"The [Syrian] regime deliberately and systematically starves people in a new tactic of modern war."
—from today’s statement on Syria
The International Crisis Group is an independent, non-profit, non-governmental organisation committed to preventing and resolving deadly conflict.
"The [Syrian] regime deliberately and systematically starves people in a new tactic of modern war."
—from today’s statement on Syria
CrisisWatch N°114 | (01 Feb 2013)
In Mali France launched a military operation to oust the coalition of rebel Islamist groups that has controlled the north of the country for the past year and who in December suddenly began advancing further south. Combined French and Malian forces swiftly recaptured the main northern towns from the rebels, and moved on their last stronghold, Kidal, at the end of the month, raising hopes that the region will swiftly return to government control. Military advances have, however, also prompted fears of further destabilisation, abuses of the civilian population, especially ethnic Tuaregs, by the Malian armed forces, a spillover into neighbouring states, and a backlash from extremists. The military approach also risks diverting attention from the fragile political process in Bamako, where deep divisions and the potential for further military meddling raise questions about the ability of Mali’s leaders to secure the transition and adequately address northern grievances.
In Egypt, the second anniversary of the revolution and a court ruling on football violence in Port Said stadium last year ignited days of violent demonstrations and unrest across major cities which left dozens dead. President Mohamed Morsi declared a state of emergency and curfew in Port Said, Ismailia and Suez. As a senior military official warned that the state verged on collapse, rival political groups met on 31 January, pledging to support a serious dialogue and condemning violence. Protests are expected to continue in February.
In Iraq demonstrations against Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, sparked by the arrest in December of Sunni Finance Minister Rafie al-Issawi, gathered pace, threatening political stability. What initially looked like a confrontation between Sunni political leaders and a Shia-led government soon escalated into a broader campaign against al-Maliki, as Shiite leader Moqtada al-Sadr and personalities associated with the highest Shiite religious authority, the Marjaiya, threw their weight behind the opposition. On 26 January, Sunni, Kurdish and Shiite lawmakers voted to block al-Maliki from seeking a third term, but al-Maliki’s supporters have rejected the law as illegal.
Myanmar’s government stepped up its military campaign against the Kachin Independence Organisation. Government troops advanced on the ethnic rebel group’s headquarters in Laiza close to the Chinese border, as fighter jets bombed Kachin rebel positions. The U.S., UK and other international actors expressed concern over civilian casualties and displacement and the potential impact of the campaign on efforts to deepen Myanmar’s reforms and national reconciliation.
Photo: Mary Newcombe/Flickr
Central African Republic: Avoiding Another Battle of Bangui
Brussels/Nairobi | 2 Jan 2013
Over the last three weeks, the “Seleka” rebellion has extended its control over a large part of the Central African Republic (CAR) and is now on the doorstep of the capital, Bangui. A political dialogue between the Seleka leaders, the government and the opposition parties is urgently needed to avoid a new battle of Bangui, such as those in 1996, 1997, 2001 and 2003, and potential casualties among the civilian population.
“Seleka” (meaning “alliance” in the national language Sango) is a coalition of various armed movements that predominantly originate from the north east of the country. This alliance is made up of dissident factions of both the Convention of Patriots for Justice and Peace (CPJP) and the Union of Democratic Forces for Unity (UFDR), but it also integrates armed groups such as the Central African People’s Democratic Front (FDPC), the Patriotic Convention for Salvation of Kodro (CPSK) and the newly created Alliance for Rebirth and Refoundation. Despite their diversity, the groups are united in their claims that President François Bozizé, who came to power in a coup in 2003, failed to honour the 2007 Birao Peace Agreement and 2008 Libreville Agreement.
On 10 December, the rebels launched an offensive from the north east of the country and rapidly captured the diamond-producing city of Bria and the towns of Batangafo, Kabo, Ippy, Kaga Bandoro, Bambari and Sibut. Their march toward the capital was also quick, as the national army was outnumbered and poorly organised. At Bozizé’s request, the Chadian government sent some troops which are now stationed with the Central African army in the city of Damara, the last strategic town before Bangui some 75km away.
The Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) held an extraordinary summit in N’Djamena on 21 December and agreed on a roadmap to resolve this crisis: a ceasefire and immediate negotiations without conditions in Libreville under the aegis of ECCAS. Furthermore, additional troops would be dispatched to reinforce MICOPAX, the peacekeeping mission of ECCAS deployed in CAR since 2008, to turn it into an interposition force. The president of Benin, Thomas Boni Yayi, the current chair of the African Union, travelled to Bangui on 30 December to discuss developments with President Bozizé. Following their meeting, President Bozizé publicly stated that he was ready to negotiate without further delay and to establish a government of national unity. He also pledged not to run for a third term in the next presidential elections, scheduled for 2016.
The CAR has faced political unrest since gaining independence from France in 1960, including numerous attempted coups. Several hundred people died during the 1996 and 1997 mutinies in Bangui, and more than 300 died during outbreaks of violence following the failed putsch in 2001; 50,000 more were forced to flee the capital. Between October 2002 and March 2003, fighting between the national army, supported by armed groups coming from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the rebellion also led to scores of civilian casualties in Bangui and throughout the country.
CrisisWatch N°113 | (30 Dec 2012)
In the Central African Republic a new rebel alliance seized key towns in the north and east, including Sibut, only 185 kilometers from capital Bangui, and currently controls about a third of the country. Chadian troops arrived mid-month to help contain the rebels, and regional leaders later announced the deployment of additional troops. The UN has begun evacuating staff, and the U.S. government has called for its citizens to leave. The security situation is precarious as the rebels warned they may enter Bangui, despite agreeing late month to talks with the government.
Violence escalated in Syria's civil conflict, with reports of spiralling civilian death tolls and displacement. Fighting reached new levels of intensity in Damascus, particularly in southern suburbs where regime airstrikes and clashes between regime and opposition forces in Palestinian-dominated Yarmouk left scores dead and prompted tens of thousands to flee. Violence also increased in Hama province as rebels launched a new offensive. The UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria warned that the conflict was escalating and becoming increasingly sectarian.
The dispute between China and Japan over the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands escalated as China sent surveillance aircraft into airspace over the disputed islands. Japan responded by sending eight fighter jets, and made a formal diplomatic protest. Its defence minister said this was the first intrusion of Japanese airspace by China since 1958. Japan’s new Prime Minister Shinzo Abe vowed to take a tough line and said there is “no room for negotiation”.
North Korea launched the Kwangmyŏngsŏng-3 satellite into orbit on 12 December, violating UN Security Council resolutions that prohibit it from using ballistic missile technology. The U.S., the UN Security Council and Russia condemned the launch. China expressed regret and called on North Korea to abide by UN Security Council resolutions.
The International Crisis Group is currently hosting its flagship annual event, The Global Briefing: an exclusive two-day, high-level gathering examining urgent issues and solutions concerning major conflict flashpoints across the globe. Held on Thursday 18 and Friday 19 October 2012, we will post updates on our Twitter handle @crisisgroup with the hashtag #CGGB. Join the conversation!
More details and information can be found on the Global Briefing section of our website.
CrisisWatch N°110, 1 October 2012
In Mali Islamist rebels in the north made further advances, seizing the strategic town of Douentza. Meanwhile, the murder of a group of unarmed Muslim preachers in southern town Diabaly mid-month risks sparking a sectarian backlash and raises fears that the army, already showing signs of deep divisions and instability, may be splintering. ECOWAS pledged to send a 3,300-strong force to reclaim the north and secure the transitional government. But without measures to reduce Mali’s inter-communal tensions and address northern grievances a military approach could backfire. The upheaval in Mali threatens to escalate further and endangers regional stability.
In Syria the level of violence and the numbers killed and displaced continued to climb. The new UN/Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi met with interlocutors on both sides and Egypt launched a regional initiative aimed at ending the crisis. But amid international deadlock, an end to the escalating civil war still looks remote. As the regime stepped up military and aerial bombing campaigns against major cities and areas controlled by the opposition Free Syrian Army, a UN Human Rights Council-mandated commission reported that “gross violations of human rights” by regime forces and militias had significantly increased. Opposition groups also stand accused of human rights abuses.
Azerbaijan's pardon and promotion of Ramil Safarov, a soldier convicted of murdering an Armenian soldier during a NATO training event in Hungary in 2004, dealt a further blow to the already faltering Nagorno-Karabakh peace process. The amnesty raised tensions and sparked another bout of harsh rhetoric between the two countries, with Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan again declaring his country ready for war with Azerbaijan. The EU, U.S. and NATO all condemned the pardon and expressed concern about its implications for the region.
The Japanese government’s purchase of the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands in the East China Sea caused a bilateral crisis between Japan and China, which also claims sovereignty over the islands. Beijing struck back by publishing territorial sea baselines encircling the islands, deploying patrol vessels and fishing boats, staging military exercises, threatening economic sanctions and cancelling a high-level event celebrating forty years of Japan-China diplomatic ties. Dozens of Chinese cities saw mass anti-Japan protests.
Tension is rising in Venezuela ahead of what could be a tight presidential election next week between incumbent Hugo Chávez and opposition candidate Henrique Capriles. Two opposition activists were killed at a campaign rally at the end of the month, raising fears of further violence during the vote and its aftermath.
In neighbouring Colombia, the peace process launched last month seems to be gathering pace, despite persistent hostilities between FARC and the government. Both sides reiterated their commitment to talks, and are expected to meet for a first round of negotiations in October.
Photo: Sedrak Mkrtchyan/Flickr
Crisis Watch N°110
International Crisis Group’s CrisisWatch outlines all the most significant situations of conflict or potential conflict around the world.
From the recently released 1 October CrisisWatch:
Conflict Risk Alerts: Mali, Venezuela
Conflict Resolution Opportunities: Colombia
Deteriorated Situations: China, Mali, Nagorno-Karabakh (Azerbaijan), Syria
Improved Situations: —
Analysis: Syrian Kurds sense freedom, power struggle awaits | Reuters
By Patrick Markey
Some towns in northeastern Syria are flying yellow, green and red Kurdish flags as long-oppressed Kurds exploit an uneasy vacuum left by President Bashar al-Assad’s retreating forces.
Gilles Yabi on The Interview : Mali Crisis: Is there a way out? | FRANCE 24
Armen Georgian meets Gilles Yabi, the West Africa Project director of the International Crisis Group, to discuss about the deteriorating situation in Mali. The Islamists have chased the Tuareg out of key towns, imposed sharia law, and last week destroyed ancient Muslim shrines they deemed un-Islamic in the UN world heritage-listed desert city of Timbuktu.
Council on Foreign Relations | Syria’s Bloody Stalemate
Interviewee: Peter Harling, Director, Iraq, Lebanon and Syria, International Crisis Group
Interviewer: Bernard Gwertzman, Consulting Editor, CFR.org
Much of Syria is “in a state of chaos,” says Peter Harling, who has been based in Damascus for the International Crisis Group, and has gone back and forth for months. The regime of President Bashar al-Assad is “both well-entrenched and losing control.” As for the opposition, the Syrian National Council, based abroad, he says the group “has championed an increasingly radicalized street, over-invested in an elusive international intervention, and eschewed more constructive politics.” As for the jihadists, he says that what is surprising “is that foreign fighters and jihadis, for now, have not taken on a bigger role.” On the international side, he says Kofi Annan’s cease-fire plan “grew out of the international community’s inability to agree on anything else,” and as long as the “stalemate endures, it will continue to enjoy support, even from states that do not put much faith in it but have no workable alternative to offer.”
You have been back and forth to Syria for quite some time. Could we start with your assessment of the situation on the ground? Is the Assad government in control; what is the role of the opposition?
The regime is both well-entrenched and losing control. Much of the country is in a state of chaos. Despite plethoric security and military assets, the single most important road, running north to south from Aleppo to Damascus, is unsafe. Criminal activity is rampant even in the vicinity of the capital. For months, opposition armed groups have made it difficult for regime troops to maintain a sustainable presence in many parts of Syria. More often than not, loyalist forces are reduced to hit-and-run operations that cause tremendous damage, solve nothing, and rather make things worse.
At the same time, the regime’s core structures remain solid. A steady trickle of defections has continued, but the floodgates have not opened. This resilience has several causes. Some regime officials fear the future for the country, their community, or themselves, and believe this is a struggle for survival. Others have actually profited from the crisis, gaining in status or wealth in the booming economy of violence. Yet others are deeply disillusioned, tempted to defect, but disinclined to do so as long as the regime appears here to stay. All in all, the power structure is eroding slowly in a country that is crumbling fast all around it.
Photo: Freedom House