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Conflict Weekly, Vol.3, No.6, 11 May 2022

An initiative by NIAS-IPRI and KAS-India Office

Intensifying political crisis in Sri Lanka, Communal tensions in Ethiopia, and 75 days of Ukraine war

Sri Lanka: Political crisis intensifies
In the news


On 10 May, Sri Lanka's president Gotabya Rajapaksa urged the people to remain calm and stop violence and acts of revenge against citizens. He added: "All efforts will be made to restore political stability through consensus, within constitutional mandate & to resolve the economic crisis." 

On 09 May, prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksha tendered his resignation. His tweet came hours after he urged the general public to exercise restraint.
Also, on 09 May, violence erupted as Mahinda Rajapaksha's supporters attacked the peaceful anti-government protestors. Sri Lanka imposed an indefinite curfew and called in the military to contain the violence. An arson attack destroyed Gotabaya's traditional home and shrine in Anuradhapura. Mobs also attacked the museum belonging to the Rajapaksas in their ancestral village of Meda Mulana. 

On 06 May, Gotabya declared another emergency in Sri Lanka for the second time in a month. His declaration came as the citizens' protests escalated and the trade unions held a massive hartal. The president's decision sparked reactions from protestors and opposition leaders. 
Also, on 06 May, Sri Lanka's finance minister announced that the country had less than USD 50 million in usable foreign exchange reserves.

Issues at Large

First, the protests turning violent. The protests took a violent turn as pro-government supporters attacked the protestors at protest sites. This led to a violent response on government property, buses, and other state-owned enterprises. 

Second, the continuing political crisis. The protest groups are now diversified, with trade unions, priests, and left groups joining the demonstrations against the government. 26 cabinet members have resigned, while the opposition parties have filed a no-confidence motion in the Parliament.

Third, the worsening economic situation. With Sri Lanka's usable reserves falling to USD 50 million, it is on the brink of bankruptcy, and overall reserves crashed by 70 per cent in two years. 

In perspective

First, the expanding profile of the protesters. There are Buddhist monks, Christian priests and party members joining the demonstrations. Hence, the demands are likely to expand.

Second, the protests remain leaderless, raising questions over sustainability if more people/groups join the protests. Third, the resignation of Mahinda Rajapaksa has raised questions over differences within the Rajapaksha family. Mahinda seems to be distancing from his brother Gotabaya. Gotabaya has been the focus of the protests and slogans since the economic crisis and his announcements of declaring emergencies in Sri Lanka. Fourth, an autocratic outcome. President Gotabaya called on the military and police to end the protests, granting more power to intervene. Under the new outline, the police and the army could question people without arrest warrants. Thus, giving impetus to a stronger autocratic government supported by the military, which is likely to use state violence against protestors.


Ethiopia: Rising communal tensions
In the news

On 7 May, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet voiced her concerns regarding the recent clashes between the Muslim and Christian communities in Ethiopia's northwestern Amhara region. The Islamic Affairs Council of Amhara blamed heavily armed "extremist Christians" for the attack. 

As on 11 May, the death toll remains unclear even a week after the violence. Gondar's Mayor Zewdu Malede, suggested an investigation team to address the situation. He added: "In my evidence, both Muslims and Christians lost their lives in the attacks."

Issues at large

First, a brief background. Since 2018, after the victory of prime minister Abiy Ahmed dethroning 27 years of TPLF stronghold in Ethiopia, there has been a prolonged conflict between Tigrayan leadership and the federal government. Apart from different political interests, the contrast in the religious aspects have widened the polarization between the two communities. While Abiy is Pentecostal and a propagator of religious plurality, rebel groups from Ethiopia and Amhara are mostly followers of Christianity. Therefore, attacks on the minority Muslims on the grounds of rising Islamic extremism in Ethiopia has a political background.

Second, the exploitation of ethnoreligious space. The infiltration of different actors dominant in Christianity and Islam from Ethiopia's Amhara region, the Oromo Liberation army, and TPLF against the national army and Eritrean military add an important religious dimension to the conflict. Ethiopian and Eritrean soldiers have often carried out deliberate looting and destroying of Christian and Muslim cultural heritage sites. For instance, the November 2020 massacre at the Aksun center of Christianity killed close to 800 civilians. Similarly, the historic Al-Nejashi Mosque was gunned down during another offensive. The already diversified identities get complicated with the further juxtaposition of separate ethnic identities like (Amhara, or Gondor) to existing religious connotations pushing back collectivism.

Third, growing extremism in Sub-Saharan Africa and Ethiopia. One of the biggest threats to Ethiopia is the rise of extremist tendencies centering on funded Wahhabism by massive oil wealth of Saudi Arabia. Ethiopia also plays between Riyadh and Tehran's primacy in the region with Eritrea previously being an Iran ally and Ethiopia for Saudi. Simultaneously, groups like ISIS and Al-Shabab have been active in Ethiopia's eastern borders over the last couple of years, thus furthering tensions.

Fourth, external infleunces. Turkey's restoration efforts of an ancient mosque and tomb along with the covert support for the Muslim Brotherhood's teachings harbors deep antagonism. Sudan was previously under the sharia law and Egypt had strong radical Islamic movements like Muslim Brotherhood and Islamic Jihad. These countries are often blamed for backing the Islamic faction of rebels in Ethiopia and for promoting extremist religious vision amid the conflict on the GERD project. Despite the 2000 Algiers Agreement and the 2018 Agreement, the border between Eritrea and Ethiopia remains a bloody wound due to ramping militarization and an increasing number of refugees causing ethnogenesis between the countries.

In perspective

First, Ethiopia currently faces acute food shortages, religious extremism, and political rebels raising concerns about human insecurity. Second, the role of Orthodox Christians and Muslims in polarizing the communities, playing the "us vs them" game against each other and simultaneously against the government can be seen as a collective of ethnoreligious and security offshoots worsening the dire condition of Ethiopia. Third, corrective measures such as propagating inter-religious peace efforts and the practice of peaceful cohabitation need to be taken at the domestic level to avoid Ethiopia sliding into hate-filled chaos. The federal administration needs to have open lines of communication with the rebel and dominant religious groups to have an inclusive peace-building mechanism.

 
Ukraine: 75 days of the war
In the news

On 9 May, Russia observed Victory Day; President Vladimir Putin gave a speech drawing parallel between the current hostilities and World War Two. He called the war in Ukraine as a special military operation and said it was the right decision for a "strong and sovereign country." The day marks the offensives launched by Russia and the mass extraditions carried out due to Nazi crimes.

On 9 May, the US announced additional sanctions on Russia. It imposed sanctions on eight Sberbank, 27 Gazprom bank executives, Moscow Industrial Bank (MIB) and its subsidiaries. Along with this, the private defence company and weapons manufacturer Limited Liability Company Promtekhnologiya, and broadcasting stations such as One Russia, Television Station Russia-1 and NTV Broadcasting Company were also sanctioned.

On 6 May, US president Joe Biden announced the next round of security aid to Ukraine which will include "artillery munitions, radars and other equipment." Previously Congress had declared USD 13.6 billion as a military, humanitarian and economic aid.

On 4 May, the European Union announced their sixth round of sanctions, imposing oil embargo on Russia. The consent of all the member states is yet to be reached as Hungary, and other EU members dependent on Russian oil have rejected the proposed oil ban. Hungary's prime minister said that agreeing to the terms would be like an 'atomic bomb' on Hungary's economy, and added: "The proposal on the table now creates a Hungarian problem, and there is no plan to solve it."

Issues at large

First, increasing sanctions on Russia. Apart from the oil embargo, EU also proposes to sanction Russia's banking and broadcasting companies. The sanction plan does not limit to EU but extends to Japan, Singapore, Canada, Turkey and Switzerland.

Second, the shift in war towards the east. Russia's failure at Kyiv led to increased aggression in the Donbas region and Mariupol. In light of the 75 days of the war, Russia continues to launch attacks in the east, capturing Mariupol, and several villages along the eastern flank of the country. The recent missile strikes in Odessa prompts speculation of shift in the focus from occupying Mariupol to establishing control over the strategically important Black Sea port of Odessa.

Third, the divide within Europe. EU's proposal on oil embargo has received mixed responses. Despite the exemption of one year to cut down the Russian energy imports, Hungary, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Czech Republic have demanded a full exemption due to no alternate source.

In perspective

Europe being the largest market for Russia, EU's newest set of sanctions if passed will cause severe damage to Russia's oil refineries. Second, EU's internal divide; if the deliberations with Hungary fail, the initiative taken to impose the embargo will have an impact. 

Also from around the World
By Padmashree Anandhan, Sruthi Sadhasivam, Vijay Anand Panigrahi, and Sejal Sharma
 

East and Southeast Asia
Taiwan: Avoids purchase of the US anti-submarine warfare helicopters 

On 5 May, Taiwan rejected plans of procuring 12 "MH-60R anti-submarine helicopters" from the US as it involves high-cost. In a statement, Taiwan's defence minister, Chiu Kuo-cheng said: "The price is too high, beyond the scope of our country's ability." The move comes in the aftermath of the US stalling its USD 750 million arms sale to Taiwan. Previously, eight Chinese naval warships swept across Taiwan's northeast region. Furthermore, the acquisition of M109A6 Medium Self-Propelled Howitzer artillery systems and mobile Stinger anti-aircraft missiles from the US also got belated due to strained supply induced by the Ukraine war. 

Taiwan: China's warfare aircraft patrols airspace

On 3 May, China's "Y-8 anti-submarine warfare aircraft" encroached on Taiwan's air defence identification zone, hovering across Formosa region and Taiwan controlled Dongsha Islands in South China sea. A similar aircraft was found patrolling the region during April, with opposing narratives over the aircraft encountering a misadventure. On 26 April, The Chinese military had conducted "flight training" for the Y-8 warfare aircrafts, indicating that the aircraft was operative. Previously, only Z-9 and the Ka-28 anti-submarine warfare helicopters were emplaced.

South Korea: First Asian country to join NATO's cyber defence cooperative

On 5 May, South Korea's National Intelligence Service (NIS) became a member of the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence (CCDCOE). Of the 32 members of the cyber defence cooperative, South Korea is now the first Asian entrant. South Korea introduced its first National Cybersecurity Strategy in 2018 and proffered its application to join CCDCOE in 2019. This association was met with serious remarks from the Chinese media as The Global Times editor called it a hostile move towards the neighbours that could lead to a Ukraine-like situation. However, South Korea has been a recipient of frequent cyberattacks with most of them originating in China or North Korea itself.

North Korea: Ballistic missile fired into the sea, claim South Korea and Japan

On 7 May, North Korea fired a projectile into the sea, which Japan and South Korea suspected to be a Submarine-launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM). South Korea alleges that the missile was launched to warn before the investiture of their new President, Yoon Seok-you, who is observed to have a stern stance against North Korea. Japan also expressed its concern over North Korea's recent interest in empowering their nuclear technology and its continuous launch of ballistic missiles. South Korea's National Intelligence Service also hinted at the possibility of another nuclear test by North Korea before Biden visits Seoul. US President Joe Biden will be visiting Seoul for a summit with the new South Korean President on 21 May.

South Asia
India: Call for industrialised nations to lead the financial battle against climate change

On 8 May, the Union Environment Minister of India, Bhupender Yadav stressed the need for the western industrialized nations to lead the fight against climate change by taking up most of the financial load associated with it. While addressing a conference in Chandigarh, the minister emphasized that India's per capita carbon emission is among the world's lowest. He further added that India has the world's largest number of forest-dependent communities, and therefore the western ideas of conservation can severely affect the local population as they overlook them. Apart from this, he also spoke of equitable allocation of responsibilities and the necessity of balancing between industrialization and preservation of the environment for countries like India.

Afghanistan: Taliban orders women to wear a hijab

On 7 May, the Taliban announced that it was mandatory for the women in Afghanistan to wear a Hijab. The Taliban's Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice issued a decree that includes criminal punishment for the offenders of the prescribed dress code for women. The decree entails that the women who violate the dress code, their male guardians would be prosecuted. It's the first time under this regime that the Taliban have included a punishment with laws restricting women's freedom. The new law sparked widespread outrage by the Afghan women and activists who urged the international community to stand with them and take decisive actions against the Taliban.

Central Asia, Middle East, and Africa
Armenia: Protesters call for the resignation of the prime minister 

On 4 May, the protesters continued to demand the resignation of the prime minister Nikol Pashinian escalated. Several got apprehended in the wake of violent confrontation with the nation's police officers across the Parliament. The contestations were chiefly directed by the erstwhile presidents namely Robert Kocharian and Serzh Sarkisian belonging to opposition parties, Hayastan and Pativ Unem groups. However, the civilians deeply detest these opposition leaders as they offer no constructive solution to the conundrum.  

Kyrgyzstan: Border guards start firing at Uzbek-Kyrgyz border, 3 killed 

On 5 May, the Kyrgyz border guard officials shot down three people in the Jalal-Abad area, across the Ferghana Valley. The culprits, a father and his two sons were caught sneaking sizeable amount of goods and were fired in the Kyrgyztan-Uzbekiztan border region. In their Telegram channel, Uzbekistan's border security service said: "three people were shot in a border incident when they allegedly were involved in a smuggling operation." They claimed that the security guards were compelled to fire the miscreants due to latters' violent endeavours. Following the border shootings, the local heads of the two countries conferred about the incident. 

Turkmenistan: New norms for policing women 

On 4 May, in the absence of formal laws, local institutions enforced stringent prohibition on close fitting clothes for women and forbaded them from using artificial beauty products. Additionally, women were fired from their jobs for having undertaken cosmetic surgeries like "breast implants", "eyebrow microblading" and "lip fillers". Furthermore, men unrelated to the concerned woman were barred from being chauffeurs. The women found defying these norms were dragged to police stations and fined USD 140, amounting to a monthly salary of a regular Turkmen civilian. These rules have been imposed after President Serdar Berdymukhammedov came to power.

Libya and Syria: The US reports on Russia's usage of mercenaries in Ukraine

On 8 May, the US defence department published reports stating Russia has been using mercenaries from Libya and Syria in the Ukraine war. US defence official stated: "Russian mercenary company Wagner Group has been operating in Donbas and they use Syrian and Libyan fighters." Putin also stated that 40,000 Syrian fighters have volunteered to support Russia. Although Russia boasts of strength in numbers, its fighters have not been able to take over Kyiv. Putin in the wake of setbacks, has withdrawn 200 Wagner Group mercenaries and 1,000 Syrian mercenaries in the last week.

Syria: Children suffer as international aid dwindles

On 8 May, UNICEF and the UN reported that since the war began in 2011, more than 6.5 million children in Syria have been affected and require aid to survive. The number touches 12.3 million when refugees and children who fled to neighbouring countries are added. UNICEF stated: "Syria's children have suffered for far too long and should not suffer any longer." Despite children in poverty growing in number, the funds received are dwindling. UNICEF budgeted USD 20 million to fund "cross border operations" in northwest Syria, however it has received less than half of its requirements. Prices of basic needs have also increased because of the Ukraine war. The UN stated: "among the most vulnerable, children are bearing the brunt of the war's effect."

Yemen: Saudi releases prisoners to the Houthis

On 6 May, the Saudi-led coalition and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has transported 120 prisoners to Yemen in an attempt to maintain the UN led truce. Among the list of detainees, the Houthis stated it contained prisoner's unknown to them so 108 detainees were flown to Aden while 9 were led to the Houthis in Sanaa. The Houthis have refused to taken in the prisoners flown to Aden. This is the most significant prisoner exchange since 2020 and this exchange is expected to maintain peace in a war-torn Yemen.

Syria: Videos of Tadamon massacre surfaces exposing atrocities

In April 2022, footage of Tadamon massacre of 2013 carried out by militias loyal to Bashar al-Assad surfaced depicting the atrocities committed. The footage captured by the perpetrators themselves shoes 41 civilians being shot, their bodies piled in a pit and set on fire. The incident happened at Nisreen Street, a stronghold of Shabiha (militias that are sponsored by Assad) in the wake of the Arab Spring protests. Syrian Human Rights monitors state that incidents like these were common and undiscovered at the time. Many families who who tried to cross checkpoints in Southern Damascus were either executed or went missing with no traces till this day. The families of the victims of the Tadamon massacre are not willing to come forward and claim their loss due to fear of violence by militias.

Burkina Faso: 50 terrorists killed in two operations

On 10 May, the military issued a statement reporting the execution of 50 terrorists in two operations carried out on 9 May. The military had conducted the operations in a surprise attack in the northwest near the border with Mali. As per the statement, the commando unit had launched an attack in the southwest near the border with Ivory Coast. 

Democratic Republic of the Congo: 14 killed in suspected militia attack

On 10 May, an army spokesperson reported on 14 people who had been killed in a militia attack on a camp for displaced persons in eastern Ituri. The Kivu Security Tracker confirmed the same and the president of a civil society groups' association found that most victims to be children. Blaming the Cooperative for the Development of the Congo (CODECO) militia for the attack, the association president said: "It's shocking to see children chopped up by machetes." The attack comes less than a week after over 30 were killed in a similarly which is suspected to be carried out by the CODECO militia - on a mining encampment.
 
Zimbabwe: Human-elephant conflict claims 60 lives

On 10 May, a government spokesperson tweeted that the human-elephant conflict had claimed 60 lives and injured 50 people, until May 2022. In 2021, 72 people had lost their lives. The news report quoted wildlife expert Tinashe Farawo who maintained that the conflict is likely to increase as the herds will begin to move searching for food and water in the dry season. 

Europe and the Americas
UK: Rejects the EU's plan for NI protocol

On 11 May, the UK rejected the proposal offered by the EU to decrease the impacts of the post-Brexit treaty on trade in Northern Ireland. The reason for the rejection was that the plans would worsen the situation and current trading agreements. The protocol which played a key role in Northern Ireland's election was accepted by every majority except DUP, which did not nominate ministers due to the same. Foreign secretary Liz Truss said that she would not shy away from finding a solution to stabilise the situation in NI. The UK demanded fundamental changes in the treaty as it wants to remove checks on the goods that stay in NI. It also said that it would deplete the market of the small products.

UK: Researchers predict a rise in global temperature in the next five years 

On 10 May, researchers from the UK Meteorological (Met) office warned that the global temperature may increase temporarily by more than 1.5 Celsius for the next five years due to greenhouse gasses. 2016 and 2022 marked the record for the warmest years causing El Niño. In 2015, the world saw a rise in the global warming threshold being more than one Celsius leading to the formation of the Paris agreement. Researchers expect fifty-fifty odds of the world becoming warm again temporarily with the temperature between 1.1 Celsius and 1.7 Celsius higher than the pre-industrial 19th-century levels from 2022 to 2026 resulting in a record-breaking rise in global average warmth. The world is already experiencing serious impacts in regards to climate change, spontaneous wildfires, and heatwaves in countries like India and Pakistan with around one Celsius of global warming. According to the Met office researchers, the Arctic region will be the warmest and will have a rise in sea level.

Russia: Defence Ministry claims to have hit Western military equipment

On 8 May, Russia's defence ministry spokesperson Igor Konashenkov mentioned that the army was able to use high-precision air-to-surface missiles to hit Western military equipment at the Sol railway station. Russia claims to have also killed a few armies reserves of the Ukrainian military. On 7 May, the armed forces stated that they used Iskander missiles to eliminate Ukrainian troops and weapons supplied by the US and the EU. Konashenkov mentioned that the 58th mechanized infantry brigade of Ukraine's armed forces were eliminated using the high precision missiles near the stations of Krasnograd and Karlovka.

Europe: Three new countries join NATO CCDCOE for their cyber defence

On 6 May, Canada, South Korea and Luxembourg joined the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Center of Excellence. This organisation's main goal is to safeguard its members as well as NATO nations from cyber security threats and support them with their expertise in digital defence. To mark the occasion of the three countries joining NATO CCDCOE, a ceremonial flag hosting took place at its headquarters in Tallinn, in which representatives from the three nations as well as Estonian officials also attended. They focus on training, exercises, applied research, analysis, information sharing, etc. in the field of cyber security and defence. All three countries are pleased to strengthen their cooperation in the cyber sector and raise awareness about it. The organisation also combats any cyber threats and tries to prevent them. It gives a 360-degree look at cyber defence and shares its expertise with its member nations.

Europe: NATO to consider Sweden's application

On 5 May, NATO is looking forward to increasing its presence in the Baltic region. The potential application of Sweden to join NATO is being processed. Sweden and Finland are considering joining the alliance after the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2014 and 2022 even though prior to that they stayed outside NATO. Both countries are seeking military security assurances from NATO. The process for them to join NATO would take them a year. NATO is highly obligated to guarantee Sweden's security if it plans to join the alliance. Russia had already threatened both the countries of the consequences if they join the alliance. 

Colombia: Anti-rioting operation against cartel intensifies 

On 9 May, an extra 2000 military and police personnel were dispatched to help suppress riots organised by the Gulf Clan cartel. During violent protests against their leader's extradition on Friday, gang members wrecked at least 100 automobiles. They also threatened people, telling them to return home. An "armed strike" was announced for four days in the northern part of the country, which has affected nearly 90 municipalities in nine of Colombia's 32 departments. There have been no recorded casualties.

Nicaragua: More NGOs shut down in new crackdown

On 5 May, the Parliament approved shutting down 50 NGOs in a continued governmental effort to suppress criticism. 144 NGOs have been closed so far, along with other civic spaces. The reason for closure has been cited as non-compliance of regulations and a failure to present documents. Several of the NGOs shut down by prior decrees stated they sought to hand in the required documentation but were refused by the authorities. With 75 votes in favour, the decree to deprive them of their legal status was passed. There were 16 no votes and 16 abstentions in favour of the bill. 

New Mexico: Warning issued for worsening wildfire conditions 

On 8 May, the fire raging in Hermit Peaks for the past month was expected to turn into a devastating wildfire in the coming week. Winds, near-record high temperatures, and dry conditions are predicted to fuel the fire which has engulfed more than 691 square kilometres of land. Thousands of people have been evacuated, while several families have been displaced. The initial fire has been traced to have started on 6 April as a preventive burning by a US Forest Service to minimise flammable vegetation, which went on to merge with another wildfire in the area. President Joe Biden has declared the condition a major disaster and has mobilised federal resources, including financial relief for those affected. 

The US: White House appoints first black press secretary 

On 6 May, Karine Jean-Pierre was appointed as President Joe Biden's new chief spokesperson, making her the first black, openly gay person to hold the position. On 13 May, She is expected to take over the office of outgoing press secretary Jen Psaki. The historic news highlights a Biden administration that has prioritised putting black women in positions of power, despite their status as an important but politically invisible portion of the Democratic Party coalition. She is deemed to join other recently appointed black representatives in prominent positions of power

British Virgin Islands: Former Premier under trial denies charges 

On 5 May, Former Premier of the British Virgin Islands (BVI)  Andrew Fahie's lawyer indicated that the accused would plead not guilty at his trial. The arraignment hearing is scheduled for 25 May. Following a US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) sting, Fahie was apprehended at a Miami airport on 1 May along with Oleanvine Maynard, the managing director of the territory's Ports Authority, under drug smuggling and money laundering charges Their detention came a day prior to a government inquiry advocated for the BVI to be transferred to direct UK authority due to corruption concerns. As he awaits trial, the judge determined that Fahie might be freed on a USD 500,000 bond.

About the authors 
Ashwin Dhanabalan and Padmashree Anandhan are Project Associates at the School of Conflict and Security Studies, NIAS. Rishma Banerjee is a Research Intern at the School of Conflict and Security Studies, NIAS. Poulomi Mondal, Sejal Sharma and Vijay Anand Panigrahi are postgraduate scholars at Pondicherry University, Pondicherry. Lavanya Ravi and Sruthi Sadhasivam are postgraduate scholars at Christ (Deemed to be University), Bangalore.