Conflict Weekly

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Conflict Weekly
One year of Ethiopian conflict and UK-France fishing row

  IPRI Team

Conflict Weekly #95, 4 November 2021, Vol.2, No.31
An initiative by NIAS-IPRI & KAS-India Office

Ethiopia: One after a year of the Tigray conflict, back to square one
In the news
On 4 November, Ethiopia marked one year of the beginning of the Tigray conflict after the federal government launched a military offensive into the country's northern region in 2020.

On 1 November, the Ethiopian cabinet declared a state of emergency and called on the citizens to defend the capital city Addis Ababa from the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF). The justice minister termed the situation with the TPLF a threat to Ethiopia's "existence, sovereignty and unity" and said the danger cannot be averted "through the usual law enforcement systems and procedures." The development came after the TPLF claimed to have captured two towns in Tigray's neighboring region, Amhara. The TPLF spokesperson said: "We have to make sure that our children are not dying from hunger and starvation. We have to make sure that there is access to food, so we'll do what it takes to make sure that the siege is broken. If marching to Addis is what it takes to break the siege, we will."

On 2 November, the head of Addis Ababa's Peace and Security Administration Bureau directed residents to register their firearms within two days. The chief also said that the youth would be recruited and organized to coordinate with the security force.

Issues at large
First, a brief recap of the conflict. The ongoing conflict flared up on 4 November 2020, when the federal government ordered a military offensive into Tigray, alleging that the TPLF had attacked some federal military bases. The TPLF justified its attacks claiming that Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed had plans to send soldiers into the region as it defied federal orders not to conduct elections; despite the orders, the Tigray region held elections in September 2020. On 28 November, PM Abiy declared an end to the offensive and announced the capture of Tigray's capital, Mekelle. However, after a brief retreat, Tigrayan forces returned to fight, and in June 2021, Tigrayan forces recaptured Mekelle; since October 2021, Ethiopia has been carrying out a series of airstrikes on Tigray.

Second, the unraveling of ethnic fault lines. Following the outbreak of the conflict in Tigray, different ethnic groups have exploited the situation leading to massacres of rival communities in other regions like Afar, Amhara, and Oromia. Some of the incidents include the Mai Kadra massacre and repeated clashes between the Oromos and Amharas. Ethnic violence is also cropping up across other regions in Ethiopia, like in the country's west, where the Gumuz has targeted both Amharas and Oromos.

Third, the role of regional actors. The tensions between Eritrea and the TPLF can be traced back to the 1990s when the TPLF led the ruling coalition in Ethiopia. Following the military offensive in November 2020, the TPLF accused Eritrea, Ethiopia's neighboring country, which borders Tigray, of siding with the Ethiopian troops. After dismissing these claims several times, PM Abiy confirmed the presence of Eritrean troops in March 2021. Despite these developments, regional organizations like the African Union have not come down on Ethiopia or Eritrea. In August, professionals including former chief justices, authors, academicians from across Africa wrote an open letter criticizing the AU for the "lack of effective engagement" in the conflict.

Fourth, mounting international pressure. The United Nations, United States, and European Union have repeatedly called for an end to hostilities, reiterating that there is no military solution to the conflict. The US had also placed sanctions on the Chief of Staff of the Eritrean Defence Forces for the alleged role in abuses against Tigrayans. Further, rights organizations like Amnesty International have released several reports on the rights abuses in the region and have called for international action. However, PM Abiy has brushed aside such developments and termed them conspiracies of the West.

Fifth, the worsening humanitarian conditions. The actual number of casualties over the last one year remains unknown; meanwhile thousands have fled to Sudan. Media outlets like The New York Times have reported on mass rapes at the hands of security forces in Tigray; Eritrean troops have also been accused of systematic rape in the region. In another development, the UN has issued several warnings of famine in Tigray, the risk of malnourishment among pregnant women, and acute malnutrition in children under five years. In short, the humanitarian conditions seem to deteriorate over the days. 

In perspective
One year since the beginning of the conflict, the situation seems to be spiralling down for Ethiopia. Despite having declared a victory within three weeks of the conflict, with the airstrikes in October, Ethiopia and Tigray are back to square one. Though PM Abiy won the long-delayed elections held in July; however, the situation in Tigray seems to be going out of his control.  Once the West's hero, Abiy Ahmed seems to have fallen out with the international community. Meanwhile, the TPLF finds it difficult to sustain its fight without support; reports suggest that the TPLF and the Oromo fighters had joined forces during the conflict. The situation is not suitable for either side.

On the humanitarian front, the international community is rightfully concerned; however, calling for an end to hostilities and imposing sanctions will not convince the two sides to give up their fight.
UK-France Fishing row: Conflict over catching rights escalates with slim signs of a thaw
In the news
On 3 November, France released the British trawlers that were detained amid the ongoing conflict over fishing rights. The Scottish-registered scallop dredger Cornelis Gert Jan left the northern French port of Le Havre, and the trawler's owner said, "the boat was detained last week, saying it did not have a license." Since October, the conflict over boat licenses to fish across the English Channel escalated, propelling France to threaten to block the UK goods.

On 1 November, French President Emmanuel Macron announced that talks over equitable fishing rights would continue as he stepped back from the threat to impose complete customs checks on the UK goods and ban the UK boats from entering some French ports. Even though the French transport minister called their position in the talks "a constructive one," the UK government spokesperson said the Brexit minister would "reaffirm our existing position" when they meet France on 4 November.
Additionally, on 3 November, tensions also eased when a French court ruled that a British scallop dredger seized by French authorities could leave immediately with no requirement to pay the EUR 150,000 deposit.
Issues at large 
First, the geo-economic tussle over the Channel. France and the UK have been at loggerheads over fishing permits in the English Channel Islands for several months. The French fishers have protested against the UK system, requiring the EU fishermen to prove prior fishing activities to gain permits. Britain had countered these protests on the ground that the terms agreed in Brexit trade talks support limited access to the Channel. In this, the Jersey port became a recent flashpoint when the post-BREXIT regulations were implemented. France had responded, saying no to any new conditions affecting all boats that had been agreed during the Brexit transition talks. Currently, France threatened a series of measures against the UK unless more licenses were granted by 2 November. On 6 October, the French fishing fleet owners threatened the Jersey administration with a two-week license deadline.

Second, post-Brexit conflict expansion. With conflict escalating over fishing rights, the UK now confronts tensions surrounding both its land and water borders. While the UK sees the English Channel as its bilateral conflict with France, the latter sees the right to fish as part of the Brexit agreement. Similarly, another fallout of the Brexit transition talks has been over the Northern Ireland protocol. The UK and EU are deadlocked over revising the Northern Irish protocol, the Brexit agreement that kept the region in the EU single market, and the customs union to prevent a land border. The UK's Brexit minister is due to meet the European Commission vice-president Maroš Šefčovič for further talks on 5 November, as both sides try to settle the issue before the end of 2021. With both fishing rights and trade rights in its water and land borders respectively in question, the UK will steadily hurdle to holding its end of the agreement.  

Third, talks return to ease post-Brexit tensions. After three years of talks with the EU, the UK exited the union in 2020, however, in over a year, the two sides have now returned to the negotiating table to ease the tensions over the implementation of the Brexit agreement. Furthermore, the difference in the letter and spirit of the agreement for both the UK and the EU have challenged constructive talks. The French spokesperson said technical talks would continue on, including with some officials from Guernsey but cautioned against expecting any big breakthrough. While not ruling out progress, they said they did not anticipate resolving the issues at the Paris meeting.

In perspective 
First, the current tensions are a rerun of the Jersey island conflict and an expansion of similar sentiments across the coastline. It involves boats from Boulogne and other northern French ports, which are much better placed to create a real crisis in Franco-British relations.

Second, the leader's approach to conflict resolution has been insufficient. There is a danger that the French government, who is seven months from an election and angered by the submarine dispute, could be seen relishing a confrontation with Britain. French fishermen's leaders – even pro-Macron members of the National Assembly – are talking about blockades of Calais and the Channel Tunnel. Similarly, Johnson's populist approach to conflict resolutions risks equal escalation as well.

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

Peace and Conflict from East and Southeast Asia
China: Ministry rejects US decision to revoke China Telecom's license
On 3 November, the Chinese Information Ministry said that it "resolutely opposes" Washington's decision to revoke the license of the China Telecom Corp Inc; the revocation meant that the company's subsidiary, China Telecom Americas, could no longer operate in the US and should discontinue its operations within 60 days. The ministry said: "This is an unreasonable suppression of Chinese enterprises by abuse of state power and a serious breach of international economic and trade rules." Meanwhile, the US had cited national security concerns behind its decision.

The Philippines: Top communist rebel commander killed
On 1 November, the Defence Secretary announced that Jorge Madlos, leader of the  New People's Army (NPA), had been killed in a gun battle with the Philippines army. Madlos was also known as Ka Oris and was key to the communist insurgency in the southern Philippines. Peace talks between the NPA and the communist rebels ended in November 2017, and since then, attacks have been on the rise.

Myanmar: Suu Kyi denies breaking COVID-19 regulations; US concerned over rights abuses in Chin State; junta confiscates properties of those linked to NUG 
On 2 November, Aung San Suu Kyi, during her hearing on two charges of breaching COVID-19 restrictions, maintained that she had not committed any offenses. The charges come under the Natural Disaster Management Law and pertain to an instance where Suu Kyi waved the National League for Democracy's campaign convoy. In other news, on 31 October, the US Department of State spokesperson Ned Price expressed concerns over reports of human rights violations "that Burmese security forces have perpetuated in Chin State." Reports suggested that the military had set fire to homes and churches. Therefore, Price called on the international community to hold the military accountable. In yet another development, the junta has seized houses and property of activists suspected to have links with the National Unity Government (NUG). On 31 October, the junta confiscated the property of Mahn Johnny, who was the Ayeyarwady Region's Chief Minister, under the ousted government.

Myanmar: Feature outlines a bleak picture of higher education in Myanmar
On 3 November, Al Jazeera published a feature on the dwindling educational opportunities in Myanmar due to the fallout of the coup in February. The feature outlines that students face multiple obstacles though higher education abroad is like a ray of hope. These include frequent internet shutdowns, obtaining transcripts from the ministry where several workers are on a strike, sudden and prolonged closure of visa application centres. Al Jazeera quoted a student who, despite receiving a scholarship, was unable to travel to the US: "It is kind of hopeless for Myanmar youth and Myanmar students."

Peace and Conflict from South Asia
India: Violence in Bangladesh sparks tensions in the Tripura 
On 2 November, a group of Supreme Court advocates who visited the state to investigate the recent communal violence in Tripura released a report alleging that it was a "targeted violence against Muslims." Meanwhile, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has sought a detailed action taken report from the Chief Secretary & Director General of Police on the violence. Previously, communal tensions broke out in the state after Hindu activists rallied to protest violence in Bangladesh against Hindus.

India: Step being taken to bring back 23 fishermen from Sri Lanka, says Minister
On 2 November, Union Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting and Fisheries L. Murugan stated that the Centre was taking measures to bring back 23 Tamil Nadu fishermen arrested in Sri Lanka. He said: "We are in touch with the Union External Affairs Minister and complete details of the arrested fishermen have been sought from the Tamil Nadu government."

Sri Lanka: Rejected fertilizer shipment will not be accepted, says PM Rajapaksa
On 28 October, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa during a meeting with Chinese Ambassador Qi Zhenhong said that a ship carrying rejected Chinese fertilizer will not be accepted. However, he assured the envoy that Colombo would place a fresh order to replace the contaminated shipment. Further, the agriculture minister said: "The Prime Minister maintained a position that the shipment that already sailed from China cannot be accepted," adding, "The Prime Minister's stance was that Sri Lanka will buy a new shipment with required specifications."

Afghanistan: Twin bombings in Kabul leave more than 20 dead
On 2 November, two explosions occurred in front of the Sardar Mohammad Daud Khan hospital in Kabul as five gunmen opened fire and rushed inside the compound. Following the incident, more than 20 people were killed and at least 16 injured. Although there was no immediate claim of responsibility, an affiliate of the Islamic State group, IS-K, later claimed responsibility for the attack. Further, the Taliban's chief spokesman said that five Islamic State militants behind the attack were all killed.

Afghanistan: SIGAR's 53rd quarterly report says 91 percent of aid to 60 audited projects misallocated
On 30 October, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) in its 53rd quarterly report stated: "In 2021, SIGAR audited a sample of 60 US infrastructure projects in Afghanistan, and it found that $723.8 million, or 91 per cent, had gone toward assets that were unused or abandoned, were not used as intended, had deteriorated, were destroyed, or some combination of the above." Additionally, Special IG John Sopko said: "Although the US mission in Afghanistan has largely ended for now, SIGAR will continue its work to get to the bottom of why reconstruction efforts failed the way they did and to ensure that the US government is offered a comprehensive and documented array of the lessons to be learned from the collapse."

Peace and Conflict from Central Asia, Middle East and Africa 
Azerbaijan: Prosecutor admits to using of physical violence against Terter case suspects
On 1 November, the Military Prosecutor admitted to the use of torture for investigation of suspects involved in the 2017 "Terter case" wherein civilians and soldiers were suspected of spying for the Armenian secret services. Eurasianet quoted the Prosecutor: "Prior to the Military Prosecutor's Office's investigation, physical violence, as well as very serious measures, were carried out against individuals suspected of high treason. As a result, one person died before we started the criminal case," adding, "Illlegal torture of military personnel was carried out on a large scale." Prior to this, in May, the Prosecutor had denied claims of torture, terming them "unfounded noise."

Israel-Syria: Israeli attack targets Iranian positions near Damascus
On 3 November, state-affiliated media SANA reported that Israel had launched missiles targeting an area in the capital city Damascus's outskirts; no casualties were reported. According to the  Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the missiles had targeted army positions and arms depots of Iran-backed fighters. In October, in a similar Israeli air raid on Iranian positions, nine fighters siding with the Syrian government had been killed.

Israel-Palestine: Palestinians mark 104 years of Balfour Declaration
On 2 November, several Palestinians in the Gaza Strip's Jablia refugee camp held a protest to mark the 104th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration. The protesters called on the UK to recognize Palestine as a free state with Jerusalem as the capital. A Hamas spokesperson opined to Al Jazeera that the UK has full responsibility for the "historical, political and moral crime" towards Palestinians. The spokesperson said: "Since that pledge, our people have been in a continuous suffering and an open battle with the Israeli occupation in order to obtain their rights in their land that was gifted to Israel to establish its lands."

Turkey-Iraq: Four PKK terrorists captured in northern Iraq, say sources
On 31 October, Daily Sabah reported that Turkish security forces had captured four PKK terrorists from a cave in northern Iraq. The news report further quoted Defence Ministry sources who said that this was part of the ongoing Claw-Thunder Operation. "Two anti-aircraft machine guns, seven AK-47 rifles among 12 rifles, an M-16, a sniper rifle, two PKM machine guns, known as Bixi, two rocket launchers" and ammunition for the above were recovered from the cave.

Lebanon: Diplomatic tussle with Gulf countries continues
On 2 November, Bahrain's Foreign Ministry called on its citizens in Lebanon to "leave immediately" as the diplomatic row between Beirut and the Gulf countries widened. A day prior to this, the UAE had also asked its citizens to leave Lebanon. The development comes after the Lebanese Information Minister, in an interview aired recently, said that the Houthi rebels in Yemen were "defending themselves... against an external aggression." However, prior to the recent developments, on 31 October, Lebanese President Michel Aoun said Lebanon would like to have the "best relations" with Saudi Arabia. The National News Agency quoted Aoun as saying that he would want to sign agreements with Saudi Arabia so that "the positions and opinions issued by some do not affect them, and cause a crisis between the two countries, especially since this issue has been repeated more than once."

Yemen: 29 casualties recorded in ballistic missile attack; 12 killed in blast near Aden airport
On 1 November, the Information Ministry said two ballistic missiles launched by the Houthis had hit a mosque, and a religious school in Marib, and 29 casualties were recorded. In another incident, at least 12 people were killed in an explosion near the Aden airport; an airport official claimed that a small truck exploded near the outer gate, and security sources said it was carrying petroleum products. However, it remains unclear whether the blast was an attack or not. 

Burkina Faso: Unidentified gunmen kill ten
On 1 November, sources told Reuters that 10 people were killed and four others had gone missing following an armed attack by unidentified men on civilians going to the market in Markoye town, which falls under the country's Sahel stretch. The region borders Mali and Niger and has been witnessing Islamist attacks. President Roch Kabore said: "We will get through it together, or not at all."

Peace and Conflict from Europe and The Americas
COP26: World leaders pledge to end deforestation by 2030 and cut methane emission levels by 30 percent by 2030
On 2 November, over 100 world leaders have pledged to end and reverse deforestation by 2030 in the first substantial deal announced at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow. The pledge includes almost USD 19.2 billion of public and private funds. Similarly, over 80 world leaders pledged to cut methane emission levels by 30 percent by 2030 as part of efforts to tackle the climate crisis. The Global Methane Pledge is an international initiative put forward by the US and EU to reduce methane emissions. The goal of the initiative is to eliminate over 0.2C of near-term warming by cutting global methane emissions.
Turkey: Ship with Afghan migrants docks at Greek port
On 31 October, a Turkish-flagged cargo ship carrying nearly 400 migrants mostly from Afghanistan, docked at a Greek island's port. The ship docked two days after losing power in the Aegean Sea. Further, the government in Athens, along with the European Commission, reportedly contacted Turkish authorities to ask them to take back the vessel; however, there has been no response.
Poland: A woman's death sparks abortion law protests
On 1 November, demonstrators took to the streets to pay tribute to the pregnant woman who died of septic shock in her 22nd week of pregnancy after doctors refused to perform an abortion amid the stringent abortion law in the country. Reproductive rights activists have stated that she is the first person to die as a result of a recent restriction of Poland's abortion law. However, the hospital has stated that its decisions were based on concern for the health of the mother and foetus.
The Balkans: Bosnian leader alarms European officials with talk of secession
On 3 November, BBC reported that Bosnia-Herzegovina's senior ethnic Serb politician Milorad Dodik has been threatening to withdraw the Serb territory from national institutions, including the tax authority, medicines agency, and the armed forces. Although these actions may not entirely constitute secession, the revival of an ethnic Serb army is an alarming prospect to many people in Bosnia.
France-Australia: Macron and Morrison argue over the canceled submarine deal
On 2 November, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison stated that his nation would not accept "sledging" and "slurs" in response to French President Emmanuel Macron's statement. He accused Morrison of lying to him about his intentions to go back on the submarine deal. Previously, Australia canceled the USD 37 billion deal with France to build 12 diesel-powered submarines and instead went ahead with the Aukus deal.
Ukraine: Satellite images show Russian military buildup near Ukraine; Kyiv denies reports
On 1 November, Ukraine's defense ministry rejected a media report of a Russian military buildup near its border, stating that it had not observed increased forces or weaponry. The ministry said: "As of 1 November, 2021, an additional transfer of Russian units, weapons and military equipment to the state border of Ukraine was not recorded." The denial came after the United States-based Politico news outlet reported that commercial satellite photos were taken "confirmed" that Russia is once again building up troops and military equipment along the frontier. Meanwhile, Kremlin spokesperson said that there was no need to "waste time" on such "low-quality" claims.
The US: Supreme Court allow at least one legal challenge to Texas abortion law 
On 1 November, abortion rights demonstrators and opponents of abortion rights took to the streets as the Supreme Court justices heard challenges to the Texas law prohibiting abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy. Following the hearing, the court signaled that they were reconsidering their positions and could let abortion providers pursue at least one legal challenge in a bid to invalidate the law.
Peru: Government to deploy the army to help maintain order 
On 3 November, the Peruvian Ministry of Energy and Mines stated that a rural community in Peru decided to lift its blockade of the country's largest copper mine Antamina, who would sign a formal agreement for talks. Meanwhile, the government has authorized the army to help the police maintain order in Lima amid the violent protests against mining and oil companies. 

About the authors
Sourina Bej is a doctoral candidate at the University of Bonn, Germany. Apoorva Sudhakar and Abigail Miriam Fernandez are Research Associates at the School of Conflict and Security Studies in NIAS.

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