CrisisWatch N°116 | 01 April 2013
In the Central African Republic, a peace deal signed two months ago in Libreville collapsed as the Seleka rebel alliance, having repeatedly violated the ceasefire, seized the capital Bangui on 24 March. President Francois Bozizé fled to Cameroon. Seleka leader Michel Djotodia declared himself president and suspended the constitution and National Assembly. The African Union condemned Seleka’s “unconstitutional change” of government, suspending CAR’s membership and imposing sanctions against Seleka’s leaders. Despite its rapid seizure of power, the Seleka coalition appears fragile and prone to fragmentation, prompting fears that factions may take up arms again. Crisis Group identifies a conflict risk for Central African Republic.
Tensions continued to escalate on the Korean peninsula. The UN Security Council’s 7 March resolution condemning North Korea’s February nuclear test prompted Pyongyang to threaten pre-emptive nuclear strikes against “invaders”. North Korea announced that it would no longer be bound by the 1953 Korean War armistice, and cut off communications hotlines with South Korea and the UN Command in Seoul. The North Korean army ordered all its rocket and long-range artillery units to be combat-ready and targeting U.S. bases and territory, and the government declared North Korea to be in a “state of war” with South Korea. In a show of force the U.S. flew B-52 and B-2 bombers over South Korea and deployed F-22 stealth fighters to the South as part of an ongoing military exercise. On 31 March, a rare Central Committee meeting in Pyongyang declared nuclear weapons are non-negotiable and North Korea’s nuclear status should be written into law.
In a new outbreak of intercommunal violence in Myanmar in the central town of Meiktila on 20-22 March, more than 40 people were killed and over 12,000 displaced, and hundreds of mainly Muslim-owned buildings destroyed, in attacks by Buddhist mobs. President Thein Sein imposed a state of emergency in the area and deployed the military to restore calm. Amid speculation that the attacks were pre-planned by extremists, there was widespread concern as the violence spread to towns and villages in other parts of the country in the following days, although there were no reported casualties from these other incidents.
The political uncertainty and paralysis gripping Lebanon worsened with the abrupt resignation of Prime Minister Najib Mikati on 22 March following a standoff with Hizbollah. Political instability further fed ongoing sectarian tensions and clashes, mainly in the southern town of Saida and the northern city of Tripoli, where a dozen people were killed in clashes between Sunni and Alawite militants 22-24 March. Regular cross-border shelling by Syria continued, and the Syrian regime for the first time launched air strikes inside Lebanon.
Within Syria the first credible reports emerged of chemical weapons use in the ongoing conflict. The government and rebels accused each other of firing a rocket loaded with chemical agents near Aleppo on 19 March, and the opposition reported two people killed in an alleged chemical missile attack on Adra, near Damascus.
Iraq’s political crisis again deepened in March. Widespread demonstrations in Sunni areas of the country have met an increasingly hardline security response, with security forces killing two Sunni protesters in Mosul on 8 March. Finance Minister Rafie al-Issawi resigned his post, as did Agriculture Minister Ezz al-Din al-Dawla, in solidarity with the protesters. Meanwhile Iraq’s parliament relied exclusively on votes from the Shia’s political blocs to pass the 2013 budget law, illustrating Baghdad’s increasingly sectarian politics.
As the stalemate between Egypt’s President Mohamed Morsi and the opposition continued, violent clashes between opponents and supporters of the ruling Muslim Brotherhood broke out outside the Islamists’ headquarters in Cairo on 22 March. Subsequent days also saw violent protests. President Morsi warned that he would take “necessary measures” to “protect the nation”, and the prosecutor general ordered the arrest of several activists. The violence took place as political demonstrations and riots in Egypt are increasingly giving way to socio-economic protest in the face of fuel shortages, inflation and price increases.
Nepal’s main parties ended months of political deadlock on 14 March. They agreed to hold elections to a new Constituent Assembly by 21 June under an interim election government, led by Supreme Court chief justice Khil Raj Regmi. The interim government will comprise retired bureaucrats, and be guided by a political committee of the four largest parties. If elections are not held in June, the government will be extended until 15 December.
Prospects for peace between Turkey’s government and Kurdish insurgents are improving after five months of negotiations between the national intelligence agency and the jailed leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Abdullah Öcalan. The 21 March call by Öcalan for an eventual ceasefire and withdrawal to outside Turkish borders – and PKK’s military leader Murat Karayılan’s subsequent acceptance of the idea – are particularly positive signs.