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CrisisWatch N°119 - 01 July 2013

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The Syrian conflict continued to morph into a full-blown regional sectarian struggle (see our new report). President Bashar Assad’s forces recaptured the town of Qusayr near the Lebanese border with the backing of Hizbollah fighters, whose open support for the regime is mobilising Sunnis across the region. An unprecedented conference in Cairo brought together some of the most prominent, and usually divided, Sunni religious opinion leaders in a joint appeal for jihad against the regime. Their call was endorsed by Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi. Meanwhile Iraqi Shiite militia are reportedly streaming into Syria in ever greater numbers. As both regime and opposition forces take on increasingly overt confessional stances, the massacre of Shiites in the eastern village of Hatla, reportedly carried out by opposition armed groups, further inflamed the atmosphere. UN/Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi reported that a planned peace conference in Geneva is unlikely to take place before August at the earliest.

Sectarian clashes are becoming more frequent and intense in Lebanon as it is drawn further into its neighbour’s conflict (see our recent report). Dozens were killed in clashes between the army and armed supporters of radical Salafi Sheikh Ahmad al-Assir in the southern city of Sidon in late June. At least six people were killed in clashes between Alawite and Sunni residents in Tripoli early in the month. Shelling across the border from Syria continued, including at least twelve rockets fired on the eastern city of Baalbek.

In Egypt tensions between supporters and opponents of President Morsi continued to intensify, aggravated by the deterioration in socio-economic conditions, increasingly frequent power cuts and fuel shortages. As aggressive rhetoric escalated on both sides, the opposition rejected President Morsi’s call for national dialogue. At least ten people were killed in unrest late in the month and during mass opposition rallies in Cairo and other cities on 30 June, which saw hundreds of thousands of protesters calling for Morsi’s resignation and early presidential elections, and tens of thousands showing support for the beleaguered president. The army has issued a 48 hour ultimatum to all sides to agree on a political settlement or else it will dictate a “road map”.

In Libya the government remains unable to establish its authority over large swathes of the country. On 8 June a peaceful protest in Benghazi turned violent, with over 30 left dead when the Libya Shield, a government-allied militia, reportedly opened fire on protesters. The episode ignited ongoing clashes between factions of the state security forces and prompted the resignation of army Chief of Staff Youssef al-Mangoush. As dropping oil prices continued to undermine stability, competition between armed groups over the right to secure Libya’s lucrative oil export terminals left ten dead and scores wounded in Tripoli.

In Somalia, the arrest of senior Al-Shabaab leader Sheikh Dahir Aweys, despite a reported agreement from the Somali government that it would be willing to begin talks with Aweys, threatens to divide the capital Mogadishu between rival groups of the Hawiye clan, particularly between Aweys’s Habr Gedir and President Hassan Sheik Mohamud’s Abgal clans. Despite significant infighting, Al-Shabaab stepped up attacks during the month, killing scores, particularly in the Middle and Lower Shabelle regions, and shaking the fragile sense of security in the capital by launching attacks on the presidential palace and UNDP compound. In Jubaland, bordering Kenya, local divisions reached crisis point. Scores were killed in clashes between the Ras Kamboni militia, which is loyal to Jubaland president Ahmed Madobe, and local militias loyal to various clans and leaders, including in Kismayo where at least 80 were killed in fighting between Ras Kamboni and fighters led by former defence minister Barre Adam Shire Hirale. Skirmishes continue despite commitments from Madobe and President Hassan to end the fighting.

Opposition protests continued in Kyrgyzstan, challenging the authority of the central government and exposing its political, security and administrative fragility. Supporters of the nationalist Ata-Jurt party protesting in Jalalabad province in the south blocked the main Osh-Bishkek road for four days at the beginning of June, demanding the release of their leader Kamchybek Tashiev, imprisoned following an attempted power-grab last year. There were violent scenes during the appeals court hearing for Tashiev and other Ata-Jurt leaders on 17 June before they were acquitted, undermining President Atambayev’s authority and casting further doubt on the credibility of the judicial system. A series of skirmishes on the Uzbek and Tajik borders between ethnic Kyrgyz and Tajiks further underscored the government’s tenuous grip on authority. There are concerns that violence in the area could trigger wider ethnic unrest.

Tensions are running high between Azerbaijan and Armenia amid reports that another attempt to restart peace talks over Nagorno-Karabakh had failed. The arms race escalated as Azerbaijan announced the delivery of a billion dollars’ worth of Russian weaponry and staged a huge military parade in Baku. An unconfirmed Armenian defence ministry source claimed Armenia is guarded with long-range offensive missile systems capable of hitting any target in Azerbaijan. The OSCE Special Representative for Conflicts warned that simmering conflict between the two may explode, and said that an attempt by Armenia to launch regularly scheduled fixed-wing air flights between Yerevan and Karabakh would provoke Azerbaijan and lead to an escalation in hostilities.

Relations between Georgia and Russia worsened as Georgia accused Russia of illegally demarcating the boundary separating the breakaway region of South Ossetia from Georgian-controlled areas, and “annexing” Georgian territory by installing fences deeper into territory previously under Georgian control. There were also further reports of Russian “border guards” detaining Georgian citizens near the boundary. Tensions are also on the rise within Georgia’s cohabitation government in the run-up to presidential elections in October. The interior ministry claimed to have found a large arms cache in the west which also contained videos depicting the torture and sexual abuse by police of two detainees in 2011. It claimed the footage showed the systemic nature of abuses under the rule of President Mikheil Saakashvili’s United National Movement (UNM). The revelations came as speculation mounted that Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili’s government may arrest Saakashvili after the October elections. Dozens of former officials in the UNM government, among them a number of senior UNM figures, have been arrested since Ivanishvili came to power on a range of charges, including last month former prime minister and UNM secretary general Ivane Merabishvili.

June 2013 TRENDS*

Deteriorated Situations

Egypt, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Libya, Nagorno-Karabakh (Azerbaijan), Somalia, Syria

Improved Situations


Unchanged Situations

Afghanistan, Algeria, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Bosnia, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, China (internal), China/Japan, Colombia, Côte d’Ivoire, Cyprus, DR Congo, Ecuador, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, India (non-Kashmir), Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Israel/Palestine, Jordan, Kashmir, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kosovo, Kuwait, Madagascar, Mali, Mexico, Moldova, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar, Nepal, Niger, Nigeria, North Caucasus (Russia), North Korea, Pakistan, Philippines, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Serbia, Somaliland, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, Uganda, Venezuela, Western Sahara, Yemen, Zimbabwe

July 2013 OUTLOOK

Conflict Risk Alert

Egypt, Somalia

Conflict Resolution Opportunity