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ACLED Regional Overview – Asia (13 November 2018)

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Overall levels of organized violence remained static across the South and Southeast Asian regions while the overall levels of demonstrations significantly decreased following the previous week’s spike due to the eruption of country-wide blasphemy demonstrations in Pakistan.

In Afghanistan, the number of violent events continued to decline last week, most likely a result of the country’s seasonal patterns of violence. Despite this, fighting occured in 27 provinces between Afghan security forces and both Islamic State (IS) and Taliban militants, most heavily in Nangarhar, Helmand, and Ghazni. In the latter, significant fatalities were reported as a result of clashes with Taliban fighters in the Malistan, Khugiani, Ghazni, and Jaghuri districts. Ghazni province has been the focus of a major Taliban offensive since at least August 2018, when the provincial capital was briefly captured by the group.

In Pakistan, targeted killings of policemen continued last week. A station house officer (SHO) was reportedly attacked in Karak city in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province while another was killed near Muridke town in Punjab province. In addition, several improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and landmines exploded in different areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, allegedly killing four people, including one civilian. It is unclear who is responsible for planting the devices.

Blasphemy demonstrations continued last week with various groups, including Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F), protesting against the highly controversial Supreme Court acquittal of a Christian woman, Aasia Bibi. In the aftermath of the nationwide riots – despite the government signing a deal with the main protesting party, Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), on 2 November – over 1,800 people have been arrested and thousands of others booked in First Information Reports (FIRs) on charges of violating security measures (such as the ban on pillion riding, or gathering in groups of more than four), destroying public property, or injuring policemen.

In Kashmir, tensions between the Indian and Pakistani security forces along the Line of Control (LoC) escalated last week, leaving three people reportedly dead. In India’s Jammu and Kashmir, five militants were reportedly killed in clashes with security forces. In India’s Red Corridor, 12 more people reportedly died due to the ongoing Maoist insurgency with organized violence being reported from the states of Odisha, Bihar, and especially Chhattisgarh. On 5 November, at least five rebels were killed in an encounter with the police’s Special Operations Group in Malkangiri district, Odisha; while on 8 November, four civilians and an Industrial Security Force (CISF) trooper were killed when suspected cadres of the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) blew up a bus with an IED in Dantewada District, Chhattisgarh.

Demonstration levels in India remained high with the two year anniversary of the demonetization of all 500 and 1000 rupee notes dominating protest movements across the country. The Congress Party led nationwide demonstrations against demonetization and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led central government on 9 November. Critics of the government allege that the demonetization did not have the desired effects and rather pushed the nation towards an economic crisis (UNI, 9 November 2018).

In Bangladesh, two Bangladeshi civilians were reportedly killed in the border areas last week. One was shot by Indian Border Security Forces while the other was shot dead by Myanmar Border Guards. In addition, a number of demonstrations by labour groups over non-payment of wages turned violent last week.

In Nepal, following the deadly clash between the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) and the Nepali Congress (NC) on 30 October, last week started with NC leaders and cadres enforcing a shutdown and obstructing vehicular movement along the Nawalpur section of the East-West Highway to protest against the incident (My Republica, 12 November 2018). In addition, throughout the week, the festival of Tihar – the Nepali festival of lights – was observed with reports of several clashes between groups.

In Sri Lanka, United National Party (UNP) supporters and other groups held demonstrations to demand the reconvening of Parliament and respect for democratic rules. As the reconvening of Parliament drew closer on 14 November, the President dissolved the Parliament as effective on 9 November after it seemed unlikely that his party would achieve a majority in the Parliament on the appointment of the new Prime Minister. Snap elections have been announced for 5 January, almost two years ahead of schedule (Associated Press International, 10 November 2018).

In the Philippines, Benjamin Ramos, a human rights lawyer, was reportedly killed on 6 November. His death brings to 34 the number of lawyers that have been killed since Duterte took office (Human Rights Watch, 7 November 2018). Ramos had been helping the families of the nine sugar cane farmers killed near Sagay city, Negros Occidental in October. The farmers had been occupying land owned by Hacienda Nene when they were attacked by gunmen. According to the National Federation of Sugar Workers, 45 farmers in Negros island have been killed during Duterte’s administration (ABS-CBN News, 22 October 2018).

Meanwhile, drug-related killings continued in Calabarzon with 11 drug suspects reportedly killed in police raids in Laguna province alone. In a sign of declining press freedom in the country, Rappler, a news site often critical of the government, was charged with tax evasion — charges the founder believes are meant to intimidate the news site (BBC, 10 November 2018).

While the repatriation of Rohingya refugees back to Myanmar is expected to begin this week (VOA, 11 November 2018), over a thousand people protested in Maungdaw, Rakhine state on 4 November against the planned repatriation of Rohingya refugees.

Further, there were several labour protests in the Mandalay region last week. In Paleik, workers from the Panda textile factory who had been laid-off three months prior attempted to march to the offices of the Mandalay regional government to seek the government’s assistance in getting their jobs back. Three protest leaders were detained by the police, leading the remaining protesters to stage a sit-in in front of the local police station. Similarly, workers from the Mikko Coffee Mix factory staged a demonstration in front of the government offices in Pyigyitagun township demanding their fired colleagues be rehired. In Bagan, workers from the Tharabar hotel staged two demonstrations last week calling for recently fired employees to be reinstated.

There were also protests in Thailand and Cambodia last week concerning land disputes. In Thailand, in Nakhon Phanom province, around one hundred vendors gathered outside the Wat Phra That Phanom to protest their eviction from the grounds in order to register the temple as an UNESCO World Heritage site. In Cambodia, for two days, several hundred protesters representing different communities across the country gathered in front of government offices in Phnom Penh to call for a resolution to various land ownership issues (Khmer Times, 7 November 2018). Many unresolved land disputes in Cambodia often give rise to demonstrations.

In Indonesia, as part of an ongoing campaign, there was a protest calling for an investigation into past human rights abuses. A protest was likewise held after presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto made a derogatory remark about Boyolali people. As the Indonesian elections approach next year, there is greater attention being paid to the actions of Prabowo as well as President Joko Widodo as he seeks another term (The Jakarta Post, 5 November 2018).

Taxi drivers in Vietnam demonstrated in their parking area at the airport in Da Nang city claiming that the transport company Grab’s practices were interfering with the ability of traditional taxi drivers to earn a living. There were no reported organized violence or protest events recorded in Laos last week.