| (01 May 2013)
The standoff in Iraq between Sunni Arab protesters and the central government intensified in the last week of April. Over 50 people were killed in an army raid on a Sunni protest camp in Hawija near Kirkuk on 23 April, following the death of an Iraq army officer in clashes with protesters. The incident prompted a series of retaliations against government forces, with scores killed across the country, and pushed the protesters to organise themselves militarily, claiming the need to defend themselves (see our Crisis Alert). What started as a political crisis risks evolving into a sectarian confrontation pitting government forces against the protesters’ armed factions, and could feed into a broader regional struggle. CrisisWatch highlights the risk of escalating violence in the coming month.
Lebanon was drawn further into Syria’s civil war, as Hizbollah fighters reportedly led a military operation against rebel forces in Al-Qusayr in western Syria, near the border with Lebanon. Syrian rebels retaliated with rocket attacks on border villages in Lebanon, killing 2 civilians. Syrian jihadi group Jabhat al-Nusra threatened to attack Beirut if the government does not check Hizbollah’s involvement (see our recent report).
Security significantly deteriorated in the Central African Republic capital Bangui following last month’s coup by Seleka rebels (see our commentary, in French and English). The rebels reportedly killed at least 130 people, as Bangui also fell prey to looting, bank robberies and violence. Seleka leader Michael Djotodia was elected interim president in mid-April after regional leaders called for a transitional government and elections within eighteen months. So far, however, the Seleka leadership has been unable or unwilling to bring its fighters under control. Regional powers have resolved to deploy a further 2,000 peacekeepers to curb growing lawlessness.
In mid-April the U.S. judiciary unsealed narcotics and weapons-trafficking charges against Guinea-Bissau’s Chief of Staff General António Injai, sparking fears of increased tension and instability. The indictment of Injai, widely seen as one of Guinea-Bissau’s most powerful men, came just weeks after the country’s former navy chief and four others were arrested by U.S. forces on similar charges. The transitional government has called for their trials to be held in Guinea-Bissau.
April marked the deadliest month of 2013 to date in Afghanistan as Taliban attacks and bombings claimed the lives of over 70 people. On 28 April the Taliban announced the start of its spring offensive, heralding yet more violence ahead. President Hamid Karzai admitted that his office had received substantial sums of money from U.S. intelligence over the past decade.
Election-related violence intensified in Pakistan, with militant attacks on mainstream moderate parties killing over 60 and injuring scores more. Former president Pervez Musharraf’s plans to return to politics ran aground as the High Court barred him from public office for life. He was also placed under house arrest on charges relating to his dismissal of judges and his alleged role in former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s assassination in 2007. Sectarian attacks and targeted killings continued in Karachi.
In Venezuela the disputed 14 April presidential election, held just over a month after the death of President Hugo Chávez, triggered a political crisis. Chavista Vice President Nicolás Maduro beat opposition candidate Henrique Capriles by less than two percentage points, a much narrower margin than polls had predicted. Amid acute polarisation, and controversy over the government’s use of state resources to support Maduro’s campaign, the opposition called for a full audit to verify paper ballots against the results reported electronically. The electoral authorities insisted the electronic results are irreversible, but agreed to a partial audit. Maduro blamed Capriles for deadly violence after the election, while human rights groups accused the government of using disproportionate force against protesters. Venezuela’s economic situation continues to deteriorate, with basic goods disappearing from the shelves and inflation rising steeply.
In Bangladesh the confrontation between protesters against and supporters of the country’s International Crimes Tribunal, combined with increasing friction between the ruling Awami League and the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, have brought the country to a standstill.
Kosovo and Serbia reached a breakthrough deal at the tenth session of their EU-mediated dialogue in Brussels on 19 April (see our recent report). The agreement recognises Pristina’s authority over the whole territory of Kosovo while granting local autonomy for Kosovo Serbs based on provisions of the Ahtisaari Plan. It also creates a new post of police commander for northern Kosovo – a Serb to be appointed by Pristina based on the nomination of local authorities – and a chamber of the Court of Appeal in North Mitrovica with a majority of Serb judges. Although Serbs in northern Kosovo rejected the deal, the European Commission said it would recommend a start date for EU accession talks with Serbia now that it has normalised relations with Kosovo.
In Colombia President Juan Manuel Santos’s statement that he hoped peace talks with the ELN (the National Liberation Army) will begin “sooner rather than later” raised hopes of an official announcement in May of negotiations with Colombia’s second guerrilla group (the government is already engaged in talks with the FARC, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia). CrisisWatch identifies a conflict resolution opportunity for Colombia for the coming month.