BURKINA FASO: Jihadist groups launch a coordinated attack on the capital, Ouagadougou
The capital of Burkina Faso, which had thus far remained unaffected by terrorist violence, was hit by a coordinated attack launched by groups operating in the Sahel region on 15 January. Between four and seven armed Islamists attacked the centrally located Splendid Hotel and an adjacent café in the heart of Ouagadougou. Following the attack on the café, which Interior Minister Simon Compaoré claimed caused the deaths of ten people, the assailants entered the Hotel Splendid, taking dozens of people hostage. After laying siege to the hotel throughout the night, the Burkinabe Armed Forces and French special forces managed to take control of the situation on the morning of 16 January. Shortly thereafter, there was another attack on the nearby Hotel Yibi by members of the cell who had managed to escape the siege. The military operation ended 15 hours after the first jihadist attack began. At least 28 people had been killed, including foreigners, around 50 people had been wounded and 126 people who had been taken hostage were freed. Responsibility for the attack was claimed by the jihadist group al-Mourabitoun through a statement issued by AQIM. Later, on the morning of 16 January, an Australian couple was kidnapped in the northern city of Djibo, near the border with Mali. In another statement, the abduction was claimed to be the work of the Malian group Ansar Dine, linked to AQIM. The statement said that the hostages were still alive and it was pointed out that the Saharan branch of AQIM, the “Sahara Emirate”, was responsible for the kidnapping and the attack in Ouagadougou. (RFI Afrique, 16/01/2016; BBC, 16/01/2016; Bamako.com, 17/01/2016; Daily Maverick, 18/01/16)
ETHIOPIA: Human Rights Watch puts the death toll resulting from the crackdown on demonstrations at 140
The international human rights advocacy organisation Human Rights Watch reported that in two months, at least 140 people had been killed and scores had been injured as part of the violent crackdown on student protests by the security forces in the Oromiya region. The organisation had announced an initial death toll of 75 in December. The government of Ethiopia rejected these figures, claiming that officially only five people had died. The arrest on 23 December of Bekele Gerba, the vice president of the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC), the main legal and registered party in the region of Oromiya, has heightened social mobilisation and the risk of the crisis escalating, since the demonstrations has generally been peaceful thus far. According to HRW researcher Felix Home, this could be the worst crisis that the country has suffered since the escalation of violence following the elections in 2005. (Jeune Afrique, 08/01/16)
HAITI: Popular demonstrations force the government to postpone the second round of the presidential election
Originally scheduled for 24 January after having had to be changed twice, the runoff presidential election has been postponed once again due to the robust popular mobilisation unleashed throughout the country in January. Pierre-Louis Opont, the president of the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP), announced that the election was cancelled two days before it was supposed to be held due to the deteriorating security situation. However, protests remained active, calling for the resignation of President Michel Martelly. On 20 January, the Haitians security forces had announced the security plan with MINUSTAH to ensure the conditions to hold the election, which included the deployment of 7,357 police officers and 2,464 MINUSTAH troops. The political opposition has called for the annulment of the entire electoral process because it views the first round of the election held on 25 October as massively fraudulent. Since then, different episodes have led to the cancellation of the election, such as the resignation of the opposition candidate, the burning of some polling stations, large public demonstrations, the resignation of four of the nine members of the CEP, the Senate resolution seeking to postpone the elections and more. Meeting in Quito to hold its fourth summit, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) agreed to the Haitian government’s request to send a commission to assess the crisis on the ground. This commission would be composed of the foreign ministers of Uruguay, the Bahamas, Venezuela and Ecuador. (Haití Libre, 13, 20, 22/01/2016; TeleSUR/KP, 22, 28/01/16)
INDIA-PAKISTAN: A terrorist attack in Pathankot cools the rapprochement
Violence once again slowed the rapprochement between both countries. Both had agreed to resume the dialogue following the visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Pakistan on Christmas Day to wish Nawaz Sharif a happy birthday. On 2 January, six men attacked the Pathankot airbase in India. The attack lasted 80 hours, during which the Indian Army launched an operation that led to the deaths of all six assailants and seven Indian soldiers, while 22 people were wounded. A coalition of insurgent groups operating in Kashmir called the United Jihad Council claimed responsibility for the attack, but various members of the Indian government blamed Pakistan because they think it helps the insurgents. Nawaz Sharif called Modi to ensure that his government would strive to clarify who was responsible for the events and cooperate. Meanwhile, the Indian government said that a meeting between their secretaries of state that was supposed to take place on 15 January now depended on whether Pakistan acted against the groups it considers behind the attack, specifically Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM). These events coincided with an attack on the Indian consulate in Mazar-i-Sharif in Afghanistan. There have been several attacks on Indian consulates in the country, with suspicion often falling on Pakistan. In the past, India has accused Pakistan of backing rebel groups in the attacks on its embassy in Kabul in 2008 and 2009, as well as on its consulates in Herat (August 2013) and Jalalabad (May 2014). The national security advisors of India (Ajit Doval) and Pakistan (Naseer Khan Janjua) spoke on several occasions, during which Janjua said that Pakistan would only arrest the suspects if the evidence were credible. Despite the arrest of over a dozen members of JeM, possibly including its leader, Masood Azhar, his brother and his brother-in-law (although many media outlets contradict it), India cancelled the meeting between the secretaries of state. The spokesman of Indian foreign affairs, Vikas Swarup, declared that India gladly welcomed the steps taken by Pakistan. On behalf of the United States, John Kerry encouraged both parties to understand each other now more than ever, and to not let terrorism slow the rapprochement and dialogue that they had agreed before the attack. (Dawn, 01/01/16; The Express Tribune, 05/01/2016)
NEPAL: Three people are shot dead by the police in protests against the Constitution
Three people were shot dead by the police as they participated in a protest organised by Madhesi groups to demand changes to the Constitution in the city of Rangeli in the Morang district. The protest had been staged to prevent another demonstration called by the youth wing of the ruling party (CPN-UML) in defence of the Constitution. Eight other protestors and 13 police officers were injured in the unrest. The tension in the area rose considerably after these deaths and the deployment of security forces was expanded. Days before, another demonstrator had died in the district of Rautahat after being wounded by police gunfire in October. The United Democratic Madhesi Front announced a 10-day protest campaign in January, confirming their rejection of the amendments introduced in the Constitution to meet the demands of the Madhesi people, which they view as insufficient. (The New York Times, 21/01/16; DNA India, 3, 9/01/16; Kathmandu Post, 23/01/16)
NORTH KOREA: Tension increases on the Korean Peninsula after North Korea declares that it has detonated a miniaturised hydrogen bomb
Tension on the Korean Peninsula rose substantially after the North Korean government declared that it had detonated a miniaturised hydrogen bomb on 6 January. Such technology would indicate important qualitative progress in North Korea’s nuclear programme. Although many scientists and some governments have questioned whether it was really a hydrogen bomb, the nuclear test, the fourth in the history of North Korea and the second under the rule of Kim Jong-un, raised alarms in the region and prompted universal condemnation from the international community. The test is a clear violation of United Nations resolutions on nuclear proliferation and of a declaration approved in 2005 as part of the multilateral talks on the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula in which Pyongyang pledged to abandon its nuclear programme and rejoin the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The responses and reactions to the nuclear test included the beginning of a debate in the UN Security Council about a resolution condemning it (backed by China and Russia) and about the imposition of new sanctions on Pyongyang, pressure from the South Korean president on China to use its influence over the North Korean government in favour of regional stability and high-level meetings between South Korea, Japan and the United States to discuss effective mechanisms to face threats stemming from the North Korean nuclear arsenal and the actions that the United Nations may carry out. In mid-January, Pyongyang offered to end its nuclear tests in exchange for the signing of a peace treaty with the United States and the interruption of joint military exercises between South Korea and the United States. (CNN, BBC, El País, 06/01/16; Telegraph, 16/01/16; Yonhap, 15/01/16)
PAKISTAN: Several attacks hit the country and Taliban militias threaten to carry out more attacks on schools
Two members of the security forces died near Gwadar when a landmine exploded under their passing vehicle. In Quetta, an explosion near a vaccination centre killed 16 people (13 of them police officers guarding vaccination teams) and wounded around 20. The TTP claimed responsibility for the attack, which happened on the third day of the vaccination campaign against polio in Balochistan. The Taliban believe that vaccination campaigns are government plots to spy on and sterilise Muslims. Various published news items warned of the presence of ISIS in Pakistan. In one of them, the police arrested a man in Karachi who was recruiting young people to fight in Syria, as well as at least 42 other supporters in different raids in Punjab. The state television station, ARY News, was attacked with grenades and gunfire in Islamabad by the local branch of ISIS known as Islamic State’s Khorasan Province (a historical term applied to the region referring to Afghanistan and Pakistan). On 15 January, the United States declared this group a terrorist organisation. In the Khyber Agency, a terrorist killed 11 people and wounded over 30 in a suicide attack on a checkpoint. The most serious attack took place in Charsadda (Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa) when four Taliban from the TTP attacked Bacha Khan University on the day of the commemoration of his death. The assailants killed 21 personas and the security forces managed to kill them in turn. The attack was claimed by commander Umar Mansoor, who leads the TTP’s Geedar group, though shortly thereafter TTP spokesman Mohammad Khorasani denied that Maulana Fazlullah had planned the attack. However, a video made public a few days later showed Mansoor together with other Taliban threatening the country with more attacks on schools. Days later, an explosion at a market in Peshawar wounded four people when the vehicle of Afghan madrassa director Qari Salauddin passed by. (Dawn, 9-21/01/16; The New York Times, 13/01/16; The Express Tribune, 22, 25/01/16)
SOMALIA: Kenyan AMISOM troops suffer the worst attack since 2011
A Kenyan military base falling under the AU mission in Somalia, AMISOM, suffered one of the worst attacks by the Islamist group al-Shabaab since the start of Kenya’s military offensive in the country. On 15 January, al-Shabaab sent a suicide car bomb into the base, opening a breach with the explosion that allowed an undetermined number of combatants to penetrate the building and carry out a massacre. Official sources in Kenya had still not released the number of casualties, although the first four bodies had been repatriated. The El-Adde military base is 80 kilometres from the Kenyan border in the southern Somali region of Gedo and housed a force similar to a company in size, consisting of 180 soldiers. A Kenyan military brigade of paratroopers travelled to the zone to rescue the Kenyan soldiers who had been wounded or fled in the course of the attack and were allegedly hiding in the vicinity of the base or had been captured and were being transferred to shelters of al-Shabaab. The armed group declared that between 100 and 121 Kenyan soldiers had died in the attack, according to different jihadist media sources, and that dozens more were wounded to varying degrees. Survivors and the wounded are being repatriated to Nairobi in small groups. On 18 January, a contingent of 16 soldiers from Kenya who were wounded during the attack were repatriated after being found near the base two days later. Somali jihadist media like Radio Andalus announced the capture of a dozen soldiers and released recordings of their voices. Days after the attack, a Kenyan military spokesperson announced that Kenya will continue to support the AU mission in the country and has no intention to withdraw its AMISOM troops. However, a Kenyan AMISOM attachment alongside forces of the region of Jubaland withdrew from the strategic district of Badhadhe, in the southern region of Lower Juba. Various al-Shabaab militias later retook control of the district, generating speculation about a strategic reorganisation of the Kenyan troops in the country or even a possible reduction in the mission. Located 180 kilometres south of the port city of Kismayo, Badhadhe had been a military base for Kenyan troops for the last three years. The Kenyan Armed Forces first began their operations in Somalia and part of Operation Linda Nchi in 2011 and later joined the AU mission. Several analysts have stressed the weak antiterrorist policy, the lack of strong coordination between the troops of the mission and other countries and the group’s continuing influence and presence despite the heavy offensive being waged against it. (Jeune Afrique, 15(01/16; Garowe, 15-20/01/16; RFI, 18 y 19/01/16; Bloomberg, 26/01/16)
TURKEY (SOUTHEAST): The government rules out any option of dialogue with the PKK and Kurdish militias call for an uprising in more cities while the urban war continues with a serious impact on the Kurdish civilian population
The security situation in the Kurdish region of Turkey continued to worsen and possibilities dimmed for a political solution in the short term. The Turkish Army maintained its military and police operations with attacks and curfews in various urban districts. Especially serious in this regard were the districts of Sur (Diyarbakir), Silopi and Cizre (Hakkari). Several thousand people fled Sur in late January after the curfew was extended. Many local and international organisations denounced the serious impact on civilians. Among them, Amnesty International complained that the curfews resembled “collective punishment”, with disproportionate restrictions that left the population without access to medical attention, food, water and electricity for long periods of time. The Human Rights Foundation of Turkey counted 162 civilian casualties (including 32 children and 24 people older than 60) between mid-August and the end of the year in 58 operations in 19 neighbourhoods of seven cities. The Turkish opposition party CHP also denounced the serious impact on civilians. The PKK claimed responsibility for military actions that also had an impact on civilians, including a car bomb against a police building in Diyarbakir, killing five civilians, including three minors, as well as other actions against the Turkish Army and police. In late January, the Turkish Army claimed that 711 PKK members had been killed since early December. Meanwhile, the PKK claimed that it did not have units in the cities, that the casualties were civilians and that the Turkish Army had exaggerated the numbers and covered up its own fatalities. At the same time, a body to coordinate the armed militias created in the Kurdish cities, YPS General Coordination, was created for the purpose of establishing a professional defence force, expanding the “resistance” to other areas of the Kurdish region of Turkey and blocking the passage of the security forces. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said that they had managed to isolate the PKK and avoid an uprising across the region. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that there would be no more dialogue with the PKK or its leader, Öcalan, and denied that Turkey had a Kurdish issue, but was only facing terrorism. The government announced that it would soon present an antiterrorism plan in three stages (ending terrorism, in reference to the PKK, solving social and economic aspects stemming from antiterrorism operations and ensuring national unity and integrity). Alongside these events, many mayors and councillors were arrested and more than 100 municipal councils of the pro-Kurdish party HDP were being investigated. Repression and criticism of pro-dialogue groups also rose, including against academics. Meanwhile, the HDP called for the peace process to resume. Moreover, a suicide bombing attributed to ISIS in a tourist area of Istanbul on 12 January caused the deaths of 11 people, all foreigners and mostly German tourists, while also wounding around 15. (Hürriyet, Firat, Today’s Zaman, BBC, AFP, 1-28/01/15)
BURUNDI: President Nkurunziza remains unbending before the UN Security Council to contain the serious situation affecting the country
Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza remained adamant during a trip made by the 15 ambassadors of the UN Security Council to the country on 22 January to try to find a negotiated solution to the serious crisis there. The UN Security Council mission also met with Foreign Minister Alain Nyamitwe and Vice President Gaston Sindimwo, in addition to civil society representatives, although the main political and social opposition figures are in exile. Various demonstrations were staged before the arrival of the UN mission and police action led to the death of one civilian and the injuring of another. US representative Samantha Power said that the discussions have not been productive regarding the acceptance of foreign aid to carry out urgent mediation efforts to solve the crisis. Nkurunziza has rejected calls to conduct an inclusive dialogue, accept mediation efforts or allow the establishment of an international intervention force. The French deputy representative to the UN, Alexis Lamek, has stated that international mediation must accompany the dialogue for it to be successful. Moreover, Angolan Ambassador Ismail Gaspar Martins said that there is hope to deploy more observers from the AU. In mid-December, the AU Peace and Security Council decided to send the African Prevention and Protection Mission in Burundi (MAPROBU), consisting of 5,000 soldiers, but Nkurunziza warned that it would be considered an invasion and occupation force and would be fought as such. After the trip, the UN mission travelled to Ethiopia to meet with AU officials and advocated a multi-stage solution, while the Egyptian ambassador said that a UN resolution backing the AU mission would be premature. The AU summit will be held in 30 and 31 January in Addis Ababa. However, even though the government continues to assert that peace reigns in the country, the day before the UN mission’s visit, the group Forces Républicaines du Burundi (FOREBU) claimed responsibility for a string of attacks against the police in Bujumbura. According to a police spokesperson, three people have been killed (two militia members and one civilian) and 13 people have been injured. Since April 2015, the current cycle of violence has caused over 400 fatalities and created 230,000 refugees, according to the UN. Meetings between the parties were facilitated by Uganda in July before the elections and in early January the parties resumed contact under Ugandan mediation, although the discussions were not resumed. According to Nyamitwe, there will probably be a new meeting with the anti-troisième mandat coalition shortly, but the government has demanded talks with the opposition under Ugandan mediation, although Bujumbura refuses to talk with the main opposition coalition in exile, CNARED, whose members are accused of involvement in the attempted coup d’état on 13 and 14 May 2015. (AFP, 23/01/16; Jeune Afrique, 22, 24, 25, 27/01/16)
MOLDOVA: Parliament approves a new government in extremis amidst a political and social crisis, protests by pro-EU and pro-Russian groups and criticism of corruption
Nine days before the deadline for approving a new government and amidst a political and social crisis marked by numerous protests, on 20 January the Moldovan Parliament approved a new government dominated by the Democratic Party of financial business magnate Vladimir Plahotniuc. His ally Pavel Filip was appointed prime minister after other candidates failed to get support. The selection of the new government comes after various months of a power vacuum that started in October when Parliament approved a motion of censure against the coalition government of Prime Minister Valeriu Strelet, led by the pro-EU Liberal Democratic Party, but also consisting of the Democratic Party and the Liberal Party. The resignation of the government came in a context of serious corruption scandals, political disaffection, the rise of pro-Russian parties and the most social movements since the country’s independence. In order to roll out the new government in January, the Democratic Party gained support from MPs from other groups, including figures antagonistic to each other. There was speculation about a possible victory for the pro-Russian camp (Socialist Party and Our Party) in the event of early elections. The steps taken by the Democratic Party to assemble a new government were criticised in demonstrations throughout the month, some of them led by the civic platform Dignity and Truth (described in some sources as pro-EU) and other organisations by pro-Russian parties. Some incidents of violence also took place. Shortly after Filip’s inauguration, thousands of people protested before Parliament and some of them tried to enter the building, leading to clashes between demonstrators and the police that wounded 15 people, nine of them agents. In addition, between 15,000 and 20,000 people (40,000 according to one media outlet) protested on 24 January, calling for the resignation of the new government. The people’s rejection of extensive political corruption and misgivings about Plahotniuc were widely reported. The protest organisers threatened to begin a civil disobedience campaign if the government did not present a timetable for new elections by the end of the month. In the meantime, pro-Russian parties denied that they were promoting a coup or regime change. (The New York Times, BBC, Jamestown Foundation, RFE/RL, 1-27/01/16)
MYANMAR: The process of political dialogue with the insurgency begins, but armed clashes persist
The government began its political dialogue process with the armed opposition groups that signed the ceasefire agreement, although armed clashes persisted in different parts of the country and sceptical voices multiplied regarding the real chances that the accord could help to achieve peace in Myanmar. Several of the main armed groups active in the country have been excluded from the agreement and some armed groups announced that they would boycott the talks. A five-day peace conference was held in Naypidaw where the parties agreed to establish a time frame for the process, which should be completed within three to five years, and to call for a new peace conference as soon as possible, which will enjoy 30% female participation. However, it was also agreed that these proposals would be transferred to the new government to be formed as a result of the NLD’s victory at the polls. The new government must validate these agreements. However, in January different armed clashes were reported between the insurgency and the security forces, as well as between armed groups. In Arakan State, hundreds of people were displaced as a result of fighting between the security forces and the Arakan Army, which the Burmese Army wants to expel from the state. An unknown number of casualties resulted from this fighting, including a Burmese Army commander. Moreover, in Shan State clashes were reported between the armed groups SSA-S and TNLA after the latter accused the former of entering their territory. (The Irrawaddy, 5, 8, 11,18, 20/01/16)
SYRIA: Talks to find a solution to the Syrian armed conflict begin in Geneva amidst an atmosphere of uncertainty and scepticism
After days of uncertainty and amidst some confusion, the dialogue process seeking a political solution to the war in Syria began in Geneva at the last weekend in January, several days after the date initially planned, 25 January. The UN special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, extended invitations reserved for the different parties involved in the conflict amidst speculation about vetoes, threats of boycott and pressure to include or exclude some actors. De Mistura held the first meeting with the Syrian government delegation on Friday, 29 January. The participation of the Syrian dissident delegation backed by Saudi Arabia, the High Negotiations Committee, was in doubt until the last minute because it demanded the end of government bombing against civilians and guarantees about the humanitarian situation as conditions. The delegation arrived to Geneva on Saturday, 30 January, after coming under intense diplomatic pressure, according to reports. The leader of the Syrian Kurdish party PYD (a branch of the PKK, vetoed by Turkey), Salih Muslim, left Geneva without having received an invitation to participate in the dialogue. It is planned that at this stage at least, the contacts will materialise in indirect talks, since the different delegations are expected to meet separately with UN diplomats who will act as messengers between the representative of either side. The talks are expected to last for six months (from two to three weeks in the first stage) and to give priority to a ceasefire declaration and the delivery of humanitarian aid to a population hit hard by the hostilities. The long-term objective is to set up a transitional government, draft a new Constitution and hold elections within 18 months. (The Guardian, 29/01/16; El País, 31/01/16, 01/01/16)
THAILAND: The military junta declares that elections will be held in mid-2017 even if the new Constitution is rejected by referendum
Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha declared that general elections will be held in July 2017, over three years after the coup d’état in May 2014. According to the planned road map, in late January an initial draft of the new Constitution must be presented, after the National Reform Council rejected the draft presented by a body designated by the junta last September. This rejection led to much criticism from groups that think that the military junta had orchestrated the movement to remain in power and slow down the democratic normalisation of the country. It is estimated that the results of the referendum that should ratify the new Constitution should be revealed by August at the latest. From then until mid-2017, all the necessary legislative changes to hold the general elections would be carried out (in accordance with the new Constitution). Prayuth Chan-ocha announced that elections would be held in mid-2017 even if the proposed Constitution were rejected in the referendum, though he avoided comment on the government’s plans for such a scenario and generated speculation about the possibility of extending or amending the current interim Constitution that came into force after the coup d’état in 2014. Some in the opposition have said that the current draft Constitution is even more anti-democratic than the one rejected in September. (Bangkok Post, 03, 12 and 26/01/16)
THAILAND (SOUTH): The insurgent groups operating in the south of the country are opposed to letting the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation facilitate peace talks with the government
A spokesperson for Mara Patani, an organisation representing six insurgent groups in the southern part of the country, has rejected the possibility of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) facilitating the dialogue between the Thai government and Mara Patani on the grounds that Malaysia is already performing facilitation work effectively and because it would not be good for the current peace talks if there were two third-parties acting as facilitators. Mara Patani also remarked on the importance of the OIC’s support for the current peace talks, which according to the group are at an informal and exploratory stage and indicated that the participation of the OIC or any other third party could only be considered with the authorisation of the Thai government and once the peace negotiations have entered a formal and official stage. These statements were made shortly after OIC Secretary General Iyad Ameen Madani made an official visit to Malaysia and Thailand and declared his organisation’s willingness to participate in the peace process. Madani met with the leaders of Mara Patani in Kuala Lumpur, although according to the organisation they did not address the issue of a possible role for the OIC in the peace talks. During these official visits, Madani thanked Bangkok for the efforts that it was exerting to manage the conflict in the southern part of the country and urged it to guarantee greater recognition of the Muslim community in Thailand. (Bernama, 17/07/16; Channel News Asia, 14/01/16; Bangkok Post, 13/01/16)
TUNISIA: The president’s party suffers a split and loses its parliamentary majority, while a wave of social protests prompts the imposition of a curfew throughout the country
Tunisia is facing a scenario of political and social unrest linked to a crisis in the party of President Beji Caid Essebsi and to an intensification of social protests across the country that reached levels not seen since the revolt against the Ben Ali regime in late 2010. The split within Nidaa Tounes centred on the departure of around 20 MPs from the party, leaving it with only 60 of the 86 lawmakers who had won the elections. With 69 MPs, Ennahda thereby became the largest group in the Tunisian Parliament. However, the Islamist party maintained its support for the coalition government of which it forms part. The crisis in Nidaa Tounes was due to the struggle between a group led by the president’s son, Hafedh Caid Essebsi, and another group headed by Mohsen Marzouki. Marzouki’s faction, which announced that it would form a new party, accused Hafedh Caid Essebsi of trying to control Nidaa Tounes and of attempting a hereditary transfer of power (the president is 88 years old). Hafedh Caid Essebsi’s circle denied involvement in any “dynastic drift”. In this context, towards the end of the year there were mass protests against the social and economic conditions in the country, which expanded from Kasserine governorate to other regions and cities, like Sfax, Sousse and the capital. In line with the events that occurred in 2010, the demonstrations were triggered after the death of an unemployed youth: frustrated by the lack of work, Ridha Yahyaoui decided to climb a pole during a protest and was electrocuted. Clashes went on for several days with the police, including the throwing of explosive devices, attacks on police stations and the looting of shops and businesses. The local media reported the death of one police officer and stated that 240 people had been wounded, including 42 agents, while dozens of people were arrested. The situation led the government to decree a nationwide curfew starting on 22 January. The country has already been in a state of emergency since the attacks carried out by ISIS in 2015. The authorities made some promises of jobs and social benefits to placate the climate of instability, but analysts warned of the difficulties in responding to the economic problems of the country. Specifically, the high youth unemployment rate is between 30% and 40%. (Le Monde, 06, 13, 14, 22/01/16; Reuters, 11/01/16; The Guardian, 22/01/16; El País, 23/01/16; Jeune Afrique, 25/01/16)
AFGHANISTAN: The United States, China, Pakistan and Afghanistan resume the peace process without the Taliban, which attend an unofficial conference in Doha
On 11 January, representatives of the United States, China, Afghanistan and Pakistan resumed the peace process that was cut short in July 2015 in Islamabad. Attendants of the meeting included Foreign State Secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhary representing Pakistan, acting Afghan Foreign Minister Hekmat Karzai and the special envoys to the region reporting to the United States, Richard G. Olson, and to China, Deng Xijun, respectively. Sartaj Aziz, the foreign affairs advisor to the prime minister of Pakistan, proposed a four-point plan: 1) to create the right conditions to encourage the Taliban to lay down their arms and join the dialogue, 2) to take sequential steps to prepare direct contacts with the Taliban, 3) to use confidence-building measures to encourage them to resume the dialogue and 4) to use a plan that is realistic and prevents the creation of great expectations. The second round of negotiations among the four parties will take place once again in Islamabad on 6 February. Apart from this group, the political office of the Taliban in Doha, Qatar admitted that it would attend a peace conference organised by Pugwash in the city on 23 and 24 January. According to one of the Taliban representatives, the meeting was held for academic reasons to discuss the situation in Afghanistan and not to deal with the process begun in Islamabad. Following the discussion, which was attended by 55 people, Pugwash published an 18-point list, the first of which states that “peace is an urgent need”. The Taliban later announced preconditions for joining the dialogue with the Afghan government on their website, including the release of prisoners, the removal of its leaders from US and UN sanctions lists, the end of propaganda against it, the departure of foreign troops and the restoration of the name Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. They also said that they would only sit down to negotiate with “believers” and not with invaders, non-Muslims and combatants. The violence did not stop during the winter. Earlier in the month, a well-known French restaurant in Kabul was attacked, causing the deaths of two people and wounding 15. There were three attacks in two days in Kabul, two of them near the international airport. The most serious was a car bomb that killed one person and wounded 30. In Uruzgan, a policeman attacked his colleagues, killing nine of them before fleeing to join the Taliban. A suicide attack on a bus of the famous chain ToloNews killed seven of its workers in Kabul. The Taliban declared this media outlet and 1TV to be military objectives in October. The Afghan intelligence agency arrested eight men of the Haqqani network, blaming them for the attack. Furthermore, the Taliban have continued their fight against ISIS, which is especially active in Nangarhar, taking their bases in two districts (Batikot and Chaparhar). However, they were unable to take Nazyan, where ISIS is strongest. The Afghan Army also attacked ISIS, killing 15 insurgents, and the United States launched a drone strike that killed at least 20 combatants. (ToloNews, 4/01/2016; VoaNews, 5/01/2016; Dawn, 11, 18, 20/01/2016; The New York Times, 18, 22/01/2016; ABC News, 22/01/2016; Long War Journal, 24/01/2016; Pugwash webpage)
IRAN: The IAEA certifies that Tehran has fulfilled its obligations under the nuclear agreement and lifts sanctions against the Islamic Republic
In mid-January, a report released by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed that Iran has complied with its commitments under the historic nuclear agreement signed in 2015, which significantly reduces the atomic capacities of the country. The announcement enabled the agreement to be formally implemented on what was called “Implementation Day” and to ratify the lifting of sanctions imposed against Tehran by the United States, the European Union and the United Nations. News of this milestone in the process, announced after a meeting of senior diplomats in Vienna, coincided with a prisoner exchange between the US and Iran that secured the release of five people arrested in Iran and seven others imprisoned in the United States. In previous weeks, a group of US sailors detained by Iran after crossing its maritime border were quickly released in an incident solved through diplomatic means. The implementation of the agreement was hailed as a triumph for the moderate group represented by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at a key time with elections approaching. Shortly after the sanctions were officially lifted, Rouhani travelled to Europe in the first trip to the continent by an Iranian president in 16 years. Meanwhile, US Secretary of State John Kerry met with the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to try to mollify concerns in Arab countries neighbouring Iran that are mistrustful of the international rehabilitation of the Tehran regime. This new milestone in the Iranian nuclear programme coincided with an escalation of tension between Iran and various Arab countries at the start of the year after Saudi Arabia executed Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, a cleric of the Saudi Shia minority. This decision prompted Tehran to criticise Riyadh and triggered demonstrations against the Saudi diplomatic delegations in Tehran and Mashhad that led to violent incidents. These events led various Arab allies of Riyadh, including Sudan, Somalia, Djibouti, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Kuwait, to break with or downgrade their diplomatic relations with Iran amidst rising tension between Sunnis and Shia in the region. (The Guardian, 1-31/01/16)
SUDAN-SOUTH SUDAN: Both governments relax the tension and take steps to resolve the border disputes
The Sudanese government’s news agency, SUNA, has reported the decision taken by the government of President Omar al-Bashir on 27 January according to which it ordered the reopening of the borders with South Sudan, which had been closed since June 2011, one month before the formal declaration of independence of South Sudan. Details about the implementation of the decision were not made public. It has been interpreted as a historic step towards the normalisation of relations between the neighbours. The week prior, the government of Sudan made another gesture reducing the rates for the transit of oil from South Sudan. In response, on 25 January South Sudanese President Salva Kiir’s government ordered the South Sudanese Army to withdraw eight kilometres from the Sudanese border. These events are related to progress in the meetings held by the Joint Border Commission (JBC) in Addis Ababa in October between Sudan and South Sudan under the auspices of the African Union Border Programme (AUBP) in order to resolve the different border situations related to Abyei, the 14-Mile area, Joudat al-Fakhar, Jebel al-Migainais, Kaka and the enclave of Kafia Kingi, which amounts to 20% of the border shared between both countries, though it has yet to be delimited. In mid-January, South Sudanese Foreign Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin had announced new meetings between both governments at the end of the month. (Radio Tamazuj, 15/01/2016; Deutsche Welle, 28/01/2016; Sudan Tribune, 28/01/2016)
UKRAINE: The warring parties agree to increase efforts to implement the ceasefire and contacts multiply between the United States and Russia to find a solution
The negotiating teams of the parties to the conflict have agreed to promote efforts to implement the ceasefire. This was stated by the special representative of the OSCE in Ukraine and the Trilateral Contact Group, Martin Sajdik, following the contact group’s meeting on 13 January. Furthermore, in January contacts multiplied between diplomats of the United States and Russia to find a solution to the crisis in a context of a clear reduction in violence at different times during 2015, but also amidst a lack of implementation of the Minsk accords. The same day that the contact group met, the US and Russian presidents held a telephone conversation in which they addressed various issues, including the conflict in Ukraine. According to the White House, Barack Obama transmitted the message of the need to agree on modalities for local elections in Donetsk and Luhansk, one of the items of the Minsk accords. Prior to this phone call, a six-hour closed-door meeting was held between US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and Russian Presidential Advisor Vladislav Surkov in Pionersky (near Kaliningrad, Russia) on 15 January. The meeting addressed the situation of conflict and the Minsk accords. Surkov described the discussion as constructive and useful and said that they dealt with the most delicate issues of the process. This was followed by a meeting between US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Zurich on 20 January during which the White House claims they discussed other international crises such as how to accelerate full implementation of the Minsk accords, restore the ceasefire and guarantee full access to the OSCE. For his part, Lavrov stated that if the peace process moves forward in the coming months, sanctions against Russia could be lightened. In terms of security, Ukrainian and rebel forces traded blame for ceasefire violations in January, although the situation of greater stability surrounding the conflict recently was maintained. Furthermore, in January Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said that he hoped the Ukrainian Parliament would approve the political issues of the Minsk accords in the first half of 2016 and during parliamentary sessions for constitutional amendments on decentralising the eastern regions that start in February. (OSCE, Reuters, RFE/RL, Jamestown Foundation, Itar Tass, 1-28/01/16)
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