The Burmese Army has agreed to withdraw troops from part of Burma’s northern Shan State in which sporadic fighting has reportedly left seven people dead and hundreds displaced. Despite a ceasefire agreement, the Burmese Army was fighting members of the Shan State Army, the armed wing of the Shan State Progress Party, which advocates for greater regional autonomy.
Additionally, the Burmese government announced that it would hold general elections in late October or early November of next year. This will be Burma’s second general election, with the first being held in 2011. As mandated by the Burmese constitution, the parliament, which will be 75% civilian and 25% military, will select the country’s next president in 2016. Democratic icon Aung San Suu Kyi has indicated her desire to run for president, but she appears to be unable to do so due to oddly specific elections rules that many believe was passed to explicitly exclude her from running.
Last week, a controversial bill limiting press freedom was passed by Burma’s upper house of parliament. The measure would establish a council of government officials that could regulate and oversee all television and radio broadcasting services. It also limits foreign ownership of private TV broadcasting. Since Burma’s transition from military dictatorship to quasi civilian led government, press freedoms have been greatly improved. However, some worry that measures like this could limit the country’s progress in this area.
Central African Republic (CAR)
Recent weeks have seen a surge in violence in the Central African Republic. On Thursday, gunmen from the Fulani militia and the predominantly Muslim Seleka militia attacked the town of Yamalé, leaving at least thirty people dead. The attack follows an outbreak of violence in the capital of Bangui that killed at least six the previous week. Violence broke out Tuesday and Wednesday saw clashes between UN peacekeeping forces and the predominantly animist and Christian anti-balaka forces.
International organizations have continued their work as the violence continues. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has struggled to maintain its humanitarian work despite serious security concerns as the violence continues. The United Nations and the World Health Organization both condemned attacks by various militias on hospitals and doctors, and urged all armed groups to “respect medical facilities and allow patients and medical staff unhindered and safe access to hospitals”. The UN estimates that the latest violence has displaced at least 6,500 people.
Meanwhile, CAR’s government announced that it plans to reform its army by creating a rapid intervention unit in an effort to quell the interethnic violence that has plagued the country since December 2013. The government’s armed forces, FACA, were routed by the Seleka militia in 2013, and many members have either ceased to report to duty due to lack of pay or joined various militia groups.
Democratic Republic of Congo
On Monday, October 20, the governor of North Kivu province, DRC affirmed that civilians in North Kivu support ongoing Congolese military (FARDC) operations against the Ugandan Allied Democratic Forces-National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (ADF-NALU) militant groups. The ADF-NALU bears responsibility for over 80 civilian deaths in Beni, North Kivu over the past month. The UN force in the DRC, MONUSCO, will execute a joint offensive strategy to combat the ADF-NALU, in collaboration with the FARDC.
Congolese Minister of Information Lambert Mende referred to last Friday’s attacks on civilians in North Kivu as the consequences of “ADF-NALU terrorist operations”. Mende assured journalists that Congolese officials continue to work closely with their Ugandan counterparts to gather intelligence on ADF-NALU operations. The most recent attack left nearly thirty Congolese civilians dead, the latest in a string of guerilla assaults on unarmed civilians. The Ugandan military chased ADF-NALU rebels into eastern Congo in the 1990s, and today the group continues to terrorize civilians in the region.
In August 2014, the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) gave FDLR militants a six-month extension to voluntarily disarm and return to Rwanda. The ultimatum stipulates that FDLR militants must surrender before December 31, 2014 or face military action by MONUSCO and the FARDC. On October 19, in a joint meeting of the ICGLR and the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the UN special envoy for the Great Lakes called upon the leaders of ICGLR and SADC countries to reach a consensus concerning an international response should FDLR militants fail to disarm before the December deadline.
Last week in Sudan, Sudanese security forces arrested a journalist in Khartoum. When questioned, the journalist’s family could think of no reason for his arrest and have been unable to reach him by telephone. The journalist worked for the London based newspaper Al-Hayat that publishes in Arabic. In the past, Sudan has been accused of arresting journalists without cause and disrespecting freedom of the press and speech. Sudan is currently ranked 172 out of 180 in the Reporters Without Borders 2014 World Press Freedom Index.
Additionally, reports have emerged claiming that Sudan may be arming South Sudanese rebels. This indicates that Sudan’s government plans to increase military assistance to rebels in South Sudan, which could escalate and prolong the conflict on South Sudanese soil. The news comes from leaked minutes from a high-level security meeting in Khartoum. The South Sudanese rebels have denied Sudan’s involvement in the conflict on many occassions, and have continued to deny it since the release of these minutes. Many experts have warned that should Sudan support the South Sudanese rebels with arms and aid, it will protract and intensify the conflict, and could exacerbate the humanitarian crises on the ground.
Finally, this week Sudan’s defense minister made a surprise trip to China to continue talks with the Chinese defense minister. The Sudanese defense minister claims that the visit was fruitful and that there is a strong bond between China and Sudan’s defense forces. China is the main investor in Sudanese oil production and the Sudanese rely on Chinese arms. Chinese shipments to Sudan include ammunition, helicopters, aircraft, and tanks. Such continued military support from China could contribute to the continuation of armed conflict in both Sudan and South Sudan.
This week in South Sudan, The UN mission in South Sudan has set up provisions for internally displaced persons. These sites will help 28,000 internally displaced persons near three cities in South Sudan. The mission stated that this is a temporary situation for these IDPs and that once stability in the region is restored, they hope that the IDPs can return home. As the mission has been building thee sites outside of Juba, Bor, and Bentiu the mission has seen the continued decline of living conditions as the conflict continues. The situation in all of these places is dire, especially outside of Bor and Bentiu, where the rainy season has destroyed crops and flooding has spread disease, exacerbated by the area’s lack of health care professionals.
Additionally, a report has emerged that South Sudan’s crisis is threatening its development. According to South Sudan’s finance chief, the conflict has caused the country to have to re-direct its focus to security and emergency relief instead of development programs. The finance minister said that South Sudan must focus on achieving peace before the country can create sustainable economic growth or improve the humanitarian situation of its citizens. The report also commented on humanitarian aid to South Sudan. USAID increased its aid to 180,000 US dollars in August to attempt to quell the drastically deteriorating humanitarian situation.
In a meeting last week between three members of the South Sudanese ruling parties in Arusha, Tanzania, each party accepted responsibility for starting and continuing the conflict that has devastated South Sudan these last ten months. The admission of guilt from all three parties suggests the possibility that a peace deal may soon be reached. The meeting in Tanzania showcased the effect of intense international pressure for the South Sudanese to create a successful peace deal between the three factions.
Reuters is reporting that the Syrian air force has stepped up attacks on rebel held areas, reportedly striking up to 200 times in recent days. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the government has launched up to 210 raids in recent days – including with the use of barrel bombs – focused on provinces in the east, north and west of the country. Areas affected by the raids included Hama, Daraa, Idlib, Aleppo and Quneitra provinces as well as the Damascus countryside. Before this increase in strikes, the Syrian military only launched aerial raids at a rate of 10-20 strikes a day. The increase of government attacks heightens fears that the Assad regime is using the United States coalition’s bombardment of ISIS held area to attack opposition forces, including more moderate and western-backed factions.
The heightening of air strikes could also signal the Syrian government’s desire to weaken moderate opposition forces before the United States trains and arms them. Despite the US and Syrian government’s mutual opposition to the Islamic State (IS), the United States does not want to help the Assad regime. This stems from the understanding that the Assad regime is in large part responsible for the creation of IS and other terror organizations, who have flourished in the vacuum of power created by divisions formed after Assad’s brutal crackdown on dissent, civil liberties, and peaceful protest.
Lawmakers in Iraq’s Kurdistan region have moved to authorise Kurdish Peshmerga’s mobilisation to Kobane, the Syrian-Turkish border town with a primarily Kurdish population, currently under siege by IS. Youssef Mohammed, the speaker of parliament said, “This is a big turning point in Kurdish history. Troops used to be sent to occupy Kurdish lands, but now we are sending soldiers to protect our Kurdish brothers abroad”.
Emerging Conflicts: Pakistan
At least 13 people were killed in the southwestern city of Quetta on 23 October in a series of attacks. Eight members of the Hazara minority were killed when gunmen opened fire on a bus. Soon after, a bomb on a motorcycle exploded targeting a car used by security forces. Two people were killed and 12 were wounded in the attack. There was also an attack which killed two and wounded 30. The cleric Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman, the head of a Sunni religious party and supporter of the Taliban, was targeted but he was not severely hurt. He has been targeted in the past for his willingness to work inside the democratic system.
No group has taken responsibility for the attacks yet, but Taliban-linked Sunni militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi is the main suspect. However, Quetta is the provincial capital of Baluchistan and Baluch separatists are also suspected. The majority of victims were Hazaras, a Shi’ite ethnic group that has been repeatedly targeted. Hundreds of Hazara protested the killings later in the day. About one-fifth of Pakistan is Shia and over 800 have been killed attacks since 2012.
The recent attacks in Quetta follow an attack on a bus in early October in Peshawar which killed seven. Tensions have escalated since the Pakistani military launched an offensive against militants in North Waziristan in June. Over 800,000 people have been displaced in the operation, and the Pakistani military says that over 1,000 militants and 86 Pakistani soldiers have been killed.