Sixteen Burmese soldiers were killed and over 100 wounded during fighting between the Burmese Army and the Kokang rebels of the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA). The fighting erupted on Thursday, April 16 in northeastern Burma near the border with China. More than 40 civilians were injured according to reports. The fighting comes just after a draft national ceasefire agreement was reached last week and the Burmese Army apologized to Beijing for bombing rebels in Chinese territory. In the past two months, fighting between the Burmese Army and MNDAA has killed over 100 people and displaced thousands of civilians, though the exact number is not known due to the remote location of the conflict.
On Friday, April 10, the first of six party talks on constitutional reform was held. The talks’ six participants include President Thein Sein, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, speaker of the lower house of parliament Shwe Man, speaker of the upper house of Parliament Khin Aung Myint, commander-in-chief of the military Ming Aung Hlaing, and ethnic representative Aye Maung. The group agreed to amend the constitution written in 2008, which many critics believe give too much power to the once-ruling military. Currently, one in every four seats of Burma’s parliament are reserved for military personnel. Additionally, the constitution bans candidates with foreign-born children from running for president, a clause many believe was written specifically to target Aung San Suu Kyi.
The Burmese government has reportedly hired a Washington, DC lobbying firm, the Podesta Group, to represent the country’s interests in the United States at the cost of $840,000 per annum. The Podesta Group was established in the late 1980s, and its founders have close ties to the Clinton and Obama Administrations, as well as Hillary Clinton’s current presidential campaign.
Central African Republic (CAR)
On April 13, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) reported that it reunited eleven displaced children with their families in the Central African Republic. The children were forced to seek refuge in Chad over a year ago in the wake of CAR’s sectarian civil war. This was the first family reunion operation between Chad and the Central African Republic since the start of the conflict in December 2013, though one of many that the ICRC conducts on a periodic basis.
The environment was less optimistic at the United Nations Security Council, where on April 14 the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Babacar Gaye, told the body’s representatives that conflict between Muslim Séléka and Christian anti-Balaka militias are still ongoing. He expressed hope however for the upcoming Bangui Forum on reconciliation, which he noted would be an “important milestone” in the CAR’s transition. He also noted that while MINUSCA, the UN peacekeeping force in CAR, has performed remarkably in stabilizing the country, “[r]estoring security, promoting an inclusive political dialogue and completing the transition is just the beginning of the CAR’s long journey towards stability and sustainable development”.
On April 16, President Barack Obama nominated Jeffrey Hawkins Jr., a career foreign service officer, to become the U.S. ambassador to the Central African Republic. Mr. Hawkins would replaced Ambassador Lawrence Wohlers, who has served as Ambassador to CAR since September 2010.
Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)
The UN Security Council (UNSC) renewed MONUSCO’s mandate at the end of last month, reducing the mission’s troop size by 2,000. The mandate renewal comes at a time of turmoil for many parts of the DRC: armed groups such as the Force de résistance patriotique de l’Ituri (FRPI) and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) remain active in Orientale province, while the FDLR continues to destabilize parts of North Kivu. The renewal also comes at a time of tension between the UN and the Congolese government. While both parties desire a reduction in militia-sponsored violence, Kinshasa refuses to accept UN intervention in its political affairs as the 2016 elections cycle approaches.
Controversy emerged in early April as Congolese authorities acknowledged the existence of a mass grave containing over 400 corpses in Maluku, a suburb of Kinshasa. Authorities reportedly buried the bodies under the cover of darkness on March 19. UN officials continue to call for the government to exhume the bodies, while the state remains ambiguous on any action it plans to take. While the Kabila administration maintains that the deceased include unborn fetuses and members of the Kinshasa homeless community, advocates suspect that the number may also include victims of government suppression related to pro-democracy activism. The interim governor of Kinshasa, Robert Luzolamu Mavema, accused Congo’s Red Cross of complicity in the mass burial, though the organization denies these claims.
In late 2013, the UN deployed its first ever contingent of unarmed aerial vehicles (UAVS or “drones”) in organization history in eastern DRC, to monitor the movements of armed groups across difficult terrain. Some neighboring states voiced concerns that the drones may serve covert purposes across international borders, while others welcomed the technology as a tool to combat illegal militias. In February 2015, the UN released a peacekeeping performance report favoring the use of UAV technology in conflict regions. In late March, the UNSC adopted a resolution calling for accountability in the organization’s use of these “flying cameras.” Many within the UN view drone surveillance as the next frontier for civilian protection and combating human rights abuses.
Last week, Islamic State forces besieged the primarily Palestinian refugee-inhabited city of Yarmouk. Since ISIS seized control of the city, the humanitarian situation for the 18,000 residents has rapidly deteriorated. Though the invasion of ISIS has further blocked residents’ access to humanitarian aid, even prior to the siege by ISIS, Syrian military forces impeded the delivery of vital supplies and provision of medical treatment to its residents. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called Yarmouk refugee camp “the deepest circle of hell,” and is coordinating a mission to secure humanitarian access to civilians with UNRWA commissioner general, Pierre Krähenbühl. Speculation has emerged that the mission may include negotiations with Islamic State militants. Krähenbühl is currently in Syria consulting the U.N. special envoy on methods of transmitting humanitarian aid to Yarmouk residents.
A new report released by Human Rights Watch claims that the Syrian regime used toxic chemical weapons against Syrian civilians in a spate of barrel bomb attacks this March. The reports are confirmed by recorded videos, as well as eyewitness accounts of civilians, local activists, and journalists. The accounts contain reports of barrel bombings from helicopters, and numerous civilian and medical-practitioners suspecting the use of chlorine as a chemical weapon. Responding to the disclosure of this evidence, a Syrian security official claimed that the accusations were “lies the insurgents say when they incur losses.”
The United Nations has announced a series of peace talks to take place in May, facilitated by U.N. Syria envoy, Staffan de Mistura. According to U.N. spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, the talks will involve separate consultations between de Mistura and key parties involved in the conflict. The talks will entail a revival of the failed 2012 Geneva comminiqué, a proposal that outlined a political transition for Syria but failed to address the future of Bashar al-Assad’s presidency. A U.N. official in Geneva claims that Iran, which did not sign onto the Geneva communiqué, may participate in the talks, though this has yet to be confirmed by other U.N. officials.
Emerging Conflicts: Bangladesh
Over 100 people have been killed since January in political violence in Bangladesh. The violence centers around the conflict between Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and opposition leader Khaleda Zia. Hasina is the head of the ruling Awami League, while Zia is the head of the Bangladesh National Party and the wife of former military dictator Ziaur Rahman. The Bangladesh National Party is also allied with fellow opposition party Jamaat-e-Islami.
Over 300 people were killed in 2013 in conflicts between supporters of the two parties. In January 2014, the opposition boycotted the election and a number of clashes took place between the two parties. Then, on January 5, the anniversary of the 2014 elections, the opposition called for protests against the ruling party. Zia called for her supporters to block roads and railways, but a number of other protests took place as well. The government responded with a harsh crackdown, arresting over 7,000 opposition members. At least 35 opposition activists have also been assassinated. Violence was particularly heavy around January 20. Tactics on boths sides have been brutal, including burning opponents alive with petrol and bombing busses.
Violence continues, and Zia maintains that Hasina should step down and new elections should be held. The economy has suffered enormously from the instability. The garment industry, key to Bangladesh’s economy, has seen exports fall by a third.