Africa: Hostages held by Somali pirates for over four years released after ransom paid; coup plot in Burkina Faso foiled by government security forces.
Americas: Colombian forces attack ELN rebels ahead of planned peace talks between government and the rebel group; Venezuela’s electoral officials announce suspension of recall referendum campaign being prepared by country’s opposition parties.
Asia-Pacific: Singapore expresses frustration with United States over Trans-Pacific Partnership; anti-US protests in Philippines turn violent after police crackdown.
Europe and Central Asia: Suspicious device found on London underground train; carrier battle group from Russia’s Northern Fleet passes through English Channel.
Middle East and North Africa: Fighting resumes in Aleppo after humanitarian pause rejected by rebels; anti-IS forces make good progress in operation to retake Mosul.
Twenty six hostages held by Somali pirates for more than four years were released on 22 October after a ransom payment was made. The hostages from China, the Philippines, Cambodia, Indonesia, Vietnam and Taiwan gave some insight into what their captivity was like, including that they were given only enough food and water to keep them alive and had to resort to eating rats. One of their colleagues was killed when the ship was taken, and another two died from illnesses during captivity. The ship they were taken from had Taiwanese owners but was Omani-flagged. A ransom was paid by the ship’s owners and negotiated by an intermediator according to Taiwan’s foreign ministry. The hostages were some of last known captives being held by Somali pirates, after the multinational task force managed to curb the incidence of kidnapping for ransom in the Gulf of Aden. The payment of ransoms is controversial, as it is seen to encourage kidnappings, and the United Kingdom, United States and others have made it illegal to make such payments.
Security forces in Burkina Faso have foiled a coup plot by forces loyal to the ousted former president, Blaise Compaoré. So far, 10 people have been arrested, but the top suspects are still on the run, according to the country’s interior minister, Simon Compaoré. The minister said that the coup was planned by about 30 former members of the disbanded presidential guard, the Regiment of Presidential Security (RSP), and was due to take place on 8 October, with attacks on the presidential palace and the prison where previous coup members were being held. Blaise Compaoré resigned in October 2014 following a popular uprising, and was initially replaced by the head of the army, General Honoré Traoré, before the deputy commander of the RSP, Lieutenant Colonel Yacouba Isaac Zida, claimed control. The transitional government itself was temporarily overthrown in September 2015 by members of the RSP, but the new junta faced a second popular uprising supported by the army, and the transitional government was restored. Roch Marc Kabore, a French-educated banker, was elected in November 2015, bringing some political stability to the country. Further stability may be brought by the arrests, if and when they occur, of the leaders of the most recent foiled coup.
The Colombian government announced on 18 October that it had launched an attack on National Liberation Army (ELN) rebels, killing one fighter and arresting four others. Following the attack, 24 ELN rebels agreed to demobilise, according to a statement from Colombia’s defence ministry. The attack comes ahead of planned peace talks between the government and the guerilla group, due to begin on 27 October. This latest fighting highlights the low probability that neither the government nor the rebel group will agree to a ceasefire prior to the peace talks. Meanwhile, on 21 October it was reported that FARC, the United Nations and the Colombian military had agreed to proceed with moving FARC’s 6,600 fighters into concentration zones (where they will eventually disarm once a peace deal is ratified) as the military takes control of areas formerly controlled by the rebel group. However, the stalled peace deal between FARC and the government following the referendum earlier this month has created major uncertainty surrounding these operations. FARC and government representatives have reportedly agreed to discuss proposals for changes to the deal in Cuba, where peace talks have been held since 2012, suggesting that a revival of the peace process remains possible.
Venezuela’s electoral officials announced on 20 October that they had suspended a recall referendum campaign that the country’s opposition parties were preparing against the president, Nicolás Maduro. This follows a ruling by Venezuela’s supreme court on 17 October that any recall campaign must secure signatures from 20% of voters in each of the country’s 24 states rather than 20% of the overall electorate. The ruling represents a major setback for the country’s political opposition. The difficulty of attaining the 20% threshold in each state makes it very unlikely that, if allowed to go forward, a recall referendum will pass. Protesters took to the streets of the capital city, Caracas, on 21 October to protest the latest developments, and outbursts of civil unrest will be likely in the coming days. Despite Venezuela’s severe economic problems and Maduro’s declining popularity, he still retains control over key bodies, such as the court. It now appears likely that Maduro will finish out his term, which runs until 2019.
The deputy prime minister of Singapore, Tharman Shanmugaratnam, has highlighted that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) does not just bring economic benefits but is also an important sign of a continued commitment by the United States to Asia. He warned that if Washington fails to ratify the agreement it would result in the United States being seen to withdraw from Asia. Shanmugaratnam also criticised the United States for failing to help some countries suffering from the negative effects of globalisation and not dealing appropriately with the rise of China’s influence in the region. His statements reflect a sense of frustration from some countries that the TPP process is not moving fast enough. It is possible that we will see further countries expressing dissatisfaction with the United States as this process continues. The agreement has to be ratified by February 2018 by at least six countries that account for 85% of the partnership’s economic output. This means that the United States and Japan have to ratify the agreement in order for it to go ahead.
There have been anti-US protests in the Filipino capital, Manila, calling for an independent foreign policy for the country. Such demonstrations occur regularly, and are normally peaceful; however, this protest turned violent after a police van rammed demonstrators. The police then used tear gas to try to pacify the panicking and violent crowd. The Philippines has been attempting to broaden its international relations away from the United States and repair relations with China and Russia. This has led to further protests, as many Filipinos do not want any reliance on foreign powers. After not being able to join the TPP trade agreement with the United States, several Asian countries, such as Taiwan, have veered away from pro-US relations in favour of a stronger pan-Asian approach to solving problems, which could significantly weaken US influence in the region. There will be calls for the United States to win back favour from ASEAN members as China openly canvasses the bloc.
Europe and Central Asia
A suspicious package containing wires and a clock was found on a London underground train on 20 October. North Greenwich tube station was closed, and the homemade device was destroyed in a controlled explosion. The Ministry of Defence warned military personnel of a severe threat to the capital’s tube network. The following day, an unnamed 19-year-old man was Tasered and arrested outside London Metropolitan University by armed police and is being held under suspicion of terrorism-related offences. The British Transport Police has stepped up patrols in London as a second suspicious device was discovered during a raid on a property in Devon. The device found in London was unsophisticated, leading counter-terrorism officials to believe that this was a lone wolf attack, if terrorism is established as the motive (the health history of the suspect is reportedly complicating the investigation). The device found in Newton Abbott was not viable.
A carrier battle group from Russia’s Northern Fleet passed through the English Channel on its way to Syria on 20 October. The group includes the Admiral Kuznetsov, Russia’s aging aircraft carrier, as well as a battlecruiser, two destroyers, a tug and two tankers. The ships were ‘man-marked’ through the channel by Britain’s Royal Navy, as they had been previously on their journey by Norway and Sweden’s navies. The move to sail so close to mainland Europe is seen as the latest test of NATO’s boundaries by the Kremlin at a time when Russia and the West seem to be spiralling into a new Cold War as Russia pushes back against US hegemony. It is likely that further tests and Russian shows of strength will occur over the coming months, though it is highly unlikely that this will result in armed conflict with NATO.
Middle East and North Africa
Fighting has resumed in Aleppo after a humanitarian pause agreed by Russia was rejected by rebels, as it did not include a guarantee that they would not be arrested by government forces if they left rebel-held areas. There have been reports of airstrikes and ground assaults against rebel-held areas of the city. There are fears of further civilian casualties in these areas, as there are as many of 300,000 civilians still living in the city. Several rebel commanders have hinted to the international media of a forthcoming operation to break the siege. It is unlikely that there will be a resolution to the fighting in Aleppo over the coming weeks, and the stalemate between rebel and government forces will continue to only being broken by short humanitarian truces. Elsewhere in Syria, pro-Turkey rebel groups and Kurdish Peshmerga have been fighting over territory previously held by Islamic State. These clashes may negatively impact the unsteady cooperation between Turkish and Peshmerga forces in the battle for Mosul in Iraq.
The battle for Islamic State’s last major stronghold in Iraq, Mosul, officially began on 16 October. Much of the territory surrounding the city had already been captured from Islamic State by the Iraqi security forces and allied militias during Operation Conquest, which ended in September. The battle for Mosul itself is expected to last several months. It is a combined effort by 30,000 Peshmerga from the north, Iraqi government forces from the south and Shia militia from the west, supported by coalition and Turkish airstrikes. There are believed to be between 5,000 and 7,000 IS fighters still in Mosul – a drop from the 8,000 figure reported before the battle begun. There are as many as 1.5 million civilians in the city, and the UN will be setting up refugee camps. IS fighters have been using civilians as human shields and shooting anyone who attempts to flee Mosul. Islamic State has also been using diversionary tactics to draw attention away from the city, with fighters attempting to retake some of the surrounding towns. Kurdish Peshmerga have closed to within five miles of Mosul, and it is very likely that the superior coalition force will eventually retake the city. However, victory in Mosul will not completely remove Islamic State from Iraq, which will likely become an insurgency group operating in the north of the country.
Prepared by Matthew Clarke, Chris Abbott and Erin Decker.
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