Many of the states featured in Countries at the Crossroads have historically been plagued by domestic strife and internal conflict. While the majority of these countries are now at peace, several nations – including some of the largest and most geopolitically important – remain beset by insurgencies of various types and degrees. Below are some links to content that provides some recent context and updates regarding these hotspots.
Two asides: first, the phrase “internal conflict” is ambiguous, and many of the below states would deny that it applies to them. It is used here loosely, to denote countries in which one or more groups is challenging the government through violent means, and the state is unable to assert a monopoly on the use of force in an important part of its territory. Second is an unsolicited endorsement: perhaps the single most useful tool should one wish to keep abreast of developments in states where internal conflicts exist is to register at the International Crisis Group’s website and receive their weekly emails announcing new content. The reports are almost universally excellent in focus and execution.
The internal conflict in Colombia receives substantial publicity due to the large volume of military assistance provided to the Colombian government by the U.S. It is undeniable that under President Alvaro Uribe the left-wing FARC guerrillas have been forced into military retreat, though opinions on the methods used vary widely. A December report by CSIS largely approved of those methods, while the Center for International Policy responded with a mild critique. While fighting between the FARC and the armed forces continues, largely in the jungle, most international attention has been on the attempts to free some of the FARC’s more prominent hostages. Following the Hugo Chavez-mediated release of three captives in early January, one of them detailed her experience of life among the rebels. As the International Herald Tribune notes, more hostage releases may be in the offing. With Colombian president Alvaro Uribe largely on the sidelines of recent negotiations, citizens have stood up – literally – marching by the millions to protest against the FARC on February 4, with a complementary/competing anti-paramilitary march planned for March 6. The CIP posted a nice piece evaluating the perceptions of the two marches. For the FARC’s own perspective, here is an interview from last summer with FARC’s Raul Reyes. Finally, a couple of pieces on the other important irregular armed groups in the country. The leftist ELN rebels have been engaged in on and off talks with the government, which the ICG describes in this report; little has changed in the subsequent months. The legacy of the right-wing paramilitaries, who are now supposedly demobilized, is evaluated by CFR in this piece.
After falling somewhat off the news radar for a time, East Timor exploded back onto the front pages last week following the attempted – and very nearly successful – assassinations of both President Jose Ramos Horta and Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao. Just a month ago, the ICG noted the need for security sector reform in the country. Following the attack, the Asia Sentinel described some of the knottier issues facing the country, while the NY Times took a look at the tent camps where thousands of increasingly frustrated citizens have dwelled since the last major outbreak of violence, in 2006. Though President Horta has emerged from his coma, the state of emergency quickly declared following the attacks has been extended for another month.
The Niger Delta conflict is one of those disputes that, despite frequent predictions of imminent meltdown, has been kept semi-contained. The ICG provided excellent context in a December report. Nonetheless, serious incidents continue to occur, such as a recent wave of attacks. There is no shortage of massive challenges facing President Umaru Yar’Adua during his term, but as a two-part column by a Nigerian journalist spells out, dealing with resource distribution issues that are at the heart of the Delta conflict will be a focal point of Nigerian politics until some resolution is achieved. Some Delta militants used the occasion of President Bush's just-completed trip to Africa to send the president a letter requesting U.S. assistance.
Pakistan’s conflict does not fit neatly into the insurgency/internal conflict framework described above, since the constellation of groups staging attacks and their motivations are extremely difficult to enumerate. Since the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, the country has been prominently featured in nearly every international publication. Both Jane Perlez and especially Carlotta Gall of the New York Times have issued consistently interesting dispatches, such as two stories describing how militants in the country have increasingly shed the bounds previously imposed by Pakistan’s intelligence service and how many experienced Pakistanis are now describing Musharraf’s policies as outright failures. To add more detail about who the government’s most dangerous opponents are, the Washington Post describes one of the fiercest militants, Baitullah Mehsud. In addition, two CFR reports provide further depth regarding the links between militants and the ISI intelligence service as well as the “new generation” of Pakistani terrorists. Finally, a Times article from Wednesday describes what the results of Pakistan’s parliamentary election, in which President Musharraf’s allies were crushed, could mean in terms of a new approach to confronting the militants.
The Philippines is another country that faces a multi-faceted internal conflict. The 2007 Countries at the Crossroads report's Civil Liberties section provides a good overview of the various groups, whose grievances range between the secular political (i.e. the communist New Peoples Army) to the religious nationalist (the Moro Islamic Liberation Front) to the explicitly religious fundamentalist (the Abu Sayyaf Group). In recent days and weeks there has been activity and intrigue on the part of all groups. Following a brutal attack on the island of Jolo, tensions are high with the ASG. Meanwhile, the MILF has been engaged in ongoing talks with the government, a discussion in which the U.S. is attempting to play a role. The headlines over the last two weeks, however, have been dominated by the reported assassination plot by the NPA against President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo that was thwarted by the security forces. Unless, of course, there was no plot and the whole thing was a smokescreen on the part of the administration to distract attention from the severe corruption scandals enveloping it. The government responds to those allegations in this article.
The Sri Lankan conflict landscape is currently one of the bleakest of the countries described in this post. A “cease-fire” between the secessionist Tamil Tigers (LTTE) and the government was formally in effect for several years but began to crumble in 2005, with brutal violence from both sides increasing throughout 2006 and 2007. With the cease-fire now formally over, CFR described the situation at the beginning of the year as ominous. The ICG has a new report that makes for depressing reading; given that a halt to conflict is patently unlikely, the most that can currently be hoped for is minimizing the humanitarian fallout. Two articles note that there has been heavy fighting in recent days. For ongoing analysis of the conflict, the citizen journalism site groundviews.org provides interesting and often tragic reporting. Just one of the conflict’s innumerable tragedies is, as described by Human Rights Watch, the frequent use of child soldiers by the LTTE and an opposing parastatal group.
Uganda offers a slightly more positive note. At its peak, the fighting between the Lord’s Resistance Army and the government, which was a pseudo-ethnic conflict with a heavy spiritual component, featured some of the world’s most brutal tactics. However, the fighting has all but ended, and negotiations over how to demobilize the LRA continue. For a series of reports that detail the tortuous path toward peace, visit the ICG Uganda page. Just in the last week negotiations with the volatile LRA leaders have included accusations of bad faith, a seeming accord, a walkout by the LRA, and, just today, an apparent breakthrough.
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