SERBIA – KOSOVO: An attempt at dialogue between the Kosovo government and opposition fails amidst a serious crisis over the agreements with Serbia on autonomy for Serbian municipalities
Kosovo President Atifete Jahjaga failed to bring together the government of Kosovo and the political opposition in order to tackle the serious political crisis in the country stemming from the 2015 agreements with Serbia regarding the establishment of an association of Serb-majority municipalities in Kosovo. The political opposition mostly boycotted the meeting on 9 February, except for the leader of the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo, Ramush Haradinaj. His participation in the meeting was harshly criticised by the opposition parties Vetevendosje and Nisma. Even so, afterwards Haradinaj ruled out the possibility of further negotiations when his demand for early elections was rejected. Days later, the president announced her plans to hold individual meetings to make headway towards solving the crisis, while the opposition rejected the dialogue. The political crisis around the dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo also continued in Parliament. Violent incidents occurred again in the first session of Parliament in 2016, with new launches of tear gas by opposition MPs. The police later arrested several MPs, worsening the political situation even more. Opposition to the agreements continued to take shape in the streets as well, with a demonstration involving tens of thousands of people in the capital, Pristina, on Kosovo’s Independence Day on 18 February. The peaceful march called once again for the rejection of the agreement and the departure of the government. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed concern about the tactics used by the Kosovar opposition, warning of their impact on delaying the agreements. (Balkan Insight, UN, B92, 1-29/02/16)
SYRIA: The UN announces suspension of the talks three days after they start and states that reviving them depends on the cessation of hostilities
Just three days after the beginning of a new round of indirect talks among the parties to the conflict in Geneva, in early February the special envoy of the UN and the Arab League for Syria announced the temporary suspension of the meetings, initially for a period of three weeks, due to the disagreements among the delegations about the priority of humanitarian issues. The Syrian government wanted to define some procedural subjects before addressing humanitarian ones, while the opposition delegation demanded immediate guarantees for the delivery of aid and an end to indiscriminate attacks. Meanwhile, the negotiations were affected by disagreements about the composition of the delegations and the agenda of the talks. Before the new collapse of the meetings, Staffan de Mistura managed to meet separately with the delegation of Bashar Assad’s regime and with representatives of the High Negotiations Committee (HNC). After announcing the suspension of the meetings in Geneva, De Mistura underscored the need for the talks to be significant and not merely a dialectical exercise. The possibility of establishing contacts was also affected by the intensifying levels of violence in the country, which did not (partially) fall until the end of the month after a cessation of hostilities agreement was adopted. The agreement was adopted by the United States and Russia as co-leaders of the International Syria Support Group’s (ISSG) special body for the ceasefire. The cessation of hostilities, which excludes ISIS and the al-Nusra Front, was ratified through a telephone conversation between the Russian and US presidents. The UN Security Council unanimously approved Resolution 2268 in support of this cessation of hostilities, calling for the application of Resolution 2254 of December 2015, which delineated a plan for the negotiations and the start of a political transition process, and highlighting the need for the truce to provide a more conducive climate for political negotiations. In late February, De Mistura announced that he would try to call new meetings with the parties in Geneva for 7 March. In this context, US Secretary of State John Kerry warned that if the cessation of hostilities is not honoured and a genuine transition process is not implemented in the coming months, he would consider a plan B, which could involve the partition of Syria. (UN News, 03, 26/02/16; The Guardian, 04, 23, 25/02/16)
INDIA - PAKISTAN: Foreign secretary meeting still pending after the Pathankot bombing
Pakistan said that it hoped that a meeting of foreign secretaries would take place as soon as possible after the Indian Government announced that the meeting would not depend on developments in the investigation into the attack on the Indian military base at Pathankot. The meeting between the foreign secretaries of the two countries was initially scheduled for January, but it was cancelled after the Pathankot bombing. India accused the armed opposition group Jaish-e-Muhammad, based in Pakistan, of being responsible for the attack. The meetings between foreign secretaries are crucial in the implementation of the Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue process that both parties agreed to last December. The foreign secretaries are responsible for developing a road map for issues such as peace and security, Kashmir, Siachen, Sir Creek, trade, tourism, water and direct personal contact between the populations. (The Express Tribune, 19/2/16; Hindustan Times, 15/2/16)
ISRAEL-PALESTINE: The Quartet on the Middle East reiterates concern about the feasibility of the two-state solution
After a meeting in Munich, Germany, representatives of the Quartet on the Middle East expressed concern about the recent dynamics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and warned of the feasibility of the two-state solution, stressing that the status quo is not sustainable. The meeting was attended by the head of the EU’s foreign policy, Federica Mogherini, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, US Secretary of State John Kerry and UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson. The Quartet underscored that unilateral actions cannot jeopardise the possibilities of a negotiated solution and announced the preparation of a report on the situation on the ground that will result in recommendations to advance a two-state solution. Meanwhile, France continued to promote a new initiative to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. In February, Paris formally submitted the proposal led by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, which consists of a three-stage process: consultations with both parties, the creation of an international support group and the promotion of an international conference to relaunch the dialogue. However, analysts warned that the initiative faces difficulties to be successful, including the Israeli government’s lack of interest and the improbability of the United States committing to actively support this effort in a pre-electoral atmosphere. In this context, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced the preparation of a multi-year plan to surround Israel with separation barriers that he claimed would block the passage of Palestinians and Arabs from other countries in the region. (Al Jazeera, 21/02/16; The Guardian, 10/02/16; UN News, 12/02/16)
PHILIPPINES (MINDANAO-MILF): The MILF warns of the dangers of radicalisation in Mindanao after Congress fails to pass the law that is supposed to create the new Bangsamoro autonomous region
The ordinary session of Congress ended without the adoption of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), the law that should incorporate the main contents of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (2012) and the Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro (2014) signed with the MILF after several years of negotiations. The BBL is supposed to lead to the replacement of the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) by a new autonomous region called Bangsamoro, which would have a greater territorial scope and level of self-government. Given the suspension of the legislative sessions, the BBL cannot be passed before the presidential election in May, so its implementation will not be able to begin while President Benigno Aquino is in office, as planned by both the MILF and the Philippine government. After the round of negotiations held by both sides in Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia), both the MILF and the government criticised the passivity and indifference with which both chambers had dealt with the congressional processing of the law. On several occasions, discussions and hearings on the BBL had to be postponed due to a lack of a quorum. Moreover, both chambers approved alternative drafts of the law to the version created by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission, which was revised and amended by the government before being sent to Congress. Both the MILF and the government opposed the approval of these alternative drafts, as they did not reflect the letter or the spirit of the agreements that the government and the MILF had reached. Some in the MILF even declared that it would be better not to pass the BBL than to pass a law that reduced and undermined the commitment contained in those agreements. After many delays regarding the deadline for adopting the BBL, last January the speakers of the House of Representatives and the Senate acknowledged that it was not going to be passed in the current legislature. Thus, in February the MILF warned once again of the frustration that this could cause among the Moro population and the combatants of the MILF. The leader of the MILF said that the deadlock in the peace process could lead to the radicalisation of certain MILF groups and legitimise those who were suspicious of the government and advocated a military reaction to the current situation. In the same way, the leaders of the MILF warned of the possibility that some of the groups operating in Mindanao that have expressed their opposition to the peace process on several occasions, like Abu Sayyaf, the BIFF, certain MILF factions and groups that claim to be a part of Islamic State, may enlist new members into their ranks. Despite these warnings, following the talks in Kuala Lumpur, both sides agreed to prolong the ceasefire agreement and expressed their commitment to dialogue as the only instrument for solving the conflict in Mindanao. Furthermore, the main candidates running in the presidential election in May expressed their support for the peace process that the MILF and the government have maintained in recent years. (Inquirer, 03/02/16; Minda News, 10/02/16; Philippine Star, 07 and 12/02/16; Worldbulletin, 14/02/16)
TURKEY (SOUTHEAST): The government announces an “anti-terrorist” plan focused on “public order” and economic issues and rules out dialogue with the Kurdish movement
In early February, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu revealed a new 10-point action plan related to the situation in the Kurdish region, the scene of a steep escalation of the conflict in recent months. These 10 points include the defence of public order (article 2); democratic reform (article 3) by reforming the Constitution, which Davutoğlu urged the pro-Kurdish party HDP to join, asserting that there would be no other process to address its demands; support for the people, businesses, municipalities and districts that have been victims of PKK violence (articles 4, 5 and 6); the creation of communication units at the local administration level (article 7) in order to combat what is considered disinformation; local administrative reforms (article 8); and mechanisms for consultation between the administration and the local population to address the situation in the region, excluding all armed and related groups. The action plan has been interpreted as a reaffirmation of the security policies in recent months and an exclusion of any chance of dialogue with the Kurdish movement to solve the armed conflict. Furthermore, in early February Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated that the resolution process had been frozen and that Imrali (in reference to imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan) would never be a counterpart to the government. Among other appeals made during the month, the president of the TÜSIAD business association urged the PKK to lay down its weapons and called for a resumption of the peace talks. (Hürriyet, Bianet, 1-29/02/16)
UKRAINE (EAST): Fundamental differences between the negotiating parties delay implementation of the Minsk II agreements
Ukraine and the Russian-backed self-proclaimed republics of Donetsk and Luhansk maintained fundamental differences in the negotiating process, according to reports after meetings of the Trilateral Contact Group were held in late January and February. During a meeting on 24 February, the Ukrainian representatives raised pre-requisites for holding elections in the Donbas region, such as the implementation of a complete ceasefire, the withdrawal of foreign troops and mercenaries (in reference to Russian troops they accuse of supporting Donetsk and Luhansk), unrestricted access to the OSCE mission to confirm the withdrawal of those troops and the recovery of Kiev’s control of the Ukrainian side of the Russian-Ukrainian border. Meanwhile, Russia and the self-proclaimed authorities in the Donbas continued to insist on the need to make progress first on political issues, like the elections. Diplomatic meetings also continued between the United States and Russia on the Ukrainian crisis during the month. On a visit to Ukraine, the German and French foreign ministers urged Kiev to press on with the peace process. (OSCE, Jamestown Foundation, Itar Tass, 1-29/02/16)
AFGHANISTAN: The Quadrilateral Coordination Group announces direct negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban
The Quadrilateral Coordination Group, which includes the governments of Pakistan, Afghanistan, China and the United States, announced a new round of direct talks between the Taliban insurgency and the Afghan Government the first week of March in Islamabad, Pakistan. In July 2015 the country hosted the first round of talks that were interrupted after the announcement of Mullah Omar's death. The announcement came after representatives from all of the governments in the quadrilateral group met in Kabul and issued a statement inviting all Taliban and other groups to travel to Pakistan to take part in the negotiations. However, it is not known which factions and Taliban groups will participate in the talks. The quadrilateral group has been meeting since January. (PressTV, 23/2/16; Washington Post, 23/2/16)
BURUNDI: President Nkurunziza agrees to hold talks with the opposition amidst a diplomatic offensive by the UN and the AU
Serious instability persisted, with a wave of bomb attacks in the capital and military operations that have killed scores of people in Burundi. During his visit to Burundi, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon toured the Great Lakes countries and met with different political stakeholders, especially President Pierre Nkurunziza, in an attempt to promote a political solution to the serious crisis rocking the country. This was the UN Secretary-General’s first trip to Burundi since the start of the crisis, which worsened in April 2015. Ban Ki-moon said that Nkurunziza has promised to hold unconditional inclusive talks with the opposition after their meeting on 23 February. The main issue is to find out who will be invited to participate in these political talks and Nkurunziza has referred to a UN Security Council Resolution adopted in November 2015 that called on the government to hold a dialogue with political partners who had not resorted to the use of force. Two days later, on 25 February, an AU delegation composed of South African President Jacob Zuma, Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, Senegalese President Macky Sall, Gabonese President Ali Bongo Ondimba and Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn visited the country to promote a negotiated solution to the situation. This visit was part of the closing of the 26th AU summit held in Addis Ababa on 31 January. The AU had proposed a stabilisation mission in the country in December, but after it was categorically rejected by Bujumbura, it made Nkurunziza’s consent a condition for sending it. Meanwhile, as a result of charges made by the UN and the United States, Rwanda announced its intention to send Burundian refugees (amounting to around 75,000) to other countries after it was accused of interfering in Burundi’s affairs. UN experts had accused Rwanda of recruiting and training Burundian refugees for the purpose of overthrowing the Burundian president. (Jeune Afrique, 12, 22-25/02/16)
COLOMBIA: Government and FARC negotiate to reach final agreement
On February 2 peace talks in Havana between the Government and the FARC were resumed with a new impetus, including the involvement of the UN, which has agreed to organize an end-of-conflict verification mission composed of civilians from countries of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). The mission will verify the ceasefire and laying down of arms, which must be ready by the time the peace agreement is ready for signing. Both the president of the Colombian government, Juan Manual Santos, and FARC leader Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri, alias "Timochenko", expressed their intention to reach a final peace agreement by March 23, the date set by the parties last September. Following talks held in February, negotiators in Havana agreed to resume the discussions on March 2 to address pending issues, which could lead to the final peace agreement before March 23. On February 24 President Juan Manuel Santos announced that he had received the support of most of the country's political parties to implement the agreements reached at the negotiating table. The agreement with the different parties was reached during a meeting between President Santos and the Liberal Party, the Conservative Party, the Social Party of National Unity (the U Party) and the Radical Change Party (all members of the coalition of Government), as well as with leftist parties such as the Green Alliance, the Alternative Democratic Pole, Independent Movement of Absolute Renovation (MIRA), MAIS and the Citizen Option Party. The main opposition party, the Democratic Center led by the former president and Senator Alvaro Uribe, did not join the agreement and continued to oppose the terms of the accord with the FARC. Meanwhile, in an open letter to the Government the FARC rejected the referendum recently approved in Congress as the means to endorse the peace agreements because it considers that "it is not the appropriate political mechanism or legal-constitutional instrument". The guerrillas have stated that they prefer a Constituent Assembly as the appropriate formula for approval. At the same time, and as part of the effort to reduce armed conflict, the FARC announced on February 10 that they will not recruit anyone under the age of 18, which comes one year after their decision not to accept children under 17 in their ranks. Meanwhile, guerrillas from the National Liberation Army (ELN) launched several attacks from February 14-17 and the Armed Forces responded. On February 8 President Santos said that the ELN had two options, to support the peace process or face an intense military campaign, and he urged the guerrillas to sit down and negotiate. "Iván Márquez" aka Luciano Arango Marín, who is the FARC's chief negotiator in the Havana talks, stressed that the ELN cannot be left out of the peace process because "peace without the ELN would be an incomplete peace". (EFE, 31/01/2016, 02, 04, 08, 10, 28/02/2016)
SOUTH SUDAN: Important advance in the peace agreements with Riek Machar appointed as first Vice-President
On February 11, President Salva Kiir appointed Riek Machar, leader of the SPLA-IO, to the position of First Vice-President, as stipulated in chapter one of the peace agreements signed in August 2015. The former Vice-President of the Government of South Sudan, James Wani Igga, became the second Vice President of the country. The appointment of Machar coincided with the beginning of the withdrawal of government troops from the capital, Juba, in fulfilment of the peace agreement that obliges all parties to relocate their troops 25 kilometres from the capital. At the same time, the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (JMEC) announced agreements on the implementation of certain points from the section on security during the transition, which includes the arrival of 1,370 SPLA-IO troops to the capital during the month of March. In this regard, the South Sudanese Minister of Communication, Michael Makuei Lueth, reported that the Kiir government had agreed to delay the creation of the Transitional Government of National Unity (TGoNU) until Riek Machar returns to Juba. Machar said he would do so when his SPLA-IO troops are in the capital. On February 25, the United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, made a one-day visit to the country. He visited a camp for internally displaced people and asked the signatories of the peace agreement to put peace above politics and to establish the TGoNU as soon as possible. The peace agreement established that the transitional government should have been created by the end of November 2015. (VOA, 11/02/2016; BBC, 12/02/2016; AFP, 12/02/2016; Radio Tamazuj, 12, 25/02/2016; Sudan Tribune, 19/21/2016; Bloomberg, 23/02/2016)
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