BANGLADESH: The political crisis worsens with 100 people killed in acts of violence
The serious political crisis in the country continued and at least 100 people have died since a new period of violence began in January after opposition leader Khaleda Zia, the head of the party BNP, called for a transport strike in the country to force a call for new elections. Most of the fatalities died as a result of firebomb attacks against vehicles by government opponents, but some other dissidents were also shot dead. More than 10,000 people were arrested. The government cut power to Zia's home to pressure her to call for an end to the protests. Zia has been confined to her home since the start of the protests and said that they would not end until there is a call for new elections. She also demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Zia has been formally charged in court of being responsible for the murder of 42 people since 5 January. (AFP, 31/01/15, 1/02/15; Press TV, 11/02/15; First Post, 12/02/15; Zee News, 2/02/15; AFP, 23/02/15)
CHINA (XINJIANG): Around 25 people die in two episodes of violence in Xinjiang
Government sources declared that 17 people died in the region of Aksu (Akesu in Chinese) in clashes between the police and a group of armed individuals during a police raid. Of the 17 fatalities, four were police officers, nine were suspected militants (including two women) and four were civilians caught in the crossfire. The raid was part of the counterinsurgency operation launched by Beijing months ago in the province of Xinjiang, which has prompted criticism from Uyghur organisations and human rights groups. A few days before this episode of violence, which took place on 20 February, Radio Free Asia reported that eight people were killed and another seven were wounded after a young person carried out a suicide attack in the county of Guma (Pishan in Chinese), in the prefecture of Hotan. Significant acts of violence had been reported previously in the same prefecture, which is among the poorest in Xinjiang province. Information about this latest attack could not be verified by other sources due to the restrictions imposed on the media by the Chinese government. Meanwhile, the government of Afghanistan declared that 15 Uyghurs had been arrested in areas bordering Pakistan. In this regard, Taliban sources said that groups of Uyghurs had settled in the Pakistani region of North Waziristan until the Pakistani government led an offensive against them in 2014. (The New York Times, 17/02/15; Radio Free Asia, 20/02/15)
DRC (EAST): The Congolese Armed Forces launch a military operation against the FDLR without MONUSCO support
The Congolese Armed Forces launched a military operation against the armed group of Rwandan origin FDLR with an offensive in South Kivu province. This operation was announced in late January against the members of the FDLR, which rejected the voluntary disarmament that it had declared in April 2014. However, the FDLR showed an openness to political talks with Rwanda as a condition for continuing with the disarmament. Rwanda has rejected the talks. Regional organisations gave the FDLR a timeframe of six months to carry out the disarmament, ending in January 2015, under threat of military retaliation. Many analysts had questioned the government's willingness to carry out this offensive against the armed group, which has been its ally at certain times. Meanwhile, the UN announced that it was withdrawing its military support from the Congolese Army against the FDLR after the government refused to replace two generals involved in the operation due to serious accusations of human rights violations against them. The government rebuffed this requirement and decided that it did not need MONUSCO's military support in the operation. The government's decision has been criticised as populist by various analysts, citing the need to restore its battered image following the crackdown in January on protests against President Joseph Kabila's desire to change the Constitution to allow him to extend his presidency to a third term of office. The UN and the EU expressed their dissatisfaction with the situation. In late February, the government and MONUSCO resumed talks to provide military support. The operation was also launched the day after the announcement of the resignation of Russ Feingold, the US representative for the Great Lakes region, who had been critical of President Kabila's attempts at re-election and questioned whether the DRC was truly willing to go after the FDLR, enemies of Rwanda. (AFP, 31/01/15; L’Observateur, 09702/15; UN, 05/02/15; AP, 08/02/15; AFP, 10/02/15; LM, 18/02/15; Jeune Afrique, 24/02/15)
KENYA: A report estimates that over 300 people have been killed by the armed group al-Shabaab in the last two years
A Kenyan police report stated that 312 people had died as a result of attacks perpetrated by the armed Somali Islamist group al-Shabaab or by groups sympathetic to the insurgency between 2013 and 2014. The police said that these attacks also wounded 779 people to varying degrees and that the counties most affected by the violence were located near the Somali border. The year 2014 has been the most serious to date, with 173 fatalities compared to 139 the year before. In Lamu county, 67 people died while in Mandera county, 64 others lost their lives. According to the report, al-Shabaab cells seek to capture young Muslims and religious groups in Mombasa and in Lamu and Kwale counties, where they are especially vulnerable due to youth unemployment. According to Principal Secretary of the Interior Monica Juma, the government has already launched a national strategy to combat radicalisation, which includes the rehabilitation of young people returning from Somalia, educational work and discussions with imams and sheikhs to prevent religious and educational places from becoming where minors have their first contact with radical discourses. After laws to combat terrorism and radicalisation were passed in December, the government cancelled the registration of 15 NGOs accused of funding terrorism in the country. Amnesty International published a report asserting that the government has failed to protect the civilian population, that there is a rise in the military capabilities of armed groups and that Nairobi's attempts to cope with the growing insecurity have entailed violations of national and international laws, including the Kenyan Constitution. Moreover, the report expressed concern about the shrinking of the political space, exclusion, the proliferation of light weapons and the continuous lack of accountability in the country. A report drawing similar conclusions was published by the Kenyan National Commission on Human Rights in collaboration with the EU and added that Kenya and Africa were continually discrediting and undermining the work of the ICC. (Allafrica.com, 25/02/15; Amnesty International, 26/02/15)
MYANMAR: Serious clashes between the Kokang insurgency and the Burmese Army as the peace process remains stalled
Serious clashes occurred in the special Kokang region of Shan State between the Burmese Armed Forces and the armed Kokang opposition group MNDAA. Although the number of people killed as a result of the violence could not be confirmed, some sources said that around 60 soldiers, 25 insurgents and somewhere between 50 and 100 civilians lost their lives. Moreover, tens of thousands of people fled to China to escape the violence. The Kokang people is of Chinese ethnic origin. The Burmese government accused other insurgent groups of involvement in the clashes, particularly the KIA, the SSA-S and the TNLA, but these organisations denied their participation in the fighting. The Burmese government also announced the imposition of a state of emergency and martial law in the Kokang Self-Administered Zone, the official name of the region. Meanwhile, the nationwide ceasefire agreement that is the objective of the negotiating process between the government and the various armed insurgencies was not achieved by the date established by the government, 12 February, which is also the country's Union Day. The United Nationalities Federal Council, which joins together different insurgent groups, proposed signing an agreement related to the creation of a federal union as a preliminary step towards the ceasefire agreement. In parallel, the government proposed signing a Document of Commitment to Peace and Reconciliation during the celebration of Union Day. The document was not legal in nature, but a demonstration of commitment to the process. Only the KNU, DKBA, SSA-S and KNLA-Peace Council agreed to sign it, while other rebel forces were reluctant, noting that it did not address matters of the utmost importance, such as the desire for a federal union. Other armed groups did not even participate in Union Day. (The Irrawaddy, 3, 5, 12, 13, 16-19, 25 and 26/02/15)
NIGERIA: The presidential election is postponed, citing security concerns due to the conflict with Boko Haram, which has expanded its offensives and perpetrated attacks in Niger and Chad
The conflict involving Boko Haram (BH) led to multiple acts of violence that killed many people in different parts of Nigeria, as well as in areas bordering various neighbouring countries like Niger, Cameroon and Chad. The armed group attacked Chadian territory for the first time after crossing Lake Chad in an action that was repelled by local soldiers and claimed around a dozen lives. Previously, various BH attacks were reported in Niger in less than one week. Nigerien military sources announced that they had killed more than 100 members of the group in the towns of Bosso and Diffa. Cameroon, which has been the subject of various BH attacks over the course of the last year, also said that it had killed around 80 BH militiamen when they attacked a military camp. BH's recent attacks in Niger and Chad were interpreted as retaliation for these countries' participation in the regional force that aims to combat the insurgent group. In fact, since January, Chad has conducted various airstrikes against the group's positions in Nigeria and Niger. In this context, efforts were sped up to define a strategy and command structure for the regional force, planned to include 8,750 soldiers from Nigeria, Niger, Benin, Cameroon and Chad. According to media reports, the military leaders of the region were preparing a land and air offensive that would begin in March. Meanwhile, acts of violence continued in Nigeria in the form of suicide attacks against markets and bus stations, attacks on mosques, indiscriminate killings and clashes between BH and Nigerian security forces in the northeastern part of the country. According to official sources, the Nigerian Army managed to recapture the towns of Monguno, Marte and Baga, which had been in the hands of BH. Chad also expelled BH from the Nigerian town of Dikwa. In this context, the authorities announced that the election was delayed from 14 February to 28 March due to security concerns, arguing that the military could not monitor the election because it was focused on the fight against BH. The opposition denounced the delay as an electoral manoeuvre to favour the incumbent, President Goodluck Jonathan. The postponement of the election was also criticised by the US, which warned Lagos not to use security fears as a pretext to question the democratic process. (BBC, 13, 17, 21, 25/02/15; BBC Mundo, 08/02/15; The New York Times, 08, 14, 16/02/15)
PAKISTAN: Counterinsurgent operations intensify as part of the National Action Plan approved after the attack in Peshawar
Over 10,000 people charged with terrorism were detained in different parts of the country after the National Action Plan on counterterrorism was adopted by the government following the attack in Peshawar in December that killed 150 people, 132 of them children. In the last two months, the security forces have carried out nearly 15,000 raids across the country. The detainees will be tried by military tribunals, a decision made in January. Since then, nine of these courts have been established to try people charged with terrorism. For the time being, hundreds of these cases have already been transferred to the recently created military tribunals. The Pakistani Army has requested total freedom of action in pursuing terrorist, extremist and sectarian groups. Furthermore, around 200 people, most of them insurgents, died in February in various clashes between the security forces and the Taliban insurgency operating in Pakistan. Many of the deaths were a result of air strikes conducted by the military. Moreover, an attack in the district of Shikarpur in the province of Sindh killed 62 people in a Shia mosque. The attack was blamed on the Sunni armed group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. (Dawn, 28/01/15, 4, 6, 7, 10, 13, 18, 21/02/15; AFP, 31/01/15, 4/02/15; The Tribune, 6/02/15)
PHILIPPINES (MINDANAO-MILF): The parliamentary proceedings of the Bangsamoro Basic Law are postponed after an outbreak of violence that claims 70 lives
Parliamentary deliberations on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law were suspended after an armed confrontation between a special body of the security forces and MILF and BIFF combatants in the municipality of Mamasapano killed around 70 people, 44 of them police officers. This was the largest (and practically the only) serious episode of violence reported in the last three years between the government and the MILF, which have maintained a ceasefire agreement alongside the negotiations. The president made a public statement asking the MILF for as much cooperation as possible to arrest Abdul Basit Usman, an explosives expert with alleged links to groups like Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiyah. The principal target of the special operation that set off the aforementioned episode of violence, known as Marwan, died during the intervention of the special police corps. Following the fighting, political, social and media pressure rose against the continuation of the parliamentary proceedings of the statute of autonomy that should govern the future region of Bangsamoro. Thus, some MPs repeated information according to which the MILF had taken advantage of the negotiating process to conduct military training together with the BIFF or was preparing to resume the war. However, the government's negotiating team said it was unaware of any such information. (GMA News, 10 and 11/02/15; Phil Star, 18/02/15; Voice of America, 12/02/15)
SYRIA: A report by the independent commission on Syria warns of the deterioration of the conflict and investigators plan to publish a list of perpetrators of abuse
A new report by the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic identified the main trends in the evolution of the conflict since it began in March 2011 until January 2015. Based on 3,556 interviews, though limited by the impossibility of investigating on the ground due to the government's refusal to give the commission access to the country, the text stresses that the behaviour of the growing number of armed groups involved in the war has been characterised by a total lack of respect for international humanitarian law. In this context, it emerged that the commission's investigators plan to reveal some or all of the names of the people accused of abuse at the next session of the UN Human Rights Council, scheduled for 17 March. The commission has created various lists, including senior military and security officers, heads of detention centres and commanders of non-state armed groups, claiming that this information may be used to prevent impunity in the conflict. The independent commission's report also highlights that the international community has failed in its duty to protect the civilian population of Syria and denounces the fact that foreign support for the different feuding groups has only stoked the dynamics of violence. In February, direct actions were observed by neighbouring countries on Syrian soil as part of this conflict, including air strikes by Jordan after one of its citizens was killed by ISIS (the video of the Jordanian pilot being burned alive caused great consternation) and a Turkish operation to evacuate 38 soldiers guarding an Ottoman mausoleum threatened by ISIS, which involved hundreds of Turkish soldiers and tanks. The armed group was involved in other actions that had extensive media coverage in February, like the abduction of over 200 Assyrian Christians in northeastern Syria. Finally, alongside the intensification of combat near Aleppo, which killed scores of people, the Syrian government expressed a willingness to declare a partial truce in the city for six weeks, according to UN mediator Staffan de Mistura. (UN News, 20/02/15; Reuters, 20/02/15; The New York Times, 14, 23, 25/02/15; The Wall Street Journal, 22/02/15)
YEMEN: The crisis in the country worsens and the UN Security Council orders the Houthis to withdraw from government institutions
The severe institutional crisis affecting Yemen continued to worsen. After the resignation of the president and prime minister in January, the Houthis decreed the dissolution of Parliament and installed a six-member presidential council in early February. In this context, in the middle of the month the UN Security Council unanimously approved Resolution 2201, which required the Houthis to withdraw immediately and unconditionally from all institutions, release President Abdo Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who was under house arrest, and participate in good faith in initiatives of dialogue to resolve the crisis. Without offering details, the UN Security Council announced its readiness to take further action. Media reports said that the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which has denounced the Houthi intervention as a coup d'état, wanted the resolution to be adopted under Chapter 7 of the United Nations Charter, which authorises the use of force and sanctions. Days later, rival Yemeni factions announced a preliminary agreement to form a transitional council, which UN Special Envoy Jamal Benomar described as an important first step. However, this agreement was challenged shortly thereafter, when Hadi escaped from house arrest. From his refuge in Aden, he denounced the Houthis for taking power by force, claimed that he was still president and declared all decisions taken by the armed group null and void. Media reports at the time said that Hadi had stepped down under pressure in January and that his resignation was never ratified by Parliament. Hadi called on the military and security forces to protect the constitutional government, demanded that a committee supervise the drafting of the new Constitution and (in talks with Benomar) underlined his commitment to the transition process begun in 2011. Meanwhile, the Houthis maintained their positions and threatened to try Yemeni cabinet members for treason that have refused to resume their duties. In this context, at the end of the month the UN Security Council decided to extend sanctions for another year against those who threaten stability in Yemen. Also in late February, it was reported that former President Ali Abdullah Saleh had amassed a fortune of between 30 and 62 billion USD during his 33 years at the helm of the Yemeni government, the poorest country in the Middle East. (BBC, 15, 16, 20, 22, 23, 25/02/15; UNSC Press Release, 15/02/15 and 24/02/15)
BURKINA FASO: New tensions in the transition process regarding the role of the elite force RSP, with public demonstrations calling for its dissolution
The situation remained fragile due to the transition process under way in the country since the popular uprising that led to the fall of the regime of Blaise Compaoré in late 2014, with tensions rising between the transitional government and an elite force, the Presidential Security Regiment (RSP). Calls by transitional Prime Minister Isaac Zida (himself an RSP veteran) to integrate the force into the regular Army and to make cuts to RSP salaries prompted strong criticism from the force, which consists of around 1,200 soldiers devoted to protecting the president. The crisis led to the paralysis of the Council of Ministers early in the month and the RSP demanded the resignation of Zida and other members of the government. Zida finally yielded to some of the RSP's demands, including some related to the leadership of the force and the Army Chief of Staff. In reaction to what was perceived as a deal that strengthened the RSP, public protests calling for it to be dissolved were held in various cities in the beginning of the month, including the capital. Transitional President Michel Kafando announced the creation of a commission to regulate the role and functioning of the elite presidential force and appealed for calm. International organisations such as the UN and ECOWAS also called for support for the civilian-led transition process. (Reuters, 04, 05, 7/02/15; UN News, 04/02/15; IRIN, 13/02/15, AFP, 08/02/15)
LIBYA: Egypt launches air strikes on Libyan territory in retaliation for the beheading of around 20 Egyptian Copts by the Libyan branch of ISIS
Egypt became more openly involved in the conflict with neighbouring Libya and launched a series of air strikes on the city of Derna in retaliation for the murder of 21 Egyptians of the Coptic (Christian) faith that had been abducted by the Libyan branch of the armed group Islamic State (ISIS). This faction, which had recently claimed responsibility for an attack on a hotel in Tripoli that killed eight people in late January and another attack on an oil field that killed 12 people in early February, captured the Egyptians, who worked in the city of Sirte, and later decapitated them. A video released by the armed Libyan group showed the use of the same techniques as the organisation operating in Iraq and Syria, increasing the probability that the link between both groups is not simply rhetorical or ideological. According to the Egyptian authorities, who described the offensive as an act of revenge, the air strikes launched by various F-16 aircraft targeted training camps and weapons depots belonging to the ISIS branch. According to Libyan sources, the air strikes killed between 40 and 50 people. The government of former General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi stated that it would continue to monitor developments and would take additional steps, while demanding international intervention in Libya. Egypt had previously been reported to have provided air bases for UAE aircraft that launched attacks against Islamist forces' positions in Tripoli in 2014 and to have given covert support to the military campaign of General Khalifa Haftar alongside its backing of the government seated in Tobruk. Some questioned the Egyptian offensive, saying that a military approach to the crisis in Libya made it harder to achieve a negotiated solution. The government in Tobruk hailed Egypt's intervention, whereas the parallel government based in Tripoli, which has a large presence of Islamist forces, questioned it. Days later, the authorities in Tripoli claimed responsibility for an air offensive (its first) against its adversaries in the city of Zintan in an escalation of violence that experts say opens the possibility of an aerial confrontation between rival groups in Libya. In late February, the UN held urgent consultations with various Libyan stakeholders following a new attack by ISIS that left 40 people dead in the eastern city of al-Qubbah and after the authorities based in Tobruk decided to suspend their participation in the talks, planned to be held in Morocco. (The New York Times, 05, 17, 18/02/15; UN News, 25/02/15; BBC, 23/02/15).
PHILIPPINES (NPA): The government announces the arrest of various NPA leaders
Various clashes between the Philippine Armed Forces and the NPA claimed the lives of at least 16 people and also led to the arrest of several important NPA leaders. The largest episode of violence was reported in mid-February, when six NPA combatants died in Mindanao. Among the fallen was Tolentino Bariquit, alias Ka Brigol, the top leader of Front 71. A few days before, three other NPA leaders had been captured in Mindanao (two in Davao del Sur and the other in Bukidnon). According to the Philippine Armed Forces, the arrest of these three people could create a major vacuum in the leadership of the NPA in Mindanao, currently its main stronghold and epicentre of activity. In another episode of violence reported in mid-February, four police officers and one combatant were killed in Davao Oriental (Mindanao) when around 50 fighters assaulted a police station in the city of Mati. The main leader of the NPA contingent that carried out the attack was arrested a few days later. (Philstar, 07/02/15; GMA News, 16 and 18/02/15; Philippines Information Agency, 05 and 18/02/15)
SOMALIA: Progress made in government as violence and insecurity persist
By a majority, the Federal Parliament approved the new cabinet presented by Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Ali Shamarke. Previously, the vote had been postponed due to tough opposition to Shamarke's proposal. Despite the security challenges in the country, Parliament also passed the law establishing the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), which increases the likelihood of holding elections in 2016, the first in more than 40 years. In military terms, the administration of Jubaland, in the southern part of the country, announced that it would initiate a military operation against the insurgent group al-Shabaab in March. Clashes and attacks continued in various parts of the country's south. One of these attacks claimed the life of MP Abdullahi Qayad Barre. The famous politician and former minister of Puntland, Abdishakur Mire Adan, was also killed along with 25 other people in an attack on a hotel in Mogadishu. Following the attack, the security forces began an investigation of the 12 employees of the hotel, which has been frequented by politicians and government officials. Five MPs were killed by al-Shabaab in 2014. Meanwhile, fighting between government forces and its allies Ahlu Sunna Wal Jamma in Guri’el left dozens dead. Finally, the minister of the interior of the self-proclaimed republic of Somaliland denied that the autonomous administration is supporting the armed Islamist group al-Shabaab. (Reuters, 20/02/15; Garowe Online, 09, 11, 14, 16, 21 and 24/02/15)
SOUTH SUDAN: The parties reach a non-definitive agreement that could become final in the weeks to come
In early February, South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and rebel leader and former Vice President Riek Machar signed an agreement to form a joint government. The agreement allegedly establishes that Kiir would remain the president of a new government and that Machar would become vice president. However, shortly thereafter, South Sudanese rebels ensured that the agreement was not final at all and that discussions had to continue on the functions and sharing of power in the new interim government. In response, the chief mediator of the regional organisation IGAD, Seyoum Mesfin, said that the conversations would resume in late February and that the warring parties ought to reach an agreement to form a transitional government before July, when the term of office of President Salva Kiir expires. Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon lamented that both sides have not yet committed to a formula for sharing power and stressed that there will be no sustainable peace in South Sudan unless its leaders put the interests of the population above their own. Subsequently, the government of South Sudan announced that the presidential election that was supposed to be held in June was postponed and asked Parliament to extend the president's term to avoid a power vacuum amidst the conflict. If the request is approved, the election will be delayed until 2017. Finally, the UN and Human Rights Watch denounced the persistence of serious human rights violations in the country. (Reuters, 01, 02, 04-06 and 14/02/15)
THAILAND-CAMBODIA: Tension rises between both countries after three Cambodians are killed by the Thai Army
Political and military tension between Cambodia and Thailand rose again after three Cambodians illegally logging precious wood on Thai soil were shot dead by the Thai Armed Forces in early February. According to official Cambodian figures (disputed by the Thai government), around 60 Cambodian loggers died in Thailand in 2013 and 2014. Similarly, a human rights group in Cambodia said that between 2008 and 2014, over 120 Cambodians had died in Thailand, many of them while illegally logging wood. At a recent summit between both countries, Cambodia urged Thailand to resolve the problem of illegal logging in is territory through legal protocols and procedures and not the use of force. Regarding the incident that occurred in early February, some in Thailand suggested that the people killed were carrying weapons and that the Thai soldiers had acted in legitimate self-defence. (The Phnom Penh Post, 12/02/15; The Cambodia Daily, 11 and 12/02/15)
TURKEY (SOUTHEAST): Problems in the peace talks between Turkey and the PKK delay the announcement of a joint declaration of ten items for the negotiations
The situation concerning the peace talks in Turkey worsened following disagreements between the parties, delaying the achievement of an agreement to release a joint statement by the Turkish government and the Kurdish delegation of the HDP (and, by extension, the entire Kurdish movement, including its leader Abdullah Öcalan and guerrilla fighters) in which they were going to explain the issues to negotiate. Öcalan raised 15 February as the deadline for releasing the joint statement, which had been conceived by the Kurdish movement as a road map and an announcement of the move to real negotiations. The declaration of a reinforced ceasefire was also deemed possible. According to media reports, a tentative agreement on the statement was reached in the meeting on 4 February between the Kurdish delegation of the HDP, Abdullah Öcalan and representatives of the government and intelligence services (MIT). Some problems came from the government's later messages claiming that the PKK was going to announce the abandonment of arms, as well as the PKK's rejection of the prospect, arguing that laying down its weapons is not a prior condition, but something to be negotiated throughout the process. Another problem was the request that the statement come before and mark a shift to negotiations like a reinforced ceasefire. According to the HDP, the government also wanted to modify the ten items. Furthermore, on 23 February an HDP delegation composed of Kurdish MP Sırrı Süreyya Önder and Kurdish women's movement activist and representative Ceylan Bağrıyanık travelled to the headquarters of the PKK in northern Iraq to address the situation with its leaders. The general context is also aggravated by the controversy around the government's plans to approve a new legislative package on security, which the opposition criticises because it thinks it gives excessive power to the police and may lead to serious abuse. The KCK, the umbrella structure of the Kurdish movement, which includes the guerrilla forces, political parties and social organisations, said that its approval would endanger the peace process. The main Turkish opposition party, the CHP, also opposed the proposed legislation, ten of whose articles were approved in February. Citizens protested these events. (ANF, Firat, AFP, Hürriyet Daily News, 1-26/02/15)
UKRAINE: Instability continues despite the Minsk II agreement, reached after a serious escalation of violence
The situation in Ukraine continued to be characterised by instability and uncertainty about the future of the Minsk II agreement of 12 February. The agreement was reached after tough negotiations within the Normandy Quartet (German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President François Hollande, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin) and the Trilateral Contact Group (Russia, Ukraine and the OSCE) with rebel authority representatives from Luhansk and Donetsk participating. The deal, which revives parts of the agreements made in September, includes several points: a ceasefire to begin on 15 February; the withdrawal of heavy weaponry, which includes withdrawal with respect to the current front line of Ukrainian forces and withdrawal with respect to the separation line marked in September of rebel forces, and the consequent establishment of a security buffer zone; negotiations to hold local elections in eastern areas, with international observers; a prisoner exchange and amnesty; the withdrawal of foreign arms and troops and the disarmament of illegal groups; reforms to the Constitution by the end of 2015; negotiations over special status for areas under rebel control; and Ukrainian control of the area bordering Russia. In the days leading up to the agreement, scores of people were killed, diplomatic tensions rose and debates about the possibility of arming Ukraine gained strength, with some in NATO and the USA supporting the move while the US president, the German government and others rejected it. The rebel forces refused to honour the agreement in relation to the siege of Debaltseve, a transport hub and key location for communicating between Donetsk and Luhansk, where the militias had practically surrounded thousands of Ukrainian troops. Finally, Ukraine ordered its forces to retreat from Debaltseve. According to Ukraine, over ten people died in the fighting in Debaltseve, with more than 150 wounded and around 80 people disappeared. Despite the circumstances in Debaltseve, the international promoters of Minsk II claimed that it was still valid. Days later, the OSCE mission noted that fighting continued in different places, including in the east of the key port city of Mariupol and in some parts of Donetsk, whereas the situation was more stable in Luhansk. Moreover, rebel groups postponed the beginning of the withdraw of weapons by one day, starting on 24 February. That same day, Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine called to implement the agreement without delay and the OSCE stated that it had not yet received from the parties necessary information on the types, locations and routes of the weapons so it could verify their withdrawal. The parties also conducted a prisoner exchange. The instability was also associated with incidents outside the rebel-controlled areas. On the day to commemorate the anniversary of the Maidan protests and the departure of then-President Victor Yanukovich, with demonstrations of homage in various parts of Ukraine, a bomb exploded in the city of Kharkov, killing two people and injuring around a dozen. (BBC, The New York Times, El País, Reuters, 1-26/02/15)
AFGHANISTAN: The government and Taliban insurgency could revive peace negotiations with the support of Pakistan and China
Peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban insurgency could make progress in the coming weeks. President Ashraf Ghani, who after his inauguration strengthened diplomatic efforts to engage Pakistan in possible peace negotiations, was optimistic. The Pakistani government, with which the prior Afghan government continually disagreed regarding peace talks with the Taliban, said that the insurgency would welcome discussions in March. This was echoed by Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, who confirmed that a Taliban delegation had travelled to Qatar without disclosing further details. Although different sources were optimistic about the process, serious doubts remained about the position of Taliban leader Mullah Omar and the sincerity of all parties involved. However, various factors may have underpinned the process since the inauguration of Ashraf Ghani, such as Kabul's aforementioned diplomatic approach to Pakistan, which Ghani views as essential to any peace agreement, and especially the Pakistani Army, as well as closer relations with China, which has also volunteered to mediate. The Chinese government received a Taliban delegation last year and during the Chinese foreign minister's recent visit to Islamabad, he offered Chinese government assistance to facilitate negotiations. In fact, both China and Pakistan have advised the Taliban to begin peace negotiations, which may have led the insurgency to accept holding preliminary talks with the Afghan government. (The New York Times, 18/02/15; Khaama Press 19, 21 and 22/02/15)
Central African Republic: Both former presidents of the country agree to join the transition amidst persisting violence and clashes
Former Central African Presidents Michel Djotodia and François Bozizé agreed to sign a joint statement in which they pledged to join the dialogue begun in July 2014 in Congo-Brazzaville among the different political and military forces of the Central African Republic (CAR) and the transitional government led by President Catherine Samba-Panza. Through representatives in Nairobi, both have been negotiating a text that does not explicitly mention the transition, but acceptance of the Brazzaville agreement does amount to implicit recognition of the authorities behind it. Both expressed their willingness to participate in preparations for the inclusive political forum that will be held in Bangui and in the elections in August 2015 that will put an end to the transition. Begun in Nairobi in December by initiative of Congolese President Denis Sassou-Nguesso, who is also the official mediator of the Central African conflict, these talks culminated in a ceasefire agreement on 22 January that was rejected by the international community (UN, ECCAS), the government of Bangui and Sassou-Nguesso himself because it was not endorsed by the Central African government. Following this rejection, intense negotiations began between the envoys of the Congolese president, the Kenyan mediator and the former speaker of the Kenyan Parliament, Kenneth Marende, and the Central African belligerents to find an honourable solution to the situation, with the aim of convincing Djotodia and Bozizé's representatives to scale back their ambitions. Meanwhile, UNHCR noted a spike in violence in the country that has caused the displacement of at least 50,000 people since the beginning of the year, 20,000 of whom have sought refuge in the Congolese province of Equateur. (Jeune Afrique, 23/02/15; Allafrica.com, 24/02/15)
COLOMBIA: New commitments in negotiations with the FARC
Negotiations resumed in February with a 32nd round in Havana that centred discussion on the truth, justice and victim reparations model that should be implemented, as well as gender violence and violations of the rights of women. The FARC repeated their commitment to abandoning armed activity and becoming a political party if the government complied with the reforms and guarantees it demanded. President Santos gave instructions to begin discussing the items related to "de-escalating" the conflict, although the notable decrease in the number of victims resulting from the fighting was already a reality, as both sides tried to avoid armed confrontation. Both the government and the FARC showed a willingness to engage in demining, including by carrying out joint actions before the negotiations end. Meanwhile, General Javier Flórez and Colonel Vicente Sarmiento (the top members of the Strategic Transition Command), the government and guerrilla chiefs “Joaquín Gómez” and “Carlos Lozada” (heads of the Guerrilla Command for Normalisation) began to define the rules of the game for the subcommittee on disarmament and reintegration into civilian life, which includes topics such as the bilateral and definitive ceasefire and cessation of hostilities, disarmament and reincorporating the guerrilla movement into civilian life. In mid-February, the Historical Commission on the Conflict and its Victims, composed of 12 academics, opened discussion on the causes of the armed conflict in the country. The historians were unable to reach a consensus after five months of work, which ended with a report over 800 pages in length. However, all authors agreed that the Havana agenda was suitable for dealing with the country's problems. They also agreed that responsibility for the war was shared by the FARC, the state and the paramilitary groups, although they remained in deep disagreement about the legitimacy of the armed struggle initiated by the insurgents. As the 32nd round ended, the FARC announced that it would no longer incorporate guerrilla fighters 17 years of age. According to the government, around 2,500 minors had left the ranks of the FARC in the last 13 years. Meanwhile, the US government appointed veteran diplomat Bernard ("Bernie") Aronson as its delegate to follow the peace process with the FARC, though with no executive role. The appointment was hailed by all groups, including the FARC, which interpreted it as explicit support for the development of the negotiations. Aronson had served as assistant secretary of state for Latin America and has past experience in peace processes in El Salvador and Nicaragua. Aronson was planning to travel to Cuba to talk separately with both negotiating delegations. Days before, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan visited Cuba to advance the peace process. (El Tiempo and El Espectador, 1-28/02/15)
SERBIA – KOSOVO: The governments of Serbia and Kosovo reach an agreement on judicial matters following the resumption of the negotiating process
The prime ministers of Serbia and Kosovo, Aleksandar Vucic and Isa Mustafa, signed an agreement in Brussels on integrating judicial structures into the legal system in northern Kosovo. According to the agreement, the presiding judge of Serbian-majority northern Mitrovica will be of Serbian origin and the rest of the court will be of mixed composition. The agreement gives a boost to the negotiating process stalled for the last 10 months due to the internal political crisis in Kosovo, and because previously the Kosovar crisis had delayed somewhat in reaching agreement on judicial matters. The EU, which facilitates the negotiating process, said through its high representative, Federica Mogherini, that both sides expressed their commitment to further negotiations aimed at normalising relations. The judicial integration agreement is considered key for advancing in the creation of the planned Assembly of Serbian Municipalities of Kosovo. (Balkan Insight, B29, 10/02/15)
To subscribe to the monthly observatory or to receive information from the School for a Culture of Peace, https://llistes.uab.es
To unsubscribe, click here
For any comments or suggestions, please write to:
Tel. +34 93 586 88 42   |   http://escolapau.uab.cat   |   pr.conflictes.escolapau@uab.cat
Plaça del Coneixement - Edifici MRA (Mòdul Recerca A), Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, 08193 Bellaterra (Barcelona)
The FDLR continues to disarm and engage in talks with the Congolese government under the auspices of the Community of Sant’Egidio If you cannot see the image, please click here

In compliance with Law 15/1999, of 13 December, on Protection of Personal Data, the School for a Culture of Peace informs that personal information is treated in strict confidence and incorporated into our general database in order to keep you updated on our activities.

With the support of: