This week in conflict… January 8th-14th, 2011

Hello all! Hope everything is well with you!

As always, just a reminder that if you have any information about conflicts (or efforts towards peace) happening each week, I would love your feedback and inclusions. As the weekly conflict update is done on a volunteer basis, I cannot independently verify all reported stories. Therefore my scope is limited to what is found in outside news sources. If you disagree with any of the information provided, or have any stories to submit, please use the comments below or email me to let me know! I will happily retract inaccurate information or provide alternative reports when necessary.

Peace!
Rebecca

World

  • The International News Safety Institute announced on Wednesday, that an average of almost two journalists died each week as a result of their work. The global number 97 is down from 2009’s 133 deaths.
  • The Guardian’s Simon Tisdall wrote an interesting piece on how the UN was originally envisaged as a war-fighting machine.

Africa

  • At least 8 people were reported killed in the continuing protests about joblessness and other social ills over the weekend in Tunisia, although other reports claim as many as 14 in under 24 hours. Another 4 civilians were killed in clashes between riot police and protesters on Monday, though other reports claim as many as 12 deaths. The President promised that an extra 300,000 jobs would be created. On Monday, all schools and universities were temporarily shut. On Wednesday, army troops were called in as the protests spread to the capital and the interior minister, who was held responsible for the ruthless police response, was fired. Protesters are also said to have been released. Despite a curfew, clashes were reported Wednesday night between youths and security forces. The President announced on Friday, following the death of two men shot dead by police,  that he would not seek re-election in 2014 to try and calm the growing violence and even dismissed his government, calling for early legislative elections in six months time. Hundreds of protesters continued their march and despite the president’s announcement that live ammunition would not be used, three people were killed less than an hour after the speech from shots. Shortly thereafter, the President imposed a state of emergency, and reports came out that the airspace had been closed with troops taking over the airport in Tunis. Unions planned to hold a general strike on Friday. The death toll was cited as 66 since December 17.
  • The presidential election campaign began in the Central African Republic on Monday, with the vote scheduled for January 23rd. Opposition candidates have issued a memorandum saying that the electoral process in its current form is “neither transparent, legal nor equitable” and are threatening boycotts if demands are not met.
  • Zambia’s upcoming election process is looking complicated, as President Banda has told his party members to take bribes during the elections but “vote with your conscience”. Banda last year declared that he would run for a second and final term of office this year.
  • Algerian authorities vowed to punish those responsible for nationwide food riots that killed at least four people and injured more than 800. Around 1,000 protesters have been arrested and the government has said it will cut taxes and import duties on some staple foods.
  • Two French hostages abducted in Niger were found dead following a failed rescue operation. No group has yet claimed responsibility for the kidnapping, but authorities suspect al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb links.
  • Former Nigerian president Obasanjo was the latest mediator to visit Cote d’Ivoire to try and convince Gbagbo to step down. Ethnic clashes are said to have killed some 33 people and wounded 75 in the western town of Duekoue as fighting broke out between rival tribes, though there is some speculation that this latest outbreak is unrelated to the election.  At least five people, said to be two protesters and three police officers all with gunshot wounds, are said to have been killed in clashes in Abidjan on Tuesday. On Wednesday, the clashes continued, with at least five security forces said killed on a raid of a suspected arms cache. The violence continued on Thursday, which resulted in Gbagbo imposing a curfew on the Abobo neighbourhood. The UN claimed that six attacks on their vehicles resulted in an ambulance driver and a doctor being injured.
  • Southern Sudanese are said to have flocked to the polling stations to case their vote in the referendum this weekend, many waiting overnight to be among the first to vote; though polling stations in Khartoum were said to be empty on the first day of voting. The second day of voting was also said to have brought out voters in huge numbers in the south. Some 9 were killed in Abyei, after militiamen attacked a village on Sunday, in clashes that are said to have been ongoing for since Thursday. Another at least 6 were killed and 26 taken hostage in clashes between rebel militias and the SPLA in Unity state. At least 10 southern Sudanese traveling to the south were killed on Monday, after some 30 buses and seven trailers carrying southerners from Khartoum were ambushed. By Monday it was reported that some 36 people had died in clashes between Arab nomads and southerners near the border and further attacks were feared. On Tuesday, UN peacekeepers intensified their patrols of the border areas. On Wednesday, senior officials in southern Sudan reported that the 60% turnout threshold required for the vote to be valid had been reached. On Thursday, three Bulgarian crew members working for the UN Humanitarian Air Service were said to have been abducted in Darfur.
  • At least 11 people were killed in different locations around Jos on Saturday as various clashes erupted in the city. The Igbo Community Association in Plateau State claimed over 40 Igbos were killed in the clashes. The violence is being linked to an opposition political meeting, as well as anger over an attack on two passenger buses on Friday night. On Tuesday, an attack on a Christian village in Plateau State left at least 13 people dead, though some reports say as many as 18.
  • The UN called on authorities in the DR Congo to immediately investigate reports of a large number of rapes in South Kivu on New Year’s Day. There are some suggestions that the rapes stemmed from a bar fight where a soldier shot a man, who was then lynched by a mob. The local army was then said to go on a rampage throughout the town raping between 10-29 women. A group of government soldiers were detained over the allegations of sexual violence. Several electoral problems are being revealed, as opposition members were said to have been prevented from holding rallies in Goma and Bukavu, and a journalists facing arrest for political reasons. The Congolese Senate passed constitutional revisions this week making the President more powerful by changing the electoral system from a two round run-off system to a one round, plurality-win election; giving the president the ability to dissolve provincial assemblies, remove governors and call referenda; and giving the minister of justice official control over the prosecutor’s office.  There is some debate as to whether such moves are even legal.
  • A Muslim police officer shot and killed an Egyptian Christian on a train on Tuesday, while wounding five others. Experts suggest the shooting is likely to stoke tensions following the recent bombings of Christians in the country.
  • The next round of informal talks in the Western Sahara conflict will happen January 21st-23rd the UN announced on Friday. Morocco and the Frente Polisario, Algeria and Mauritania will be at the talks, with Morocco said to be presenting a plan for autonomy, and Polisario suggesting a referendum on self-determination. Morocco said that five of its soldiers will face trial for allegedly helping to smuggle weapons into the Western Sahara for the al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
  • The high court in the Comoros rejected the opposition’s accusations of widespread fraud on Thursday, ruling that the ruling party had won in last month’s Presidential election. A ban on public rallies has been in place over the past month amid fears of violence.

Asia

  • An important cross-border communications channel has been reinstated between the two Koreas this week. The Red Cross communication line was cut off last year, and is normally used for exchanging messages on humanitarian issues. On Saturday, the North reiterated its proposal for unconditional talks with the South. US Defense Secretary Gates warned on Tuesday that North Korea was within five years of being able to strike the continental US with an intercontinental ballistic missile.
  • Around 30,000 supporters of Thailand’s red shirt movement were back in the capital this weekend, demanding the release of the group’s leaders who were detained in last year’s violence. The protest was rather peaceful, aside from a brief scuffle between police and water-bottle-throwing protesters.
  • The largest single day loss in the Bangladesh stock exchange in its 55 years resulted in protests on Monday. The exchange halted trading after the benchmark index plunged 9.25% within the first hour of trading. Some protesters are said to have burned vehicles and riot police fired tear gas and charged the crowd with batons.
  • US-Chinese military defense chiefs are working towards mending military relations between the two countries. Robert Gates met with Liang Guanglie on Monday in Beijing to set up a working group to explore more formal, regular dialogue on strategic issues. The US has also stated that it will enhance its military capabilities in response to Chinese advances in technology. Gates has stated that he has no doubt that China’s President remains in control of the military, despite some indications of a possible lack of communication between the military and the civilian leadership. A Chinese human rights lawyer who has been missing for almost two years is reported to have detailed a description of torture and abuses at the hands of police. Xie Zhigang, a former police chief who was falsely arrested for his wife’s death (she later turned up alive), is suspected to have died in custody after being tortured.
  • One of the Pakistan’s most famous jihadi leaders has been freed from custody due to a lack of evidence. Many cases go nowhere because of a lack of police evidence, judges fearing being killed, and the influence of the Inter-Services Intelligence agency that has historic ties with most militant groups. On Wednesday, a suicide bomber killed at least 17 people in the northwest in an attack on a police station and adjacent mosque. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, which they say was in retaliation for drone attacks by the US. A US drone fired into a house in North Waziristan on Wednesday is said to kill three suspected militants. On Thursday, a roadside bomb hit a police van killing at least two policemen and wounding many others in Bannu; and a separate bomb attack killed another officer and wounded four more in Bara. On Friday, police said suspected militants raided the house of a female police officer, killing her and five of her relatives. The US has decided to offer more military, intelligence and economic support to Pakistan in response to complaints from government officials that the US doesn’t understand Pakistani strategic priorities.
  • On Sunday, a ISAF service member was killed by a homemade bomb in Kabul, Afghanistan; and a NATO airstrike killed three Afghan police officers in Kabul. On Monday, two more police officers died in a suicide car bomb attack in Kandahar province. On Tuesday, a leader of the Haqqani militant network and two suspected insurgents were killed in Kabul; and three suspected insurgents, including leader Mirwais Sabri, were killed in an ISAF air strike. On Wednesday, five coalition troops were killed in roadside bombs and an insurgent attack; four Afghan intelligence service members were killed in a pair of attacks; at least two people were killed and more than 20 wounded in a suicide bombing in Kabul; a bomb killed two Afghan civilians in Farah; and ISAF troops killed two alleged insurgents in southern Helmand. On Thursday, a child was killed and three other people were wounded after a bomb exploded in Jalalabad. Germany has announced that it does not plan to support a request made by field commanders for more AWACS reconnaissance aircraft for Afghanistan. Germany’s government is said to be asking parliament this month for the approval to start withdrawing troops by the end of the year. Britain’s former top diplomat to Afghanistan severely criticized the conduct of UK military operations in the country, citing that the war gave the army a raison d’etre it lacked for years and resources on an unprecedented scale. He also added that at one time, nearly 30% of all British helicopter movements in the south were for “senior military tourists from London”. Afghan officials announced that the Taliban is prepared to drop its ban on girls’ schools, though the Taliban has yet made any public statements to back up this claim.
  • The Nepali government and Maoist rebels are said to have struck a deal which will lead to the formation of a new government within three months, after consensus was reached on how to take the peace process forward. The announcement came as the UN peace mission to Nepal ends its four year engagement on Friday, which some fear will create a vacuum of potential chaos.
  • India announced it planned to reduce its security forces by a quarter in Kashmir to ease conditions for locals. A Kashmiri separatist leader dismissed the government’s plan saying India was trying to “hoodwink” the international community by that announcement.
  • The Kazakh opposition weekly newspaper was confiscated by police on Thursday and staff members detained on suspicion of spreading false information. A newspaper spokesman said the issue contained articles criticizing the proposed national referendum to keep the current President in office until 2020. The upper and lower chambers of parliament voted on Friday in favor of holding the referendum.

Americas

  • An independent review of Haiti’s recent presidential vote by the Center for Economic and Policy Research suggests that the results could not be salvaged due to “massive irregularities”. The report suggests that about 156,000 votes were not counted, and that it is impossible to fairly decide which candidates should make it to the second round scheduled for late February.
  • Ex House Leader and American Republican legislator Tom DeLay has been sentenced to three years in prison after being convicted of money laundering and conspiracy in a scheme for a political campaign. Obama has signed a new bill into law that would prevent detainees held at Guantanamo Bay for terrorism from being brought to the US for criminal trial and restricts their potential transfer to foreign countries. A gunman opened fire outside a supermarket in Tucson, Arizona where politician Gabrielle Giffords was meeting with constituents. Some 18 people were shot and six dead. Debate over the escalating violent rhetoric of political campaigns has since become a subject of debate, as Sarah Palin’s website featured a map with a cross hair target over Giffords that many are attributing to inciting violence. Others are debating the lax gun laws in the US that allowed alleged gunman Jared Lee Loughner, man who was considered too mentally unstable to attend community college and was rejected by the army, access to firearms.
  • Police in Acapulco, Mexico found the bodies of 15 slain men, 14 of them decapitated. Handwritten signs left with the bodies suggests a link to Mexico’s drug cartels. Drug gangs fighting in Monterrey have launched a wave of attacks against police and rivals since New Year’s Eve and have killed at least 10 police, attacked a prison, shot up police stations, killed bystanders, and threatened local journalists.  More than 15,000 people have lost their lives in drug violence in 2010.

Middle East

  • Separatists in Yemen are said to have killed at least 3 soldiers and wounded another in an attack on an army checkpost on Sunday. Six assailants are also said to have been wounded in the attack. On Saturday, 8 soldiers were injured when their vehicle came under attack. Other reports say four soldiers were killed on Saturday.
  • Hezbollah and its allies threatened to quit the Lebanese government on Wednesday, after months of wrangling over how to deal with criminal indictments over the Hariri assassination. Later in the day it was announced that 11 cabinet ministers resigned, and that the government of PM Saad Hariri had toppled. President Michel Suleiman is now forced to form a new government.
  • It was reported that Hamas held talks over the weekend with other militant factions in Gaza to urge them to stop firing rockets into Israel after receiving warning from Egypt that Israel may launch an offensive. By Wednesday, the Palestinian militant leaders promised to stop firing rockets and pledged to observe a truce, which seems will be enforced by Hamas who deployed forces near the border. On Monday, a 65 year old Palestinian farmer was reported to have been killed by Israeli troops in Gaza Strip after being hit by a tank shell and gunfire. The tank shell and gunfire are thought to be in retaliation to three rockets that are said to have landed in the outskirts of Ashkelon, with no injuries or damage. An Israeli missile killed a suspected Palestinian militant in Gaza on Tuesday who is said was planning to carry out an attack inside Israel. Islamic Jihad threatened retaliation in a written statement. A dozen Israeli companies working on a Palestinian construction project have signed contracts that stipulate they must not use Israeli products originating in the West Bank, East Jerusalem or the Golan Heights, prompting a counter-boycott from Jewish settler groups and their supporters. Both Chile and Guyana joined Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Ecuador in recognizing Palestine as an independent state within the borders that existed before Israel captured the West Bank this week. Uruguay and Paraguay are expected to join the recognition in the coming weeks.
  • Iran is claiming it is capable of making its own nuclear fuel plates and rods of the kind needed to power a research reactor that makes medical isotopes, though the US claimed that Iran’s ability to produce a nuclear weapons had been delayed by sanctions.  Authorities have announced that more than 10 people have been arrested for espionage after the assassination of a nuclear physicist last year. The alleged spies are said to have been Mossad agents. A prominent human rights lawyer was sentenced to 11 years in jail and a 20 year ban on practicing law or traveling abroad after being convicted of “acting against national security”, “propaganda against the regime” and “membership of Human Rights Defenders Centre”. Other political prisoners were also handed heavy sentences for their participation in the aftermath of the disputed Iranian presidential election in 2009.
  • Saudi Arabia has issued international arrest warrants for 47 suspected al-Qaeda fighters who are thought to be building terrorist cells in the country. 16 of the suspects are said to be in Yemen, 27 in Pakistan or Afghanistan and 4 in Iraq.
  • On Saturday, a roadside bomb went off near an Iraqi army patrol wounding 8 in Abu Ghraib; gunmen killed an off-duty policeman in Taji; an Iraqi soldier was killed and another wounded in a roadside bomb attack north of Baghdad; a bomb killed a woman and her 4 year-old nephew in Baquba; and gunmen killed a Health Ministry employee in southwestern Baghdad. On Sunday, gunmen killed a member of the Badr organization outside his house in northwestern Baghdad, and a roadside bomb targeting a police patrol wounded a policeman in southern Baghdad. On Monday, two roadside bombs exploded in central Baghdad wounding four passers-by; armed men on foot killed two in two separate incidents in Mosul; a roadside bomb killed a police chief of Hit and wounded three other policemen when it struck a convoy; police found the body of an unidentified man with bullet wounds to the head in Hilla; a sticky bomb on a car wounded the driver and two passengers in Tuz Khurmato; and a roadside wounded two guards protecting public infrastructure when it went off near their patrol in Tikrit. On Tuesday, a roadside bomb near a market wounded three civilians in Latifiya; a sticky bomb attached to a mini-bus went off near a gas factory wounding three civilians in Taji; a roadside bomb wounded seven civilians in north-central Baghdad; a car bomb near a police patrol killed one police officer and wounded another eight in Shirqat; a bomb planted near the house of a university professor wounded him in western Baghdad; a sticky bomb attached to a car wounded four in southern Baghdad; and a bomb in a mini-bus killed the driver in Mahmudiya. On Wednesday, a bomb planted near a judge’s home wounded him in southern Baghdad; a bomb attached to a truck killed the driver in Taji; a roadside bomb killed three civilians in Taji; a roadside bomb killed a civilian in eastern Mosul; and gunmen killed a civilian after chasing him from house to house in eastern Mosul. On Thursday, gunmen killed a goldsmith and wounded another in southwestern Baghdad; a roadside bomb wounded four civilians in northern Baghdad; a roadside bomb killed one civilian and wounded four others in central Baghdad; and a roadside bomb killed one person and wounded five others in central Baghdad. On Friday, a dozen terror suspects disguised in police uniforms broke out of an Iraqi jail, prompting a manhunt for what officials say are top-ranking insurgents linked to al-Qaeda.

Europe

  • Russian police detained at least 20 people in Moscow on Tuesday in an effort to curb neo-nationalist groups. The groups have been cited as sparking racial violence over the past month. The Lower House of the Russian legislature approved the second reading of a ratification bill for the New START nuclear disarmament pact with the US with a vote of 349 in favor out of 450. The 123 Agreement of civilian nuclear cooperation between Russia and the US entered into force on Tuesday. The deal allows the two countries to exchange nuclear energy technology, engage in joint commercial nuclear ventures and work more closely in combating nuclear proliferation.
  • Belarus accused EU members Poland and Germany of seeking a coup against President Lukashenka by organizing the mass protests in December over his reelection. The apartments of four opposition activists were searched in connection with last month’s protests, along with dozens of offices and homes of journalists, pro-democracy activists and members of opposition parties as the police crackdown on opposition continues.
  • An early morning brawl left three dead and three others with gunshot wounds in Southern Ukraine on Saturday. The man was arrested and is under investigation.
  • Reports of an explosion at a Georgian military training base in Tbilisi say several servicemen were killed and wounded on Tuesday. On Thursday, a former member of the pro-Georgian South Ossetian leadership warned that a new conflict between Russia and Georgia could erupt if talks are not immediately made.
  • The armed Basque separatist group Eta has declared a ceasefire it called four months ago is now “permanent and general” and open to verification by international observers. Observers warn that the group has called for a permanent ceasefire before and later called them off.
  • The party of Kosovo’s PM is expected to see its overall national margin of victory go down slightly in the rerun elections on Sunday. The first election was marred by allegations of fraud and irregularities last month.
  • The Web site for the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party has published a manifesto that includes a demand for democratic autonomy. Some experts suggest that the Turkish President recent travels to the Kurdish region was the latest sign that the government is continuing its outreach with the minority. Yet violent protests broke out on Thursday as a trial of 152 Kurdish activists and politicians resumed in the southeast. The PKK has called a unilateral ceasefire until June when Turkey holds a general election.
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