Conflict Weekly

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Conflict Weekly
Coup in Sudan, ASEAN on Myanmar, and the Migrant game by Belarus

  IPRI Team

Conflict Weekly #94, 28 October 2021, Vol.2, No.30
An initiative by NIAS-IPRI & KAS-India Office

Mohammad Aseel Ummer, Aparupa Bhattacherjee, and Joeana Cera Matthews

Sudan: Tensions flare-up as the military dissolves the civilian government
In the news
On 25 October, General Abdel Fattah Burhan, head of Sudan’s armed forces, in a televised broadcast announced that the civilian leadership of the transitional government has been dissolved due to political infighting which can lead to a civil war. Prior to the announcement, various news sources reported heavy deployment of security forces in the capital - Khartoum and key civilian leaders like Prime Minister Abdella Hamdock being detained from their residences.

Government supporters who had been demonstrating since last week as a response to a call for military coup took to the streets in Khartoum and other major cities demanding an immediate release of detained leaders and reinstating the civilian government back to power. The armed forces responded with live ammunition and military-grade weapons to disperse the protesters who gathered in front of important military and governmental establishments. By the second day, with a military enforced lockdown in the capital, seven individuals were recorded killed and nearly 140 wounded, with some in critical conditions as the military struggles to re-establish order.

The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the military take-over and called out for the immediate release of the civilian leaders, including the Prime Minister, in a statement. The EU Policy Chief Joseph Borell expressed strong contempt over the coup and said, “the actions of the Military represent betrayal of the revolution and the transition”. Chairperson of African Union Moussa Mahamat demanded the immediate release of the detained leaders and reminded that “dialogue and consensus is the only relevant path to save the country and it’s democratic transition.” Sudan’s neighbors like Egypt and Ethiopia have expressed their concerns over the developments in Khartoum as any rise in tensions can ignite a spill-over causing regional instability.

On 26 October, White House Spokesperson Ned Price informed that Secretary of State Antony Blinken held a dialogue with Abdella Hamdock over telephone and re-stated his concern over the developments in Sudan.

Issues at large
First, the multiple attempts by the military to jeopardise the civilian leadership. With the civilian leadership being dissolved, the majority of the Sudanese population believe that the transition chalked out in 2019 has been entirely jeopardized. It is unlikely that the military would surrender its control and facilitate the elections expected to be held in 2023 as the military has previously made multiple attempts to monopolize governance in the past two years, which eventually strained the relations between the civilian and military leadership of the interim government.

Second, the rights violation amid the protests. The excessive and brutal force used by the military to control the protesters has raised international concerns as death tolls are expected to climb in the coming days. Human Rights Watch has already condemned the violence and stated, “the coup is a major blow to the Sudanese transition”. Various News agencies have also reported that there are internet and communication blackouts in the country, and some suggest that the military has taken complete control over State media.

Third, the deterioration of the economy. The plummeting economy is expected to take further blows in the coming days. The Eastern port of Sudan, a major shipping point that facilitates international trade is under a blockade enforced by local tribesmen. The restrictions are expected to be temporarily lifted, but analysts suggest that the instability lurking in the country can prevent foreign trade and with the chances of sanctions and the Biden Administration’s decision to suspend a financial assistance package worth 700 million USD, Sudanese economic future seems bleak.

In perspective
First, the tensions can escalate as the larger Sudanese population seems convinced that military administration cannot be the most promising option, and with the civilian leaders, except for Hamdock and his wife who were returned to their residence according to the military, while others being detained the ongoing protest will reach intensified extends causing further loss of life and damage to Sudan’s political landscape. On 27th, The Doctor’s Union has officially declared their active solidarity along with various other civilian organizations and are expected to participate in the ongoing protests.

Second, the international community is evidently concerned about the recent developments in Sudan and any further hinderance to the transition can place the country in a critical position. For instances, in December 2020, after 27 years US removed Sudan from the list of States which sponsored terrorism. Without a clear de-escalation of the current tensions, Sudan could be blacklisted or become a pariah state. 

Myanmar: Regional and domestic pressure on the military regime
In the news
On 26 October, the first of the three-day annual ASEAN summit witnessed a collective expression of concern regarding the internal situation in Myanmar. The ASEAN invitee from Myanmar, a veteran diplomat, did not attend the summit as Senior General Min Aung Hlaing was not invited. Hun Sen, the Cambodian Prime Minister, said: “… ASEAN did not expel Myanmar from [the] ASEAN framework. Myanmar abandoned its right.” Indonesian President Joko Widodo said, “ASEAN’s decision to invite Myanmar’s representatives on a non-political level to the summit was a tough decision, but one that had to be done.” The ASEAN chair's statement called the regime to accomplish its commitment to the five-point consensus that the regime agreed to implement previously.

President Joe Biden, who virtually attended the summit joint the others in the expression of concern requesting to end the violence. He promised support to ASEAN in any of their efforts to hold the regime accountable to the five-point consensus.

Internally, on 27 October, 25 were arrested in the Mandalay region following a bomb attack on 25 October. On the same day, a regime appointed administrator was killed in Naypyitaw, which could be a revenge attack for a man’s death in detention. The bombardments and shellings have forced more than 8000 people to flee their homes in the Sagaing region, Shan and Chin state.

Issues at large
First, the ASEAN stand against Myanmar. The regional group has been blamed previously for inaction in several issues such as the Rohingya crisis or the South China Sea feud. Hence, this decision is uncommon. It is a result of continuous pressure from members such as Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. This decision has been vehemently opposed by the Myanmarese regime as expressed in several official statements. Apart from foreign intervention, Myanmar’s Foreign Minister blamed that the decision “was done without consensus and against the objectives of ASEAN.” Myanmar also went ahead with the release of 5600 detainees, which was seen as appeasement; however, most of them were later re-arrested.

Second, ASEAN’s decision on the debate over the policy of non-interference. Malaysian Foreign Minister on 21 October has requested ASEAN to do “soul-searching” regarding the need for this policy given the current situation of Myanmar. However, some members may not be on the same page, as evident from Joko Widido’s statement on 26 October, stating, “It is important for us to honour the principle of non-interference.”

Third, the implications of internal conflicts within Myanmar. They are aggravating two larger problems within Myanmar. The fight against the regime and protests are happening during a pandemic situation. This has increased the numbers affected with COVID-19 and the situation has worsened due to lack of medical aid and strong governmental policy. The regime has claimed an effective vaccination drive which is impossible given the clashes and as citizens are fleeing the situation. The other problem is the depleting economy leading to fuel price hikes and forcing factories to shut including the Chinese invested ones.

In perspective
First, although celebrated, the ASEAN strict stand against Myanmar will lead to an expectation of action in every conflict affecting the member countries which is marred with several internal conflicts. Also, such action will further push Myanmar, closer to its allies, China and Russia.

Second, the economic condition and fuel price hike will soon push the country into a food crisis. This will be catastrophic given the internal conflict and lack of good governance. But this could also trigger a change, similar to cyclone Nargis in 2008 leading to the road to democracy in 2010.

Belarus: Pushing migrants into Europe as a State sponsored strategy
In the news
On 22 October, attending an EU summit in Brussels, European Commission Chief Ursula von der Leyen said: “The people used by Lukashenko are victims, we must help them.” Adding to von der Leyen’s refusal to fund barriers at the border, French President Emmanuel Macron said: “... we should protect ourselves. But we should never do so by abandoning our values.” 

Separately, the UNHCR’s Regional Director for Europe Pascale Moreau called for “urgent action” on the refugee crisis and said: “They are held hostage by a political stalemate which needs to be solved now... Pushbacks, that deny access to territory and asylum, violate human rights in breach of international law.” 

On 22 October, the BBC published an article where Syrian migrants trying to reach Germany were interviewed. Idris, one among them, stated: “We’re crossing the borders illegally. We don’t know what will happen. We can’t trust anyone, not even our smuggler... Pray for us.” 

Issues at large
First, the Belarusian regime’s strategy. Refugees from various parts of the Middle East are flown into Belarus, then pushed into the EU via Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland. Led by President Alexander Lukashenko, Belarus has been successfully exploiting the bloc’s commitment to refugee rights. The idea seems to be that if they keep pushing in migrants, the EU will reconsider its decision to sanction Belarus and stop choking their economy. The move has, however, raised concerns within the bloc regarding the ability of an unpopular country, such as Belarus, to create chaos in the bloc. Doubts also loom large whether Minsk’s is a retaliatory measure to the EU or individually to Poland, given the fact that Warsaw has and continues to harbour critics of the Belarusian regime. 

Second, the objective. In May 2020, Lukashenko promised to retaliate against the EU sanctions by flooding the EU with ‘migrants and drugs.’ Despite being termed as an effort at ‘hybrid warfare’ by the EU, such inhumane moves are not new when considering countries like Belarus and Russia. Turkey, too, engages in a similar instrumentalization of refugees. Allegations exist regarding Moscow and Minsk nationals entering the bloc, along with migrants, in an effort to spy, provoke, or simply create chaos. It is as though Putin’s ‘little green men’ have donned a different disguise.

Third, the EU’s apprehensions. Migration is a weak point in European policymaking. Despite the 2015 migrant crisis, the EU’s migrant policy remains unreformed. Acknowledging this, von der Leyen said: “as long as we do not find common ground on how to manage migration, our opponents will continue to target that.” The European Commission recently proposed tightening visa restrictions on members of the Belarusian government along with exploring additional sanctions against individuals and entities. Poles and Balts, after using barbed wire fences and declaring emergencies, are now considering the construction of a permanent wall at their borders. Despite its desperate attempts at reducing migrant inflow, the EU’s ‘vulnerability’ continues owing to its dependency on third nations, like Belarus and Turkey, to stem inflows. 

In perspective
First, a wake-up call for the EU. A small country like Belarus succeeded to create chaos in the EU by exploiting its very evident weakness. The EU’s present rule of law crisis with Poland will only worsen the bloc’s ability to unanimously decide on a migrant policy. The EU needs to keep its internal differences aside and unite as a bloc if it expects to see an end to the crisis at hand.

Second, the larger agenda. The EU needs to be wary of Belarus’ larger agenda; it does not seem to end with migrants. Along with Russia, energy manipulation has already begun. Soon enough, the duo might cash in on other weaknesses. 

Third, the humanitarian crisis. Lukashenko has instrumentalized some of the world’s most vulnerable people and left them in a no-man's-land. They now struggle to survive with the Belarusian troops pushing them into the bloc while Polish and Baltic forces fight to keep them out.  

Also from around the World
By Apoorva Sudhakar and Abigail Miriam Fernandez

Peace and Conflict from East and Southeast Asia
China-North Korea: Pentagon calls on Beijing to achieve denuclearisation in the Korean Peninsula
On 25 October, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said that China should use its influence on North Korea to help the latter move in the right direction and denuclearise the Korean Peninsula. Kirby added: “And we certainly would like to see China be more cooperative and more helpful in what one would imagine would be a mutually shared interest -- that the peninsula be denuclearized for security and for throughout the region.” Kirby suggested that China can help enforce sanctions on the country. The development comes amid a recent series of missile tests by Pyongyang.

South Korea: Washington, Seoul may have different perspectives on declaring the end of the Korean War
On 26 October, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said that the US and South Korea appear to be having differences on declaring a formal end to the 1950-53 Korean War. The Korea Herald quoted Sullivan: “We may have somewhat different perspectives on the precise sequence or timing or conditions for different steps, but we are fundamentally aligned on the core strategic initiative here and on the belief that only through diplomacy are we going to really, truly be able to effectively make progress.” This comes as South Korea tries to push for talks with North Korea to convince the nuclear power to abandon its arsenal.

Singapore: Prime Minister welcomes Australia’s assurance on AUKUS
On 27 October, Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong appreciated Australia’s assurance that the recently signed AUKUS pact will focus on a “stable and secure” Asia Pacific region. Acknowledging the specifications of the trilateral pact between Australia, the UK and the US, PM Lee said: “Singapore welcomes new regional architecture formulations that support ASEAN centrality, deepen economic integration, and promote a stable and secure Asia-Pacific region and a rules-based order, including the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.” PM Lee was speaking at the ASEAN-Australia Summit and outlined that the organisation and Australia have a similar strategic outlook on the region.

Myanmar-Thailand: NUG asks for cross-border humanitarian aid
On 27 October, The Irrawaddy reported that Myanmar’s parallel government, the National Unity Government (NUG) has asked Thailand for cross-border humanitarian assistance to combat COVID-19. The COVID-19 Task Force (CTF) of the NUG, along with the Karen National Union’s Brigade 5, approached Thailand for the same. Thailand has already been providing COVID-19 vaccinations to migrants in areas bordering Myanmar’s Karen state and to Karen refugee settlements in Thailand.

Peace and Conflict from South Asia
India: Eight arrested on terror suspicion in Jammu and Kashmir
On 22 October, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) arrested eight people in connection with a conspiracy to carry out terrorist activities in Jammu & Kashmir, bringing the total number of arrests in the case to 13. An NIA official said: “The eight accused persons arrested are terror operatives of various proscribed terrorist organisations and have been instrumental in providing logistical and material support to terrorists…further investigation in the case continues.”

India: Army commanders review situation along LAC with China
On 25 October, the top commanders of the Indian Army during the opening of a four-day conference carried out a comprehensive review of the country’s security challenges, including in eastern Ladakh and other sensitive areas along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China. The conference which is being chaired by Chief of Army Staff Gen MM Naravane also deliberated on issues relating to human resources and reform measures in the 1.3-million-strong force. Additionally, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh is expected to address the commanders on 27 October.

India: Tripura mosque vandalised after protests against attack on Hindus in Bangladesh
On 26 October, a mosque was vandalised and two shops were set ablaze at the Chamtilla area in North Tripura district during a protest rally against recent violence against Hindus Bangladesh. Following the incident, prohibitory orders have been issued under section 144 in Dharmanagar sub-division in North Tripura district and Kailashahar sub-divisions in Unokoti district. Meanwhile, the opposition CPI(M) condemned the incident and appealed to all sections of the people to maintain peace.

Bangladesh: Seven killed in Rohingya camp attack
On 22 October, gunmen killed seven persons and wounded at least 20 in a Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh. According to the police: “Rohingya miscreants” entered the Darul Ulum Nadwatul Ulama al Islamia madrassa before dawn and “randomly hacked and shot people inside.” Following the incident, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal stated that “arrangements will be made to increase security” at the Rohingya camps in the coastal Cox’s Bazar district. This attack comes after the recent killing of prominent community leader Mohibullah who was shot dead outside his office in the sprawling camps earlier this month.

Pakistan: Four policemen killed as TLP holds protests
On 27 October, four policemen were killed and over 250 injured as members of the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) clashed with law-enforcement personnel near Sadhoke in Punjab’s Gujranwala district. Meanwhile, as talks with the group took place, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry stated that the TLP will not be allowed to challenge the writ of the state and will be treated as a "militant" group and not a religious party. This comes after the TLP resumed their protests calling for the release of its chief Hafiz Saad Hussain Rizvi.

Afghanistan: Islamic State capable of attacking the US in six months, say Pentagon; Taliban denies the presence of Al-Qaeda in the country
On 26 October, a senior Pentagon official told Congress that the Islamic State in Afghanistan could have the capability to attack the United States in as little as six months, and has the intention to do so. The official said: “It is our assessment that the Taliban and ISIS-K are mortal enemies. So the Taliban is highly motivated to go after ISIS-K. Their ability to do so, I think, is to be determined,” estimating that Islamic State had a “cadre of a few thousand” fighters. Further, the official warned: “We need to be vigilant in disrupting that.” In other news, the Taliban has denied claims by the former US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad concerns over the presence of Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.  Deputy minister of information and culture Zabiullah Mujahid said: “No, I don’t see such a danger; someone like that does not exist here and we haven’t received the information on such a level.”

Afghanistan: Women hold protest calling for action from the international community; member of Afghan women’s volleyball team beheaded
On 26 October, Afghan women took to the streets of Kabul in protests for what they said are limitations in exercising their rights, and criticized the silence of the international community, including the United Nations and human rights institutions, over the issue. The women protesting stated that even though over two months have passed, the Taliban has failed to pave the way for girls to return to schools or women to return to their jobs. Meanwhile, one of the coaches of the Afghan women’s national volleyball team claimed that a member of the volleyball team who played in the youth age group was beheaded by the Taliban in Kabul.

Peace and Conflict from Central Asia, Middle East and Africa
Kyrgyzstan: President rejects potential US base in Bishkek
On 23 October, President Sadyr Japarov rejected the idea of a potential US military base in Kyrgyzstan reasoning that it would place the country in a “cat and mouse” game-like situation with the US and Russia. The development came after media reports suggested that the US is likely to seek a repositioning of its troops in Central Asia, in light of its withdrawal from Afghanistan. Previously, the US had operated an airbase in the country since 2001 as a part of its counter-terrorism operation Afghanistan. The operations ended in 2014 after the Kyrgyz Parliament voted for having the US vacate the base.

Iraq: 11 killed in ISIL attack in Diyala province
On 26 October, the Joint Operations Command said that at least 11 people had been killed and others wounded in an ISIL attack in a village in eastern Iraq’s Diyala province. According to two officials quoted by the Associated Press, ISIL fighters had kidnapped two villagers; the demand for ransom was not met, following which the fighters raided the village. President Barham Salih termed the incident a “despicable attempt to destabilise” the country and warned that the ISIL threat should not be underestimated.

Israel: UN, US concerned over Israel’s settlement plans in occupied West Bank
On 26 October, Asharq Al-Awsat reported that the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process had criticised Israel for its continuing settlement moves in the occupied West Bank. Previously, Israel had published tenders for the construction of 1,300 household units in the area. The US Department of State spokesperson Ned Price expressed concerns over the same and said: “We strongly oppose the expansion of settlements, which is completely inconsistent with efforts to lower tensions and to ensure calm.”

Yemen: Saudi Arabia-led coalition kills over 260 Houthi rebels
On 24 October, the Saudi Arabia-led coalition claimed that 264 Houthi rebels had been killed in clashes in three days in Marib. The Saudi Press Agency reported that 36 military vehicles had also been destroyed by the coalition forces. This comes days after the coalition claimed to have killed 160 rebels in Marib earlier in October. Meanwhile, on 27 October, the United Nations Security Council pushed for “de-escalation” in Yemen. Al Jazeera quoted a statement: “The members of the Security Council expressed grave concern for the dire humanitarian situation, including prolonged starvation and the growing risk of large-scale famine.”

Ethiopia: Addis Ababa continues airstrikes on Tigray
On 26 October, Ethiopia carried out an airstrike on a town five kilometres away from Mekele, Tigray’s capital. The town has been under the control of the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) since June. France24 quoted the Ethiopian government spokesperson who said: “A special-forces training centre for the terrorist group TPLF has been the target of today's airstrike,” adding, “(A) large number of the group's illegally recruited military personnel were taking military trainings at this center.” However, a TPLF spokesperson dismissed any such facility and accused the Ethiopian government of intending to terrorise Tigrayans.

Eswatini: Pro-democracy protests continue; King calls for calm and national dialogue
On 21 October, the Public Works Minister stopped all city and town municipalities from issuing permits for protests. The move comes amid ongoing pro-democracy protests, led majorly by students, across Eswatini. Prior to the announcement, protesters said one among them had died from a gunshot as security forces tried to control the protests. On 25 October, Africanews reported that the King of Eswatini called for “an end to all violence, as no dialogue can take place when tempers are so high” and a national dialogue. However, political parties rejected the call and said: “We will not let the king who has blood on his hands decide how and when the dialogue will be held," adding, "There can be no calm or peaceful dialogue while the security forces continue to kill and maim people.”

Somalia: Over 120 killed in three days in clashes between Army and ASWJ militia
On 25 October, a senior member of the Ahlu Sunnah Wal Jama'a (ASWJ) militia said that more than 120 people had been killed and 600 injured in three days as clashes ensued between the ASWJ and the Somali Army in Galmudug state. The ASWJ was previously an ally of the Army; however, claiming that the government has failed to quell the Al Shabaab insurgency, the ASWJ is fighting the terrorist group. Meanwhile, the Galmudug Information Minister said that 16 government soldiers were killed and 45 wounded in the clashes which erupted on 23 October.

Peace and Conflict from Europe and the Americas
Ukraine: Pro-Russian Artillery in its first use of Turkish drones destroyed
On 26 October, the Ukrainian military stated that they had destroyed the artillery of pro-Russian separatists in the country’s east in its first combat deployment of a Turkish drone. According to a post on the Ukrainian armed forces’ Facebook page, the Bayraktar TB2k targeted and shot a Soviet-era howitzer it identified as the pro-Russian forces’ D-30. The Ukrainian armed forces’ general staff said: “Bayraktar was used in order to force the enemy to cease fire,” adding, “After that, the shelling of Ukrainian positions stopped.”

Europe: Earthquake in Greece, cyclone in Sicily and storms in northern Europe
On 25 October, an earthquake with a magnitude of 5.9 and 6.4 on the Richter scale struck several islands in Greece and other regions in the Eastern Mediterranean, including the southern Antalya region in Turkey as well as cities in Egypt. On 26 October, floods caused due to heavy rainfall ravaged the Italian island of Sicily forcing evacuations and officials to issue a stay-at-home notice amid the severe weather, which was also seen in the region of Calabria, in southwest Italy. Meanwhile, the storm “Aurore” swept across parts of northern Europe leaving four dead in Poland while causing damage in Germany, France, the Netherlands and other regions.

Brazil: Senate confirms the report charging Bolsonaro with crimes against humanity
On 26 October, a Brazilian Senate investigative committee approved a report which calls for President Jair Bolsonaro to be indicted for nine crimes regarding his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, including crimes against humanity. Senator Renan Calheiros, rapporteur of the report said: “The chaos of Jair Bolsonaro's government will enter history as the lowest level of human destitution,” adding that Bolsonaro was “on the side” of dictators, including Adolf Hitler and Augusto Pinochet.

Colombia: Otoniel, most-wanted drug trafficker and leader of the largest criminal gang to be extradited to the US
On 23 October, Colombia announced that the country’s most-wanted drug trafficker Dairo Antonio Úsuga, known as Otoniel would be extradited to the US after he was captured in a raid jointly conducted by the army, air force and police operation. Otoniel led the largest criminal gang in Colombia and has been on the US Drug Enforcement Agency’s most wanted list. He is accused of importing at least 73 metric tonnes of cocaine into the country between 2003 and 2014.

Haiti: UNICEF warns of fuel shortages putting hospitalised women and children at risk
On 24 October, the United Nations children's agency UNICEF stated that shortages in Haiti are putting the lives of hundreds of women and children at risk as hospitals run low on supplies for electricity. UNICEF Deputy Representative for Haiti said: “The lives of many child-bearing women and newborn babies are in danger because hospitals that should give them life-saving care cannot operate normally due lack of fuel.” This comes as fuel supplies to the capital Port-au-Prince have been severely disrupted due to a series of kidnappings and hijacking.

Guatemala: In wake of protests against a mining project, the government declares month-long curfew in a restive province
On 24 October, the Guatemalan government declared a month-long curfew following two days of protests against a nickel mining project operated by the Swiss-based Solway Investment Group. The demonstrators claimed that there were not consulted about the mine, and threw stones at police, who responded with tear gas and stones. Previously, the apex court in the country suspended operations at the mine ruling that the indigenous groups in the area had not been properly consulted about the project.

About the authors
Mohamad Aseel Ummer is a postgraduate scholar in international relations at the Central University of Kerala and is enrolled at the NIAS Online Certificate Course on Contemporary Peace Processes. Aparupa Bhattacherjee is a PhD scholar at the School of Conflict and Security Studies in NIAS. Joeana Cera Matthews is a postgraduate scholar in the Department of International Relations, University of Mysore. Apoorva Sudhakar and Abigail Miriam Fernandez are Research Associates at the School of Conflict and Security Studies in NIAS.

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