SYRIA: NGOs warn of the serious situation in the country after four years of conflict and denounce the lack of international involvement to curb the violence and aid the civilian population
Four years after the revolt against the regime of Bashar Assad that led to the outbreak of armed conflict in the country, various local and international organisations warned of the destabilising impact of the violence. By March 2015, the war had claimed over 220,000 lives and wounded 1.5 million, turned 3.8 million into refugees and forcibly displaced around 7.6 million within Syria's borders. Around 240,000 people were living in besieged areas. UNICEF stressed that 5.6 million children inside Syria and 2 million others that have fled the country are suffering the consequences of the conflict. A study conducted by the Syria Centre for Policy Research, with the support of UNHCR and UNDP, highlighted several less visible aspects of the armed conflict, including its repercussions on the economy (64.7% of the population currently lives in conditions of extreme poverty), on life expectancy (which has dropped from 75.9 years in 2010 to 55.7 in 2014) and on levels of education (half of Syrian children were not going to school because of the conflict, relegating the country to the bottom of international rankings for school attendance rates). In a joint report, around 20 NGOs, including Oxfam, Save the Children, NRC and Syria Relief Work, denounced the lack of implementation of the resolutions passed by the UN Security Council in 2014 aimed at ensuring civilian access to humanitarian aid, including without the consent of Damascus. They stressed that needs had risen by more than 30% compared to 2013, stating that 11.6 million people were in urgent need of drinking water and 10 million people did not have enough to eat. The NGOs concluded that the UN Security Council has failed the Syrian population in its attempts to stop the violence and to provide aid to those in need. In his latest report on the situation in the country, the UN Secretary-General emphasised that the Syrian people feel abandoned by the international community, which has decided to set its sights on ISIS. (IRIN, 12/03/15; The New York Times, 12/03/15; Syrian Centre for Policy Research, March 2015; Reuters, 24/03/15)
TUNISIA: ISIS claims responsibility for an attack that kills 23 people, 20 of them foreign tourists, in the worst act of violence in the country since 2002
wounded over 40 in the worst act of violence in the country in more than a decade. Most of the victims were foreign tourists, primarily from European countries. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack, which was conducted by three men, two of whom were killed in action during clashes with security forces. The museum is very close to the Tunisian Parliament, where reform of an anti-terrorism law was being discussed. It was the worst attack of its kind since 2002, when al-Qaeda killed 14 German tourists in a synagogue on the island of Djerba. The attack on the Bardo Museum was considered a blow to the country at a time when it is trying to consolidate the transition to democracy and an incident that will have a serious impact on tourism, an important sector for reviving the economy of the country. Various analysts stressed the jihadist groups' interest in destabilising the situation in Tunisia, and thereby prevent it from becoming a benchmark in the region after the Arab revolts, as well as in targeting foreigners, and Westerners in particular. After the massacre, the Tunisian authorities deployed security forces all over the capital and arrested around 20 people allegedly involved in it. Six senior police officers were fired after the incident, including the man in charge of tourist security. According to the government, the killers had been trained in Libya. Rachid Ghannouchi, the leader of Tunisia's main Islamist party, Ennahda, which forms part of the coalition government set up in the country at the beginning of the year, said that there was no room for ISIS in the country and warned that Tunisia would remain exposed to the threat of attack for as long as Libya was unstable. At the end of the month, the Tunisian government decided to close its air space to flights coming from western Libya. (BBC, 23/03/15; Reuters, 21, 23, 24/03/15; al-Jazeera, 19/03/15; El País, 21/03/15; The Guardian, 18/03/15)
YEMEN: The crisis worsens following an unprecedented attack in the capital that kills 137 and military intervention by a coalition led by Saudi Arabia
The situation in Yemen continued to deteriorate during March due to the persisting political, institutional and security-related crisis. Some of the most serious events of the month were the unprecedented attacks coordinated against two mosques in the Yemeni capital, Sana'a, that killed at least 137 people and injured dozens. Both mosques were frequented by Houthis, the northern armed group that has expanded its control over different parts of the country in recent months, including the capital, since January. A branch of ISIS that had recently arrived in the country claimed responsibility for the attack, while al-Qaeda, which has had a significant presence in Yemen in recent years and has also clashed with the Houthis, denied any involvement. Meanwhile, the Houthis continued to gain ground moving south and took the port city of Taiz (where hundreds of people came out to protest them) and an air base outside Aden. Media outlets reported many battles between Houthi rebel forces and troops loyal to President Abdo Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who had taken refuge in Aden since February when he escaped from detention by the Houthis. In this context, Hadi asked the UN, the Gulf countries and the Arab League to intervene militarily in the country at once to stop what he called Houthi "aggression". Meanwhile, state television, which is controlled by the Houthis, announced a financial reward for those who help to capture the "fugitive president". Hadi sought refuge in Riyadh and Saudi Arabia decided to answer his calls, announcing its military involvement in the conflict through attacks on Houthi positions in late March. Arguing that it needs to defend the legitimate government of Yemen, Saudi Arabia assumed leadership of a coalition consisting of Bahrain, UAE, Kuwait, Qatar, Jordan, Morocco, Sudan, Egypt and Pakistan. The United States will provide the coalition with logistical and intelligence support, but ruled out putting boots on the ground. Faced with the deteriorating security situation, Washington had previously decided to evacuate its military personnel stationed in Yemen. The United Nations has warned that the situation in Yemen threatens to turn into a full-blown civil war and expressed concern about a disturbing escalation of sectarian rhetoric in the conflict. (BBC, 20, 22, 25, 27/03/15; Reuters, 20/03/15; UN News, 22/03/15; The New York Times, 25/03/15)
AFGHANISTAN: The peace negotiations face various obstacles and difficulties
According to the Reuters news agency, peace negotiations between Afghanistan and the Taliban insurgency encountered various stumbling blocks to their progress. The Pakistani government, which had recently pledged to support the talks, demanded that the Taliban end the rivalry between two of its top leaders, politician Akhtar Mohammad Mansour (who supports the negotiations) and military commander Abdul Qayum Zakir (who opposes them and had openly questioned whether Mullah Omar, the top leader of the Taliban, would remain alive). Meanwhile, other obstacles persisted, such as demands that the Taliban would assuredly make at the beginning of the talks and which the Afghan government has thus far opposed. These demands include the complete withdrawal of foreign troops (around 12,000) and the imposition of a restrictive interpretation of sharia that the movement promotes. Reuters revealed that a Taliban delegation travelled from Qatar to Pakistan to meet with Pakistani representatives and Chinese diplomats and that it also went to Quetta to meet with Taliban leaders, although Taliban and Chinese government representatives officially denied that any such meeting had taken place. Moreover, the Afghan Human Rights Commission and many women's organisations demanded that the peace negotiations must not endanger the fragile progress won in recent years and said that the negotiations must be conducted with transparency and respect for human rights and the rights of women. (Tolonews, 25 and 27/02/15; Reuters, 12/03/15)
BURUNDI: The ruling party splits over a third presidential term alongside increased tension and political polarisation in the country
The atmosphere of political violence continued to rise in the country ahead of the legislative elections on 26 May and the presidential election in June. An increase in abuse and arbitrary arrest of political opponents, the banning of rallies and the destruction of political symbols were all reported, among other incidents, according to the country's National Independent Human Rights Commission. Even the Catholic Church spoke out against the possibility of reforming the Constitution to allow President Pierre Nkurunziza to run for a third term of office. This situation was joined by the attempted killing of the wife of opposition leader Agathon Rwasa as she left a beauty salon in a commune in the capital, Bujumbura. Furthermore, a former dissident leader of the ruling party (CNDD-FDD), Hussein Radjabu, who was gaoled in 2007 on charges of threatening state security that many analysts considered politically motivated, escaped from the prison where he was serving a 13-year sentence. He apparently received help from some guards and police officers at the penitentiary. There are still no clues as to Radjabu's whereabouts. (BBC, 16/03/15; Xinhua, 21/0315; Jeune Afrique, 25/03/15)
MALI: Northern insurgent groups reject the proposed peace agreement and the government refuses to participate in new negotiations
Negotiations ran aground between the government of Mali and different rebel groups in the north of the country. In early March, the government signed a preliminary peace agreement proposal created as part of an Algerian-led mediation process that also involved the United Nations, the African Union, Algeria, France, China and Russia. However, the insurgent organisations under the Coordination of Movements of Azawad (CMA), which consists of Tuareg and Arab groups that want greater autonomy for northern Mali, rejected the proposal, saying that it did not meet their expectations or address the causes of the conflict. This decision was preceded by demonstrations bringing together thousands of people in the northern city of Kidal to reject the proposal and emphasise their aspirations for autonomy. According to media reports, the Algiers accord proposes giving more power to the north, creating a regional security force and implementing a special development plan. The lack of consideration for a formula of autonomy or a federal scheme was what gave pause to the northern organisations, whose supporters include pro-independence groups. The CMA announced that it was still committed to the negotiations and expressed its willingness to participate in a new round of meetings. However, the government said that it would not take part in new talks with the rebels. Faced with this impasse in the negotiating process, representatives of mediating third parties moved to Kidal, a bastion of the insurgency, in an attempt to resume the process. In late March, the president of Mali travelled to Algeria for three days to address the deadlock. The negotiations have been affected in recent weeks by battles between armed rebel groups and government supporters. Acts of violence linked to jihadist militias also continued to be reported in Mali, including an attack on a disco in Bamako that killed five people and the deaths of two suicide bombers whose explosives were detonated early in Gao, as well as attacks on the UN peacekeeping force, including one that caused the death of a member of the mission and two children in Kidal. (Europa Press, 05, 07, 09, 10, 11, 16, 18/03/15; BBC, 08, 23/03/15; Reuters, 18/03/15; Jeune Afrique, 23/03/15; Le Monde, 17/03/15)
PHILIPPINES (MINDANAO): Paralysis continues in the peace process between the government and the MILF following the violent incident in January
Tension between the government and the MILF continued while legislative processing of the Bangsamoro Basic Law remained paralysed after the episode of violence reported in January that claimed the lives of 44 special police officers. The MILF said that it was still wrapping up its internal investigation into the events and announced that it would send the conclusions to the Malaysian facilitators through the International Monitoring Team, as established by the protocol agreed by both parties. According to the MILF, the government's current offensive against the BIFF in areas where the MILF also operates is hindering progress of the aforementioned investigation, since MILF combatants have had to relocate to areas designated by the government to facilitate the Philippine military operations. On various occasions, the MILF has said that the episode of violence was not an accidental exchange of fire, but an attack by state security forces and bodies against its fighters as part of an operation to try to arrest a renowned Malaysian explosives expert. A recent police report stated that President Aquino approved the operation himself. Even though both parties said that this episode could not be allowed to affect the peace process at the time, both the government and the MILF have admitted that it has eroded trust. Meanwhile, some in Parliament, where the Bangsamoro Basic Law is being processed, expressed their opposition to it and raised the tone of their criticism of the government. Some MPs even called for the resignation of the presidential advisor on the peace process, Teresita Quintos-Deles, and the head of the government's negotiating panel, Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, for taking excessively mild positions with respect to the MILF. (Inquirer, 05 y 13/03/15; Phil Star, 15/03/15; Rappler, 19/03/15)
SOMALIA: Turkish-backed peace talks between the Somali government and the Republic of Somaliland fail amidst ongoing violence in the south
Backed by the Turkish government and held in Istanbul, the peace talks between the federal Somali government and the self-proclaimed Republic of Somaliland ended in failure. Turkey has been facilitating talks between both sides since 2013. The breakdown in contact is linked to the presence of certain members of the Somali government delegation. In this respect, in mid-March the foreign minister of Somaliland said that they would not meet again with representatives of Somalia without international intermediaries present. The talks in February failed because the delegation of Somaliland refused to sit down at the negotiating table, unhappy that particular members of the Somaliland community were present. Moreover, the actions of the AU mission in the country (AMISOM), supported by the Somali Armed Forces in different parts of southern Somalia, killed dozens of people. In recent weeks, the AU's offensive has managed to regain control of the island of Kudha, which had been in al-Shabaab's hands since October. The island was a strategic and logistics enclave for the group, as well as a point of entry for smuggling. It was also used to launch attacks in southern Somalia. A US drone strike killed the leader of the armed group, Adan Garar, allegedly linked to the attack on a shopping centre in Kenya in 2013. (Garowe Online, 02, 18/03/15; The New York Times, 19/03/15; AFP, 23/03/15)
SOUTH SUDAN: The peace talks flounder again while the UN Security Council threatens sanctions
While the president of South Sudan, Salva Kiir, and the former vice president and leader of the group SPLM/A-in Opposition, Riek Machar, met in Ethiopia to negotiate a solution to the conflict, the UN Security Council announced that it had passed a resolution for imposing sanctions on South Sudan if the warring parties in the country are unable to come to an agreement. South Sudanese Foreign Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin rejected the UN resolution on the grounds that the threat and imposition of sanctions would only affect the peace process, causing more negative consequences that would only exacerbate the conflict. Talks aimed at resolving the conflict did not come to fruition and Ethiopia, as host of the peace talks, complained at once that the leaders of South Sudan had been unable to reach a peace agreement and accused them of prolonging the war. President Kiir repeated his commitment to continuing with negotiations, though he accused Riek Machar of erecting obstacles in the last round of talks. The Parliament of South Sudan recently approved extending the term of President Salva Kiir by three years as a result of the conflict, just like it previously postponed the legislative elections that were going to be held next June. (BBC, 03-06, 24/03/15, EFE, 18/03/15)
SUDAN (DARFUR): The International Criminal Court urges the UN Security Council to pressure the Sudanese government
The International Criminal Court (ICC) urged the UN Security Council to adopt the necessary measures given Sudan's failure to cooperate with an investigation into President Omar Hassan al-Bashir for crimes committed in the Darfur region. However, Sudan remains unbowed by the threats of the International Criminal Court and continues to repeat that its rulings are not binding on the Sudanese government. Moreover, various armed groups in the country began an offensive to sabotage the elections. The SPLM-N rebels issued a statement explicitly warning of its intention to force the government to cancel the elections through military pressure. The president of Sudan urged the rebels to join the peace process during a rally in Niyala, the capital of South Darfur State, and threatened to wipe out the rebel organisations if they reject dialogue. He also asked rival tribes in the area to disarm and end the recent disputes that have broken out between themselves in order to restore security in the region. (Reuters, 09, 12 and 14/03/15; EFE, 22/03/15)
THAILAND: The Supreme Court admits a complaint against the former prime minister that could lead to a 10-year prison sentence
The Supreme Court declared that it has jurisdiction to investigate and possibly prosecute criminal charges filed by the prosecution against former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, for which she could be sentenced to 10 years in prison. Shinawatra, the sister of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, currently in exile, is accused of negligence in relation to government subsidies for rice farmers, as she allegedly paid nearly twice the market price for the rice harvests. The first oral statements are scheduled for 19 May. Yingluck Shinawatra has maintained her innocence in the matter; while some say that she could flee the country, she has asserted that she will remain in Thailand to face the charges brought against her. Some analysts believe that the former prime minister's trial could increase discontent among broad sectors of the population against the current military junta that took power after orchestrating a coup against Yingluck Shinawatra in May 2014. Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch released a statement denouncing the detention of hundreds of suspected opponents of the current government and urged the military junta to put an end to the practice. (Voice of America, 19/03/15; Reuters, 13/03/15)
TURKEY (SOUTHEAST): The leader of the PKK calls for an end to four decades of armed struggle against the state while the Turkish president urges the group to lay down its weapons
Two years after the appeal to a ceasefire that has accompanied the process of dialogue since it began in 2013, the supreme leader of the PKK, Abdullah Öcalan, called for a definitive end to four decades of armed struggle against the Turkish government. In his message, transmitted by the Kurdish movement as part of the celebration of Newroz (the Kurdish new year), the Kurdish leader stressed the need to hold an extraordinary congress in order to stop the armed struggle against the state and determine the right political and social strategies for a new period. According to Öcalan, who had already raised the idea of a congress to the leadership of the PKK in late February, this event should mark the advent of a new era. Later, the co-founder of the PKK, Cemil Bayik, said that Öcalan's words were nothing new when taking into account that the group had taken unilateral steps to move towards the end of armed struggle since 1993. In an interview with al-Jazeera, Bayik added that renouncing the use of weapons and solving the problem through violence were two separate issues. Two days after Öcalan's message, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan demanded the adoption of concrete measures and said that the government could not make any moves as part of the peace process with the PKK unless the organisation renounced the use of weapons. Previously, Erdogan had blocked a Turkish government initiative aimed at forming an oversight committee for the peace process with the PKK. According to earlier reports, this committee was going to be composed of between five and six people in charge of implementing agreements related to the Kurdish issue. Erdogan's decision not to approve this committee generated disagreements within the ruling party and even some unusual criticism of the president. Near the end of the month, media reports highlighted the launch of a military operation against PKK positions in the district of Mazzidagi and the declarations of the chief of the Turkish Armed Forces, General Necdet Özel, who accused the PKK of seeking legitimacy from the international community through its fight against ISIS. These events overshadowed some positive signs about the progress of the peace process in previous weeks, including the joint public appearance of political representatives of the Kurdish movement (HDP lawmakers Sirri Sürreyya Önder and Pervin Buldan) and the government (Deputy Prime Minister Yalcin Akdogan and Minister of the Interior Efkan Ala) on 28 February. During this appearance, Önder also listed 10 items that Öcalan considers central, which various analysts interpreted as issues that must be addressed in the negotiations. These include aspects related to democratic politics, legal guarantees of citizenship, the socio-economic dimension, relations between democracy and security, legal solutions for problems that affect women, culture and ecology, identity-based subjects and the democratic Constitution, among others. Various analysts have underscored the difficulties facing the process due to the electoral context, with a parliamentary election of great importance planned for June. (AFP, Hürriyet Daily News, Firat, 28/02/15- 25/03/15; Middle East Eye, 25/03/15; The Independent, 22/03/15)
UKRAINE: The death toll of the war now exceeds 6,000, while the parties to the conflict withdraw heavy weapons
The war in eastern Ukraine killed 5,809 people, wounded 14,740 and internally displaced around one million between April 2014 and mid-February 2015, according to the latest UN report. The report estimates that by early March the figure would rise to 6,000 dead, due to the impact of the rebel military siege of the Donetsk Airport and the city of Debaltsevo, and warns of the war's devastation on lives and infrastructure and of specific impacts on the elderly and minorities, among other issues. The report also refers to the flow of heavy weapons and foreign combatants during the period observed (from early December to mid-February), including troops from the Russian Federation, to areas in the province Donetsk and Luhansk under rebel control. In any case, as part of the ceasefire included in the Minsk II Accords of 12 February, violence dropped notably during March and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said that a process of de-escalation was under way. He also said that Ukraine had withdrawn most of its heavy artillery systems and missiles and that rebel groups had sent back a significant proportion of their heavy weapons. Nevertheless, various ceasefire violations took place during the month in several places, including near the Donetsk Airport, the city of Shyrokyne (close to Mariupol) and the village of Peski. According to Poroshenko, between 15 February, when the ceasefire entered into force, and early March, 64 Ukrainian soldiers had been killed. In this context, Poroshenko announced that a draft law would be submitted to concede a special status on areas under rebel control as part of the Minsk II Accords. The text must be debated and approved by the Ukrainian Parliament. Meanwhile, the OSCE announced that the mandate of its special mission in Ukraine was extended until March 2016 and the 500 civilian observers at present were increased to around 1,000. The OSCE expressed its concern about the announcement that Russia had completely suspended its participation in the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe after first beginning to withdraw in 2007. Thus, in late March the EU decided not to lift sanctions against Russia until the end of the year, saying that doing so depended on full implementation of the ceasefire in Ukraine. In March, Russia celebrated the first anniversary of the annexation of Crimea. In an interview, Russian President Vladimir Putin revealed that he was ready to put Russian nuclear weapons on alert to ensure the annexation of Crimea. (Reuters, El País, The New York Times, Jamestown Foundation, RFE/RL, 1-15/03/15; BBC, 20/03/15; The Guardian, 16, 18/03/15)
CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC: The Community of Sant’Egidio gets involved in resolving the armed conflict
Around a dozen politicians, including four former prime ministers of the country and future candidates in the presidential election, met in Rome on 27 February at the invitation of the Community of Sant’Egidio. This meeting was apparently part of the official initiative called the Bangui Forum on Reconciliation. Postponed until late March or early April, the forum initiative is being led by the transition government. The meeting in Rome coincided with an official visit to Italy by the official mediator of the conflict in the Central African Republic, Congolese President Denis Sassou-Nguesso. This was considered a coincidence, but also a new attempt by the Congolese president to outsource his mediation efforts, since some analysts and journalists say that Sassou-Nguesso is worn down by the Central African crisis, especially since the appointment of Mahamat Kamoun, the renewed influence of the president of Chad in the conflict and the failed meeting in Nairobi. The result of an initiative not unanimously supported in the Central African Republic, the Rome Appeal has aimed to bring together some of the personalities that will participate in the Bangui Forum, although the choice of this mediating organisation and of the city of Rome may not please the Muslim community and Séléka, according to analysts. The document calls on the parties to avoid the use to force to attain the presidency of the country, to participate in the election scheduled for June, to ensure that it is free and transparent and to respect the results and to support the current national authority to facilitate the process. Finally, the atmosphere of violence persisted, with attacks on places in the western part of the country, where 11 people died, and the kidnapping of 16 people coming from a funeral near the border with Cameroon. Moreover, the serious humanitarian crisis is made worse by the collapse of the health system due to the lack of staff and the looting of hospitals. Finally, in the weeks to come France is expected to reduce the size of its contingent in the country and plans to maintain only 1,500 soldiers in the Central African Republic in May. This reduction will be offset by the rise of the military contingent of the UN mission in the country (MINUSCA), which will reach 10,000 soldiers. (Jeune Afrique, 03, 06 and 19/03/15)
CHINA (TIBET): The government mentions a possible resumption of dialogue with the Dalai Lama for the first time in recent years
A senior government official in charge of ethnic and religious affairs declared that Beijing is open to discussing some important matters with the Dalai Lama as long as they are unrelated to independence or requests for greater autonomy for Tibet. This is the first time since the talks broke down in 2010 that the government has mentioned a potential resumption of dialogue. The same Chinese government official urged the Dalai Lama to abandon his so-called "Middle Way" strategy, which consists of explicitly renouncing the independence of Tibet while guaranteeing greater powers over issues important for the survival and promotion of Tibetan identity in regions traditionally inhabited by the Tibetan community and beyond the current Tibet Autonomous Region. Likewise, the government urged the Dalai Lama not to continue instigating violent outbursts and self-immolations on Chinese soil. Furthermore, Beijing criticised statements by the Dalai Lama that he did not wish to have a successor and that the Buddhist tradition of reincarnation should come to an end, considering them a double betrayal of his homeland and his faith. Thus, the Chinese government declared that it must be the one to ratify and approve the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama. Recently, some analysts have pointed out that the Chinese government wants to control the reincarnation process for political ends. (The Economic Times, 11/03/15; The New York Times, 09/03/15)
INDIA – PAKISTAN: Foreign policy representatives of both countries meet
The foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan met in Islamabad in the first encounter of its kind since India cancelled the negotiating process in 2014. Both sides described the meeting as positive and Pakistani diplomat Aizaz Chaudhry said that all matters of interest to both parties were discussed, including ceasefire violations along the Line of Control (the de facto border between both countries) and other subjects like investigations into the attack on the Samjhota Express in 2007 and India's alleged interference in the armed conflict in the Pakistani province of Balochistan. Indian Foreign Secretary Subrahmanyam Jaishankar also met with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, with an agenda focused on the organisation SAARC, of which both countries are members, and bilateral relations between them.
MYANMAR: Government and ethnic insurgencies reach an agreement for the nationwide ceasefire
The government and armed opposition groups that make up the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) held the seventh round of negotiations and state they have reached a nationwide ceasefire agreement. The agreement will have to be ratified by the different groups before its signature and it has to be determined which armed organisations will sign it, since five of the 16 organisations that currently make up the NCCT are not recognised by the government as political organisations and have no bilateral ceasefire agreements with the government. Moreover, it was established during the negotiations that some of the thorniest issues, like the formation of a federal Army and the creation of a code of conduct, will not be addressed until the ceasefire agreement is signed and a political negotiating process has begun. The meeting was preceded by significant clashes between the Armed Forces and different insurgent groups like the Kokang group MNDAA, the Ta’ang group TNLA and the Kachin group KIA. In fact, the KIA held a bilateral meeting with the government days before the round of negotiations. At least 24 people died in the clashes, most of them Burmese soldiers killed in fighting between the Army and the MNDAA, which forcibly displaced hundreds of people in Shan State. In addition, there were clashes with the armed opposition group SSA-S. Finally, the Wa armed group UWSA cancelled its participation in negotiations over the nationwide ceasefire agreement after being accused of supporting the Kokang insurgency. (The Irrawaddy, 2, 3, 10, 17, 18-20, 23, 30/03/15)
SRI LANKA: The government launches a new war crimes investigation without fully ruling out foreign support
The recently elected president of Sri Lanka, Maithripala Sirisena, announced the establishment of a commission to investigate war crimes committed during the armed conflict pitting the Armed Forces against the armed opposition group LTTE, which ended in 2009, saying that although it will be a national commission with no international intervention, foreign contributions and recommendations by the United Nations will be taken into account. The former government, led by Mahinda Rajapakse, also president of Sri Lanka during the final stage of the armed conflict, always ruled out any foreign collaboration or interference in investigations into the armed conflict. Sirisena said that the commission is expected to begin its work in April. Several United Nations representatives, including the United Nations under-secretary-general for political affairs, Jeffrey Feltman, urged the government to conclusively address issues such as disappearances, detentions, military presences in civilian areas and land-related matters. Meanwhile, demonstrations were staged in Tamil-majority areas to protest the national and not international nature of the investigation into human rights violations. (BBC, 12/03/15; AFP 02/03/15; The Hindu, 23/03/15)
THAILAND (SOUTH): The government announces preparations to resume peace talks in the south
A spokesman for the prime minister said that the government is making all the preparations necessary to resume peace talks with various insurgent organisations operating in southern Thailand. A few days later, the head of the government’s negotiating team, General Aksara Kerpol, travelled to the southern part of the country and said that his negotiating team has already submitted the names of the insurgent organisation’s negotiating panel to the Malaysian government, which is acting as a mediator, so they can be verified. Aksara Kerpol also met with religious leaders of the region to address some matters related to reconciliation and to urge them to convince members of the armed groups to lay down their weapons. Aksara Kerpol said that it was not necessary to wait for the peace talks to resume before launching initiatives of this kind. Meanwhile, the authorities of some southern provinces redoubled their security measures to commemorate the 55th anniversary of the foundation of the Barisan Revolusi Nasional, one of the historical insurgent organisations of southern Thailand. (Bangkok Post, 14/03/15; Thai Visa News, 10/03/15)
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