricades and dug trenches to impede police movement. PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan called for prudence and common sense through a statement conveyed by the co-chair of the Kurdish platform Hatip Dicle. Meanwhile, the pro-Kurdish party HDP denounced groups within the Turkish security forces interested in derailing the peace process by instigating tension in Cizre, while Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan suggested that there was a conspiracy behind the tension there. Furthermore, three police officers were suspended from their posts following allegations that they had planted explosives on roads in the southeastern province of Hakkari. Between 50,000 and 100,000 people demonstrated in Diyarbakir (the symbolic Kurdish capital in Turkey, considered a stronghold of the PKK) against the satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo, which they viewed as offensive to Islam. Some media outlets interpreted the demonstration as a show of force by the Islamist party Hüda-Par, raising questions about the dynamics of the rivalry between the PKK and Hüda-Par in the short and medium term and its impact on the peace process. Created in 2013, Hüda-Par is considered the heir to the Kurdish Hizbullah, a staunch rival of the PKK and perpetrator of serious violence during the 1990s in the armed conflict between the PKK and Turkey. Furthermore, the executive council of the KCK accused Turkey of prolonging the peace negotiations. The pro-Kurdish party HDP confirmed that it would run in the legislative elections in June as a party and not through independent candidates with the aim of surpassing the 10% threshold. Some analysts suggest that if the threshold is not crossed, the Kurdish movement could choose to form its own Parliament in the region and pursue self-government in Kurdish areas where it is the main political player. In any event, the dialogue process remained active during the month, with a new meeting between the HDP delegation and the political and military leaders of the PKK in Qandil, as well as government representatives and Öcalan. The PKK has threatened to make the draft negotiating framework public if the government does not take steps to move the peace process along. In recent weeks, Turkey and the PKK had reported possible new mechanisms to move it forward. Moreover, after forces linked to the PKK liberated the Kurdish city of Kobane in Syria from ISIS, Erdogan said that he did not want to witness a new Kurdish region in Syria like the one present in northern Iraq. (Hürriyet, AFP, Firat, MESOP, 1-28/01/15)
BURKINA-FASO: The transition process makes headway and the president announces legislative and presidential elections for October
President Michel Kafando announced presidential and legislative elections for 11 October as part of the transition process led by the former political opposition, the Burundian Army, civil society and other parts of the population, including religious and tribal leaders. Kafando said that the date chosen aims to favour greater turnout and adhere to the agreed schedule. Furthermore, transition MPs agreed to cut their salary in half. This measure was popular socially, although some said that it was still not enough. Meanwhile, in a report released in January, the International Crisis Group assessed the risks and opportunities of the transition process in Burkina Faso. The report noted the agreement reached by the main stakeholders (the Burundian Army, politicians that had been in the opposition previously, civil society and the general population) and indicated that the power of the Army was limited, shared with civilians and closely monitored by the mobilised population. However, it also warned of tensions between demands for radical change and aspirations of stability, as well as between the difficulty in organising the elections and the lack of state funding. Finally, it highlighted the need for good management regarding the former presidential guard (RSP) to prevent parts of it from reacting violently to a mismanaged process of dismantlement. The RSP is the best-armed unit in the country. Regarding it and other security forces, Amnesty International called on the transition authorities to investigate the use of excessive and lethal force by the Burkinabe Army, RSP and gendarmerie against peaceful protestors in demonstrations against Compaoré’s regime in late October and early December in which at least 10 people were killed and hundreds were injured. (Amnesty International, All Africa, The Washington Post, 1-28/01/15)
CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC: Central African armed groups reach a peace agreement later rejected by the government
On 28 January, Kenyan mediators announced that a ceasefire and cessation of hostilities was signed between the former Séléka coalition and the anti-balaka militias in Nairobi. The agreement was immediately rejected and criticised by the government. Bangui has not been associated with the talks begun in late December in Nairobi. The announcement was made by one of the mediators, the former speaker of the National Assembly of Kenya, Kenneth Marende. Several diplomats have said that it is a simple catalogue of claims made by the supporters of the last two presidents, Michel Djotodia (supported by Séléka, whose delegation was headed by Nourredine Adam) and François Bozizé (backed by the anti-balaka militias), and cannot be viewed as valid, according to official deputy mediator Soumeylou Boubèye Maïga, a former defence minister of Mali. In the agreement, both parties declared a ceasefire and called for general amnesty, a change of government and a new transition. They also said that they want all forces in the country to come under UN guardianship, in reference to France’s Operation Sangaris, and that the former presidents should be able to run in the upcoming election. The government has indicated that it rejects these claims, seeing them as mere manoeuvres aimed at sinking the upcoming election and allowing some people to escape justice. The official mediator of the process in Brazzaville, President Denis Sassou Nguesso, accepted the discussions in principle at first, but then stepped back and dissociated from them. (RFI, 29/01/15; Jeune Afrique, 28 and 29/01/15; Reuters, 29/01/15)
COLOMBIA: The government and the FARC speed up the pace of the negotiations
In early January 2015, President Santos met with his negotiating team and his international advisors (William Ury, from Harvard University; Joaquín Villalobos, a Salvadoran former guerrilla leader; Jonathan Powell, former Chief of Staff under Tony Blair; and Shlomo Ben-Ami, former foreign minister of Israel) to look back on 2014 and plan for the coming year in what would be a stage of “simultaneity” in negotiating items, with military issues discussed in a parallel fashion and the government proposing to create a special commission to speed up the search for disappeared persons. He also announced that because of the progress in the negotiations, perhaps he would not longer proceed according to the principle of negotiating during conflict, meaning the ongoing pursuit of offensive operations, as this “disconnect” no longer made sense. Santos started the year intending to lower the intensity of the conflict (also known as “de-escalation”). The FARC shared this goal and welcomed the government’s new position in a statement. A general in the Colombian Armed Forces later said that de-escalation could include an end to the bombardments. The president gave instructions to his negotiators to begin discussion on the issue of a bilateral and definitive ceasefire and cessation of hostilities as soon as possible. This generated considerable confusion in academic, political and journalistic circles, with some mistakenly thinking that it automatically involved disarming the FARC. Moreover, Santos passed a law by referendum to endorse a future peace agreement, which dictates the rules for developing constitutional referendums. The law stipulates that referendums may coincide with elections, ensures that the final agreement will be made public, allows campaigns to be held in favour, against or to abstain and guarantees equal media access for their activists. (El Tiempo, 01-30/01/15; El Espectador, 01-30/01/15)
SOUTH SUDAN: China becomes involved in initiatives to resolve the conflict in the country
The peace process in South Sudan was strengthened after intervention by China. At a meeting held in Khartoum between Sudan, South Sudan, Ethiopia and China, Beijing presented an initiative urging the parties to the conflict to take the interests of the South Sudanese people into account, safeguarding peace and stability in the region. In fact, China has already decided to deploy troops in South Sudan to support the mediation efforts of the regional organisation IGAD and to put an end to the armed conflict ravaging the country. China’s previous bilateral relations with Sudan add to its interests in stabilising the region. Meanwhile, all three factions of the SPLM signed a peace agreement in Tanzania to pave the way towards the cessation of hostilities in South Sudan and reconciliation with each other, whose internal disputes were making the national peace talks difficult. The United Nations praised the agreement and called for it to be implemented immediately, while asking the AU to make the commission of inquiry’s report a topic of discussion at the next summit in late January. The report estimates that 50,000 people have died in the conflict. (La Información, Telesur, 13/01/15; Xinhua, 13, 14/01/15)
SRI LANKA: Opposition candidate Maithripala Sirisena wins the presidential election
Opposition candidate Maithripala Sirisena won the presidential election on 8 January, defeating incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Sirisena, who had been a member of Rajapaksa’s government until last November, united the political opposition around his candidacy, including the main Tamil party, the TNA. Despite rumours of a possible coup d’état if the opposition won the elections, Rajapaksa conceded defeat at the polls. However, the new government has indicated that it will investigate the potential coup d’état that Rajapaksa may have been ready to carry out. In the weeks prior to the elections, multiple acts of violence and intimidation of the population were reported, but election day was relatively tranquil. The new government said that a new era was beginning in the country, with uncensored media and a commitment to investigate the murder of journalist Lasantha Wickrematunge in 2009. It also expressed a willingness to undertake greater decentralisation in the country, promising a federal settlement as part of a unitary state. Though the TNA declined to participate in the government, it did express support for it. The new president has also called for parliamentary elections, speeding them up by two years. Also notable was the new government’s decision to lift the restrictions on foreigners from travelling to the northern part of the country, imposed by the previous government to hinder investigation into war crimes committed during the final phase of the armed conflict. Former President Rajapaksa also stepped down as leader of the SLFP. (The Guardian 09/01/15; AP, 08 and 20/01/15; The Observer, 10/01/15; Reuters 17/01/15)
THAILAND – CAMBODIA: The governments of Thailand and Cambodia state their readiness to begin negotiations over the disputed maritime area
The governments of Thailand and Cambodia expressed their willingness to negotiate over the management of disputed maritime territory in the Gulf of Thailand. The region may be very rich in petrol and natural gas, but neither country can exploit its natural resources until joint negotiations bear fruit. Anonymous sources stated that both governments held informal talks. According to Thai media reports, the Cambodian government is willing to redraw the borders of the Cambodian province of Preah Vand and the Thai province of Ubon Ratchathani to help to resolve tensions between both countries. With the rise to power of Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, it seems that relations between the neighbours have become smoother despite incidents that continue to occur on the land border. At the start of the month, two burned bodies were found near the border in the Thai province of Sa Kaeo. Although the local authorities believe that the bodies belong to Thai citizens, Cambodian officials want to learn the results of the autopsy since two citizens disappeared from Siem Reap. Moreover, Thailand reopened the An Ma border pass after closing it when Cambodia began building a road near the area disputed area, raising new alarm between both countries. Cambodia suspended its construction of the road. (The Nation, 04/01/15; The Cambodian Daily, 09, 10/01/15; The Phnom Penh Post, 17/01/15; Turkish Press, 21/01/15; The Shanghai Daily, 23/01/15)
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