On Wednesday, 22 people were killed and another 15 wounded when the Burmese Army shelled a rebel military academy in Laiza, a city in Burma’s northern Kachin State. The Kachin Independence Army (KIA), which runs the military academy and is headquartered in Laiza, has been fighting the Burmese Army since a ceasefire agreement broke down in June of 2011. The Burmese Army has apologized for the loss of life and claims their attack was “unintentional”. Instead, the Burmese Army said they wanted to “send a warning” to the KIA for a recent rebel attack on government troops building a road 70 km south of Laiza. To read more about the ongoing struggle between the Kachin and Burmese government, click here.
Central African Republic (CAR)
Sectarian violence has rapidly increased in a town in southeastern CAR, displacing thousands according to the UN. Attacks taking place on 17 and 18 November between communities in Zémio, a town near the Central African Republic’s border with South Sudan, mark the ‘first major inter-community incident in the region’ since the crisis began in 2012, according to the United Nations’ humanitarian relief office. On 20 November, fighting between members of the mostly Christian and animist Anti-balaka militia and UN peacekeeping forces left six dead and around ten injured in Cantonnier, a town near the Cameroon border. As fighting continues, faith leaders in CAR have called for an end to the sectarian violence. The Catholic archbishop of Bangui, a Muslim imam, and a Protestant minister announced an interfaith initiative ‘to foster dialogue and social cohesion’ on 10 November.
Reports emerged that the Séléka rebel alliance has taken control of a mine in the village of Ndassima, located in eastern CAR. While all legal trade in diamonds from CAR was stopped over 18 months ago by the Kimberley Process, an international agreement meant to prevent trade in conflict diamonds, trade in gold has continued largely uninhibited. As one miner put it, “Gold is always easier to sell. The control on diamonds is much stricter”. And while the Kimberley Process has stopped legal diamond trade with CAR, diamond smuggling continues.
Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)
On Friday, November 7, a Congolese military court convicted Jerome Kakwavu, a general in the Congolese army (FARDC) and former rebel fighter, of war crimes. The court sentenced Kakwavu to 10 years in jail. The court found Kakwavu guilty of multiple counts of rape, murder, and torture, and of failing to take necessary measures to prevent human rights abuses by soldiers under his command. The court’s finding makes Kakwavu the highest-ranking Congolese military official to face a war crimes conviction since the start of the First Congo War in 1996.
Reports of an M23 comeback continue to circulate amongst the group’s military and civilian leaders in Rwanda and Uganda. In November 2013, the UN and the Congolese military defeated the March 23 movement. The rebel group occupied the North Kivu provincial capital of Goma for nearly two years prior to the defeat. Dissatisfied with the Congolese government’s refusal to provide amnesty, the M23 reportedly plans to again mount attacks in eastern Congo. The group’s weak current capacity, however, raises doubts about the validity of these claims.
On November 11, Justin Banaloki, military leader of the rebel group Front de Resistance Patriotique d’Ituri (FRPI) and known as “Cobra Mtata,” surrendered to Congolese authorities. Despite the surrender of Banaloki and former FRPI leader Colonel Adirodhu, the whereabouts of other high-ranking FRPI leaders remain speculative. The FRPI militia is based in Ituri province and remains one of the longest-standing armed groups in eastern DRC.
On Monday, November 10, UN peacekeepers opened fire on Congolese civilians in the town of Mbau, shooting and killing one man. The troops opened fire following a dispute over motorcycles blocking the passage of UN vehicles. The next day, activists staged a protest against the actions of the troops. One protester was killed and two others injured during the demonstrations. The dispute follows a period of heightened tension between the UN force in the DRC (MONUSCO) and Congolese civil society, largely resulting from MONUSCO’s inability to stop attacks by the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a Ugandan rebel group.
Sudan ** trigger warning: sexual violence **
The Sudanese army has increased its presence on the South Sudan border. There have been reports of an increase in tanks, armored trucks, artillery, and other heavy weaponry. This comes a week after escalating violence along the border towns of Sudan and South Sudan where at least thirty-five people have been killed. Amid growing concerns of escalating hostilities, South Sudanese President Salva Kiir flew to Sudan earlier this month to ensure that the 2012 cooperation agreement would remain intact.
Additionally, the United Nations Security Council has urged Sudan to allow the joint UN-African Union peacekeeping force to investigate the recent rapes in the Darfur region. This comes after Sudan closed the Darfur region to further investigation despite outcries from international human rights groups. After being asked to give access on 19 November, Sudan again denied the UN access to Darfur. This leaves the victims without any due process of law or access to counseling.
Last week in South Sudan, the UN demanded the release of one of its staff members who was abducted. The staff member worked for the World Food Programme and was last seen being escorted from an airport check-in queue by armed gunmen. The UN stressed that attacks on humanitarian workers jeopardize aid efforts. As World Food Programme country chief Joyce Luma said, “To bring urgently needed food assistance to hungry people affected by conflict, our staff are working in difficult and dangerous conditions, but we cannot also ask them to risk their lives to do so.”
Additionally, UN agencies have begun to relocate 15,000 South Sudanese refugees within Ethiopia. The refugees have been stranded for several months at a way station in western Ethiopia due to the unexpected flooding of the refugee camp they were meant to be moved to. They are now being moved in shifts to a camp roughly 300 kilometers away from the way station. More than 190,000 South Sudanese refugees have sought safety in Ethiopia since December 2013. Ethiopia is also Africa’s largest provider to refugees, currently housing 600,000 displaced persons.
Finally, South Sudanese President Salva Kiir is currently engaged in bilateral talks with Egypt. These talks are said to mostly focus on trade and investment in agriculture, health, power, electricity, and education. While South Sudan’s defence minister recently struck a military cooperation agreement with Egypt, it remains unclear whether or not the country will seek military assistance from Egypt.
The Syrian regime has this past week continued its escalation of airstrikes on rebel held areas. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the Syrian air force in the last month launched about 1,592 strikes across Syria, killing at least 396. The observatory writes that the attacks, coming in the form of air raids and barrel bombs, have injured at least 1500 civilians, and “struck areas in the Hama, Deraa, Idlib, Aleppo and Quneitra provinces as well as the Damascus countryside.”
Aleppo also suffered further aerial bombardment earlier this week, with the AP reporting that Syrian aircraft launched crude explosives on the Qabr al-Inglizi neighbourhood that resulted in the deaths of 14 people. Children were among the dead. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on on-the-ground activists for key information, said the death toll could still rise, as people still buried under rubble remained unaccounted for. The bombs reportedly struck an ambulance and several microbuses. Despite condemnation from human rights groups and the U.N. Security Council resolution banning their indiscriminate use, the Syrian government has continuously used barrel bombs in densely populated civilian areas throughout the course of the civil war. This tactic is condemned as the bombs are wildly inaccurate, and have left thousands of civilians dead.
Syrian Kurds have made new gains in the fight against ISIS in Kobane, according to the AFP. Hours after a series of airstrikes by the US-led coalition on ISIS positions in central Kobane, Syrian Kurds in the form of The Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) staged a “special operation” in which they captured six buildings used by ISIS. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that the Kurds “captured a large amount of weapons and ammunition, including RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) rounds, light weapons, sniper guns and thousands of heavy machinegun rounds.” Kobane has become a symbol of resistance to ISIS, who have instituted radical interpretations of Islamic law in the areas they have captured. However, Syrian Kurdish troops have been fighting alongside Iraqi Peshmerga forces and Syrian rebels that have defensively bolstered the town’s defences, backed by US-led strikes on ISIS positions. It is estimated that ISIS now controls 20 percent of the town, down from the high of 50.
Emerging Conflicts: Israel-Palestine
Tensions are rising quickly in Jerusalem after attacks and deaths on both sides. While anger remained from this summer’s violence, controversy has erupted over al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock. The sites are holy to both Jews and Muslims and have traditionally been controlled by the Palestinians. Jews have been allowed to visit the sites but not to pray there, and about a month ago the Israeli government shut the sites to all visitors. After suggestions that conservative Jews be allowed to pray at the sites, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas accused Israel of igniting a “religious war”.
There have been a number of incidents in the last month. About 12 Palestinians have been killed, including a protester shot by Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank. Five Israelis and a foreign visitor have been killed in several attacks, including a knife attack and attacks from Palestinians driving cars. The attacks seem to be directed by individuals, rather than a coordinated by any specific group. On Monday, 17 November, Palestinian bus driver Yusuf Hassan al-Ramouni was found hanged. Israeli authorities deemed his death a suicide but many Palestinians, including his family, believe he was attacked by Israelis, citing the bruises found on his body.
On Tuesday, 18 November two Palestinian men entered a Jerusalem synagogue and killed five people with guns and a meat cleaver before being shot and killed by police. The Palestinians are believed to have been motivated by the controversy over Jerusalem’s religious sites. Four of the killed were rabbis while one was a police officer. Mahmoud Abbas condemned the killings while Hamas praised them. Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu promised a strong response. After the attack, Israel approved the construction of 78 new settlement homes, which are widely considered illegal under international law. Israel also fired tear gas at protesters in East Jerusalem and demolished the family homes of the two attackers. Still, this violence does not rival that of this summer. 2,104 Gazans were killed, including 1,462 civilians according to the UN. 66 Israeli soldiers and 7 civilians were killed.