Showing posts tagged as "Conflict"

Showing posts tagged Conflict

22 Apr
South Korea: North Believed to be Preparing for 4th Nuclear Test | Steve Herman
Speculation is growing that North Korea is planning to conduct an underground nuclear test to coincide with President Obama’s visit to the peninsula this week.
South Korea’s foreign minister is warning the North not to carry out a fourth nuclear test. Speaking at an international forum in Seoul, Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se remarked: “If North Korea goes ahead with another nuclear test as it has publicly warned, it will be a game changer.” 
Daniel Pinkston, the Northeast Asia deputy project director for the International Crisis Group, said Pyongyang is unlikely to worry about the South’s reaction.
“They’ve demonstrated a long dedication, persistence and resolve to dedicate a lot of resources over a long period of time. They’ve been able to bear the international pressure and sanctions and everything else. So I think it’s a clear indication that the nuclear program is very important to the leadership and so I don’t expect them to stop or reverse course,” said Pinkston.
FULL ARTICLE (Voice of America)
Photo: John Pavelka/flickr

South Korea: North Believed to be Preparing for 4th Nuclear Test | Steve Herman

Speculation is growing that North Korea is planning to conduct an underground nuclear test to coincide with President Obama’s visit to the peninsula this week.

South Korea’s foreign minister is warning the North not to carry out a fourth nuclear test. Speaking at an international forum in Seoul, Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se remarked: “If North Korea goes ahead with another nuclear test as it has publicly warned, it will be a game changer.” 

Daniel Pinkston, the Northeast Asia deputy project director for the International Crisis Group, said Pyongyang is unlikely to worry about the South’s reaction.

“They’ve demonstrated a long dedication, persistence and resolve to dedicate a lot of resources over a long period of time. They’ve been able to bear the international pressure and sanctions and everything else. So I think it’s a clear indication that the nuclear program is very important to the leadership and so I don’t expect them to stop or reverse course,” said Pinkston.

FULL ARTICLE (Voice of America)

Photo: John Pavelka/flickr

16 Apr
Losing Hearts and Minds in Kenya | Cedric Barnes (@CedricHOA)
The round-up and mass detention of Somalis in Nairobi, which began in earnest on 31 March, deliberately conflated immigration issues with counter-terrorism and has widened dangerous communal divides. Al-Shabaab and its extremist allies in Kenya will be very satisfied. What the attack on Nairobi’s Westgate mall last September failed to do – sow division among Kenyans – might well be achieved by these detentions and deportations. This month’s events brought out the worst in Kenya, from the prejudice shown, especially in social media, by ordinary citizens, to petty point scoring by the political class, to police extortion of bribes from lawfully resident Somalis, to the extrajudicial execution of the controversial Muslim preacher known as Makaburi (“graveyard”).
The terrorist threat is real enough. In March, security forces seized a pick-up truck packed with explosives, reportedly part of a planned multi-pronged attack in Mombasa. (Authorities believed the truck was one of several devices.) Soon thereafter, armed gunmen killed six worshipers at a Christian Church in the Likoni area of Mombasa. There was also a spate of grenade attacks targeting Christians, and claiming another six lives, in the Nairobi suburb of Eastleigh, where people of diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds live side by side.
The Westgate mall attack killed indiscriminately and brought a unified response: private Kenyan citizens, including of Somali origin, were applauded for their individual heroism and community support, and the nation, led by President Kenyatta, stood as one. By contrast, the recent attacks were targeted and the government’s security operations in response quickly exposed divides between majority and minority communities, even between MPs within the ruling Jubilee coalition. The operations also drew a belated but firm response from the opposition Orange Democratic Coalition.
FULL ARTICLE (Crisis Group’s Blog: The African Peace-building Agenda)
Photo: REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

Losing Hearts and Minds in Kenya | Cedric Barnes (@CedricHOA)

The round-up and mass detention of Somalis in Nairobi, which began in earnest on 31 March, deliberately conflated immigration issues with counter-terrorism and has widened dangerous communal divides. Al-Shabaab and its extremist allies in Kenya will be very satisfied. What the attack on Nairobi’s Westgate mall last September failed to do – sow division among Kenyans – might well be achieved by these detentions and deportations. This month’s events brought out the worst in Kenya, from the prejudice shown, especially in social media, by ordinary citizens, to petty point scoring by the political class, to police extortion of bribes from lawfully resident Somalis, to the extrajudicial execution of the controversial Muslim preacher known as Makaburi (“graveyard”).

The terrorist threat is real enough. In March, security forces seized a pick-up truck packed with explosives, reportedly part of a planned multi-pronged attack in Mombasa. (Authorities believed the truck was one of several devices.) Soon thereafter, armed gunmen killed six worshipers at a Christian Church in the Likoni area of Mombasa. There was also a spate of grenade attacks targeting Christians, and claiming another six lives, in the Nairobi suburb of Eastleigh, where people of diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds live side by side.

The Westgate mall attack killed indiscriminately and brought a unified response: private Kenyan citizens, including of Somali origin, were applauded for their individual heroism and community support, and the nation, led by President Kenyatta, stood as one. By contrast, the recent attacks were targeted and the government’s security operations in response quickly exposed divides between majority and minority communities, even between MPs within the ruling Jubilee coalition. The operations also drew a belated but firm response from the opposition Orange Democratic Coalition.

FULL ARTICLE (Crisis Group’s Blog: The African Peace-building Agenda)

Photo: REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

LINK

Bombing and mass kidnapping in Nigeria | WBEZ-Chicago

Reportedly, hundreds of girls in northeast Nigeria were kidnapped from school by the Islamist group Boko Haram. The kidnapping follows a promise from Boko Haram’s leader that he would attack schools and take girls. Among its demands, the group wants a stricter form of Sharia law and the Nigerian government’s downfall. Last month, because of these attacks, Nigeria’s Borno state closed its schools and sent tens of thousands of children home. Boko Haram is blamed for other deadly attacks on schools in the area and numerous bombings, including one in the capital of Abuja earlier this week that killed at least 70 people. Crisis Group’s Africa Director, Comfort Ero, provided WBEZ-Chicago with some context behind the attacks.

10 Apr
A Late-Night Phone Call Between One Of Syria’s Top Extremists And His Sworn Enemy | Mike Giglio
A rebel commander named Mohamed Zataar sat on a living room couch in the ancient Turkish city of Antakya one recent night, taking a short break from the war across the border with Syria some 15 miles down the road. He was eager to return. “There is a new battle starting,” he said, staring at the door. Instead Zataar, who leads a battalion of moderate rebels called Wolves of the Valley, decided to call his enemy from his iPhone.
He dialed the number for the shadowy jihadi known as Abu Ayman al-Iraqi, one of the most notorious men on the chaotic battlefields of northern Syria. Abu Ayman doesn’t fight for the Syrian regime. He’s a leader in the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, the al-Qaeda-inspired force that has upended the rebellion with its fanaticism and brutality — while also kidnapping Western journalists and raising global alarms that the foreign fighters who fill out its ranks will return to sow terror at home. Other rebel groups turned on ISIS at the start of the new year, sparking an internal war that men like Zataar, a former dealer of fake antiques who despises extremists, were happy to join. “We are fighting a war against terror,” Zataar said.
Someone answered on the other line, and Zataar asked to speak with Abu Ayman, whom he referred to as “sheikh.” Then he hung up, saying it wasn’t uncommon for the two men to speak. An hour later, Abu Ayman called back.
FULL ARTICLE (BuzzFeed)
Photo: FreedomHouse/flickr

A Late-Night Phone Call Between One Of Syria’s Top Extremists And His Sworn Enemy | Mike Giglio

A rebel commander named Mohamed Zataar sat on a living room couch in the ancient Turkish city of Antakya one recent night, taking a short break from the war across the border with Syria some 15 miles down the road. He was eager to return. “There is a new battle starting,” he said, staring at the door. Instead Zataar, who leads a battalion of moderate rebels called Wolves of the Valley, decided to call his enemy from his iPhone.

He dialed the number for the shadowy jihadi known as Abu Ayman al-Iraqi, one of the most notorious men on the chaotic battlefields of northern Syria. Abu Ayman doesn’t fight for the Syrian regime. He’s a leader in the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, the al-Qaeda-inspired force that has upended the rebellion with its fanaticism and brutality — while also kidnapping Western journalists and raising global alarms that the foreign fighters who fill out its ranks will return to sow terror at home. Other rebel groups turned on ISIS at the start of the new year, sparking an internal war that men like Zataar, a former dealer of fake antiques who despises extremists, were happy to join. “We are fighting a war against terror,” Zataar said.

Someone answered on the other line, and Zataar asked to speak with Abu Ayman, whom he referred to as “sheikh.” Then he hung up, saying it wasn’t uncommon for the two men to speak. An hour later, Abu Ayman called back.

FULL ARTICLE (BuzzFeed)

Photo: FreedomHouse/flickr

31 Mar
North Korea declares no-sail warning off coast to conduct firing drills | Jack Kim and James Pearson
North Korea declared a no-sail warning on Monday for areas off its west coast near a disputed border with South Korea and has notified the South that it will conduct firing drills, a South Korean government official said.
The area is near the so-called Northern Limit Line, drawn up at the end of the 1950-53 Korean War, which the North has refused to recognize. Past clashes between the two navies in the area killed scores of sailors on both sides.
The warning comes amid heightened tensions surrounding the North after the U.N. Security Council condemned Pyongyang for its mid-range missile launches last week, just as the leaders of South Korea, Japan and the United States met to discuss the North’s arms program.
FULL ARTICLE (Reuters)
Photo: expertinfantry/flickr

North Korea declares no-sail warning off coast to conduct firing drills | Jack Kim and James Pearson

North Korea declared a no-sail warning on Monday for areas off its west coast near a disputed border with South Korea and has notified the South that it will conduct firing drills, a South Korean government official said.

The area is near the so-called Northern Limit Line, drawn up at the end of the 1950-53 Korean War, which the North has refused to recognize. Past clashes between the two navies in the area killed scores of sailors on both sides.

The warning comes amid heightened tensions surrounding the North after the U.N. Security Council condemned Pyongyang for its mid-range missile launches last week, just as the leaders of South Korea, Japan and the United States met to discuss the North’s arms program.

FULL ARTICLE (Reuters)

Photo: expertinfantry/flickr

26 Mar
The Impact of Turkey’s Takedown of a Syrian Fighter Jet | Karen Leigh
On Sunday, the Turkish army shot down a Syrian government fighter jet that it said had strayed across the border despite numerous warnings. “Our F-16s went up in the air and shot that plane down. Why? Because if you violate my air space, then from now on, our slap will be hard,” Erdogan said later, at a campaign rally held in advance of next week’s local elections.
Syrian state media said its planes had been pursuing rebel targets near the border.
Though analysts have called it an escalation, it’s not the first time Turkey’s military has been drawn into the conflict next door. Syria shot down a Turkish plane in 2012, and that autumn, Turkey opened fire on Syrian government positions after a Turkish border town was shelled, killing five civilians.
Syria Deeply asked Didem Aykel Collinsworth, Turkey analyst at the International Crisis Group, and Soli Özel, a political scientist and professor at Istanbul’s Bilgi University, to weigh in on the impact of this week’s events.
FULL INTERVIEW (Syria Deeply)
Photo: Anhedral/flickr

The Impact of Turkey’s Takedown of a Syrian Fighter Jet | Karen Leigh

On Sunday, the Turkish army shot down a Syrian government fighter jet that it said had strayed across the border despite numerous warnings. “Our F-16s went up in the air and shot that plane down. Why? Because if you violate my air space, then from now on, our slap will be hard,” Erdogan said later, at a campaign rally held in advance of next week’s local elections.

Syrian state media said its planes had been pursuing rebel targets near the border.

Though analysts have called it an escalation, it’s not the first time Turkey’s military has been drawn into the conflict next door. Syria shot down a Turkish plane in 2012, and that autumn, Turkey opened fire on Syrian government positions after a Turkish border town was shelled, killing five civilians.

Syria Deeply asked Didem Aykel Collinsworth, Turkey analyst at the International Crisis Group, and Soli Özel, a political scientist and professor at Istanbul’s Bilgi University, to weigh in on the impact of this week’s events.

FULL INTERVIEW (Syria Deeply)

Photo: Anhedral/flickr

The Next Round in Gaza
Middle East Report N°149 | 25 Mar 2014
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
The ceasefire between Israel and Gaza has eroded during the past several months and recently threatened to come to an abrupt end. The day after three members of Islamic Jihad were killed by Israel in a border clash on 11 March 2014, the group, apparently in coordination with Hamas, launched the largest salvo of rockets toward Israel since the last major escalation (known in Israel as Operation Pillar of Defence), in November 2012. In a little over a day’s mediation, Egypt restored quiet. But with Hamas’s fortunes declining and Gaza suffering its worst isolation and economic constriction in years, it is likely a matter of time until a flare-up escalates to major conflagration – unless the sides reach an understanding to extend a fragile quiet. Given Hamas’s isolation and worsening relations with Cairo, it is hard to imagine full implementation of the ceasefire Egypt brokered to end the 2012 fighting. But a rump deal, comprised of that ceasefire’s core elements, still could lessen the chance that Hamas and Israel will be dragged into a conflict neither currently desires, while helping both to secure advantages beyond the Gaza-Israel theatre.
Periodic escalations between Israel and Gaza militants are the rule, not the exception. Their shared border has witnessed regular, low-scale violence punctuated by short, intense escalations, typically when one or both sides feel the implicit rules of engagement have been undercut. Hamas and Israel have been headed toward such a clash since 3 July 2013, when Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi was deposed, and Cairo, as part of its campaign against the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi-jihadis in Sinai, initiated a push to further isolate Gaza by closing the tunnels under its border with Egypt. Among Hamas’s limited tools for dealing with its downward spiral is directly participating in a military escalation in the hope that a new crisis would bring about at least temporary alleviation of the closure; call the world’s attention to the resultant economic distress; increase sympathy for the territory in Egypt and elsewhere; and embarrass Egypt’s leaders about their role in immiserating Gaza.
For the time being, Hamas has rejected this option, as it cannot afford a new round of hostilities. It is politically isolated and in severe economic distress. It can neither count on Egypt’s sympathies nor easily rearm during or after a future crisis. Hamas is hamstrung by the burdens of governance and by the fact that it would bear the brunt of any Israeli offensive. As a result, it chose a softer and less risky alternative this month: giving greater leeway to other factions that wish to attack Israel.
Islamic Jihad, with its massive retaliation for the killing of its militants, saw an opportunity to push to the forefront of the national struggle. In contrast with Hamas, it demonstrated continuing fidelity to the principle of resistance, and, by negotiating a ceasefire directly with Egypt, emerged from Hamas’s shadow, positioning itself as a regional player. Hamas too saw an advantage in the escalation: sending a message that Gaza would not remain passive in the face of isolation and misery.
Hamas leaders reasoned, accurately, that so long as they stayed out of the conflagration and the rocket fire was limited in distance and duration, a major operation would be avoided. Israel also calculated correctly, calibrating its pressure on Gaza so as to signal its seriousness to Hamas, but not strike it so hard as to provoke a much larger confrontation or threaten its control, to which Israel sees no desirable and realistic alternative. Such assessments are fraught with risk. Neither side currently wants a large-scale confrontation, and both hope to maintain or at least extend a fragile equilibrium, but the two major Israeli operations in the past six years, and numerous mini-escalations in between, demonstrate the likelihood of an eventual miscalculation.
If neither side wants to fight, neither do they intend to press for peace. Both are convinced the next round is coming, so will not take militarily disadvantageous steps. But while far from a robust ceasefire, they could unilaterally implement a more limited arrangement that satisfies core, short-terms needs. Gaza has three. What passes for normal life requires sufficient fuel, particularly diesel for electricity; building materials that enable economic activity and maintain basic infrastructure; and a reliably open Gaza-Egypt crossing at Rafah, for entry and egress of persons (goods are provided by Israel). For Israel, the key is stopping rockets. Neither side can get all it wants: Gazans likely will continue to find the border area off limits, fishing zones constricted and, most important, imports restricted and exports blocked – as they have been, increasingly, since the second intifada. Israel, under any scenario except an unlikely Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, cannot completely stop rockets that have been falling on its territory for nearly as long. However, both sides can regain what they in the past have demonstrated a willingness to live with.
A realistic assessment requires acknowledging that military operations will continue on both sides. The question, for now, is how to keep these within relatively narrow bounds, thus saving lives and creating space for dealing with broader political issues. The more Hamas can provide a semblance of Gaza’s basic needs, the better it will be able to enforce a political consensus among the factions to stop the vast majority of rockets and halt entirely the firing of those with the longest ranges and heaviest payloads. Its police can handle much of the rest, though they cannot prevent every freelancer attempting an attack without factional approval.
Meanwhile, Palestinians, Israelis and the international community can lay the groundwork for Palestinian reconciliation and rebuild the fundamentals of a peace process in which both sides have long since lost hope. More broadly, what is good for Gaza, and even Hamas, could turn out to be good as well for Israel and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. With the U.S. looking to extend Israeli-Palestinian negotiations past April, Abbas could demand steps to ease Gaza’s closure and improve its economy as a condition. That would improve his standing in Gaza, especially important now that his detractors within Fatah, particularly those from Gaza, are openly campaigning against him. Israel, should it accept Abbas’s demands, could earn credit for taking action that reduces the risk of a new escalation, while lowering the other costs it might have to pay to extend talks.
In all things Israeli-Palestinian, even modest goals are highly ambitious, and in Gaza, doubly so. Within a fluid and evolving region, Gaza is a venue where various states and actors play out their allegiances and rivalries, including Salafis of several stripes; Egypt; the Muslim Brotherhood in the form of its local affiliate, Hamas; Iran; Hizbollah; the Gulf states; and claimants to power within Fatah. It is a central impediment to a more durable ceasefire agreement that while neither Israel nor Hamas now has what it wants, both have what matters most to them in the short term. Israel has a ceasefire, albeit imperfectly upheld; Hamas has control of Gaza, even if under difficult conditions. Neither wishes to give even a little more for what it already has. But if they do not, both could lose what they now possess.
Jerusalem/Gaza City/Brussels, 25 March 2014
FULL REPORT
Photo: amillionwaystob/flickr

The Next Round in Gaza

Middle East Report N°149 | 25 Mar 2014

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The ceasefire between Israel and Gaza has eroded during the past several months and recently threatened to come to an abrupt end. The day after three members of Islamic Jihad were killed by Israel in a border clash on 11 March 2014, the group, apparently in coordination with Hamas, launched the largest salvo of rockets toward Israel since the last major escalation (known in Israel as Operation Pillar of Defence), in November 2012. In a little over a day’s mediation, Egypt restored quiet. But with Hamas’s fortunes declining and Gaza suffering its worst isolation and economic constriction in years, it is likely a matter of time until a flare-up escalates to major conflagration – unless the sides reach an understanding to extend a fragile quiet. Given Hamas’s isolation and worsening relations with Cairo, it is hard to imagine full implementation of the ceasefire Egypt brokered to end the 2012 fighting. But a rump deal, comprised of that ceasefire’s core elements, still could lessen the chance that Hamas and Israel will be dragged into a conflict neither currently desires, while helping both to secure advantages beyond the Gaza-Israel theatre.

Periodic escalations between Israel and Gaza militants are the rule, not the exception. Their shared border has witnessed regular, low-scale violence punctuated by short, intense escalations, typically when one or both sides feel the implicit rules of engagement have been undercut. Hamas and Israel have been headed toward such a clash since 3 July 2013, when Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi was deposed, and Cairo, as part of its campaign against the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi-jihadis in Sinai, initiated a push to further isolate Gaza by closing the tunnels under its border with Egypt. Among Hamas’s limited tools for dealing with its downward spiral is directly participating in a military escalation in the hope that a new crisis would bring about at least temporary alleviation of the closure; call the world’s attention to the resultant economic distress; increase sympathy for the territory in Egypt and elsewhere; and embarrass Egypt’s leaders about their role in immiserating Gaza.

For the time being, Hamas has rejected this option, as it cannot afford a new round of hostilities. It is politically isolated and in severe economic distress. It can neither count on Egypt’s sympathies nor easily rearm during or after a future crisis. Hamas is hamstrung by the burdens of governance and by the fact that it would bear the brunt of any Israeli offensive. As a result, it chose a softer and less risky alternative this month: giving greater leeway to other factions that wish to attack Israel.

Islamic Jihad, with its massive retaliation for the killing of its militants, saw an opportunity to push to the forefront of the national struggle. In contrast with Hamas, it demonstrated continuing fidelity to the principle of resistance, and, by negotiating a ceasefire directly with Egypt, emerged from Hamas’s shadow, positioning itself as a regional player. Hamas too saw an advantage in the escalation: sending a message that Gaza would not remain passive in the face of isolation and misery.

Hamas leaders reasoned, accurately, that so long as they stayed out of the conflagration and the rocket fire was limited in distance and duration, a major operation would be avoided. Israel also calculated correctly, calibrating its pressure on Gaza so as to signal its seriousness to Hamas, but not strike it so hard as to provoke a much larger confrontation or threaten its control, to which Israel sees no desirable and realistic alternative. Such assessments are fraught with risk. Neither side currently wants a large-scale confrontation, and both hope to maintain or at least extend a fragile equilibrium, but the two major Israeli operations in the past six years, and numerous mini-escalations in between, demonstrate the likelihood of an eventual miscalculation.

If neither side wants to fight, neither do they intend to press for peace. Both are convinced the next round is coming, so will not take militarily disadvantageous steps. But while far from a robust ceasefire, they could unilaterally implement a more limited arrangement that satisfies core, short-terms needs. Gaza has three. What passes for normal life requires sufficient fuel, particularly diesel for electricity; building materials that enable economic activity and maintain basic infrastructure; and a reliably open Gaza-Egypt crossing at Rafah, for entry and egress of persons (goods are provided by Israel). For Israel, the key is stopping rockets. Neither side can get all it wants: Gazans likely will continue to find the border area off limits, fishing zones constricted and, most important, imports restricted and exports blocked – as they have been, increasingly, since the second intifada. Israel, under any scenario except an unlikely Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, cannot completely stop rockets that have been falling on its territory for nearly as long. However, both sides can regain what they in the past have demonstrated a willingness to live with.

A realistic assessment requires acknowledging that military operations will continue on both sides. The question, for now, is how to keep these within relatively narrow bounds, thus saving lives and creating space for dealing with broader political issues. The more Hamas can provide a semblance of Gaza’s basic needs, the better it will be able to enforce a political consensus among the factions to stop the vast majority of rockets and halt entirely the firing of those with the longest ranges and heaviest payloads. Its police can handle much of the rest, though they cannot prevent every freelancer attempting an attack without factional approval.

Meanwhile, Palestinians, Israelis and the international community can lay the groundwork for Palestinian reconciliation and rebuild the fundamentals of a peace process in which both sides have long since lost hope. More broadly, what is good for Gaza, and even Hamas, could turn out to be good as well for Israel and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. With the U.S. looking to extend Israeli-Palestinian negotiations past April, Abbas could demand steps to ease Gaza’s closure and improve its economy as a condition. That would improve his standing in Gaza, especially important now that his detractors within Fatah, particularly those from Gaza, are openly campaigning against him. Israel, should it accept Abbas’s demands, could earn credit for taking action that reduces the risk of a new escalation, while lowering the other costs it might have to pay to extend talks.

In all things Israeli-Palestinian, even modest goals are highly ambitious, and in Gaza, doubly so. Within a fluid and evolving region, Gaza is a venue where various states and actors play out their allegiances and rivalries, including Salafis of several stripes; Egypt; the Muslim Brotherhood in the form of its local affiliate, Hamas; Iran; Hizbollah; the Gulf states; and claimants to power within Fatah. It is a central impediment to a more durable ceasefire agreement that while neither Israel nor Hamas now has what it wants, both have what matters most to them in the short term. Israel has a ceasefire, albeit imperfectly upheld; Hamas has control of Gaza, even if under difficult conditions. Neither wishes to give even a little more for what it already has. But if they do not, both could lose what they now possess.

Jerusalem/Gaza City/Brussels, 25 March 2014

FULL REPORT

Photo: amillionwaystob/flickr

24 Mar
Thailand needs friends to help it through its crisis | Jonathan Prentice
Jonathan Prentice is Crisis Group’s Chief Policy Officer. 
"Usually, in the past, we would have had a coup by now," said one retired senior Thai official this week about his country’s travails. He didn’t mean the absence of a coup marked progress; he was reflecting a widespread resignation that without action by some external force – such as the military – the crisis being played out in Bangkok risked running the country into the ground.
Thailand faces truly existential challenges. It is riven by social, economic, ideological and regional divisions. Resignation seems to give way only to heightened extremism; vituperative intolerance has damaged any prospect of talks. Outside powers should not misinterpret a lull in the streets as progress. Without a concerted attempt to alter course, Thailand remains at risk of tipping into violent confrontation.
How did things come to this? The government called elections for 2 February after protests led by former members of the Democrat party persuaded the prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, to withdraw an inflammatory amnesty bill that would have annulled the 2008 abuse-of-power conviction of her brother, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Instead of channelling the dispute into the political arena, protesters occupied Bangkok’s streets, calling for Yingluck’s resignation and an appointed government.
Boycotted by the Democrat party, boycotted and disrupted by anti-government protesters, the February poll had no cathartic effect. Yingluck’s administration continues to face pressure from protests, the courts and nominally non-partisan watchdog agencies. Indeed, the constitutional court today voided the elections, throwing yet more uncertainty on an already confused situation. But an appointed government – an ever more likely proposition – would almost certainly provoke a backlash by “red shirt” Shinawatra supporters, who have seen every government they elected since 2005 undemocratically removed.
Just off-stage, and far more significant to Thailand’s immediate future than either Yingluck or her street-based opponents, are three sets of characters.
First, there is Thaksin: to some, a politician who finally gave voice to the aspirations of the rural north and northeast; to others, a Voldemort-like figure who, even in exile, is omnipresent, able and willing to sacrifice the nation to his limitless ambition. Few express a middle line but many miss the fundamental dilemma. Whatever his virtues or sins, Thaksin, politically active, will remain a source of extreme division; but the converse – that his removal will bring union – does not hold up. Thaksin is both cause and symptom of Thailand’s irreversible political reality: it is the north and northeast, rather than Bangkok, the Thai establishment and the south, that have the electoral clout to determine who is in government.
Second, the military. They’re not shy about politics – in 2006 they ousted Thaksin – or in stamping down protests, as they did with extreme prejudice against red shirts in 2010. Currently, their intentions remain unclear. Burned by experience of recent interventions, they may want to stay on the sidelines but are unlikely to if they believe their core interests, or the integrity of the state, are in jeopardy.
And, finally, the monarchy, discussion of which is circumscribed by vigorously enforced lèse majesté laws. The elderly king’s health renders unlikely his intervention in the current crisis. Most royalists loathe Thaksin and are anxious about succession. Partisan appeals for royal intervention have helped to undermine perceptions of the monarchy as above politics. Long a byword for national stability, the monarchy finds itself constrained from playing a mollifying role, on the cusp of a new era amid much uncertainty.
So what’s the answer to Thailand’s dilemma? The opposition demands reform before elections; the government the reverse. Squaring this circle demands compromise. Protesters need to accept that the views of a majority as expressed at the ballot box cannot systematically be overturned by the minority. The government, its supporters and Thaksin need to accept that long-term stability requires that their opponents’ concerns be addressed.
An agreement might work as follows. The democratic process should be upheld and Yingluck permitted to form a government, ideally drawn from a base broader than just her party. Recognising the country’s divide, she could commit to staying in power for one year while a national dialogue takes place. Such a dialogue, which would need to be both balanced and truly reflective of all interests, could air the country’s ills, whether over the rule of law, corruption, growing regionalism or even the separation of powers. Yingluck’s administration should culminate in a referendum on a new constitution paving the way for fresh elections. The crown and the military could endorse such choreography.
What Thailand needs are friends, domestic and international, to help it confront, not gloss over, the country’s deep fissures. Seeking absolute victory, wrapped in a cloak of righteous principle, is not working. It is pushing Thailand ever closer to a precipice. Time, now, to try compromise and dialogue.
ORIGINAL ARTICLE (The Guardian)
Photo: Victor Dumesny/flickr

Thailand needs friends to help it through its crisis | Jonathan Prentice

Jonathan Prentice is Crisis Group’s Chief Policy Officer. 

"Usually, in the past, we would have had a coup by now," said one retired senior Thai official this week about his country’s travails. He didn’t mean the absence of a coup marked progress; he was reflecting a widespread resignation that without action by some external force – such as the military – the crisis being played out in Bangkok risked running the country into the ground.

Thailand faces truly existential challenges. It is riven by social, economic, ideological and regional divisions. Resignation seems to give way only to heightened extremism; vituperative intolerance has damaged any prospect of talks. Outside powers should not misinterpret a lull in the streets as progress. Without a concerted attempt to alter course, Thailand remains at risk of tipping into violent confrontation.

How did things come to this? The government called elections for 2 February after protests led by former members of the Democrat party persuaded the prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, to withdraw an inflammatory amnesty bill that would have annulled the 2008 abuse-of-power conviction of her brother, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Instead of channelling the dispute into the political arena, protesters occupied Bangkok’s streets, calling for Yingluck’s resignation and an appointed government.

Boycotted by the Democrat party, boycotted and disrupted by anti-government protesters, the February poll had no cathartic effect. Yingluck’s administration continues to face pressure from protests, the courts and nominally non-partisan watchdog agencies. Indeed, the constitutional court today voided the elections, throwing yet more uncertainty on an already confused situation. But an appointed government – an ever more likely proposition – would almost certainly provoke a backlash by “red shirt” Shinawatra supporters, who have seen every government they elected since 2005 undemocratically removed.

Just off-stage, and far more significant to Thailand’s immediate future than either Yingluck or her street-based opponents, are three sets of characters.

First, there is Thaksin: to some, a politician who finally gave voice to the aspirations of the rural north and northeast; to others, a Voldemort-like figure who, even in exile, is omnipresent, able and willing to sacrifice the nation to his limitless ambition. Few express a middle line but many miss the fundamental dilemma. Whatever his virtues or sins, Thaksin, politically active, will remain a source of extreme division; but the converse – that his removal will bring union – does not hold up. Thaksin is both cause and symptom of Thailand’s irreversible political reality: it is the north and northeast, rather than Bangkok, the Thai establishment and the south, that have the electoral clout to determine who is in government.

Second, the military. They’re not shy about politics – in 2006 they ousted Thaksin – or in stamping down protests, as they did with extreme prejudice against red shirts in 2010. Currently, their intentions remain unclear. Burned by experience of recent interventions, they may want to stay on the sidelines but are unlikely to if they believe their core interests, or the integrity of the state, are in jeopardy.

And, finally, the monarchy, discussion of which is circumscribed by vigorously enforced lèse majesté laws. The elderly king’s health renders unlikely his intervention in the current crisis. Most royalists loathe Thaksin and are anxious about succession. Partisan appeals for royal intervention have helped to undermine perceptions of the monarchy as above politics. Long a byword for national stability, the monarchy finds itself constrained from playing a mollifying role, on the cusp of a new era amid much uncertainty.

So what’s the answer to Thailand’s dilemma? The opposition demands reform before elections; the government the reverse. Squaring this circle demands compromise. Protesters need to accept that the views of a majority as expressed at the ballot box cannot systematically be overturned by the minority. The government, its supporters and Thaksin need to accept that long-term stability requires that their opponents’ concerns be addressed.

An agreement might work as follows. The democratic process should be upheld and Yingluck permitted to form a government, ideally drawn from a base broader than just her party. Recognising the country’s divide, she could commit to staying in power for one year while a national dialogue takes place. Such a dialogue, which would need to be both balanced and truly reflective of all interests, could air the country’s ills, whether over the rule of law, corruption, growing regionalism or even the separation of powers. Yingluck’s administration should culminate in a referendum on a new constitution paving the way for fresh elections. The crown and the military could endorse such choreography.

What Thailand needs are friends, domestic and international, to help it confront, not gloss over, the country’s deep fissures. Seeking absolute victory, wrapped in a cloak of righteous principle, is not working. It is pushing Thailand ever closer to a precipice. Time, now, to try compromise and dialogue.

ORIGINAL ARTICLE (The Guardian)

Photo: Victor Dumesny/flickr

20 Mar
Militancy on rise in Egypt | Sarah Lynch
Egyptian militants have intensified violence ahead of a presidential election to pick a replacement for jailed president Mohamed Morsi, whose Muslim Brotherhood party has called the ouster “a murderous military coup d’etat.”
Militants who seek an Egypt under strict Islamic law are saying the ouster of Morsi and arrests of his leading party members prove that only violence will achieve their aim, analysts said.
"The attacks are increasing in frequency, in intensity and in geographic spread," said Issandr El Amrani, North Africa director for the International Crisis Group, in Cairo.
"We are looking at a spreading armed campaign against the government."
FULL ARTICLE (USA Today)
Photo: Zeinab Mohamed/flickr

Militancy on rise in Egypt | Sarah Lynch

Egyptian militants have intensified violence ahead of a presidential election to pick a replacement for jailed president Mohamed Morsi, whose Muslim Brotherhood party has called the ouster “a murderous military coup d’etat.”

Militants who seek an Egypt under strict Islamic law are saying the ouster of Morsi and arrests of his leading party members prove that only violence will achieve their aim, analysts said.

"The attacks are increasing in frequency, in intensity and in geographic spread," said Issandr El Amrani, North Africa director for the International Crisis Group, in Cairo.

"We are looking at a spreading armed campaign against the government."

FULL ARTICLE (USA Today)

Photo: Zeinab Mohamed/flickr

11 Mar
Fears S.Sudan conflict could infect region | Hannah McNeish
As ongoing fighting in South Sudan shatters any pretence of a ceasefire between government troops and rebels, analysts fear the conflict could engulf the region, as former foes fight old wars in a new country.
There are tensions between South Sudan’s northern neighbour and old enemy Sudan and its new ally Uganda, while chief mediator Ethiopia is likely alarmed by allegations that its arch-enemy Eritrea is funnelling weapons from ally Khartoum to South Sudan’s rebels.
One Western diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the worst case-scenario currently being discussed is that “you’ve got Uganda fighting Sudan inside South Sudan, with Eritrea fighting Ethiopia inside South Sudan and a complete law and order vacuum.”
"As far as the regionalisation of the conflict goes, the question is not if, but when", said Casie Copeland, South Sudan analyst for the Brussels-based International Crisis Group think tank.
FULL ARTICLE (AFP)
Photo: ENOUGH Project/flickr

Fears S.Sudan conflict could infect region | Hannah McNeish

As ongoing fighting in South Sudan shatters any pretence of a ceasefire between government troops and rebels, analysts fear the conflict could engulf the region, as former foes fight old wars in a new country.

There are tensions between South Sudan’s northern neighbour and old enemy Sudan and its new ally Uganda, while chief mediator Ethiopia is likely alarmed by allegations that its arch-enemy Eritrea is funnelling weapons from ally Khartoum to South Sudan’s rebels.

One Western diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the worst case-scenario currently being discussed is that “you’ve got Uganda fighting Sudan inside South Sudan, with Eritrea fighting Ethiopia inside South Sudan and a complete law and order vacuum.”

"As far as the regionalisation of the conflict goes, the question is not if, but when", said Casie Copeland, South Sudan analyst for the Brussels-based International Crisis Group think tank.

FULL ARTICLE (AFP)

Photo: ENOUGH Project/flickr