Moaz al-Khatib, the president of the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), Syria’s main opposition group, resigned Sunday stating that international powers have failed to help the rebels and that he could only improve the situation outside the Coalition. Analysts have speculated that al-Khatib resigned due to frustration over disproportional influence by Qatar and Islamists in the Coalition. However, Khatib stated that the Coalition refuses to discuss his resignation, which leaves the possibility that he may be asked to reverse his decision. Meanwhile, the political and media coordinator of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) announced that the FSA refuses to recognize the newly elected prime minister of the SNC’s newly formed interim government, Ghassan Hito, on the grounds that the Coalition did not form a consensus on his election.
On Tuesday, SNC replaced the Assad regime in the Syrian embassy to the Arab League as the League embraced the right for members to supply military aid to the rebels. The move drew sharp criticism from the Assad regime, Russia, and Iran. The following day, Assad sent a letter calling for help from the leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, the BRICS countries, calling for help to end the war. Russia, China, and South Africa have voted against UNSC resolutions on Syria previously. Moaz Al-Khatib’s call for the US to use Patriot missile defense batteries located in Turkey against Syrian warplanes at the Arab League summit was rebuffed by US officials, who reiterated the purely defensive nature of the missiles.
On Monday, Jordan closed its main border crossing with Syria following increased clashes nearby between Assad forces and rebels. Fighting has also increased in the Quneitra region near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, with the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and Local Coordination Committees reporting rebels overrunning several army posts. Fighting also intensified in Damascus. Last Thursday, a suicide bombing in a Damascus mosque killed one of the top pro-Assad Sunni preachers and 41 others, wounding at least 84 more.
The New York Times reported that Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey have been funneling arms to Syrian rebels with the help of the CIA since early 2012. Arms flows intensified late last year, corresponding to increased rebel gains. American officials stated that the role of the CIA has been purely consultative, and was offered to influence suppliers to direct arms away from Islamist groups and to prohibit certain weapons that could later be used for terrorism from entering Syria. Some rebels have expressed frustration over the American role in the arms supply, saying that it has limited access to crucial weaponry in the struggle against Assad.
As of Tuesday, March 26, at least 40 people are confirmed dead and more than 12,000 displaced following sectarian violence between Buddhists and Muslims in central Burma. The violence began last Wednesday, March 20, in Meikhtila following an argument between a Muslim-owned gold shop and a Buddhist couple. The conflict quickly escalated, spreading throughout the area to other nearby towns and even the capital, Naypyidaw causing Myanmar President Thein Sein to impose a state of emergency in the area. Many shops and homes, particularly those of Muslims, as well as mosques, were burned to the ground. Some reports (Washington Post, New York Times) claimed that rumors on social media contributed to the quick escalation and spread of violence in central Burma. The Myanmar military was quickly sent to the area to quell the violence with curfews and bans on public gatherings imposed in nine separate townships. The Myanmar government, as well as the US, UN, and others, emphasized a strong desire to bring about peace, fearing that this religious violence could threaten recent democratic reforms.
On Wednesday, March 27, opposition leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi attended an annual military parade for the first time. Held in the nation’s capital Naypyidaw, the parade commemorated Armed Forces Day. The military, which imprisoned Suu Kyi and many of her supporters, claimed they intended to stay involved in national politics. To the objection of Suu Kyi and her party, the National League of Democracy, the Myanmar constitution guarantees the once-ruling military 25% of Parliament.
Democratic Republic of the Congo
Bosco Ntaganda’s surrender marks the first time that a suspect has surrendered voluntarily to International Criminal Court (ICC) custody. He arrived in The Hague on Friday, after surrendering himself to the US embassy in Kigali. Arrest warrants for Ntaganda were issued in 2006 and 2012 for war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murder, rape and sexual slavery, recruitment and use of child soldiers, and pillaging during the Ituri conflict in northeastern Congo in 2002-2003.
On Tuesday, Ntaganda made his first appearance before the court. His lawyer says he plans to apply for interim release. The charges hearing will begin on September 23, 2013, when judges will decide whether there is sufficient evidence to establish substantial grounds to believe Ntaganda committed each of the crimes he is accused of. Should the charges be confirmed, the case will go to trial. London-based Chatham House says, “Bosco’s surrender clears the way to a negotiated settlement between the M23 and the Congolese government. More symbolically, it marks the end of a cycle of Rwandan-backed rebellions that started at the beginning of the second Congo war in the 1990s,” claiming that “the M23 is likely to be the final iteration of a pattern that has shaped Eastern DRC for fifteen years […] but it is not going to be transformative.”
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Congolese Foreign Minister Raymond Tshibanda N’tungamulongo agreed that the upcoming UNSC resolution on the DRC should strengthen the MONUSCO peacekeeping mission and endorse the Secretary-General’s approach to addressing the root causes of instability in the Great Lakes region. He has also called on the UNSC to authorize the deployment of a special MONUSCO force with the ability to conduct, with or without the Congolese army, offensive operations against all armed groups that threaten peace in eastern DRC.
On March 23, Presidents Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Joseph Kabila of DRC, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, and Denis Sassou-N’Guesso of Republic of Congo-Brazzaville met in Brazzaville to discuss ongoing regional efforts towards ending conflict in eastern DRC and establishing security in the region. The leaders also expressed strong concerns on recent developments in the central African Republic, where Francois Bozize was overthrown earlier this week.
Central African Republic
President Francois Bozize of the CAR fled to Congo after rebels took control of the capital, Bangui, as well as the presidential palace, on Sunday. Since Friday, several towns have fallen after a peace accord between the rebels and the government collapsed. The rebels are made up of several opposition groups officially known as the Séléka coalition. They have faced little resistance from the ill-trained and ill-equipped CAR army. Bozize and his family have since relocated to Cameroon.
A few days before the coup, Amy Martin, the head of the Bangui branch of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), told IRIN that security was deteriorating, and that “The agreed conditions are not being respected by either side: release [by the government] of prisoners, the quartering of armed forces by Séléka. There are more rumours of additional former rebel groups to join the Séléka coalition. All remain very uncertain and unpredictable.” Margaret Vogt, Special Representative to the Secretary-General for the CAR, added that “Séléka now controls three-quarters of the country.” The Séléka offensive began on 10 December 2012, and is the latest in a series of crises in the CAR. For an in-depth analysis, see Danny Hirschel-Burns’ blog post here.
Ugandan troops remain deployed around border areas of the CAR, DRC, and South Sudan, where Joseph Kony and the LRA are thought to be. Some analysts believe that the African Union’s decision to suspend the CAR from the AU may have negative effects on the hunt for the LRA. “If Séléka is unable to consolidate control, it would further the physical and tactical net within the which LRA can seek opportunities to rebuild weapons caches,” said Angelo Izama of the US-based Open Society Foundation. The LRA Crisis Tracker reports that in February the LRA was responsible for 13 civilian deaths and 17 abductions in the CAR, and UNOCHA says an estimated 443,000 people are currently displaced in LRA-affected areas. In addition, 5,663 Sudanese refugees in the CAR have been uprooted because of the coup d’état, and are now living in “deplorable” conditions.
Reports surfaced today that a heavy military battle inside South Sudan’s border killed 163people, mostly rebels, when government forces clashed with rebels affiliated with David Yau Yau. South Sudan accuses Sudan of arming Yau Yau’s rebellion in order to block South Sudan’s plans to build an oil pipeline through Ethiopia to a port in Djbouti. Sudan has repeatedly denied these accusations. South Sudan has accused the government of Sudan of launching a heavy and coordinated attack on Northern Bahr el Ghazal state, killing at least three innocent civilians and wounding several others. These reports come as the UN verified this week that Sudan and South Sudan have moved troops from Abyei, the first step of the demilitarization of the border zone that should be completed by early April.
Jonglei women vow to leave men if violence continues. They also demanded that women be given greater involvement in peace talks and political decisionmaking processes. The women-only peace conference outlined 20 key recommendations aimed at bringing peace to their communities and the state at large. The recommendations largely relate to education, security, infrastructure and rights.
A recent article “South Sudan’s Red Army comes of age,” explains how the former child soldier army of South Sudan that fought for independence since the 1980s, called the Red Army, is now becoming a civil society organization. “In a landmark transition from warfare to welfare, former child soldiers in the Red Army are establishing a foundation aimed at addressing social problems in South Sudan.”
Cash was stolen from South Sudan’s President’s Salva Kiir’s Office this week. Original reports stated millions of dollars were robbed, but those amounts were denied by Kiir. It is believed that 176,000 Sudanese pounds and $14,000 (US Dollars) were stolen.
The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement North (SPLM-N) announced its readiness for direct talks with Khartoum and proposed a constitutional conference brokered by African mediation. Although the Vice President of Sudan welcomes talks with opposition groups, many are skeptical of his sincerity, as several key members of opposition are still under arrest.
A 64-year-old Sudanese Christian woman is being held without charge by the Sudanese government. This comes as part of a larger crackdown on Christian churches, orphanages, and schools.
In Darfur, reports continue to show sexual violence towards women and girls by the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), as well as lawlessness in the region. Militia groups have reportedly looted 50 million Pounds’ in goods from a Central Darfur IDP camp, and seized 31 displaced people at gunpoint on Sunday. The arbitrary seizures are accredited to the SLM-AW Darfuri rebel group.