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CrisisWatch | The Monthly Conflict Situation Report‏

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CrisisWatch 145, 1 September 2015

Political crises and violent protests rocked a number of countries in August, including Guatemala, Nepal, Lebanon and Iraq, where popular unrest threatens to topple the government and overturn the post-2003 political order. Deadly conflict worsened in Yemen, Afghanistan and Kashmir, while violence increased in Burundi following President Nkurunziza’s successful run for a third term, and instability remained the norm in the Central African Republic where UN peacekeeping efforts faced a series of setbacks. A border crisis also prompted a dangerous spike in tensions between Colombia and Venezuela. On a positive note, August saw a peace agreement in South Sudan, strengthened prospects for political and constitutional reform in Sri Lanka, and an important political agreement ahead of October elections in Guinea.

A wave of anti-establishment protests over the systemic inadequacy of service delivery has brought Iraq to the edge of yet more serious conflict, despite Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s introduction of sweeping reforms to halt the deterioration. Crisis Group’s recent Conflict Alert warns that a sustainable course correction will be needed if Abadi is to survive politically and Iraq is to avoid what could become in effect a military takeover. Meanwhile protests against Lebanon’s political paralysis and the ongoing garbage crisis in Beirut turned violent in late August when riot police fired tear gas and water cannons on demonstrators. As discussed in our latest blog, the clashes, which have left dozens wounded, increase instability in a country highly polarised along politico-sectarian fault lines and overwhelmed by over a million Syrian refugees.

Yemen’s war became potentially even more deadly. The government-in-exile and the Saudi-led coalition made significant military gains against the Huthi/Saleh alliance in the south, and are pushing north into Huthi strongholds. The coalition’s gains could serve as a springboard for a ceasefire and political talks, as advocated in Crisis Group’s latest report, but instead both sides now appear to be gearing up for a battle for the capital Sanaa. In Afghanistan, a spate of insurgent attacks targeted Kabul, including bombings on 7 August that inflicted more than 350 casualties including 50 killed. The Afghan government blamed Pakistan for the violence, as relations between the two countries reached their worst point since President Ashraf Ghani’s inauguration last year.

In Central Africa, Burundi continued to slide into chaos following President Nkurunziza’s controversial election to a third term in July. Arbitrary arrests, kidnappings and deadly attacks on both opposition members and the president’s supporters have compounded an atmosphere of fear, which not only threatens a return to full scale civil war but also negatively impacts security in the wider Great Lakes region. In the Central African Republic, the UN’s MINUSCA mission was further discredited by a failed operation to secure Bangui’s PK-5 district and more allegations of abuses, including against children. As the mission falters, security remains elusive in significant swathes of the country.

In Latin America, tensions flared between Colombia and Venezuela after three Venezuelan soldiers were killed near the border, allegedly by Colombian paramilitaries according to Venezuela. Further incidents could destabilise the already fragile border region. Political tensions escalated in Guatemala as prosecutors named President Otto Pérez Molina and former Vice President Roxana Baldetti ringleaders of a major customs fraud scandal. Ongoing demonstrations calling for the president to resign swelled to over 100,000 on 27 August. As we warn in a statement, ahead of general elections on 6 September protests could give way to unrest if the government ignores popular demands for justice and transparency.

In South Asia, Nepal saw widespread protests and deadly clashes between protesters and security forces over a proposed federal model opposed by several groups who claim it violates previous agreements on state restructuring and does not address their aspirations. With national political leaders carrying on the constitution-drafting process without having begun negotiations with dissenting groups, there is a risk of intensifying tensions and further violent confrontation. In Kashmir, clashes across the Line of Control (LoC) and the Working Boundary dividing Pakistan and Indian-administered Kashmir again escalated. Nine civilians were killed and dozens wounded in a shooting between Indian and Pakistani border guards on 28 August. In Sri Lanka, the peaceful political shift that began with the January victory of President Maithripala Sirisena was consolidated following parliamentary elections on 17 August, and with a new national government opening up the possibility of political and constitutional reforms.

On a positive note in Africa, the Guinean government and opposition leaders signed an agreement on electoral preparations on 20 August, marking a major breakthrough in the country’s prolonged political deadlock. The opposition however has already cast doubt on its implementation and long-term viability. Lastly, in a significant step forward, South Sudan’s warring parties finally reached an agreement to end the twenty-month conflict following months of stop-start negotiations. President Salva Kiir and armed opposition leader Riek Machar announced a permanent ceasefire starting 30 August.

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August 2015 TRENDS *

Deteriorated Situations
Afghanistan, Burundi, Central African
Republic, Colombia/Venezuela, Guatemala, Kashmir, Lebanon, Nepal, Yemen

Improved Situations
Guinea, South Sudan, Sri Lanka

September 2015 OUTLOOK

Conflict Risk Alert
Colombia/Venezuela, Guatemala, Iraq,
Nepal, Yemen

Conflict Resolution Opportunity
South Sudan

*NOTE: CrisisWatch trends are intended to reflect changes within countries or situations from month to month, not comparisons between countries. For example, no "conflict risk alert" is given for a country where violence has been occurring and is expected to continue in the coming month: such an indicator is given only where new or significantly escalated violence is feared.
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CrisisWatch 146, 1 October 2015

In September, sectarian violence flared up again in the Central African Republic, while Burundi’s political deadlock increasingly turned into a deadly conflict. Yemen’s and Syria’s conflicts further intensified, with a significant toll on civilians, and Afghanistan’s and Somalia’s long-running insurgencies made substantial gains. Meanwhile, Burkina Faso and Tajikistan saw political crises bringing the prospect of renewed instability, and rising violence threatened peace efforts in Turkey and Mozambique. In contrast, Colombia’s peace process received a major boost with a breakthrough agreement on transitional justice, and Guatemala took a step to overcome a legacy of impunity.

In the Central African Republic, state disintegration and simmering intercommunal tensions were brought to the fore by the killing of a Muslim motorbike taxi driver on 26 September that triggered armed clashes in the capital Bangui. Almost 40 were killed and tens of thousands displaced. Crisis Group has repeatedly warned of the dangers of embarking upon electoral preparations before addressing intercommunal tensions, disarming armed groups, and ensuring sufficient international peacekeeping. Meanwhile, violence rose again in Burundi’s capital Bujumbura. With dialogue between the government and opposition deadlocked, the country is slowly sliding back into deadly conflict.

Syria’s war escalated further as Russia stepped up its military support for President Assad’s government and launched its first airstrikes on 30 September, primarily targeting non-Islamic State rebels. The toll on the civilian population remains unabated, with over 11 million people displaced inside the country or having fled to neighbouring countries (see our blog). Meanwhile, Yemen’s civil war entered a more dangerous phase in the north as the Saudi-backed coalition launched a campaign to capture Marib province to the west of Sanaa and increased airstrikes against Huthi/Saleh positions in the capital. The Huthi/Saleh bloc has ensured that any coalition gains in the north are costly, and its fighters are conducting more frequent deadly raids across the Saudi border. The conflict is exacting an increasingly heavy toll on the civilian population, including in Taiz where dozens were killed in the reported bombardment of a wedding party. With neither side likely to secure a clear or rapid military victory, Crisis Group continues to warn that only a political settlement can end the war.

Across the Gulf in Somalia, Al-Shabaab went on the offensive as AMISOM peacekeeping forces lost key strongholds. The Islamist militant group succeeded in retaking several towns in Lower Shabelle, Bakool, Gedo and Hiran regions, and staged several successful attacks. Meanwhile, factional fighting between the Galmudug Interim Administration and the Sufi militia Ahlu Sunna Wa Jama’a challenged the legitimacy of Somalia’s fourth federal state. In Afghanistan, the Taliban seized control of the northern city of Kunduz at the end of the month, and were reported to be advancing on other northern districts. As fighting raged between insurgents and government forces, members of parliament called for President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah to step down.

Violence worsened in Turkey’s south east as Ankara continued its offensive against Kurdish insurgent PKK targets within Turkey and in northern Iraq, and the PKK continued attacks on security officials. The violence is eroding opportunities for resumption of the peace process, and threatens to widen into a general Kurdish-Turkish confrontation. In Mozambique, violent incidents between security forces loyal to the government and Renamo militias, including direct attacks on Renamo leader Alfonso Dhlakama and clashes that killed up to twenty, also threaten to undermine the peace process launched last year and have heightened tensions.

Burkina Faso’s political transition suffered a serious blow when the powerful presidential guard, the Régiment de sécurité présidentielle (RSP), staged a coup on 16 September. Led by ousted President Blaise Compaoré’s right-hand-man General Gilbert Diendéré, it plunged the country into crisis, days ahead of elections scheduled for 11 October. The transitional government was reinstated on 22 September, the RSP has been dissolved, and calm has been restored, but the root causes of the crisis remain unaddressed. Political instability also deepened in Tajikistan after Deputy Defence Minister General Abdukhalim Nazarzoda, formerly a member of the United Tajik Opposition alliance that fought the government during the country’s civil war in the 1990s, was killed by security forces after reportedly ordering deadly attacks on police near the capital. The government accused Nazarzoda of planning a coup. In contrast, Macedonia’s government and opposition made progress in implementing the July EU-brokered agreement to end the country’s political crisis, appointing a special prosecutor to investigate allegations that the government has been illegally wiretapping citizens.

The agreement on transitional justice reached by Colombia’s government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) on 23 September is a major breakthrough in the four-year peace talks (see our statement). Meeting for the first time, President Santos and FARC leader Timochenko agreed that a final peace agreement would be signed within six months. In a major step forward for Guatemala’s struggle against impunity, President Otto Perez Molina, under pressure for his alleged involvement in a massive customs fraud scheme, resigned on 2 September, the day after Congress voted to lift his immunity. As Crisis Group has argued, whoever wins the upcoming run-off presidential election must work with Congress to clean up the country’s political system, including reforming electoral laws and those governing the civil service, transparency and the justice sector.

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