Africa: Nigerian president resumes office after extended medical leave in United Kingdom; eight local aid workers kidnapped in South Sudan.
Americas: United States to implement new controversial travel ban on citizens from six majority-Muslim countries; Brazil’s prosecutor general asks supreme court to open 83 new investigations into senior politicians.
Asia-Pacific: Filipino government and National Democratic Front rebels resume unofficial peace talks in the Netherlands; South Korean constitutional court upholds parliamentary vote to impeach former president Park Geun-Hye.
Europe and Central Asia: GCHQ calls meeting of political parties to discuss potential for Russian hacking to influence next British general election; two soldiers killed and over a dozen wounded in fighting in eastern Ukraine between Ukrainian military and Russian-backed rebels.
Middle East and North Africa: Iraqi government forces now control around 40% of western Mosul; UN humanitarian affairs chief warns that 20 million people at risk of starvation and famine in Yemen and East Africa.
The Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari, returned to Abuja on 10 March and resumed office on 13 March after over 50 days medical leave in the United Kingdom. Buhari has not made the reason for his medical treatment public, but has stated that he will require additional checkups. The vice president, Yemi Osinbajo, took on the president’s responsibilities while he was out of the country. Osinbajo worked on a new economic reform plan to ensure additional World Bank funding, which is needed to assist the ailing economy following low oil revenues. It is unclear yet whether Buhari’s return will alleviate fears over the country’s stability, as the population remains in the dark over the reasons for his long absence.
Eight local aid workers employed by the US evangelical relief organisation Samaritan’s Purse were kidnapped by South Sudanese rebels on 13 March. The humanitarians were abducted in a village close to Mayendit, over 400 miles from the capital, Juba. The Sudan People’s Liberation Army spokesperson, Brigadier General Lul Ruai Koang, stated that the rebels have demanded that Samaritan’s Purse takes aid to them. The organisation has confirmed the kidnappings, but denied that a ransom request has been made. The kidnappings come a week after the South Sudanese government announced controversial plans to charge a levy of $10,000 per foreign aid worker at a time when an estimated 100,000 people in the country are at risk from famine. In 2010, a programme manager for Samaritan’s Purse, Flavia Wagner, was kidnapped and held captive for three months in the Darfur region of Sudan. She later sued the organisation and the crisis management consultancy it used for their failings before and during her abduction.
The United States will implement a new 90-day travel ban on citizens from six majority-Muslim countries on 16 March. Citizens of Iran, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen will be temporarily barred entry to the United States, while those travellers from Iraq (included in the previous travel ban) will be able to enter under increased screening. Green card holders and refugees that have already been approved will also be allowed entry. The revised travel ban is ostensibly designed to protect the Unite States from terrorists; however, critics argue that no one from the countries targeted by the ban has carried out a terrorist attack in the United States. Six US states have so far contested the ban. Washington State lodged a legal attempt to block the directive with Judge James Robert, the federal judge in Seattle who blocked Donald Trump’s previous travel ban. Robert refused to block the current ban, and called for more evidence to be submitted. It is likely that the new travel ban will come into force, but that legal challenges will continue.
On 14 March, Brazil’s prosecutor general, Rodrigo Janot, asked the country’s supreme court to open 83 new investigations into senior politicians as part of Operation Car Wash, a long-running corruption investigation involving the state oil company Petrobras and more than a dozen other companies. Janot also asked the court to send 211 other requests to lower courts. It is unclear if the list includes government ministers, but Brazilian media report that Janot has called for investigations of five cabinet members together with senior congressional allies of the country’s president, Michel Temer. Any new investigations will be a test for Temer, who succeeded Dilma Rousseff when she was impeached in August 2016. Temer took power promising to tackle corruption, but has already lost several ministers to corruption allegations. Numerous senior executives and politicians, including three former Brazilian presidents, have so far been embroiled in the three-year-old Operation Car Wash. In a related investigation, Brazil’s electoral court is looking into donations to Rousseff and Temer’s campaign in the 2014 presidential election. If the court discovers fraud, their victory could be annulled, which means that Temer could also be removed from office.
On 10 March, unofficial peace talks hosted by the Netherlands resumed between the Filipino government and National Democratic Front (NDF) rebels. The talks broke down on 4 February after rebel groups attacked government forces and killed six soldiers. In response, Manila announced a series of military operations to crackdown on rebel groups and cancelled the passports that had been issued to rebel leader to allow them to travel to the peace talks. The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) confirmed that no executive order had been issued to cancel the military operations, and that these will continue despite the renewed peace talks. However, the NDF and the government issued a joint statement that the ceasefire would resume before the next round of peace talks begin in April. A rebel negotiator will also be released from prison. Discussions to end long-term conflict can often temporarily fall apart, and it is likely that the NDF and the Filipino government will successfully resume peace talks.
On 10 March, the South Korean constitutional court upheld a parliamentary vote to impeach the now former president Park Geun-Hye over her role in a corruption scandal. Park and her close friend, Choi Soon-sil, are accused of conspiring to pressure companies, including Samsung, to donate large sums of money to two non-profit foundations Choi had set up, which Choi then allegedly used for personal gain. Park accepted responsibility for the events that led to her removal, but has always denied any wrongdoing. The country remains split over her impeachment, with opponents saying that she was caught in a criminal corruption scandal and supporters claiming she is the victim of a political coup. The country’s electoral commission has stated that an election must be held by 9 May. The current front runner is the former human rights lawyer Moon Jae-in, Park’s rival in the 2012 presidential election. Park’s loyal former prime minister, Hwang Kyo-ahn, will continue as acting president until the election.
Europe and Central Asia
On 12 March, the UK government’s communications intelligence agency, GCHQ, called for a meeting of political parties to discuss the potential for Russian hacking to influence the next British general election. Ciaran Martin, the head of the National Cyber Security Centre, has also written to all political parties to offer assistance countering foreign hacking. US intelligence agencies have accused the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, of ordering an influence campaign and interfering in the 2016 US presidential election in favour of Donald Trump, including by hacking Democratic National Committee servers and leaking the obtained information. While one mitigating factor in the United Kingdom is the pencil and paper voting system used in elections, which is not vulnerable to hacking, unlike e-voting systems, the primary risk is from influence campaigns of the sort witnessed during the US election. As such, political parties and media organisations in Britain are likely to increase their cyber security defences as the general election scheduled for 2020 draws near.GCHQ calls for a meeting to discuss the potential for Russian hacking to influence the next British general electionClick To Tweet
Two soldiers were killed and over a dozen wounded in fighting in eastern Ukraine between the Ukrainian military and Russian-backed rebels on 10-11 March. A rebel spokesman also confirmed the death of one of its fighters. The surge in violence comes despite the latest ceasefire in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, which was announced on 20 February. The OSCE have recorded more than double the number of ceasefire violations than in the previous week, including an incident in which mortar rounds exploded next to security monitors’ cars in a rebel-held village. The OSCE believe that 16 civilians have been killed in clashes between the Ukrainian Army and Russian-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine since the beginning of 2017. It is highly likely that there will continue to be clashes between the two sides.
Middle East and North Africa
Following a series of gains, Iraqi government forces now control around 40% of western Mosul according to a statement by Staff Major-General Maan al-Saadi of Iraq’s Counter-Terrorism Service on 12 March. The neighbourhoods in western Mosul still held by Islamic State are understood to be completely surrounded by Iraqi forces and their allies. Iraqi soldiers supported by the US coalition continue their offensive against inner city areas of western Mosul, where tanks and other vehicles are unable to operate due to the narrow alleyways. The US defence department estimates that there are no more than 2,500 IS fighters left in Mosul and nearby Tal Afar. Although it is likely that Iraqi forces will eventually successfully liberate western Mosul from Islamic State, the group is likely to still pose a significant threat in Iraq for some time.
The UN’s under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, Stephen O’Brien, has warned the intergovernmental organisation of a global humanitarian catastrophe in which 20 million people are at risk of starvation and famine in Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia and Kenya. The largest number of at-risk people are in Yemen, where it is estimated that 18.8 million people require aid and around seven million lack food security. O’Brien stated that $4.4 billion is required by July to combat the famine in Yemen alone; the UN secretary general, Antonio Guterres, revealed last month that only $90 million had been received so far in 2017. The UN will hold a pledging conference in late April in an attempt to increase member state’s commitments. The situation in Yemen is made worse by the conflict between the government and Houthi rebels, which is now entering its second year. Although all parties to the conflict have promised access for aid, they have yet to allow UN support into the country.UN warns that 20 million people are at risk of starvation and famine in Yemen and East AfricaClick To Tweet