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Conflict Weekly
Blinken's Fourth Visit to Middle East, Ecuador's State of Internal Armed Conflict, and Ethiopia-Somaliland tensions in the Horn of Africa

  IPRI Team

Conflict Weekly #210, 11 January 2024, Vol.5, No.2
An initiative by NIAS-IPRI and the India Office of the KAS

Shamini Velayutham, Dhriti Mukherjee and Anu Maria Joseph

Middle East: Blinken's Fourth Visit
Shamini Velayutham

In the news
On 10 January, the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, and the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, held talks on post-war plans for Gaza, including the creation of a Palestinian state, during their meeting in Ramallah in the West Bank.

On the same day, Blinken met Bahrain’s King, His Majesty Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, and reiterated the importance of a strategic alliance between the US and Bahrain. They conversed about a shared commitment to the freedom of navigation in the Red Sea. Additionally, they spoke on the alarming humanitarian situation in Gaza.

Also on 10 January, Blinken held meetings with the Israeli President, Isaac Herzog, Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and several other high-ranking government officials. They discussed military operations in Gaza and the future of Israel and the region.

On 9 January, Blinken met Netanyahu and reiterated the US backing for Israel's right to defend. He emphasised the significance of safeguarding civilian infrastructure and humanitarian aid distributed throughout Gaza.

On 8 January, Blinken held talks at Al ‘Ula with Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, about the significance of humanitarian aid in Gaza and stopping the conflict from worsening.

On the same day, during their meeting in Abu Dhabi, Blinken spoke with the President of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Mohamed Bin Zayed, about efforts to stop the war and address Gaza's humanitarian needs. He emphasised the US support for an independent Palestinian state. Salman of Saudi Arabia and Bin Zayed of Abu Dhabi were informed by Blinken that they were eager to pursue the normalisation of relations with Israel. He stated that the countries have shown a desire to support the stabilisation and revitalisation of Gaza, and added that the US would collaborate with them to determine what was required and what the countries were willing to do.

On 7 January, Jordan's King, Abdullah II, met with the Blinken. Abdullah II called on the US to push for a ceasefire while cautioning about the implications of the conflict in Gaza.

On 6 January, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis met with Blinken. They discussed the necessity of unbroken humanitarian supplies and Greece's support for the UN resolution for a two-state solution. Mitsotakis raised concerns about the humanitarian situation in Gaza and the potential for an escalation of the crisis.

On 6 January, he met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan, on the humanitarian situation in Gaza. Fidan underscored the urgent need for a truce in Gaza and a two-state solution. 

At the Tel Aviv press conference, Blinken stated: “One thing that we’ve heard clearly every place we’ve gone, including in Israel, is that escalation is in no one’s interest. No one’s seeking it.”

Issues at large
First, Blinken’s repeated visits to the region. Since the war began on 7 October 2023, Blinken has made four visits. On 16 October 2023, Blinken made his first visit to Israel followed by 2 November, 1 December and 9 January, reaffirming US support to Israel. Despite the interactions, Israel still disagrees with a long-term truce. Besides, the fighting has intensified with the US supplying weapons. Nevertheless, these trips resulted in the release of hostages and humanitarian relief.

Second, the hits and misses. In November 2023, a ceasefire was advocated by the US, Qatar, and Egypt. The ceasefire led to the agreement of a humanitarian pause, in which Israel and the Hamas agreed to release hostages and supply humanitarian aid without hindrance at the borders. In December 2023, the US supplied 155-millimetre M107 projectiles and ancillaries to Israel. Despite the supply of weapons, Israel and the US were countered by the Hamas’s surprise attack on the Southern border against the civilians. The US intelligence agencies failed to anticipate the unforeseen attack by the Hamas. The turbidity of information sharing between the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) and the US has resulted in the loss of lives of civilians. 
 
Third, the limitation of the US. On 12 December 2023, speaking to donors at a fundraising program in Washington, US President Joe Biden stated that the US had issued a warning against reducing the boundaries of the Palestinian region, and declared that it would oppose any plan that included Israeli rule over Gaza. However, Netanyahu did not heed the US’ warning and was determined to involve Israel in a full-fledged war with the Hamas thus preventing humanitarian supply from the major crossings such as the Rafah border and Kerem Shalom crossing. Biden also flagged that Israel was losing international support.

In perspective
First, the US's influence over Israel. In its unwavering, self-appointed role as Israel's protector, the US looks increasingly naive in Israel’s increasing bombardment of civilians and rising civilian casualties. The majority of the victims are women and children. The US is more concerned with containing the damage to its reputation than protecting Palestinian lives. Previously, the US has been influential in inducing a peace process between Israel and Palestine. For instance, on 13 September 1993, the Oslo Accords, which were signed in the White House were said to be the initial peace process that was carried out by the US upon the Israel and Palestinian Authority (PA). Given the current status of the war, the repeated visits by US diplomats are anticipated to be fruitful in terms of humanitarian aid; however, in terms of peace talks, the efforts are futile.


Ecuador: State of emergency, following prison riots and escape of a drug lord
Dhriti Mukherjee

In the news
On 10 January, Ecuador’s President, Daniel Noboa, announced that foreign prisoners, particularly Colombians, would be deported to cut down the prison population.

On 8 January, six jails witnessed a string of prison riots where 39 prisoners broke out and guards were taken hostage. Gangs carried out bomb attacks across the country, causing institutions to shut down. At least ten people were killed in the series of attacks. In response, Noboa declared a “state of internal armed conflict,” deployed the military to “neutralise” gangs and announced a nighttime curfew. 22 gangs were labelled as “terrorist” organisations. Declaring the 60-day emergency, Noboa stated: “The time is over when drug trafficking convicts, hitmen and organised crime dictate to the government what to do.”

On 7 January, Ecuador’s “most wanted prisoner” and drug lord, José Adolfo Macías Villamar, escaped from jail in Guayaquil before being transferred to a maximum-security prison. Villamar, also known as Fito, is the leader of the Los Choneros group which has been inflicting violence in prisons and engaging in drug trafficking. 

On 11 January, a UN spokesperson stated that the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, was “alarmed by the deteriorating security situation in Ecuador.” US National Security Adviser, Jake Sullivan, condemned the “criminal attacks by armed groups in Ecuador against private, public, & government institutions.” 

Issues at large
First, the drug cartels. Ecuador is situated between Peru and Colombia, two of the world’s largest cocaine producers. For a long time, the country’s drug trade was controlled by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People's Army (FARC). The demobilisation of FARC in 2016 led to clashes between drug cartels in Ecuador with the power vacuum inviting Mexican and Venezuelan cartels. Since 2018, clashes between cartels have triggered bombings, assassinations and shootouts. According to Reuters, there were 8,008 violent deaths in 2023, nearly double compared to 2022. Additionally, there have been allegations of governments abetting cartel-linked violence.

Second, the prison system crisis. The New York Times quotes unnamed security experts that one-fourth of Ecuador’s prisons are controlled by gangs. According to the country’s penitentiary service, more than 400 inmates have been killed since 2021. With guards unable to confront the gangs, inmates often operate their criminal networks while imprisoned and clash to control jails. 

Third, political instability. On 17 May 2023, the former President of Ecuador, Guillermo Lasso, disbanded the National Assembly to avoid impeachment. It left the country in a political deadlock. Additionally, the inability of the government to handle corruption worsened the political crisis. On 10 August 2023, presidential candidate, Fernando Villavicencio, was murdered for his strong anti-corruption stance. Ecuador was ranked 93 out of 140 in terms of rule of law by the World Justice Project, a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO), and 105 out of 180 in the 2021 Corruption Perceptions Index published by Transparency International. 

Fourth, an increase in gang violence across Latin America. Throughout Latin America, particularly Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela and Peru, there is an increasing number of incidents of gang violence, drug cartels and criminal activity. Over the last decade, the regional homicide rate has risen by 3.7 per cent a year. These gangs have substantial political influence and control over the law and order. Besides, governments have failed to achieve sustainable peace. 

In perspective
First, state failure. Ecuador’s governments have repeatedly failed to address the prison crisis. By abandoning the penitentiary system, governments have allowed the prison problem to increase and suffer from a 30 per cent national overcrowding rate, a significant shortage of guards and gang rivalry within jails.

Second, a test for the new government. Despite Noboa's promise to reform prisons, critics have described his measures as an “improvisation” without benefits. Having failed while trying to transfer Fito to a maximum-security prison and with little political experience, it is uncertain if Noboa will be able to succeed in addressing the crisis. 

Third, a potential escalation in violence. The presence of gangs indicates a high risk that violence will escalate. On 9 January, Peru declared a state of emergency and deployed troops along its border with Ecuador, threatening an escalation both internal and external. 

Fourth, a rise in organised crime across Latin America. According to the International Crisis Group, “a third of all murders” globally happen in Latin America each year and most have been linked to organised crime. The geographical advantage for drug traffickers, economic hardship and prevalence of corruption have facilitated the rise in organised crime regionally.  


IPRI Explainer
Horn of Africa: A port deal Ethiopia and Somaliland leads to new tensions. Why?
Anu Maria Joseph

What is the deal between Ethiopia and Somaliland?
On 9 January, army chiefs of Ethiopia and the self-declared Republic of Somaliland, Field Marshal Birhanu Jula and Major General Nuh Ismael Tani respectively, held talks on military cooperation on the sidelines of rising regional tensions. 

The development came after Ethiopia signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Somaliland on 1 January, granting the former commercial and military access to the sea. The agreement gives Ethiopia access to a 50-year lease on a naval base near Somaliland's Berbera port. Somaliland's President, Muse Bihi Abdi, stated that Ethiopia would in return recognise Somaliland's sovereignty, a statement that Ethiopia did not confirm. However, the Ethiopian government stated that the deal would lead to "provisions… to make an in-depth assessment towards taking a position regarding the efforts of Somaliland to gain recognition."

What has been the response to the deal?
On 2 January, Somalia, which considers Somaliland as an integral part of its territory, called the deal an act of "aggression" and an "impediment to peace and stability." The same day, the Somali Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated: "The Federal Government of Somalia vehemently condemns and strongly rejects the outrageous actions of the Federal Government of Ethiopia in signing an unauthorized Memorandum of Understanding with Somaliland" and that "Somaliland remains an integral part of the Federal Republic of Somalia."

Meanwhile, the Somaliland government remains divided within. Somaliland’s Minister of Defence, Abdiquani Mohamud Ateyi, resigned in protest of the deal and stated: “Ethiopia remains our number one enemy.” 

On 3 January, the African Union (AU) Commission Chairperson, Moussa Faki Mahamat, called for calm and mutual respect "to de-escalate the simmering tension." The same day, the US State Department spokesperson, Matthew Miller, raised concerns regarding the reports on Ethiopia recognising Somaliland's sovereignty. He stated: "We join other partners in expressing our serious concern as well about the resulting spike in tensions in the Horn of Africa."

Somalia's allies including Egypt, Eritrea and Turkey expressed their support to the country. 

What is Somalia’s Somaliland problem?
The British Somaliland and Italian Somaliland became independent and merged to form the Somali Republic in 1950. However, in 1991, the rebel group, Somali National Movement (SNM), unilaterally declared Somaliland’s independence after ousting the military dictator, Siad Barre, who divided the country based on ethnicity and clan and killed thousands of people. Although Somaliland has an independent political system under which it conducts regular elections, a police force and a currency, the Somali government perceives the secession of Somaliland as unlawful. Besides, internationally, the country remains unrecognised. 

What is Somaliland’s problem within?
The territorial claims by the Somaliland government are opposed by the population within. In 2007, Somaliland seized the Las Anod region from Somalia’s semi-autonomous region, Puntland. The Dulbahante clan in the Las Anod region rejects Somaliland’s administration and seeks to be part of Somalia. This political contestation led to the continuing violent conflict in the region. In February 2023, at least 23 people were killed during the fighting between the Dulbahante clan militia, SSC-Khatumo, and Somaliland’s forces. Since then, the Las Anod region has remained a frontline. 

Why is the deal concerning?
Thousands of Ethiopian troops are stationed in Somalia as part of the AU mission fighting the Al Shabab militancy. An unfriendly act by Ethiopia is likely to lead to the expulsion of Ethiopian forces fighting in Somalia complemented by increased tensions between Ethiopia and Somalia which share a long border. Besides Egypt expressing its intolerance to any violation of the territorial integrity of Somalia, Ethiopia and Egypt are embroiled in a conflict over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). Additionally, Eritrea has perceived Ethiopia’s objective to gain access to the Red Sea with contempt. The involvement of Egypt and Eritrea would potentially lead to increasing regional tensions in the Horn of Africa. Any unilateral move by Ethiopia regarding the recognition of Somaliland would likely trigger new fighting along the frontline in Las Anod. The AU and other international actors are concerned that a formal recognition of Somaliland would encourage similar secessionist movements across Africa to seek independence. 


Issues in Peace and Conflict This Week:
Regional Roundups

Akriti Sharma, Anu Maria Joseph, Femy Francis, Rohini Reenum, Rishika Yadav, Navinan G, Gopikesav, Narmatha S, Vetriselvi Baskaran, Padmashree Anandhan, Shamini Velayutham and Dhriti Mukherjee
 
East and Southeast Asia
China: Seeks stable ties with the US despite disagreements, says Wang Yi
On 5 January, the Straits Times reported that the Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs, Wang Yi, emphasised that an understanding and cooperation between China and the US is no longer an option but an imperative for the world. The statement was made while celebrating the 45th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries. Wang Yi asserted that cooperation is essential to address the tensions over national security, global conflicts, trade restrictions, climate change and Taiwan. He expressed Chinese expectations for the US to respect its choices while emphasising its commitment to building a stable, healthy and sustainable relationship based on mutual respect. 

Taiwan: KMT warns of threat to peace if DPP comes to power
On 11 January, the Kuomintang (KMT), Taiwan’s major opposition party, cautioned that Taiwan's ruling Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) presidential nominee, Lai Ching-te, could jeopardise peace if he wins the elections scheduled on 13 January. China and the KMT have accused Lai of being a supporter of the island's formal independence. 

Taiwan: Accuses China of aviation safety threat 
On 6 January, Reuters reported that Taiwan's Ministry of National Defence accused China of posing a serious threat to international aviation safety by deploying surveillance balloons near the island ahead of the 13 January elections. The ministry condemned China's disregard for aviation safety asserting that the balloons were part of China's “grey zone” tactics. Taiwan has been claiming that China is exerting military and economic pressure to interfere in the elections. 

North Korea: Conducts artillery drills near maritime border
On 6 January, North Korea News reported that North Korea fired over 60 rounds of artillery near the maritime Northern Limit Line (NLL) off the west coast. The action followed the resumption of North Korea’s artillery drills near the maritime border. South Korea responded with counter drills and advised residents of the West Sea Islands to evacuate as a precaution. The Joint Chiefs of Staff of South Korea, Admiral Yang Yong-mo, stated that North Korea’s actions threatened peace. South Korea vowed an overwhelming response to sustained artillery activities in the prohibited maritime zone.

South Asia
Pakistan: PoK leaders urge UN intervention on Self-Determination Day
On 5 January, on the occasion of Self-Determination Day, the President of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), Barrister Sultan Mahmood Chaudhry, called on the UN to actively engage in resolving the longstanding Kashmir issue according to the wishes of the Kashmiri people. Emphasising the inalienable right of self-determination for the Kashmiris, Chaudhry criticised India for its “reign of terror in the region” warning that it “cannot hold Kashmiris hostage for long by the dint of force.” Chaudhry urged the international community to address human rights violations in PoK. Pakistan’s Caretaker Prime Minister, Anwaarul Haq Kakar, reiterated Pakistan's commitment to supporting the Kashmiri people’s struggle for their rights, stressing the need for UN intervention. Kakar reiterated Pakistan’s unwavering support for the Kashmiri people’s just struggle, pledging full political, diplomatic and moral assistance. He expressed hope “that the Jammu and Kashmir dispute will be decided through the democratic method of a free and impartial plebiscite under the UN auspices.” Kakar further urged Pakistani diplomats to identify new “opportunities for the economic welfare of the country at the international level.”

Pakistan: BYC supporters conduct a sit-in protest 
On 8 January, Dawn reported that the supporters of the Baloch Yakjehti Committee (BYC) carried out a sit-in protest that encompassed political activists, students and human rights activists. The protestors had banners and placards inscribed with several demands including an end to enforced disappearances, recovery of all missing persons and preventing the extrajudicial killing of political activists and students. The protest was conducted in front of the Balochistan University.

India: Four people “feared” dead in Manipur
On 11 January, four people from Bishnupur went missing while collecting firewood in the forest. According to the Hindu, the residents confirmed that three bodies were recovered. On 10 January, a gunfight was reported in the same area by unidentified men. Security forces conducted search operations in the nearby areas and found arms and ammunition. The government ordered an alert after a black combustible fluid was found in the rivulet. Many social media handles representing the Meiti community blamed the Kuki-Zo community for contamination.

Maldives: Three deputy ministers suspended over derogatory remarks on India’s prime minister
On 8 January, Maldives indefinitely suspended three Maldives Deputy Ministers of Youth, Mariyam Shiuna, Mahzoom Majid and Malsha Shareef, over their derogatory remarks towards the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. The Maldivian government stated: “The government believes that the freedom of expression should be exercised democratically and respond, and in ways that do not spread hatred, negativity, and hinder close relationships between the Maldives and international partners." It asserted that it would “not hesitate to take action against those who make such derogatory remarks." Following this, many Indian tourists cancelled their tickets and hotel bookings in Maldives.

Central Asia, the Middle East and Africa
Iran: Islamic State claims responsibility for twin blasts
On 5 January, Reuters reported that the Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the twin blasts that killed around 100 people and wounded several others at a memorial of the Iranian commander, Major General Qassim Suleimeni. The group through its Telegram channel termed the attack a “dual martyrdom operation.” Suleimeni was a revered military general who was killed in a drone strike in 2020 by the US. According to the New York Times, he was the mastermind behind “an Iranian-led and funded alliance of Shiite groups across the Middle East.”

Iran: Complaint filed against Iran at the ICAO for downing a plane in 2020
On 9 January, Al Jazeera reported that Canada, Sweden, the UK and Ukraine filed a complaint against Iran with the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) in Montreal. The case was filed against Iran for drowning a Ukraine International Airlines plane in 2020, killing 176 people. The countries have accused Tehran of “using weapons against a civil aircraft in flight in breach of its international legal obligations.” The plane, a Boeing 737-800, drowned after takeoff from Tehran on 8 January 2020 after the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) fired two missiles. This was in retaliation to the assassination of Iranian General, Qassem Soleimani, by the US. The countries had previously filed a case against Iran seeking reparations for the families of the victims at the International Court of Justice (ICJ). In 2023, Iran sentenced ten people involved in the case and awarded compensation of USD 150,000 to each of the families of the victims.

Iran: Seizes US tanker carrying Iraqi crude
On 11 January, Al Jazeera reported that Iran seized a US tanker carrying Iraqi crude bound for Turkey in the Gulf of Oman. This was in retaliation to the seizure of the same vessel last year and its oil by the US. The ship. previously known as Suez Rajan had been “prosecuted and fined” by the US for carrying sanctioned Iranian oil. The Iranian media, Fars, quoted the Iranian Navy: “After the theft of Iranian oil by the United States last year, St Nikolas tanker was seized by Iran’s Navy.” The US condemned the attack calling it “unlawful seizure” and demanded immediate release of the ship and its crew.

Lebanon: Israel air strike kills Hezbollah’s top commander
On 8 January, Al Jazeera reported that an Israel air strike killed Hezbollah’s commander, Wissam al-Tiwan, in southern Lebanon. Wissam Tawil was the commander of Hezbollah's elite Radwan forces. According to Reuters, after Hamas’ attack on 7 October, more than 130 fighters of the Hezbollah, including members of Radwan, have died in fighting. Al Jazeera quoted the Lebanese state media, National News Agency, that the attack was carried out by an Israeli drone in the town of Khirbet Selm, killing two people.

Yemen: UNSC urges Houthi rebels to stop the attacks
On 10 January, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) warned against escalating tensions and called on Yemen's Houthi rebels to immediately cease their attacks on ships in the Red Sea. The call was made during a UNSC resolution that demanded the Houthis release the crew of the 25-person vehicle carrier, Galaxy Leader. The group took control of the carrier on 19 November 2023. Eleven members supported the resolution calling on Houthis to halt the attacks which are interfering with international trade, freedom of navigation and regional peace. Four members including China and Russia abstained. 

Yemen: US and UK forces retaliated against Houthi attacks on the Red Sea
On 10 January, according to the US military's Central Command (CENTCOM), the Houthi rebels from Yemen launched 18 drones over the southern Red Sea marking the armed group's 26th attack on international trade channels. The CENTCOM stated that two anti-ship cruise missiles and one anti-ship ballistic missile were fired in cooperation with British forces. CENTCOM added: “The Houthis “launched a complex attack of Iranian designed one-way attack UAVs anti-ship cruise missiles and an anti-ship ballistic missile.”

South Sudan: 30 civilians killed in violence
On 8 January, BBC Africa reported that at least 30 civilians were killed in an attack on a cattle camp in the state of Jonglei in South Sudan. Armed men from the Pibor region are suspected to be behind the cattle raid-turned-violence. The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) condemned the violence, urged all parties to cease hostilities and pursue peaceful solutions and called on to "de-escalate the situation." They emphasised the need for regional authorities to engage in dialogue, justice and preventative measures to avoid further bloodshed in the volatile Jonglei and Pibor regions. 

Somalia: Indian Navy rescues hijacked ship
On 5 January, BBC Africa reported that the Indian Navy rescued crew members of a ship hijacked by pirates on the Somali coast. The commandos rescued all 21 crew members, however, did not find the pirates on board. The ship, MV Lila Norfolk, with the Liberian flag was on its way to Bahrain. Out of 21 crew members, 15 were Indians. An emergency signal was received at the UK Marine Agency (UKMTO) of an armed pirate attack. Based on information from UKMTO, the Indian Navy with Indian patrol aircraft followed by the guided missile destroyer, INS Chennai, carried out the rescue operation.

Democratic Republic of Congo: Heavy floods kill 60 people
On 5 January, Africanews reported on heavy floods in the Democratic Republic of Congo with the Congo River overflowing and affecting the Equateur region after hitting Ituri, Mongala and Kinshasa. Over 100 homes have been destroyed in Mbandaka region and at least 60 people have died across the country as of 28 December. The government has declared a state of emergency and allocated USD four million for humanitarian aid. 

Europe 
Germany: Farmers block roads protesting subsidy cuts
On 8 January, BBC reported on farmer protests in Baden-Württemberg, North Rhine-Westphalia, Saxony and Bavaria against subsidy cuts. The cuts were imposed in response to a budgetary crisis. The Chancellor of Germany, Olaf Scholz, faces a challenging start to the year amid predictions of sluggish economic growth in Germany. In response to the protests, Germany’s Minister of Interior, Nancy Faeser, warned of consequences of “anger disagreement” over stopping people from going to work. Despite the government's efforts to reduce the farmer’s anger by reversing its plan to abolish “preferential treatment in vehicle tax,” the protests seem to continue. 

Europe: NATO allies assure more air defence to Ukraine
On 10 January, NATO stated at the NATO-Ukraine council meeting that it would continue its support to Ukraine in the form of military, economic and humanitarian aid. NATO’s Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, stated: “As Moscow intensifies its strikes on Ukrainian cities and civilians, NATO allies are boosting Ukraine's air defenses.” During the council meeting, the NATO allies agreed to buy up to 1,000 Patriot air defence missiles to boost Ukraine's air defences. 

Norway: Government passes controversial bill allowing deep sea mining
On 9 January, BBC reported on the Norwegian government’s decision to allow deep sea diving, which could lead to unfavourable outcomes for marine life. The decision made Norway the first country to enable deep-sea diving, to extract minerals including lithium, scandium and cobalt which are key to green technologies. The government stated that it would proceed cautiously while issuing licences and assured that mining activities would begin only after further studies and exploration. Private players are expected to provide aid for these activities and they can bid for around 280,000 square kilometres of national waters. Marine biologists have expressed their concern about the detrimental effects on marine life. The UN-based International Seabed Authority (ISA) is set to finalise rules on deep sea mining in 2024.

The Americas
Brazil: Security for Yanomami territory to be heightened
On 9 January, the Brazilian government announced that it would bolster security and aid for the Yanomami territory, the largest Indigenous reservation, in the Amazon rainforest which has experienced a range of illegal activities including gold mining. This year, the Brazilian government has announced to spend USD 245 million for establishing security headquarters and providing assistance for the region. After former President, Jair Bolsonaro, cut down on measures to safeguard the environment, illegal gold miners increased their activities. Illegal mining and deforestation added to the humanitarian crisis and the rivers in the Yanomami lands were contaminated with mercury. The Chief of Staff of the president of Brazil, Rui Costa. described the proposal as the next phase of “implementing permanent and structural measures in that region.”

Guyana: Talks held with the US on strengthening defence and military
On 9 January, after two days of talks between top Guyanese officials and the US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defence for the Western Hemisphere, Daniel P Erikson, Guyana’s government stated that it was seeking US help for defence purposes. This was against the backdrop of the ongoing territorial dispute between Venezuela and Guyana. The talks were on defence and security partnerships culminating with the US asserting that it would assist Guyana in creating an organised and better-equipped military. Modernisation of Guyana’s defence capabilities and cybersecurity were additionally discussed. Erickson stated that the US was “looking forward to working” with Guyana and recognised its regional capability and economic development. He added that the US would want to ensure that their “defence relationship with Guyana continues to meet the times.”

Colombia: Petro’s “total peace” plan sees progress
On 6 January, the Rio Times reported that Colombia’s administration under President, Gustavo Petro, made progress in peace talks with the Estado Mayor Central (EMC), the FARC rebel group. According to the government negotiator, the rebels agreed to stop kidnaping, released hostages and ceased clashes with the military in less than three months of the negotiation. Petro’s administration aims for “total peace” by ending the conflict which has lasted for six decades and has caused 450,000 deaths in Colombia. Furthermore, the Colombian government is negotiating a cease-fire with the leftist National Liberation Army (ELN). However, talks with the Segunda Marquetalia, another FARC branch, are yet to begin. The Clan del Golfo, a well-known drug-trafficking group, has turned down an offer of reduced sentences in exchange for surrender. The forthcoming Bogotá discussions, scheduled from 9 to 20 January, will address crucial issues including deforestation.

Haiti: International NGO warns Kenya of challenges in its Haiti mission
On 5 January, a report by the Belgium-based International Crisis Group warned that the Kenya-led multinational armed force which is set to combat gang violence in Haiti would face multiple challenges including an alliance of gangs and widespread corruption. The 5,000-personnel force will be made of troops from Burundi, Chad, Senegal, Jamaica and Belize. It is estimated that 80 per cent of Haiti’s capital is controlled by 300 gangs. As per UN statistics, 4000 people were killed and 3000 were kidnapped for ransom in 2023. The report warned that “fighting in Haiti’s ramshackle urban neighbourhoods will put innocent civilians at risk” underlining difficulties in maintaining “operational secrecy.” Further, the group explained that the “police are completely outnumbered and outgunned by gangs” stressing the “critical importance” of preparation. 

The US: Over 45 countries condemn the alleged Russia-North Korea arms transfer
On 10 January, the US, the EU and the foreign ministers of around 47 countries condemned the alleged ballistic missile transfer between North Korea and Russia in the “strongest possible terms.” According to the joint statement, the transfer “increases the suffering of the Ukrainian people, supports Russia's war of aggression, and undermines the global non-proliferation regime.” The US and its allies intend to raise the issue with the UNSC, according to US National Security Council spokesperson, John Kirby. The statement added that weapons procurement and supply breaches multiple UNSC resolutions. 

The US: Navy sailor jailed on account of spying for China
On 8 January, a Californian district court sentenced a US Navy sailor, Wenheng Zhao, who pleaded guilty to sharing military information with China, to 27 months in jail. According to the US Justice Department, Zhao was working at a California Naval base and had entered restricted military and naval installations to “collect and record information” regarding military exercises, operational orders and critical infrastructures from 2021 to 2023. Further, he used “sophisticated encrypted communication methods” to pass on the information. Zhao was paid 14 individual bribes between August 2021 to May 2023, up to a total of USD 14,866. 


Newsmakers This Week
The Houthis in the Red Sea
Rohini Reenum

Since November, the Houthi rebels of Yemen have been carrying out attacks on ships passing through the Red Sea and the Suez Canal. According to the UN, the Houthis have carried out “over two dozen separate attacks on international shipping” since Israel started its offensive against Gaza in retaliation for the 7 October attacks by Hamas. The US responded by forming a multi-nation maritime task force called Operation Guardian Star to secure the sea lane of communication. However, the Houthis remained undeterred. In response, on 12 January, the United States and the UK launched counter-missile strikes on Houthi targets inside Yemen. On 10 January, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution condemning the attacks on commercial ships and cargo and stated that on 9 January alone they had shot down twenty-one drones and missiles launched by the Houthi rebels in the southern Red Sea. On 1 December, in a press release, the UNSC had called for the immediate release of a Japanese registered ship, MX Galaxy Leader, that the Houthis had seized on 18 November and taken to a Yemeni port. They had also “demanded that all such attacks and action cease immediately.”

The Houthis control north-west Yemen which borders Saudi Arabia, including the capital Sanaa. According to Al Jazeera, the group emerged in the 1990s although it only gained prominence in 2014 when it rebelled against the Yemeni government. Since then, the group has been involved in the decade-long war with the coalition with support from Iran. Besides, they have solidified their identity around their opposition to Israel and the US and are an important component of what Iran calls the “axis of resistance” alongside the Hamas in the Gaza Strip and Hezbollah in Lebanon. When the war broke out in Gaza, the group declared its unequivocal support for Hamas and the Palestinian people stating that they would attack any ship coming from or bound for Israel. The group added they are attacking ships to pressure Israel to end the war in Gaza and have demanded Israel allow humanitarian aid in the war-torn territory. Despite retaliation by the US and UK, the group has maintained that it will continue to attack Israel-linked ships. 



This Week in History
7 January: Remembering the 2015 Charlie Hebdo attack
Padmashree Anandhan

On 7 January, French police officers gathered to commemorate the ninth anniversary of the attacks that took place in the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical magazine, which resulted in the death of a policewoman and 17 people in 2015. The Charlie Hebdo attacks became a landmark event in French history when two brothers, Saïd Kouachi and Chérif Kouachi, who claimed to be part of a Yemen-based al-Qaeda group, fired at the office in Paris. Since 2006, the magazine has been known for publishing Danish cartoons of Prophet Mohammed and was subject to threats from Islamist groups. It continued to publish caricatures of Islam and criticised Christianity and Judaism despite receiving threats and a firebombing in 2011. Although the magazine followed self-censorship to not harm religious sensibilities, extremist ideologies persisted as French society had become polarised after right-wing parties opted for an Islamophobic discourse.

In September 2020, a trial began in a Paris court and 14 were found guilty on a range of charges including engagement with criminal networks, direct complicity, and terrorism. The trial and republishing of the controversial prophet cartoons by the magazine provided grounds for multiple assaults and protests in the following weeks by Islamic State militants. There were also protests across Muslim countries against the publishing of the anti-Muslim magazine while another group staged protests in favour of free speech and free press. At the societal level, a survey conducted in 2020 by Institut français d'opinion publique, a polling firm, and the Jean Jaurès Foundation, a French think tank, revealed that 59 per cent of people favour Charlie Hebdo. However, since the 2015 attacks, the magazine stopped publishing any cartoons of Muhammad.


About the authors
Akriti Sharma and Rohini Reenum are PhD Scholars at NIAS. Padmashree Anandhan and Anu Maria Joseph are Research Associates at NIAS. Femy Francis, Rishika Yadav, Dhriti Mukherjee, Akhil Ajith and Shamini Velayutham are Research Assistants at NIAS. Navinan G, Gopikesav, Vetriselvi Baskaran and Narmatha S are Postgraduate scholars at the University of Madras. 


The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of any institutions or organisations.

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