ISIS, also known as the Islamic State, has this week seized up to one third of the strategically important Syrian border town of Kobani. Reuters reports that although the United States has launched air strikes against ISIS in an effort to help the remaining beleaguered inhabitants of the largely Kurdish town, the airstrikes have failed to repel them, who continue their invasion of the town apace.
The Turkish government has been non-committal in respects to engaging with ISIS in Kobani, with Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu saying, “It is not realistic to expect Turkey to conduct a ground operation on its own.” Turkish Kurds have been outraged by Turkey’s reluctance to come to the aid of the Kurdish town of Kobani, with resentment turning into violence in southwest Turkey. At least 25 have died as a result of clashes between security forces and incensed Kurds who feel that the government is intentionally letting Kobani suffer. Such reasoning does little to quell the tension between the Turkish government and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the two of whom have been in armed struggle for thirty years.
Turkey has increasingly pushed for the creation of a buffer zone along its border with Syria, a position that has divided opinion in Washington. Although Turkey has said that the buffer zone would largely be used to protect Turkey’s borders as well as incoming refugees, The New York Times reports that the area would largely be used to train and arm rebels to fight the Assad regime. Frederic C. Hof, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and a former American envoy to the Syrian opposition, said, “It would mainly be a place where an alternate government structure would take root and for the training of rebels.” The creation of a buffer zone would require American help to create a no-fly zone and repel air attacks by the Syrian government. It would also bring the United States and its coalition into direct confrontation with the Assad regime. The Turkish government has made it clear that they feel Assad is a greater threat than ISIS, and Turkish participation in the fight against the terror organization is contingent on the creation of a buffer zone.
Twenty five people, including four children, were killed Thursday in multiple Syrian government air strikes on a town outside Damascus. The Syrian Human Rights Observatory said the strikes were on Irbin, a town just east Damascus. It is the latest incident of governmental aggression as Assad’s regime has increasingly tried to retake the area around Damascus.
Central African Republic (CAR)
A new wave of heavy clashes broke out in the capital of the Central African Republic, Bengui, last Wednesday. Machine gun and heaven weapons fire began Wednesday night and continued through Thursday morning, though it was not immediately clear who was involved. The heavy weapons fire followed days of escalating violence in the capital. Earlier that day, a Muslim man was decapitated and his body burned in an apparent revenge attack for injuring several people in a grenade attack. Further violence ensued when an unidentified group of Muslims killed a taxi driver and torched several homes. A group of Muslims then tried to march on the capital’s northern districts but were stopped and arrested by European peacekeepers. It is not clear when exactly the heavy gunfire erupted. At least nine have been killed in the clashes so far, including a UN peacekeeper from Pakistan.
The International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) announced that direct threats against its volunteers and emergency service were preventing the organization from carrying out its relief efforts in the capital. The organization called for all armed parties to respect the “impartial and humanitarian work of its personnel” and emphasized that the ICRC would have to cease its relief activities if the threats continue.
Last Monday, the mostly Christian anti-balaka rebel coalition called on the president and the prime minister to step down, citing the “chaotic situation in CAR”. Some members of the mainly Muslim Seleka rebel coalition also called for the president’s departure.
This week, Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir denied Sudan’s strategic relationship with Iran. Bashir stated that Sudan’s ties with Iran have been exaggerated at the expense of Sudan’s relationship with the Gulf, and Saudi Arabia in particular.
Sudan’s government has authorized two NGOs to operate in east Darfur, an area that has been sealed off from humanitarian assistance since 2010. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported that Sudan has authorized a health assessment of East Darfur to be conducted by NGOs who have not been allowed in the region for four years. The two regions, East Jebel Marra and Beli, are home to 15,000 of the estimated 100,000 people that humanitarian aid has been unable to reach because of Bashir’s ban on humanitarian aid in Darfur. The NGOs now have an opportunity to assist those in need and report on the current situation in the region.
South Sudan ** trigger warning: sexual violence **
This week, the United States urged UN sanctions on South Sudan. The United States envoy to South Sudan’s leader Donald Booth stated that individuals who are responsible for blocking peace in the region should be sanctioned. Although the UN Security Council has the ultimate say in which sanctions are eventually imposed, Booth said the US was not opposed to an arms embargo which could ensure less access to weapons on both sides of the conflict.
Additionally, a report was published this week by a special UN envoy tasked with assessing the levels of rape and sexual violence in South Sudan. The envoy found that levels of rape in South Sudan are the worst the envoy has ever seen. The UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Bangura, stated that in all of her 30 years of service she has never seen a situation as dire as it is currently in South Sudan. She said that South Sudan is not a place where women can live because they constantly fear for their safety and their children’s safety. She added that the conditions are worse than her observations in many other countries including Bosnia, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, and Somalia.
Finally, fighting has resumed south of the state capital, Juba, despite peace talks last week. Both sides blame each other for the attacks. The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in Opposition (SPLM in Opposition), South Sudan’s main armed opposition group, states that it was responding to the government’s continuous attacks and heavy shelling, while the government claims that it was responding to raids by the SPLM in Opposition.
Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)
On October 1, the UN began a specialized training program for female MONUSCO peacekeepers and female soldiers in the Congolese armed forces (FARDC). The training aims to educate female peacekeepers and service members on the importance of UN Security Council Resolution (UNSC) 1325, which recognizes the unique impact of armed conflict on women and girls and emphasizes the contributions of women to peace keeping and peace building processes.
On Monday, Ugandan rebel fighters from the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) militia attacked several communities in the city of Beni, North Kivu, DRC. The attacks left eight civilians dead and several homes looted. Civil society in North Kivu responded by staging a public demonstration condemning the attacks. In late spring 2014, the Congolese army (FARDC) succeeded in driving ADF forces out of Congo. Civilian leaders in Beni expressed frustration at the reemergence of instability in the region.
Early this month, Human Rights Watch (HRW) spoke out against conditions at Kotakoli camp, a center intended to temporarily house nearly 1,000 former combatants from various rebel groups in eastern DRC awaiting their reintegration into civilian or military life. HRW staff and Congolese residents living near Kotakoli describe conditions as reminiscent of those experienced by Somali famine victims. The Congolese government attributes the neglect of Kotakoli residents to a lack of capacity rather than a lack of will.
In a press statement released last week, the UN Security Council (UNSC) again called upon the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to assist the Congolese government in the demobilization of Rwandan FDLR rebels in eastern Congo. Noting that October marks the halfway point of the six-month window given to FDLR militants to disarm, the UNSC expressed concern over the slow rate of repatriation and called upon the Congolese state to pursue military action against rebels who fail to surrender before the deadline.
Tensions between the Rohingya and Rakhine are mounting following reports of increasing marginalization and discrimination by local authorities in Burma’s western Rakhine (Arakan) State. Reuters reports that it has obtained a draft plan written by the Burmese government that would present an ultimatum to Rohingya living in the country: accept reclassification as illegal migrants and potentially be granted citizenship or be arrested. The plan suggests the creation of more “temporary camps” to house those detained. This news seems bleak after small signs of progress earlier in September when 209 Rohingya were granted some form of citizenship.
The Rohingya are a predominantly Muslim ethnic group and are denied citizenship and other rights by a controversial and widely condemned law from 1982. The Burmese and neighboring Bengali governments do not officially acknowledge the almost 1.5 million Rohingya in their countries but instead identify them as either illegal Burmese or Bengali migrants. Because of this stance, the Rohingya are denied access to education, healthcare, and freedom to travel. This makes the Rohingya stateless and, according to the United Nations, one of the world’s most persecuted. Fighting, which has been labelled ethnic cleansing by Human Rights Watch, regularly occurs between the Rohingya and Buddhist Rakhine in Burma. To date, fighting has killed 192 people and displaced around 140,000 Rohingya to internally displaced persons and refugee camps. Click here to see photos of Rohingya in Mandalay, Burma’s second largest city, following clashes in August.
More news of fighting between the Burma Army and Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA) in Burma’s eastern Karen State has displaced local villagers and halted access to roads. The two groups have been fighting since September, despite a growing effort to establish a national ceasefire agreement between the Burmese government and ethnic militia organizations, including the DKBA. Talks ended last week but are due to resume again in the near future.
Emerging Conflicts: Mali
Peacekeepers in northern Mali were attacked twice in the course of a week. Nine peacekeepers from Niger were killed on 3 October when gunmen riding motorbike ambushed a UN convoy. The gunmen were targeting a fuel truck, which would have caused even more damage had it been hit. A Senegalese UN peacekeeper was killed on October 7th when rocket fire struck a camp of peacekeepers in Kidal. These attacks follow an attack on Chadian peacekeepers in Kidal in September when a roadside bomb killed five. According to UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous, 31 peacekeepers have been killed and 91 injured since the mission began in July 2013.
The attacks were widely condemned. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon was “shocked and outraged” following the 3 October attack. Mali’s foreign minister Abdoulaye Diop said that he fears that Mali could become a destination for “hoards of terrorists.”
The conflict in Mali began in 2012 when Tuareg separatists and al-Qaeda linked militants in the north of the country rebelled. France took an active role in the conflict and the UN established a peacekeeping force in 2013. Prior to the recent attacks fighting had slowed and Tuareg rebels had commenced peace talks with the Malian government. The most recent attacks come after France had begun withdrawing troops from Mali in preparation for a regional security force.