Syrian state media reported two mortar shell explosions near a presidential palace on Tuesday. The palace, one of three in Damascus, hosts visiting dignitaries but is not a residence of President Assad. Syrian state media and the Associated Press reported a mortar strike near Tishreen stadium this Wednesday, killing one footballer and injuring several others. On Tuesday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported 31 people were killed in a surface-to-air missile strike on a residential area in Aleppo. Opposition sources also reported 50 people killed in Damascus suburbs on Tuesday, including at least 20 killed in an airstrike on Hamouriyeh. The Assad regime has reported that the Aleppo airport remains in government hands, despite facing “intensive attacks by gunmen.”
Kurdish militias and Arab anti-regime rebels reached an agreement to cease three months of hostilities that began when Islamist groups entered Ras al-Ain in November, seizing a crossing on the Turkish border. The FSA signed the agreement on behalf of all rebel groups except Islamist group Jabhat al-Nusra, which took part in the talks and favored the agreement. The second most powerful Islamist group in the area, Ghuruba al-Sham, also supported the agreement. Under this agreement, all military forces are to be withdrawn from the city and Kurdish fighters are to join the anti-Assad rebels. On Wednesday, theFSA warned Hezbollah militants that if they do not stop fighting with the Syrian regime within 48 hours, they “will respond to the sources of fire by our hands and eliminate it from inside the Lebanese lands.” Former Lebanese information minister and parliament member Michel Samaha and Syrian Major General Ali Mamlouk have been indicted with charges of planning terrorist attacks inside Lebanon. Lebanese authorities are seeking the death penalty for both men.
The Arab League and Russia proposed on Wednesday to broker talks between anti-government rebels and the Assad regime. The Arab League and Russia are working to establish direct contact between the opposition and the Syrian regime, said Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Khatim is scheduled to visit Russia on Monday and opposition leader Moaz al-Khatib is expected in March. Russia also dispatched two planes to Syria to evacuate its citizens and sent four warships to the Mediterranean, which a military source said might be used for a future evacuation of Russian citizens.
United Nations agencies have warned of a ‘humanitarian tragedy’ in Syria, including in the rebel-held north, an area that aid workers are largely unable to reach and which is currently suffering a typhoid outbreak. Human Rights Watch called for the Syrian government to allow aid to cross all borders on February 11, and announced that donors should increase support for NGOs already bringing aid across the border with Turkey into opposition-held areas. An independent team at the UN announced on Monday that Syrians on both sides of the conflict have committed war crimes and urged the UN Security Council to hold perpetrators accountable, possibly by prosecution at the International Criminal Court.
This week, an ongoing military offensive by the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) in the Blue Nile State has so far forced thousands to flee into South Sudan. Dozens of SPLM-N rebels were killed in the aerial bombardments, leading the government of Sudan to claim that it liberated the area. One source is quoted as saying, “The Sudan air force is bombarding the whole southern Blue Nile every hour.” Despite a deal reached in September of last year between Sudan and South Sudan, the two nations have failed to create a demilitarised border buffer zone, largely because Sudan accuses the government of South Sudan of supporting the SPLM-N rebels that it continues to fight. However the SPLM-N this week has offered to negotiate a ceasefire with the Sudanese government to allow for the introduction of humanitarian relief.
Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir visited Chad this weekend, and despite being obligated as a signatory of the Rome Statute to arrest him, the Chadian government allowed him to return home freely. The ICC issued an arrest warrant for Bashir in 2009, charging him with war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.
Despite the UN passing an arms embargo on Sudan last week, there are many weaknesses to the current Security Council resolutions for Sudan. Eric Reeves writes of the importance of a stricter policy towards the government’s perpetual acts of violence towards its own citizens in Darfur, highlighting the recent escalation of violence in Darfur in the past week including:
- Aerial bombardment by the government of Sudan.
- An outbreak of fires with mysterious causes destroying dozens of homes.
- Kidnapping by armed gunmen.
- Humanitarian crises at IDP camps in Darfur due to a lack of security, medical care, and food.
- The shelling of Gidu village in West Jebel Marra, Central Darfur by the Sudanese government, killing 12 civilians on Thursday and displacing thousands.
- The rape of displaced women by pro-government militias.
- Settling into the homes of the displaced in Darfur by pro-government camel herders.
Simultaneous anti-government violence persists. Last week a joint rebel offensive killed 87 SAF soldiers. Lastly, the government of Sudan was accused of harboring fugitive Islamist Malian rebels in Darfur after JEM forces witnessed them in the region.
There has been an outbreak of hepatitis E that has affected more than 6,000 people in South Sudan refugee camps since July, killing 111.
South Sudan’s government this week was accused of detaining scores of opposition figures without issuing arrest warrants or giving them access to lawyers since unrest broke out in a northwestern town in December. The United States Institute of Peace (USIP) just released a publication concerning the rise of undemocratic tendencies of the South Sudanese government. Examples include the persecution of journalists, the lack of progress on developing a constitution, and several acts of violence towards UN peacekeepers. (USIP also released a publication last week on the economic pressures building in Sudan).
South Sudan recently retired over 100 generalsas part of a sweeping restructuring of the former rebel force, in a move partly aimed at demilitarizing the fledgling nation’s government. The move is considered a positive step towards separating civilians and members of the military in the government.
On Thursday, February 2, MSF claimed it was being denied access to some groups of Rohingya in Rakhine State by government officials. MSF is only allowed to visit the Rohingya IDP camps one day a week. Because the predominantly Muslim Rohingya are viewed by the Myanmar government as illegal Bengali migrants, the Rohingya, even when seriously ill, are not permitted to travel outside the camps to seek treatment. Since June 2012, nearly 110,000 people have been displaced due to ongoing violence between the Rohingya and Rakhine people. MSF has been accused by the Myanmar government of favoring the Rohingya over the Rakhine. A United Nations peace envoy recently criticized the government about continuing human rights violations throughout the country despite recent democratic reforms, citing ongoing instances of torture, arbitrary arrests, and lack of basic rights and health care for the Rohingya.
Last week, opposition leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi said she is willing to mediate peace talks between the Myanmar government and Burma’s various ethnic nationalities, particularly the ongoing conflict in Kachin State. The announcement was made on Tuesday, February 12, which is Union Day in Burma, a day that celebrates Suu Kyi’s father, Aung San, who signed an agreement with Burma’s ethnic nationalities to seek independence from the British. The Kachin, as well as other ethnic nationalities in Burma, pursue the right of self-determination, which is denied under Burma’s current constitution.
Representatives from the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) met with Myanmar officials on Tuesday, February 19, the day prior to a larger peace talk. The two parties agreed to meet for the first time in Burma’s capital Naypyidaw sometime in the near future to gain trust and discuss the continuation of a ceasefire in northern Shan State between the Myanmar military and the RCSS’s armed wings, Shan State Army North and Shan State Army South. Recent violence in Shan State has threatened to undermine the ceasefire agreement.
On Wednesday, February 20, representatives from the Myanmar government met with members of the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) in Chiang Mai, Thailand. The UNFC is an umbrella organization that represents many ethnic nationalities of Burma, including the Kachin, which has been involved in bitter conflict with the Myanmar military since June 2011. Yet, it was reported that no Myanmar military officials would take part in the meeting. In a joint statement, the peace talks were described as “frank and friendly”. No major developments were reached about the ongoing violence in Kachin State, with the dialogue being defined as “very informal” in a tweet by Al Jazeera correspondent Wayne Hay. The Myanmar government and UNFC did, however, engage in discussion for the first time on how to supply humanitarian aid to ethnic areas.
On Monday, February 10th, Burma observed US-led military exercises in Thailand as part of the two countries’ closer diplomatic relationship. The joint military exercise, codenamed “Cobra Gold” is the largest of its kind in Asia.
Democratic Republic of the Congo
The International Center for Transitional Justice has highlighted four military court casesinvolving dozens of Congolese citizens, human rights violations, and an outstanding $1 million in unpaid reparations owed by the government. In each case, egregious crimes were carried out by the Congolese government.
Security forces have caused 53,000 people to flee Punia in Eastern DRC in Katanga Province due to harassment and threats. Punia is near a large mining site that has been victim to clashes between government forces and Mai Mai rebels. The World Food Programme has had trouble delivering food aid to the area, because of the lack of storage facilities and transportation issues. WFP flew into the area on February 15, bringing 20 tons of food, which they said would feed 8,000 people for five days. MSF is having trouble medically assisting victims of violence in Katanga Province as well.
On February 11, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson called for a global effort to help the DRC. “The first step is for the DRC, Rwanda, Uganda and other countries in the region to sign a United Nations Framework Agreement on the deployment of a joint U.N. and African Union force in the DRC. Then, a comprehensive peace process needs to be launched, involving local communities, especially in the Kivu region of eastern DRC, civil society groups and international organizations. He said because of the size and complexity of the challenges, a senior, high-level U.N. envoy is needed to coordinate the work.” Last week, STAND students across the country called on President Obama to appoint an envoy to the peace process.
Hundreds of thousands of IDPs remain in DRC because of decades-long violence in the east. There are many issues with the often-impromptu IDP camps, writes Caelin Briggs, as they are often unsupported by the UNHCR or the Congolese government. Hunger remains a huge issue for many. Taylor Toeka Kakala writes, however, of IDPs helped by programs run by Caritas International to grow their own food from the IDP camps. About 30,000 people are affected by the program, able to grow crops to sustain themselves.