The Islamic State (IS), also known as ISIS or ISIL, has reportedly been halted and forced to retreat in their attack on Kobane, the strategically important town on the Syria-Turkey border that has been the focus of IS attacks for the past month. According to the BBC, IS has lost more than 20 percent of the town in recent days. Idris Nassan, deputy head of Kobane’s foreign relations committee, said “Maybe in the few past days [Islamic State] was controlling about 40% of the city of Kobane, but now… less than 20% of the city is under control of [IS].”
This gradual forced retreat comes after intensified air strikes by the US led coalition as well as heightened attacks by Kurdish fighters. The US and their allies have dramatically increased air strikes, in what the coalition has now called “Operation Inherent Resolve.” Reuters reports that the US and its allied have almost tripled the rate of air strikes, hitting 40 targets in the last two days, reportedly killing hundreds of Islamic State fighters. Kurdish Fighters, represented in Kobane largely by the Kurdish the Popular Protection Units (YPG), have also retaken large parts of the south and southeast of Kobane. However, Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby warned that Kobane could still fall to the Islamic State, as increasing numbers of jihadists were constantly joining the siege. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reports that 662 people have died since IS launched its attack on Kobane a month ago. This figure includes 374 jihadists, 268 fighting on the Kurdish side, and 20 civilians.
A prominent Syrian lawmaker, Waris Al Younis, was reportedly gunned down Tuesday night in the Syrian city of Hama. Rami Abdulrahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said that Younes was a commander in the National Defence Force, a pro-regime militia. Hama, in Syria’s west, represents a key strategic battleground battleground between regime forces and Islamic groups like Jabhat Al Nusra.
Reports are indicating that IS may now have access to chemical weapons. The New York Times gives credence to the idea, reporting that the Muthanna State Establishment, the facility at the centre of Iraq’s chemical agent production in the 1980s, is now in IS hands. This makes the situation against IS yet more urgent for the US led coalition.
Democratic Republic of Congo
For a decade, rebel militias and elements of the Congolese armed forces (FARDC) controlled the Bisie mine in North Kivu, DRC. Today, Canadian mining giant Alphamin retains sole ownership of the mine. Locals continue to protest the investment of Alphamin, fearing the eviction of artisanal mining communities, resulting in unemployment and delayed delivery of development promises. Artisanal miners in eastern Congo continue to advocate for the formalization of artisanal mining and the promotion of alternative sources of livelihood.
On Friday, October 17, a ceremony in Beni, North Kivu province mourned the deaths of nearly thirty Congolese civilians. These individuals lost their lives last week when Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) rebels attacked populations living near Beni. Civil society in North Kivu continues to protest the lack of stability in the region. Martin Kobler, head of the UN in the DRC Congo (MONUSCO), reaffirmed the force’s commitment to neutralize armed groups in eastern DRC.
The territorial administrator for DRC’s Orientale province and the UN Office for Human Rights confirmed attacks in Ituri, Orientale province this Friday. The Mai Mai Simba rebel group executed four men, raped four women, and looted numerous homes in the surrounding community. The Congolese military (FARDC) reportedly maintains a strong presence near the area of the attacks.
On Thursday, the Congolese government requested the removal of Scott Campbell, the UN’s highest human rights officer in the DRC. The request follows the release of an October 15 report condemning human rights abuses by the Congolese police force (PNC) in the midst of Operation Likofi, a crackdown on gang violence in Kinshasa. The report attributes 9 summary executions and 32 disappearances to the operation. The Congolese government, for its part, calls the report “partisan” and an attempt to discredit the PNC.
This week Sudan expressed fears over Ebola as the government refused to host the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations, the continent-wide football tournament. The Sudanese minister of health said that Sudan has refused to host the cup as the most participating nations in the tournament finals come from West African nations in which the disease is rampant.
Additionally, dozens of Sudanese journalists protested in Khartoum last week against the indefinite suspension of the al-Saiha daily newspaper, one of the country’s most prominent newspapers. The journalists stated that the government promised press freedom and they have clearly not received it and demanded the immediate reinstatement of their daily paper. There has been no definite resolution of the protest.
Vice Chairman of China’s Central Military Commission Xu Qiliang met with Sudanese Defense Minister Abdel Rahim Mohamed Hussein in Beijing last week. The two leaders expressed a desire to continue growing the friendship and positive relationship between China and Sudan. They renewed sentiments of continued bilateral cooperation and exchange as well as cooperation with the Sudanese armed forces.
This week in South Sudan, President Salva Kiir has the opportunity to veto an extremely concerning National Security Service (NSS) bill. This bill would give the National Security Service the power to arrest and detain suspects without supervision, monitor communication throughout the country, and conduct searches and seizures on personal property without having to go through legal channels. The bill has been read three times in the National Legislative Assembly, but most of the legislators are still unsure if it has passed. If this bill passes and the President does not veto it as he has been urged to do by many members of international human rights agencies, it will give the NSS unprecedented power and could make them a threat to South Sudanese citizens’ rights. The NSS has also been responsible for some of the worst violations of freedom in South Sudan since the country’s independence.
Numerous reports of civilian frustration emerged last week as scheduled peace talks between the two warring sides were postponed again due to continued violence. There is growing concern over the humanitarian situation in the country as the two sides continue to fight despite international intervention and multiple attempted peace talks. There is also a fear that the fighting may worsen as the dry season approaches, as it will be easier to transport persons and materials, which makes fighting easier. The UN Humanitarian Coordinator for South Sudan, Toby Lanzer stated the only way to avoid further declines in the humanitarian situation is “a peace agreement or . . . a sustained, massive aid operation”. Mr. Lanzer emphasized that “if those things aren’t there, you are going to see a massive increase in mortality in South Sudan.”
There has been mix of positive and negative news concerning the Burmese government’s relations with various ethnic groups. On the positive side, the Burmese government will provide stipends to school teachers who teach ethnic languages. When a military junta ruled Burma, a major source of conflict was the use of ethnic languages in schools. The junta insisted that Burmese be taught, while various ethnic nationalities felt this was an attack on their culture. On the negative side, the Burmese Army has ordered 1,000 villagers to leave their homes as clashes continue in Kachin State between the Burmese Army and Kachin Independence Army. After a 17-year-old ceasefire ended in 2011, fighting continued between the two groups despite multiple ceasefire talks. In addition, more fighting has occurred in Shan State between the Burmese Army and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, Kachin Independence Army, and Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army.
Burma will hold its first ever LGBT film festival in November. Same-sex relations and sodomy are still illegal in Burma, with accompanying prison sentences of up to 10 years. However, organizers of the “& Proud Yangon LGBT Film Festival” hope to take advantage of the country’s growing freedom of expression to bring about great awareness and combat negative stereotypes of LGBT people.
Last week, Burma’s former Religious Affairs Minister Hsan Hsint was sentenced to 13 years in prison for corruption and seditious comments against the government. Hsint was arrested following a raid on a Buddhist Monastery in Yangon (also known as Rangoon) in June. The raid caused a public outcry over the disrespect shown toward the detained monks.
In other news, Burma will get its first KFC next year in Yangon as the country continues to reestablish relations with foreign governments and businesses.
Nearly 100 people have been killed in the last week as Libya descends towards state failure. Over fifty of those have come since Wednesday in fighting between the Libyan National Army and Islamist militias in Benghazi. The Libyan National Army forces, who have called themselves Operation Dignity, are led by General Khalifa Hifter and are allied with the House of Representatives. The Islamist militias, including al-Qaeda affiliated Ansar al-Sharia among many less radical groups, make up Operation Dawn and typically support the General National Congress. The United States, United Kingdom, Italy, Germany, and France have all called for an immediate end to the fighting.
Libya does not currently have a functioning government, with power contested between the House of Representatives and the General National Congress. The House of Representatives is Libya’s national elected government, but they were forced to leave the capital Tripoli for the eastern city of Tobruk. The United Nations and most countries recognize the House of Representatives as the country’s legitimate government, but they have little internal legitimacy. It does not control any of Libya’s three largest cities: Tripoli, Benghazi, and Misrata. In September it voted to remove Sadiq al-Kabir from his position as governor of the Central Bank, but he still appears to be in power. The General National Congress currently sits in Tripoli and also controls Benghazi and Misrata. It includes a number of Islamist groups and some defected members of the House of Representatives. Their challenge for power began after Islamists lost the election in June, although less than half of registered Libyans turned out.