Heavy fighting has erupted in parts of Damascus on Wednesday in what USA Today has called “some of the worst violence to hit the Syrian capital in weeks”. Activists reported the fighting is centered in western districts of the city. The director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights activist group stated that the increased violence is due to a campaign by the Assad regime to take back rebel-held areas in the suburbs of Damascus.
The same group reported two suicide car bombings on government military intelligence headquarters in the south-central city of Palmyra (a designated world-heritage site for its Roman ruins), killing at least 19 people. Attacks were also reported on a nearby security building. In Aleppo, Syrian rebels have attempted to re-establish a police force in rebel-held areas. However, some residents say they do not trust many of the officers who defected from the Syrian regime.
Syrian opposition leader Moaz Al-Khatib, who in a controversial move last week stated his willingness to negotiate with the Assad regime, gave Sunday as his deadline for the release of all female prisoners held by the regime before he would consider his offer rejected. His proposal to release Syrian Vice President Farouk al-Shara has already been refused. Al-Khatib also accused the Syrian government of allowing Iran to make its decisions.
An Israeli television channel has broadcasted images of what it claimed was an unscathed military research center bombed in Syria by an Israeli air strike last week. Diplomats, Syrian rebels, and security sources claimed that the Israeli strike hit a convoy of weapons being carried towards the Lebanese border. Syrian television broadcasted its own footage showing what it claimed was extensive damage to the military research center.
The World Health Center has reported that the inability to deliver safe water throughout the country, the close of one third of Syrian public hospitals, a mass exodus of doctors, and ambulance shortages have contributed to a dramatic downturn in Syrians’ health, including an outbreak of hepatitis A. The organization is one of at least four UN organizations hoping to raise the alarm over the Syrian humanitarian crisis. Meanwhile, the Assad regime has allowed UN-based aid to rebel-held areas previously inaccessible to the Syrian regime in what US Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration Anne Richard has speculated is a move to “pacify some of the country”.
On Monday February 4, the Myanmar government held talks with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in the Chinese town of Ruili. It remains unclear as to whether any progress was made during the talks as more have been scheduled in the next few months to draft a ceasefire agreement. The two parties met for seven hours to discuss ways to end the recent violence in Kachin State after the conflict reignited near the KIA’s headquarters in the town of Laiza. The KIA, the armed group of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), is fighting for greater autonomy within Burma in one of the country’s longest ongoing conflicts.
Previously, the Myanmar government claimed it could not guarantee the safety of aid workers after denying access to the UN, US, and UK access to the area. Following the meeting in Ruili between the Myanmar government and KIA, the Myanmar government announced it would allow the UN and other humanitarian aid groups access to the war-torn Kachin State. Almost 100,000 people have been displaced since June 2011, when a 17-year-old ceasefire agreement broke down and fighting resumed.
Last weekend, Burma held a literary festival, the first of its kind ever held in the country after years of strict censorship and laws prohibiting public gatherings. Opposition leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi was the keynote speaker at the event and spoke about how reading helped her cope living under house arrest for much of the past 20 years.
On Thursday, the head of a leading opposition party to the ruling NCP (National Congress Party) in Khartoum joined the controversial “New Dawn Charter.” The charter, which was formed in January, is a broad coalition of Sudanese opposition parties and rebel groups. The document calls for toppling the regime and preventing the exploitation of religion in politics. In response to the “New Dawn Charter,” Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) is calling for a ban on several political parties that have signed onto the charter.
This week it was announced that the International Conference on Reconstruction and Development of Darfur will be held in April of this year. The conference will be a platform for the Sudanese government and other groups to discuss development and service projects addressing water, health, education, agriculture, security and infrastructure in Darfur.
At least 300 refugees from Sudan’s South Kordofan are crossing the border into Yida, South Sudan’s largest refugee camp. As a result, new refugee camps as well as settlements will need to be created to adequately hold the inflow of people. An estimated 160,000 people from South Kordofan remain displaced in neighboring Sudanese states.
Democratic Republic of the Congo
Regional governments failed to sign a peace deal last Sunday at the African Union Summit. The M23 rebels have said that they expect to sign a peace agreement with the Congolese government by the end of February. A government spokesman, however, stated that they “are hoping to have things finished by the end of February but M23 have made lots of capricious extra demands, which is slowing down the process.” Goals of the M23 movement originally included government cooperation with the March 23, 2009 agreement, but have since broadened to include the removal of Kabila from office and “liberation” of the entire country. Women are struggling to add their voices to the talks.
For an excellent analysis of the failures of peacekeeping in DRC, see Mha Menondji’s piece from Think Africa Press.