AFGHANISTAN: The Taliban insurgency refuses to participate in peace talks with the Afghan government that were announced in February
The Taliban insurgency refused to hold talks with the Afghan government and rejected the announcement made by the Quadrilateral Coordination Group, which includes the governments of Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the United States. The Quadrilateral Group announced at the end of February that a meeting would take place in March between the Afghan government and the Taliban insurgency in Islamabad. The Taliban insurgency says it has not authorized anyone to be its representative in the meeting and the group restated its conditions before it would join talks: the withdrawal of foreign troops, the removal of Taliban names from international blacklists and the release of insurgent prisoners. Declarations by the Pakistani foreign affairs adviser, Sartaj Aziz, who said that the Pakistan government had influence over the Taliban insurgency and could bring them to the negotiating table, while openly recognizing that the Taliban leaders and their families were on Pakistani soil, could have jeopardized the announcement of the talks. (The Guardian, 5/3/16; The Diplomat, 12/3/16)
MOROCCO – WESTERN SAHARA: Rabat expels 84 MINURSO members in response to Ban Ki-moon’s statements about the “occupation” of Western Sahara
The visit of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to the area of Western Sahara controlled by the POLISARIO Front and the Saharan refugee camps in Algeria escalated tension with the Moroccan authorities. The Moroccan government rejected Ban Ki-moon’s statements about its “occupation” of Western Sahara, which led to mass protests in the Moroccan capital and calls from the Moroccan authorities to the UN Secretary-General to clarify his position. Ban Ki-moon attributed the situation to a misunderstanding and regretted Morocco’s reaction. In mid-March, Rabat notified the UN that 84 members of the civilian component of MINURSO and the African Union had to abandon Moroccan territory within three days and announced the suspension of its financial aid to the mission. The UN warned that MINURSO’s operations were seriously compromised by this reduction of the contingent, since only 28 civilian members of the mission remained in Laayoune. During his trip to the region between 3 and 7 March, Ban Ki-moon intended to meet with the king of Morocco, but the meeting was cancelled after Rabat said that the king had a scheduling conflict. In the first trip by a UN Secretary-General to the refugee camps since 1998, Ban Ki-moon visited Nouakchott, Rabouni, Smara, Algiers and the MINURSO team in Bir Lahlou. The four objectives of the journey were to make a personal assessment of the situation and help to find a solution, meet with the MINURSO contingent, evaluate the critical humanitarian scenario first-hand and share his impressions about the dispute with important leaders in the region. (ICG, 01/04/16; UNSC, 19/04/16)
BURUNDI: A fragile minimum agreement is reached regarding the presence of an AU mission in the country, although the inter-Burundian dialogue remains stalled
Numerous international delegations have visited Burundi in recent weeks to find a way out of the country's political crisis, which continues to be plagued by violence and instability, although little progress has been made. Visits were made by the UN Security Council, the US special envoy to the Great Lakes region, the UN Secretary General and a delegation of five leaders from AU countries. President Pierre Nkurunziza promised Ban Ki-moon that 1,200 political prisoners would be released (he later raised that figure to 2,000) and two independent radios were reopened. He also made a promise to the AU delegation led by South African President Jacob Zuma that 100 military observers and 100 human rights observers would be deployed in an effort to reduce violence. The UN Secretary General's visit was marked by explosions and grenade attacks, with dozens of people being injured on the day of his arrival in the country. However, several analysts say that the Government has become bogged down, since the main item on the table, which is the negotiation with the representatives of the political and social opposition under the Conseil National pour le respect de l'Accord d'Arusha pour la Paix et la Réconciliation Au-Burundi et la Restauration d'un Etat de Droit (CNARED), is at a standstill. Instead, the authorities have unilaterally created the so-called National Commission for Inter-Burundian Dialogue (CNDI) to negotiate with those groups they feel more comfortable with, while ignoring the main opposition parties and even the armed opposition and leaders of the 2015 coup. President Yoweri Museveni, who was appointed to be the official mediator for the East African Community (EAC), said that the CNARED was the country's main opposition coalition. In January the AU reversed the decision announced in December to send a 5,000-strong peacekeeping mission to the country, following the Government's strong rejection and threats. On the other hand, some context has to be given regarding the acceptance of the military observers, since the AU has failed to deploy this observation mission since July 2015. Currently only 32 AU military observers have been deployed and their ability to move freely around the country has not been guaranteed. (IRIN, 02/03/16; RFI, 14/03/16)
TURKEY (SOUTHEAST): Antagonism grows between the Turkish government and the Kurdish movement, dampening the possibilities of dialogue
Antagonism grew between the government of Turkey and the pro-Kurdish movement, making options for rapprochement difficult. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called for expanding the definition of “terrorists” to include those who give support to terrorism, whether they are MPs, academics, writers or journalists. Erdogan warned that there was no middle position and that people were “either with us or with the terrorists”. Furthermore, the ruling party AKP has circulated a draft law to dismiss mayors facing terrorism-related charges and replace them with public officials appointed by the ministry of the Interior or by governors as part of a package of reforms affecting local authorities. This was compounded by the political controversy regarding Parliament’s proposal to eliminate parliamentary immunity for MPs under criminal investigation in a context in which several MPs from the pro-Kurdish party HDP stand accused of belonging to an armed organisation. (Hürriyet, Reuters, 1-31/03/16)
UKRAINE (EAST): A new negotiating summit is held between Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France, but no agreement is reached on elections in the Donbas
Difficulties in the Ukrainian peace process continued. The foreign ministers of Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany met in Paris in early March, but failed to reach an agreement on holding elections in eastern Ukraine, one of the items of the Minsk agreements. Ukraine insisted on the need to guarantee the security of the territory beforehand, including the implementation of a full ceasefire and the withdrawal of weaponry before any possible elections. Meanwhile, Russia indicated that it was ready to support the electoral proposal presented by Germany and France. Meanwhile, the self-proclaimed Republic of Donetsk began to issue its own passports. Its leader, Aleksandr Zakharchenko, announced that any citizens who wished to vote in local elections would need those documents. However, the Minsk agreements provide for local elections to be held as part of Ukrainian legislation. Despite the persisting disagreements regarding the elections, an agreement was achieved on other aspects, like the beginning of demining efforts in 12 areas in the conflict zone, the ban on military exercises near the line of contact, the release and exchange of all prisoners and civilians illegally detained prior to 30 April and the creation of a mechanism for preventing and managing incidents linked to ceasefire violations and guarantees of access to the conflict zone for observers. Nevertheless, problems in the process remained evident during the rest of the month. At the end of the month, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused the Ukrainian government of failing to implement the ceasefire agreement. (Reuters, RFE/RL, BBC, 1-30/03/16)
COLOMBIA: The Government and the ELN announce the beginning of peace talks
Frank Pearl, representative of the Colombian Government, and Antonio Garcia, for the National Liberation Army (ELN), announced on March 30 the beginning of public formal peace talks. The talks will mainly be held in Ecuador, and representatives of the guarantor countries Ecuador, Norway and Venezuela will attend, as well as the accompanying countries, Chile and Cuba, which will all host rounds of negotiations. The negotiation will be based on a six-point agenda: 1) participation of society in peacebuilding; 2) democracy for peace; 3) transformations for peace; 4) victims; 5) end of the armed conflict; and 6) implementation. President Juan Manuel Santos expressed the Government's satisfaction with the beginning of talks with the ELN, but emphasized that the meetings will only take place once some humanitarian issues are resolved, including the release of people who have been kidnapped by the guerrillas. Antonio García, the ELN's chief negotiator, said he hoped the talks would begin within the next two months. The announcement was very well received by the Latin American countries, as well as by the US government and EU, who have said that the it is an important step towards achieving peace in Colombia. With regard to the peace process with the FARC, earlier in the month Senate and Congressional commissions approved the bill that allows the creation of concentration zones for FARC fighters, which will allow the laying down of arms, the transition to a legalized status and the reincorporation of combatants into civilian life. The bill was approved with the vote of the Radical Change Party, the Liberal Party, the Conservative Party, the Social Party of National Unity, the Green Party and the Alternative Democratic Pole (PDA). The bill should now be voted simultaneously in plenary sessions of both houses. Finally, in what was a small setback in the peace process with the FARC, the Government and the guerrillas announced that they were postponing the date to reach the final peace agreement, initially scheduled for March 23. (Infolatam/EFE, 1, 30-31/03/2016; Colombian Presidency, 30/03/2016; BBC, 30/03/2016)
GEORGIA (ABKHAZIA, SOUTH OSSETIA): The conflict parties agree to a prisoner exchange and Abkhazia announces the reactivation of the Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism
Significant progress was made in the peace process in March. First, Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia implemented a trilateral agreement to exchange 16 prisoners. The multiple swap occurred on the administrative border between Georgia and Abkhazia. As part of the deal, the Georgian government released four prisoners from South Ossetia, while South Ossetia released four Georgian prisoners and Abkhazia released eight, without requesting the release of Abkhaz prisoners in exchange. All three parties were pleased with the agreement. Georgian Minister of Reconciliation Paata Zakareishvili expressed particular gratitude to the Abkhaz regime and its leader, Raul Khajimba, before both the Abkhaz and Georgian media. Moreover, Zakareishvili hailed the honest work by all the parties and the importance of the deal as part of the peace process, stating that Georgia wanted to begin a new stage in its relations with Abkhazia and South Ossetia and that humanitarian issues were at the forefront of that goal. The foreign minister of South Ossetia also welcomed the good faith of all sides. His Abkhaz counterpart highlighted the exchange as an “excellent” example of pragmatic cooperation between all parties. The deal began to be developed within the official format of the peace process (the Geneva International Discussions (GID) facilitated by the EU, OSCE and UN), but ended up getting addressed and agreed to with direct meetings among all three parties. The second major breakthrough took place at the end of the month, when Georgia and Abkhazia agreed to resume the Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism, suspended since 2012, unlike the one in South Ossetia. The agreement was announced as part of the 35th round of the GID and was praised by the parties, the facilitators, Russia and the United States. The OSCE described it as an important step forward in boosting confidence, predictability and transparency. Among other sectors, Georgian women’s organisations and women displaced by the conflict had called for the reactivation of the mechanism. (Civil Georgia, OSCE, EUMM, Georgia Today, 1-31/03/16)
INDIA (NAGALAND): Government and NSCN-IM meet in Delhi
The Government of India and the Naga armed opposition group, NSCN-IM, are holding negotiations in Delhi. The NSCN-IM delegation included General Secretary Th. Muivah and a figure that was recently reinstated to the group, General Kholi Konyak. Konyak had led the dissident faction NSCN-U, but days before the new round of talks with the Government he re-joined the NSCN-IM. It is believed that the Government and the armed group are working on a 33-point agreement that has been kept secret and that consultations are being conducted based on the framework agreement that was signed in 2015. The Government also stated that it was working hard to resolve the disruption of the cease-fire agreement with the NSCN-K and underscored efforts by Naga organizations such as Naga Hoho and Eastern Nagaland People's Organization (ENPO), which travelled to Myanmar at the request of The Nagaland State Assembly to talk to the NSCN-K. Some sources indicated that the Indian Government would like to incorporate all Naga organizations into the final agreement before it is signed. (SATP, 13, 15 y 18/3/16; The Telegraph India, 16/3/16)
SOUTH SUDAN: SPLA-IO troops begin to arrive in the capital as established in the peace agreement
Despite continued tension and armed clashes in the country, the Peace Agreement signed last August continued to move forward. On March 28, the first group of soldiers from the rebel group Sudan People's Liberation Movement / Army-In Opposition (SPLM/A-IO) arrived in the capital, Juba, in compliance with one of the clauses of chapter two of the Peace Agreement, which deals with permanent ceasefire and security mechanisms. The arrival of the SPLA-IO troops was undertaken with the aim of preparing for the arrival in Juba of its leader, the country’s current First Vice-president, Riek Machar, which will allow the creation of the desired Transitional Government of National Unity (TGoNU). The unit of 39 soldiers joined the 22 SPLA-IO police officers who had arrived four days earlier. In all, 2,910 SPLA-IO soldiers and police will be deployed, with 1,370 arriving by air and the rest by land. According to the Peace Agreement, the capital will be protected by another 5,000 soldiers deployed by the Government. The South Sudanese Minister of Communication, Michael Makuei Lueth, received the troops at Juba airport and welcomed them. At the end of the month, about 230 SPLA-IO officers and soldiers had returned to the capital. Festus G. Mogae, head of the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (JMEC), informed the UN Security Council that despite the ceasefire violations, the country is making progress and was optimistic about the possibility of achieving the creation of the transitional government (TGoNU) in the first weeks of April. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, president of the African Union Commission (AU), also expressed his satisfaction with the arrival of SPLA-IO troops in Juba, and recognized that it was a step towards facilitating the return of Machar and the formation of the TGoNU. (Sudan Tribune, 25, 28/03/2016; VOA, 31/03/2016)
YEMEN: The conflicting parties agree to implement a cessation of hostilities with a view to resuming the peace talks in April
In late March, UN Special Envoy for Yemen Ould Cheikh Ahmed announced that the parties to the conflict have accepted to implement a cessation of hostilities agreement across the country starting at midnight 10 April in order to pave the way for a resumption of the peace negotiations. The agreement was preceded by a timely truce reached between Saudi Arabia and Houthi forces along the Saudi-Yemeni border that enabled an exchange of prisoners (19 Saudis in exchange for 109 Yemenis, according to some sources) in early March. The next round of meetings between the parties is planned to take place in Kuwait on 18 April. According to the UN special envoy, these talks are expected to help to return Yemen to the path of transition, using as references the agreement sponsored by the Gulf Cooperation Council in 2011 and the outcome of the National Dialogue Conference, which presented its conclusions in early 2014. After the escalation of violence in March 2015, the parties established the first direct talks in late 2015, but from then on the breaking of the ceasefire and the persisting differences among the parties had prevented a return to the dialogue. According to reports, the talks in Kuwait will be direct and built around five lines of discussion: the withdrawal of the militias and armed groups, the delivery of heavy weapons to the state, interim security agreements, the restoration of state institutions and of an inclusive dialogue and the creation of a special committee to address the situation of detained people. It was also hoped that the cessation of hostilities would provide access to humanitarian aid in different areas hit by the conflict. (UN News, 23/03/16; ICG 04/04/16)
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