Conflict Weekly

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Conflict Weekly
One year of the coup in Myanmar, Taliban meetings in Oslo, and the Global hunger report

  IPRI Team

Conflict Weekly #109, 02 February 2022, Vol.2, No.45
An initiative by NIAS-IPRI and KAS-India Office

Aparupa Bhattacherjee, Abigail Fernandez, and Apoorva Sudhakar

Myanmar: One year after the coup
In the news 
On 1 February marked one year of the military coup in Myanmar that triggered a nationwide civil disobedience movement, political arrests, ethnic conflicts, and violence. On the first anniversary, while the protestors observed a "silent strike" for six hours, a few pro-military rallies were organized in Yangon, Mandalay, and Naypyitaw. 

On the same day, the EU delegation to the UN in Geneva issued a joint statement expressing concern over the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Myanmar and called for a "cessation of violence." 

On 31 January, the US, the UK and Canada added new sanctions against the Supreme Court Chief Justice, Union Attorney General, and Anti-Corruption Commission Chairperson; Washington also sanctioned four businessmen supporting the military regime with arms.

On 30 January, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing called for public cooperation toward peace and stability. He said conditions must be created "to hold a free and fair multiparty general election," and the military would "accomplish the provisions of the state of emergency by August 2023." At the National Defence and Security Council meeting, the Acting President approved a six-month extension of the military rule; a decision was taken to hold a general election by 2023. 
Issues at large 
First, one year of the military regime. After the general elections in November 2020, the military consolidated its control by annulling the newly elected parliament. It declared a state of emergency, claiming the election fraudulent, though then election commission, the international community, and the UN claimed the elections to be free and fair. Suu Kyi, the former President and several leaders of the NLD, were later detained; the regime formed the State Administration Council (SAC) led by Senior General Hlaing. In parallel, an anti-regime government - the National Unity Government, was established by elected lawmakers and pro-democracy groups. The People's Defence Force (PDF) came to force, trained by ethnic armed groups; it had declared a "people's defensive war" against the regime in September 2021. 
Second, one year of military repression and domestic resistance. Firing at street protesters, use of airstrikes, burning of houses, and detentions have remained the hallmarks of the last year. The military detained 1,800 civilians, levied four charges against Suu Kyi, ensuring a jail term of 15 years, and killed around 1,500 protesters. 
During the last year, the resistance to military rule has continued. Also, several ethnic armed groups have resurfaced, resulting in open confrontations with the regime. 
Third, inadequate and mixed regional responses. The ASEAN's response during the last year was mixed – between mild censure and taking concrete actions. The Five-Point consensus agreed during the ASEAN Summit was not abided by the Myanmar regime; the former envoy from Brunei Darussalam had not even visited Myanmar. On the other hand, the visit by the Cambodian Prime Minister in December 2021, who is also the ASEAN chair, was strongly questioned by a few ASEAN countries, for example, Malaysia and Singapore. Myanmar's Senior General Hlaing was not invited to the ASEAN foreign minister's summit.
Fourth, ineffective sanctions and international reactions. Several international groupings and countries such as the EU, the US, Canada, and the UK have imposed travel bans and sanctions. But with sustained support from Russia and China, the sanctions have proved ineffective against the regime. 
In perspective
First, a mixed first year. Despite solid measures against the people and the NLD, it has not put down the resistance completely. On the other hand, civil society is nowhere near beating the regime into a retreat despite showing resistance. Second, the regime's promise of an election in 2023 would be a pretext for further consolidation of power. Third, an expanding ethnic conflict would further push Myanmar into poverty scarcity and hamper the education system. Finally, as the coup moves into the second year, the regional and international responses remain ineffective to transform what had happened on 01 February 2021. 

Afghanistan: Oslo talks with Taliban conclude with no substantial agreement 
In the news
On 23 January, a Taliban delegation led by acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan attended a three-day discussion in Oslo with Western officials and Afghan civil society representatives. These included envoys from the United States, UK, Germany, Italy, Norway, Qatar, the European Union, and representatives of Afghan women's rights and Afghan civil society.
On 24 January, the Taliban Foreign Ministry's spokesperson said: "The meeting focused on discussions about the economy, humanitarian aid, security, the central bank, health and other relevant issues," adding, "The discussions are in progress, a full report will follow." Additionally, a Taliban spokesperson stated that the talks with the civil society were "constructive," adding, "The participants of the meeting recognized that understanding and joint cooperation are the only solutions to all the problems of Afghanistan." Meanwhile, a Taliban delegate stated that the meetings with Western officials were "a step to legitimize (the) Afghan government."
On 27 January, in a joint statement released by the US Department of State, the Western participants called for urgent action to address the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. They highlighted necessary measures to help ease the suffering of Afghans. Additionally, the statement read that they "made clear that their meetings with the Taliban in no way implied any sense of official recognition or legitimization of the interim government announced by the Taliban in September 2021."
Issues at large
First, the Taliban's quest for recognition amid internal opposition. Since the Taliban took over in August 2021, it has sought to gain recognition from the international community to legitimize its rule. The Taliban has pushed for recognition on all platforms; however, there has been no positive response. Recognizing the Taliban has become an issue; without it, there cannot be an inflow of essential aid and unfreezing of Afghan assets. Meanwhile, the cash strapped Taliban faces internal opposition from civil society and other actors.
Second, the dilemma to recognize the Taliban. While there has been engagement with the Taliban, the international community is still hesitant to recognize the Taliban's rule. Although the international community has emphasized dialogue with the Taliban, it is still uncertain about recognizing and accepting its demands.
Third, the current humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. Over twenty million Afghans are on the brink of famine, combined with a severe drought, the coronavirus pandemic and unemployment. While there has been pledges and assistance coming in from several countries, it has not been sufficient to address the humanitarian crisis. In January 2022, the United Nations made one of the "biggest-ever appeal" for humanitarian aid for a single country, stating that it requires USD 4.4 billion to prevent the "world's most rapidly growing humanitarian crisis" from deteriorating further.
In perspective
First, the Taliban's demand for financial assistance and political recognition. The Taliban is clear with what it wants - unfreezing assets and recognition. The Taliban has pushed these two demands to strengthen and legitimize its rule. However, both these issues were sidelined during the talks.
Second, an unclear international community. The Oslo talks are another example of the international community being unclear on engaging with the Taliban. Until now, there have only been calls for assistance and limited aid. If the international community seeks to assist Afghanistan, it must understand the importance of pushing for a political settlement rather than just addressing the humanitarian challenges.

Global hunger: WFP-FAO report lists 20 hotspots, 16 in Africa 
In the news
On 28 January, the UN World Food Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organization released the "Hunger Hotspots. FAO-WFP early warnings on acute food insecurity: February to May 2022 Outlook." The report identifies 20 hotspots that require immediate attention, of which Yemen, Ethiopia, South Sudan, and Nigeria are categorized as countries of the highest concern. The report says that populations in the hunger hotspots "are likely to face a significant deterioration of acute food insecurity", and those in countries of highest concerns may face starvation and death.
Of the 20 hotspots, 16 are in Africa; apart from the above three African countries, the other hotspots are in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic, Angola, Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Chad, Niger, Sudan, Somalia, Kenya, Mozambique, and Madagascar. The rest of the hotspots are Haiti, Honduras, Lebanon, Syria, Afghanistan and Myanmar.
The report identifies the following as the of food insecurity: organized violence and conflict risks, natural hazard risks, economic risks, animal and plant pests and diseases. These risks are further aggravated due to humanitarian access constraints.
Issues at large
First, the issue of global hunger. The FAO has been documenting the problem of hunger since 1974. Despite the number of hunger-stricken people falling, global hunger is nowhere close to being eradicated. In 2020, the FAO estimated that 720 to 811 million people experienced hunger. The number is extremely shocking given that in 2015, UN members pledged to eradicate the problem by 2030, as part of the Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Second, causes of hunger and inadequate humanitarian aid. Apart from the drivers mentioned in the WFP-FAO report, hunger prevails due to poverty, lack of access to healthcare systems, and issues of governance. The problem is also influenced by climate variability and unfavourable conditions to grow crops.
While several local and international organizations attempt to provide assistance and aid, it is inadequate. The COVID-19 pandemic has aggravated the situation and the Global Humanitarian Assistance Report 2021 estimates that the total number of people who required assistance had increased to 234 million in 2020. However, during the same period, key funding from the UK, UAE, and Saudi Arabia have reduced, thereby offsetting increased funding by other donors. Meanwhile, humanitarian aid recorded shortfalls even before the pandemic.
Third, Africa as the global hotspot. With 16 hotspots, Africa could be seen as the global hunger hotspot. The problems in Africa are manifold. As the report mentions, organized conflict is a major hindrance to addressing hunger in Africa. Decades-long conflicts and successive governments' role in fueling and prolonging these conflicts have resulted in the current situation. Apart from the governments' role, several rebel groups also control and restrict access to food and other humanitarian resources, leading to the prevailing reality. Meanwhile, climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic have also pushed several million at risk.
In perspective
Hunger and famines can have several causes, but it is undeniable that the governments in power and international institutions have a role in letting the problem continue. The shortfalls in aid even before the pandemic implies that global hunger was never a priority for several governments.
On the other hand, humanitarian aid alone is unlikely to solve the issue; the drivers of hunger have to be addressed. This includes proactive measures by governments to end conflicts, instead of maintaining the status quo or aggravating them, ensuring access to clean and safe food, dealing with climate change. If the world continues to ride the current wave, global hunger will not be eradicated for a long time, let alone by 2030.

Also from around the World
By Padmashree Anandhan, Sejal Sharma and Satyam Dubey
Peace and Conflict in East and Southeast Asia
China: The US accused of attempts to interrupt the Winter Olympics 
On 30 January, China has accused the United States for trying to disrupt the Beijing Winter Olympics. It has accused that the US has offered a large amount in compensation to the athletes from some participating countries to provoke them to express discontentment towards the hosting nation. In response, the US embassy echoed that the athletes have the freedom to express under the spirit and charter of the Olympics games. 
North Korea: Alarm raised due to the new launch of a ballistic missile
On 30 January, Japan and South Korea reported the recent launch of the biggest ballistic missile by North Korea, which reached a maximum altitude before touching down in the Sea of Japan. The North Korean state news agency KCNA said that the launch took place to test the accuracy, and the missile test was carried out only after considering the security of neighbouring states. South Korean President Moon Jae-in remarked that the frequent testing of missiles by North Korea reinvigorates the events of similar launches in 2017. Although the leader Kim Jong-un states the tests are to strengthen the country's defense, international organizations and neighbouring countries such as Japan, South Korea, and other East Asian countries have condemned the launches.  
Peace and Conflict in South Asia
India: Two armed ethnic groups in Assam surrender arms
On 27 January, members of the Tiwa Liberation Army and the United Gorkha People's Organization surrendered and handed over their firearms, grenades and ammunition to the Assam government. The two ethnic groups were formed in 2017 to satisfy the needs of the Tiwa community who are found in Assam and Meghalaya. Chief Minister Hemant Biswa Sarma said: "We are focussed on peace. Today's surrender will go a long way in putting Assam on the road to more development."
Maldives: MDP proposes a bill to fine those involved in the India Out campaign 
On 1 February, the Maldives Democratic Party (MDP) proposed a bill to criminalize protests which impact bilateral relations with India. The bill is observed to be targeting the "India Out" protests, which have intensified since the release of the Opposition leader. The draft is titled: "The Bill To Stop All Actions That Could Negatively Affect Relations Established By The Maldives With Foreign Countries." It is expected to be submitted by 3 February, when the legislative body resumes. As per the bill, for those involved in the protests, the fine amounts to MVR (Maldivian Rufiyaa) 20,000 and six months imprisonment or one-year house arrest.
Peace and Conflict in Central Asia, Middle East and Africa
Yemen: UN reports the death of 2000 children recruited as Houthi rebels 
On 30 January, in its annual report to the Security Council, the UN reported the killings of nearly 2000 children while fighting as recruits of the Iran-backed Houthis. A total of 1406 children died in 2020, and an additional 562 died between January and May 2021, their ages ranging between 10 and 17 years. Under the pretext of enrolment in cultural courses, the militia has been holding large recruitment and radicalization camps in schools and mosques. They receive weapons and military training in these camps before being sent off to the battlefield. Cases of sexual violence against women and children and coercion to join the military have been documented.
UAE: Houthi missile intercepted 
On 31 January, the country's Defense Ministry reported intercepting and destroying a ballistic missile set off from Yemen in the third such attack in recent weeks. The Houthi group confirmed firing several of these missiles on Abu Dhabi and launching a number of drones at Dubai. The ministry also claimed to destroy a launch site for one of the missiles. The tensions are on the rise between the two countries, with the Houthi militia issuing warnings about repeated attacks in the near future. This comes in light of Israeli President Isaac Herzog's first visit to the Gulf state, who plans to continue his trip despite the attack.
Syria: Fresh clashes in Hassakeh 
On 30 January, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and ISIL (ISIS) fighters resumed fighting near the Ghwayran prison complex. The SDF attacked ISIL hideouts with an estimated 60 to 90 fighters still hiding inside the prison. At least 270 people have been killed so far. In addition, the violence has forced 45,000 people to flee Hassakeh since it broke out on 20 January.
Syria: Missiles targeting Damascus intercepted
On 30 January, the Syrian air force blocked a barrage of Israeli missiles targeted on the outskirts of the capital. It was part of an aerial attack by Israel that targeted military stations and a weapons depot owned by Hezbollah, near Qutayfah, which endured substantial damage. 
Burkina Faso: Coup leader made as the President 
On 31 January, following ECOWAS, the African Union (AU) suspended Burkina Faso from its ranks and warned of imposing sanctions in response to the military takeover. The military government (officially called the Movement for Preservation and Restoration), announced coup leader Lieutenant-Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba as the President. The government claims to have restored the constitution by approving a fundamental act that ensures upholding the tenets of democracy in the state. The MPSR will have two vice presidents who are yet to be named. The AU, ECOWAS, and UN continue to press demands for establishing civilian rule.
Mali: French envoy expelled 
On 31 January, the French ambassador Joel Meyer received a 72-hour ultimatum from the military government to leave Mali in response to the comments made by French foreign and defense ministers. The remarks called the government illegitimate and considered calling back the French troops due to rising instability. 
Peace and Conflict in Europe and the Americas
Ukraine: Fierce debate in the UNSC 
On 1 February, the US move to call for a discussion on the Ukraine crisis that was encountered by the Russian envoy in the UN Security Council. Russian ambassadors attempt to block the open session ends with no result after they were outnumbered by 10 votes to two. A Russian official in the UNSC reiterated Putin's statement that Moscow was not planning any military confrontation and said that the US should better mind its own business than intervene in the internal matters of others. In response, the US spokesperson said that the US believes in diplomatic talks and with no doubt shall act definitively in case of a Russian incursion.
Russia: Military exercise to be held away from the Irish coast   
On 30 January, the Russian live-fire military exercise which was due to take place on the Irish shores, upon the protests of fishermen and warnings from the Irish government will now be relocated. The Russian Ambassador to Ireland said that the decision was made considering the effect on fishing activities. Earlier, a group of fishermen cautioned by staging a protest against Russia's military exercise. The Irish Junior Minister had also issued a warning previously concerning the consequences on marine species and whales. 
Russia: Media outlets threatened to remove controversial content
On 1 February, ten media outlets in Russia confirmed that Kremlin admonished them to delete reports of Putin's critic Alexei Navalny's investigations. The media outlets such as independent Dozhd broadcaster, the Ekho Moskvy radio station, the Meduza, and Svobodnyie Novosti received a threat, to remove the content involving the former Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev case in 2017 and high-level scandals of Kremlin officials. 
Venezuela: The US sends back Venezuelan migrants using pandemic laws
On 1 February, Colombia expelled two Venezuelan migrants under Title 42 who came from the US. Title 42 refuses asylum seekers of due process and sends them back to the country they fled; the US invoked the law to curtail the covid infections. The US said it will send Venezuelans back to Colombia, where they came from, by crossing the border from Mexico. They will be sent back invariably, however the frequency hasn't been mentioned. In December, discussions related to these deportations were held between the two authorities. They seek to deport an unstated number of Venezuelans following due protocols who have been granted temporary residency in Colombia.
United States: Alberta border blocked over trucker protests 
On 1 February, unvaccinated truckers operating on the US-Canada border protested as a part of the 'Freedom Convoy' protests forming a vehicle blockade. The protests come in view of Canada's new vaccine rules on cross-border motorists, which the people have received rather aggressively calling for a nationwide end to all such rules. The restrictions are being viewed as the government manipulating covid rules. The blockade has caused significant disruption to logistics and has affected facilities in the nearby towns. Authorities have warned of police action and penalties if the blockade persists.

About the authors
Aparupa Bhattacherjee is a doctoral scholar at the School of Conflict and Security Studies in NIAS. Abigail Miriam Fernandez and Apoorva Sudhakar are Project Associates at the School of Conflict and Security Studies, NIAS. Padmashree Anandhan Research Assistant at the School of Conflict and Security Studies, NIAS. Sejal Sharma and Satyam Dubey are postgraduate scholars at the Pondicherry University. 

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