CrisisWatch N°118 | (01 Jun 2013)
The Syrian crisis continues to draw in its neighbours, threatening to set off a wider regional conflict. Israel launched its first major strike inside Syria, sending jets reportedly to target Iranian missiles bound for Hizbollah. The Syrian regime threatened to retaliate immediately and harshly to any further attack, and to turn the Golan Heights into a new front against Israel. The EU lifted its arms embargo on Syria but said there were no immediate plans to arm the rebels. Russia’s decision to honour its 2010 contract to deliver S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to the Assad regime prompted calls from the U.S., France and Israel to reconsider. Israel’s defence minister suggested Israel could resort to force to prevent delivery of the weapons. The U.S. and Russia agreed to convene a new peace conference in Geneva in June, but it remains uncertain whether the parties will come to seek compromise. (See our recent commentary in French).
Lebanon is becoming ever more deeply implicated in the Syrian conflict. Hizbollah extended more overt and extensive military support to the Syrian regime, including fighting against rebels in al-Qusayr near the Lebanese border, and for the first time openly declaring its military support to the regime. Lebanese Sunni Islamists are increasingly backing Syria’s rebels. Tensions increased within Lebanon, with sectarian violence between Sunnis and Alawites in Tripoli reaching levels not seen since the country’s civil war.
In Iraq more than a thousand people were killed in sectarian attacks and bombings fuelled by the country’s deepening political crisis, making May the country’s deadliest month in five years. Hopes for a political breakthrough faded as Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and parliamentary speaker Osama al-Nujaifi blamed each other for mounting violence. The government’s crackdown on Sunni protesters continued to spur a re-emerging insurgency and retaliatory attacks, leaving the country again teetering on the brink of civil conflict.
In Bahrain the Shiite opposition al-Wifaq announced its withdrawal from the National Dialogue for two weeks after government security forces raided the house of the most prominent Shiite cleric Issa Qassem. In the face of political impasse, al-Wifaq called for intensified protests ahead of polls scheduled for next year.
In Madagascar, presidential elections scheduled for July and intended to end four years of political deadlock were postponed after transitional president Andry Rajoelina refused to step down ahead of polling, violating the electoral law. The September 2011 transition roadmap appeared to be unravelling as former first lady Lalao Ravalomanana, Rajoelina and former president Didier Ratsiraka all announced that they would contest the election, and the electoral court validated their applications. Rajoelina and Ratsiraka had pledged not to run, while Lalao Ravalomanana’s candidacy is widely viewed as a proxy for her husband, former president Marc Ravalomanana, who had also promised not to compete. The African Union and the Southern African Development Community said they would not recognise the outcome of the elections should any of these candidates win, and the UN said its continued support is contingent on compliance with the roadmap.
Protests against Kyrgyzstan’s largest gold mine escalated and took a violent turn in late May. Protesters demanding an end to alleged environmental pollution from operations at the mine and calling for it to be nationalised blocked the road to the mine and cut off power. The government declared a state of emergency after police clashed with some 3,000 protesters who were attempting to storm mining company offices. The mine is one of Kyrgyzstan’s biggest sources of foreign earnings, and disruption to its operations could damage the country’s faltering economy. Despite the protesters’ environmental demands, much of the unrest appears to have been organised by the nationalist Ata Jurt party. Protestors in the southern city of Jalal-Abad seized government buildings demanding the release of three jailed Ata Jurt members.
In a boost to Colombia’s peace process, the government and the FARC, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, announced on 26 May that they had reached an agreement on rural development, the first agenda item in peace talks which began over six months ago (see our recent blog post). President Juan Manuel Santos said that the four main points include access to and use of land, rural development programs, health and education for the rural poor, and food security. The talks will now turn to political participation. Hopes that peace talks with Colombia’s second guerrilla group the ELN (National Liberation Army) would begin in May suffered a setback, however, when the ELN killed eleven soldiers in an ambush in Norte de Santander.
In Myanmar the government and the Kachin Independence Organisation agreed a seven-point peace pact at the end of the month. The talks, convened for first time in the government-controlled capital of Kachin state, had previously been in deadlock. The deal means that in principle hostilities with all major armed groups in the country have stopped. Crisis Group identifies a Conflict Resolution Opportunity for Myanmar. The month also saw the Rakhine State government announce it was reactivating an earlier local directive imposing a two-child limit for families in Muslim-majority areas of the state, prompting local and international condemnation. There was a further outbreak of Buddhist-on-Muslim violence at the end of the month, this time in the northern town Lashio; one person was reported killed (see our recent blog post and commentary).
Photo: James Gordon/Flickr