FARC peace talks: why now?


FARC leaders

Graffiti depicting high-level FARC members Raul Reyes, Manuel Marulanda and Ivan Rios. Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons/bixentro

By Antonio Sampaio, Research Assistant, Survival and the Armed Conflict Database

Bogota has never been closer to a successful peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The signs are positive: the group, weakened by devastating military operations and the resulting loss of many veteran leaders, has agreed to engage in talks even without a ceasefire, and the participation of foreign governments with whom FARC shares ideological affinities – Cuba and Venezuela – is likely to defuse some of the tension. The talks begin on 15 October, and a joint press conference will be held on 17 October.

But there is more to FARC’s motives than meets the eye. In addition to its strategic defeats, FARC’s political struggle seems to be on the wane. There has been an erosion of FARC’s ideological integrity and an increasing disconnect between its central leadership and mid-level commanders. These developments may have helped bring FARC to the negotiating table, but could also make the peace process more complicated.

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Syria-Turkey shelling raises tensions

Turkey's military capablities along Syria's border

Turkey’s military capablities along Syria’s border

By James Hackett, Editor, The Military Balance

Syria’s crisis, which has long been a security concern for Turkey, has spilled over into Turkish territory again – this time with more serious consequences. The Turkish government has now signalled that it would send troops to Syria if necessary – but how likely is it that Turkey will get involved in actual combat, and what kind of military action can we expect?

Artillery fire originating from Syrian territory on Wednesday 3 October killed five people and injured many others in the Turkish border town of Akcakale. Turkish artillery responded on Wednesday, and on Thursday morning there were reports of continued firing at targets in Syria.

Turkey’s parliament voted by 320 to 129 on 4 October to give the government authority for the foreign deployment of troops.  This authority, effective for one year, was granted under the provisions of Article 92 of the Turkish Constitution and would allow the dispatch of Turkish troops into Syrian territory. Late on 3 October, Turkey requested a meeting of NATO’s North Atlantic Council within the framework of Article 4 of the North Atlantic Treaty. The Alliance said that it continued ‘to stand by Turkey and demands the immediate cessation of such aggressive acts against an Ally, and urges the Syrian regime to put an end to flagrant violations of international law’.

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Al-Shabaab branches out into Kenya

Amison vehicle in Mogadishu. Photo AU UN IST, Stuart Price

By Randolph Bell, Managing Director, IISS-US

Al-Shabaab has been spotted in Kenya more often recently. It has been just over a year since the Somali Islamist group was ousted from Mogadishu by African Union and Somali troops. The city is relatively peaceful for the first time in years (above), and although presidential elections due on 20 August have been postponed, its first official parliament in two decades was sworn in this week. After a ten-month campaign, Kenyan troops are poised to take the port city of Kismayo, al-Shabaab’s last stronghold in Somalia.

However, in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, al-Shabaab launched two new attacks recently, killing four and injuring eleven. That brings to around 30 the number of attacks it has been implicated in, or suspected of, in Kenya in the past year, since the high-profile kidnappings of first a British and then a French tourist in September and October 2011 respectively.

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History repeats with East Congo mutiny

While Thomas Lubanga, above, was convicted at the ICC in March, his co-accused, Bosco Ntaganda, continues to create havoc in Congo

By Hanna Ucko Neill, Global Conflicts Analyst

This past weekend the United States announced that it was cutting military aid to Rwanda over concerns that Kigali was backing rebel movements in neighbouring Congo. The $200,000 involved is not that significant, but Washington’s move is. Despite Rwanda’s vehement denials, and a delay in publication, its staunchest ally and international defender is acknowledging  a controversial UN report linking Kigali to the new M23 rebel movement.

After the fierce inter-ethnic wars of the 1990s and years of instability, the last thing the citizens of strife-torn Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) needed was increased violence. But that is exactly what they have faced since April this year, when Congolese soldiers led by General Bosco Ntaganda – ‘the Terminator’ – deserted. The hundreds of soldiers who exited the army during the mutiny were former members of the rebel CNDP (Congrès National Pour la Défense du Peuple) who had only joined the force three years earlier, as part of a peace deal in 2009. Like the government in Rwanda, they are mainly ethnic Tutsis. Read the rest of this entry »

A triangle of death

Mara Salvatrucha gang member, El Salvador

A Mara Salvatrucha gang member in prison in El Salvador. Photo: Moisen Saman, courtesy of Sony World Photography Award 2008/Creative Commons

By Antonio Sampaio, Research Assistant, Survival and the Armed Conflict Database

The Economist has dubbed it ‘the tormented isthmus‘. It is the most murderous region on earth: the ‘northern triangle’ of Central America formed by Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. The bloody drugs war that has raged in neighbouring Mexico since 2006 has spilled over into a region already destabilised by years of civil war in the 1980s, plagued by local gangs and corrupt institutions, and with too few police.

While adding the region to the institute’s Armed Conflict Database recently, we unearthed a raft of alarming statistics. These include: Read the rest of this entry »

Tracking weapons flows in Africa

By Jessica Delaney, Assistant editor, Strategic Comments

Weapons are flowing across the Sahel from Libya, and from Iran and China to countries such as Sudan, as a new form of arms trade takes shape in Africa. Speaking at the IISS recently, expert James Bevan explained that a predominantly ‘home-grown’ illicit trade had arisen, in which weapons were passed from governments to rebel groups, stolen from armed forces or trafficked by individuals as states collapsed.

This was a very different picture from that during the 1990s and early twenty-first century, when failing Eastern European states supplied cash-rich warlords involved in conflicts in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Libya joined the emerging hubs of weapons sales after the collapse of Muammar Gadhafi’s regime in 2011. Other hubs included the Eritrean capital, Asmara, and the Sudanese capital, Khartoum.

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Behind the Chart of Conflict

2012 Chart of ConflictIn his attic study in Warsaw, the late, great Polish foreign correspondent Ryszard Kapuscinski used to have a ripped-out newspaper headline posted on a ceiling beam that read, slightly ungrammatically: ‘World is very big trouble.’ It’s a sentiment the IISS team often shares when preparing our annual Chart of Conflict – perhaps no more so than last year, when we had to map and list the unexpected events of the Arab Spring.

In this, our 2012 map of the world’s most dangerous countries, large swathes of Libya are emblazoned in red for the first time since the map was first published in 1998. Parts of Tunisia were still unsettled, and Syrian cities were already in revolt, when the chart went to press earlier this year, before the Assad regime’s horrendous onslaught on Homs and Idlib. There’s a timeline of the key events of the Arab uprisings, and graphs of regional socio-economic indicators.

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