Global Overview AUGUST 2016
The month saw Yemen’s peace talks collapse with violence there intensifying, and the Syrian conflict escalate following Ankara’s launch of a cross-border ground offensive against Islamic State (IS) and Kurdish forces, days after a major terror attack in Turkey’s south east. Troop deployments in Western Sahara threatened to bring about clashes, and violence flared in the Central African Republic. In Ethiopia and Zimbabwe, security forces brutally suppressed anti-government protests, while in Gabon, the president’s disputed re-election triggered violent clashes. In Asia, a suicide bombing killed over 70 people in Pakistan, while suspected militants in Thailand’s southern insurgency launched attacks on targets outside the traditional conflict zone. In positive news, peace talks between the Philippines government and communist rebel groups resumed after a four-year hiatus. On 24 August, Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) declared that they had reached a final peace accord, paving the way for an end to 52 years of armed conflict.
Trends and Outlook
Yemen suffered a significant uptick in violence after UN peace talks in Kuwait collapsed in early August. Huthi rebels launched indiscriminate rocket attacks into Saudi Arabia, while the Saudi-led coalition resumed airstrikes on Sanaa, the capital, and Huthi strongholds in the north. In the south, an IS suicide bomb attack on a pro-government militia compound in Aden killed at least 60. The violence aggravated an already desperate humanitarian situation, with at least 10,000 people killed and more than three million internally displaced since the conflict began. As Crisis Group has warned, without an inclusive negotiated settlement Yemen risks sliding further “into state disintegration, territorial fragmentation and sectarian violence”. The war is increasingly threatening Gulf security, as violence spills over the Yemeni-Saudi border and, in southern Yemen, plays into the hands of violent jihadist groups.
The conflict in Syria escalated and Turkey’s involvement grew, as Ankara launched a major offensive in northern Syria in an attempt to remove IS from the border area and contain Kurdish YPG forces’ territorial gains. Turkey’s military operation came days after a bomb attack on a Kurdish wedding in the country’s south east, assumed to be the work of IS, which killed 56 people, mostly children, and injured more than 90. In a significant gain for the Syrian regime, the rebel stronghold Darayya outside the capital Damascus surrendered to government forces on 25 August. Meanwhile, the battle for Aleppo between Russian-backed government forces and rebels continued to rage, reportedly killing over 600 civilians in August.
A tense standoff developed in Western Sahara. Morocco’s deployment of troops and roadworks in the UN buffer zone angered the Polisario Front armed independence movement, which sent in its own troops. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on 28 August he was deeply concerned by armed units from Morocco and the Polisario being “in close proximity”. In the Central African Republic, a convoy of former Séléka rebels, including leaders under arrest warrants, left the capital Bangui for their northern stronghold, shooting their way past security forces. The UN managed to arrest some, but others escaped, undermining already faltering efforts to disarm the country’s multiple armed factions.
In Ethiopia and Zimbabwe, security forces’ brutal responses to mounting protests have led to new spikes in violence. In Ethiopia, at least 87 protesters were reportedly killed in Oromia and Amhara regions. In Zimbabwe, hundreds protesting against the government’s economic misrule and calling for electoral reforms fought running battles with police, with at least 50 injured. In Gabon, supporters of opposition presidential candidate Jean Ping took to the streets and clashed with security forces as soon as the government announced President Bongo winner in the 27 August election.
In Asia, Pakistan suffered reportedly its worst ever attack targeting civil society. A suicide bombing at Quetta Civil hospital on 8 August killed over 70 people, mostly lawyers gathered to mourn Balochistan Bar Association President Bilal Anwar Kasi, who was killed the previous day. Tehreek-e-Taliban faction Jamaat-ul-Ahrar and IS both claimed responsibility for the attack. In Thailand, a series of deadly attacks on 11-12 August suggested the Malay-Muslim separatist insurgency in the Deep South may have entered a “disturbing new phase”, targeting locations outside the traditional conflict zone. Elsewhere in the region, the Philippines government and the National Democratic Front (NDFP), which includes the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army insurgent group, resumed peace talks and agreed to a ceasefire. The talks in Oslo are the first meetings since negotiations to resolve the 47-year-old conflict were suspended in 2012.
After four years of talks in Cuba, Colombia and the FARC announced on 24 August that they had reached a “final, full and definitive” peace accord. The landmark agreement brings an end to one of the world’s longest-running armed conflicts. However, Crisis Group has cautioned that major challenges remain in the months ahead. The most immediate will be a binding plebiscite on 2 October, when Colombians will vote on whether to accept the peace deal.
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President Nkurunziza consolidated control of ruling party as regime continued to repress opposition. Ruling party CNDD-FDD at congress 20 Aug replaced party president position with sec gen and appointed Nkurunziza’s former chief of staff and civil war commander Evariste Ndayishimiye to role. Commission for inter-Burundian Dialogue 23 Aug concluded from public consultations that most Burundians favour scrapping constitutional presidential term limit; opposition said findings fabricated. Govt 3 Aug rejected UNSC resolution to deploy 228 police to Burundi, calling it violation of sovereignty. UN Committee against Torture 12 Aug condemned forced disappearances of govt’s political rivals and its “genocidal rhetoric”. Govt repression targeted security force members believed opposed to Nkurunziza’s third term: police 20 Aug arrested and beat Major Clément Hamenyimana in Gitega; army 19 Aug said eleven officers refused to return after missions abroad fearing arrest. Search for journalist Jean Bigirimana, missing since 22 July, found two bodies in Mubarazi river, Muramvya province early Aug, neither identified as Bigirimana. Third body reportedly found in neighbouring Gitega province. Police 21 Aug arrested 54 members of WhatsApp group in Bujumbura for spreading false rumours.
Boko Haram (BH) continued deadly attacks in Far North, including: gunmen attacked Gambarou 10 Aug, killing five; suicide bombing at Mora 21 Aug killed four and injured 24. Military reportedly killed five BH members at Bourvari-Plateri 5 Aug in operation supported by civilian vigilante groups. Local media 16 Aug published open letter purportedly from “elites” of Adamawa region denouncing marginalisation of region.
Central African Republic
Over 30 ex-Séléka rebels, including leaders under arrest warrants, 12 Aug left capital Bangui and exchanged fire with security forces at checkpoints, stopped by MINUSCA next day 50km south of Sibut, ten arrested; Popular Front for the Central African Renaissance (FPRC) leaders Abdoulaye Hissène and Aroun Gaye escaped and 17 Aug reportedly arrived in Kaga Bandoro in north. Police 16 Aug raided Hissène’s house in Bangui, seized around 700 weapons and ammunition. 22 representatives of ten armed groups 20 Aug formed disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) platform in Bangui. MINUSCA 5 Aug arrested Jean-Francis Bozizé, son of former President François Bozizé, under 2014 international warrant for torture, involvement in assassination and personal use of public funds; court 9 Aug granted him provisional release.
Security forces used tear gas to disperse banned opposition rallies in N’Djamena 6-7 Aug; one protestor killed 7 Aug, day before President Déby’s inauguration for fifth term. French President Hollande received Déby in Paris 20 Aug, reaffirmed support for fight against terrorism and development in Lake Chad region. Four soldiers killed when vehicle hit Boko Haram landmine 27 Aug at Kaiga Kindji near Niger border.
Democratic Republic of Congo
President Kabila and electoral commission (CENI) delayed setting electoral calendar, while some opposition groups continued to reject dialogue. Kabila 4 Aug said electoral calendar would not be published before end of voter registration, launched 31 July; CENI 20 Aug said elections could not be held before July 2017 due to lack of finances and voter list. In support of political dialogue Catholic Church 10 Aug began consultations with ruling party and major opposition groups. To ease