Home > Publications > Political and security risk updates > The weekly briefing, 20 March 2018: Turkish military forces capture Afrin in north-western Syria, humanitarian emergency in DR Congo has drastically worsened in last year, Egyptian and Sudanese presidents meet in Cairo

The weekly briefing, 20 March 2018: Turkish military forces capture Afrin in north-western Syria, humanitarian emergency in DR Congo has drastically worsened in last year, Egyptian and Sudanese presidents meet in Cairo

by Kirsten Wintermann, Matthew Clarke and Chris Abbott

Briefing photo

Summary

Sub-Saharan Africa: Senior UN official warns that humanitarian emergency in DR Congo has drastically worsened in last year; President of Mauritius expected to resign over expenses scandal.

Americas: Former FBI deputy director reportedly gives memos about conversations he had with Donald Trump to the inquiry into alleged Russian meddling in US presidential; Venezuelan city issues local currency to allow trade and counter hyperinflation.

Asia-Pacific: Chinese president gives nationalistic closing speech to parliament; Deaths of Indian construction workers kidnapped by Islamic State in Iraq in 2014 confirmed.

Europe and Central Asia: Russia expels 23 British diplomats and closes consulate in St Petersburg and British Counsel; European Court of Human Rights rejects request by Irish government to find that 14 men detained by British authorities during the Troubles suffered torture

Middle East and North Africa: Turkish military forces and Turkish-backed militia capture Afrin in north-western Syria from Kurdish fighters; Egyptian and Sudanese presidents meet in Cairo.

Sub-Saharan Africa

Democratic Republic of the Congo

The United Nations’ under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, Mark Lowcock, warned on 19 March that the humanitarian emergency in DRC has drastically worsened in the last year. This is due to the ongoing conflict in the country related to the term of the incumbent president, Joseph Kabila, which should have expired in December 2016. The UN estimates that some 13 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance, with nearly five million children suffering from malnutrition. The UN Security Council has called on member states to urgently scale up funding for humanitarian needs in DRC. A donor conference is scheduled for 13 April in an attempt to raise the $1.7 billion in aid required for 2018 – only 4% of which has so far been received.

Mauritius

The president of Mauritius, Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, is expected to resign on 23 March over an expenses scandal concerning large personal expenditure on a charity credit card. Gurib-Fakim’s lawyer released a statement announcing the date of her resignation on 17 March. The country’s prime minister had said on 12 March that the president would resign, but she failed to do so and rejected any idea of resigning at the time. The confusion over whether Gurib-Fakim would step down or not led to fears of a constitutional crisis. The president is accused of purchasing jewellery and clothes using a credit card given to her by the Planet Earth Institute in London to cover travel and other expenses she incurred as an unpaid director. Her office claims that the president simply mixed up her cards and inadvertently used the card from PEI for expenses not linked to her mission. PEI has said that Gurib-Fakim has repaid the expenses to its  Mauritian sister organisation. The role of president is largely ceremonial in Mauritius, with most political power resting with the prime minister.

Americas

United States

Former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe has reportedly given memos about conversations he had with the US president, Donald Trump, to the inquiry into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election. McCabe had stepped down from his post in January pending an investigation by the FBI and the justice department into allegations that he had leaked information to reporters and misled investigators about his actions. The US attorney general, Jeff Sessions, an early Trump ally, fired McCabe on 17 March just two days before he could retire with the pension rights he had earned after over 21 years of service. Trump had previously taunted McCabe on Twitter over his ‘race against the clock’ to retire and claim his federal government pension. McCabe released a statement vehemently rejecting the allegations against him and accusing Trump of political retaliation and attacking his credibility. This latest development is another example of how the Trump administration is working to undermine the investigation into alleged Russian interference in the US presidential election and whether Trump campaign officials were complicit in it.

Is the Trump administration working to undermine the investigation into alleged Russian interference in the US presidential election?Click To Tweet

Venezuela

The city of Elorza, near Venezuela’s border with Colombia, has started issuing its own paper currency in an attempt to mitigate the impact of hyper-inflation and Venezuela’s cash crisis. The Elorza local currency will be sold in the major’s office and valid in the city. The move is designed to help thousands of tourists and residents to trade. The notes feature the face of local independence hero Jose Andres Elorza. Strict currency controls and low oil prices, along with international economic sanctions against the Venezuelan government, have led to a crippling financial crisis in the country and the highest inflation in the world. In December, the El Panal neighbourhood in the capital, Caracas, launched paper notes called Panales, which could be exchanged for rice that the community grows.

Asia-Pacific

China

The Chinese president, Xi Jinping, used his closing speech to the Chinese parliament to paint China as a rising global power. He emphasised the future of China as being focused on opening its markets to foreign companies and free trade while ensuring development. He also described the collective hope of the Chinese people as ‘achieving total unity’. The latter remarks are being taken as a warning against separatism from Taiwan and Hong Kong. As Xi has solidified his power at home after engineering the removal of term limits to his leadership, we are likely to see China take a more active role in international cooperation on trade, but also playing a more global role generally. As the US president, Donald Trump, pursues a protectionist and isolationist agenda for the United States, China will be able to take another step forward in its long-term goal of countering US power in the region and perhaps more globally.

India

It has been confirmed that 39 Indian construction workers kidnapped by Islamic State in Mosul, Iraq, in 2014 were killed. The Indian government had previously maintained that the workers were alive. However, the DNA of 38 individuals in a mass grave has been matched to 38 of the missing workers. India has sought to negotiate with Islamic State for the release of its citizens – counter to the position taken by countries such as the United States or United Kingdom. Although 46 Indians were released in July 2014 after successful negotiations, the news that at least 38 other Indian kidnap victims were killed by Islamic State will call into question both the tactic of negotiation and the effectiveness of the intelligence operations that let the Indian government maintain the position that the 39 workers were still alive.

Europe and Central Asia

United Kingdom

The United Kingdom expelled 23 Russian diplomats after the prime minister, Theresa May, concluded that the attack on a former Russian military intelligence officer in Salisbury represented the unlawful use of force by Russia on UK soil. Russia has denied any involvement in the nerve agent attack, and has expelled 23 UK diplomats in response. The Kremlin also ordered the British Council to cease activities in Russia and withdrew permission for the the British Consulate in St Petersburg to reopen. The British government has so far held back from escalatory reprisals, though tit-for-tat measures are expected to continue. In the longer term, Britain and others in the international community will react with caution – asking themselves what the long-term effects of any action against Russia could be. In the meantime, the British foreign office has begun a social media campaign highlighting Russia’s aggressive behaviour over the last decade. In response, the Russian embassy in London has regularly tweeted refutals of May’s accusations of involvement in the attack on Sergei Skripal.

British government has so far held back from escalatory reprisals with Russia, but tit-for-tat measures are expected to continue.Click To Tweet

Ireland

The European Court of Human Rights has rejected a request by the Irish government to find that 14 Catholic men detained by British authorities in 1971 suffered torture. The ECHR said that there was no justification to revise a 1978 ruling that found the treatment of the so-called ‘Hooded Men’ was inhumane and degrading but was not tantamount to torture. The men interned during the Troubles accuse the British authorities of using five techniques – hooding, stress positions, white noise, sleep deprivation and deprivation of food and water – along with beatings and death threats. Such techniques are now known as ‘enhanced interrogation’. Had the ECHR found differently, it would have called into question the legality of enhanced interrogation and could have formed a basis for a legal to challenge to the techniques, which are used by countries such as United States or Israel.

Middle East and North Africa

Syria

Turkish military forces and the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army (TFSA) captured the city of Afrin in north-western Syria on 18 March. Turkish forces have been fighting the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in the area after launching Operation Olive Branch in January. Turkish forces were able to seize the city after Kurdish fighters decided to withdraw in order to avoid further civilian casualties. Kurdish fighters have vowed to continue to fight against the Turkish-backed forces despite withdrawing from Afrin. Over 150,000 civilians are believed to have fled from the area in the last few days of the offensive. The Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency of Turkey (AFAD) has reportedly provided over 30 tonnes of aid to the area since the offensive began and will be setting up camps to house displaced persons fleeing the conflict. Turkey’s military operation is bringing it into conflict with US-backed forces in Syria. Ankara demands that the US end its support for the YPG, which it describes as the Syrian wing of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Egypt

The Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, welcomed the Sudanese president, Omar al-Bashir, to Cairo on 19 March. The visit is an attempt to mend relations between the two countries. Egypt and Sudan’s renewed cooperation can be seen in the light of the building of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, which will affect Egypt’s freshwater supply from the Nile River. Sudan had previously appeared to take Ethiopia’s side in the dam negotiations and revived a longstanding border dispute with Egypt. However, at a joint press conference in Cairo, al-Bashir and el-Sissi vowed to cooperate in managing the effects of the dam. The meeting comes ahead of presidential elections in Egypt scheduled for late March. El-Sisi is likely to win another term as the majority of political opponents have been eliminated from the election. However, the turnout may be low, as many Egyptians are expected to boycott the election in protest at the declining economy and widespread dissatisfaction with el-Sisi’s domestic policies. 

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