STAND UK’s Weekly News Briefs are compiled weekly by members of the STAND UK Education Task Force.
This week’s update focuses on rising tensions in all four focus conflicts in Syria, Yemen, South Sudan and Burma but also some promising news of UK support for the peacekeeping mission in South Sudan.
In Syria, sparks continue to fly on the battle ground with news of new offensives against ISIS. This comes alongside grave news of torture and starvation perpetrated against opponents of Assad. The humanitarian situation in Yemen is also characterised by torture and starvation however the UK foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, has urged the UK to continue to sell arms to Saudi Arabia, thus fuelling the war. In South Sudan, the UN Mission has been extended in a bid to achieve peace among the rising tensions. The UK is showing a positive sign of change in committing troops to the peacekeeping mission. The treatment of the Rohingya community in Burma is gaining more publicity as Pope Francis speaks to their defence. However, within their country it is clear the Rohingya Muslims do not receive support with an aid ship for their benefit drawing protesters.
Since the talks in Kazakhstan and the introduction of the travel ban in America by Donald Trump, the main news from Syria involves the refugee crisis or battles on the ground against ISIS. A number of battles against ISIS have occurred. A Turkey-US coalition killed 47 ISIS fighters after clashes and fights. US backed Syrian forces launched new offensives on Raqqa to encircle the ISIS stronghold; the offensive started in November but is being conducted in waves with this third phase attempting to gain an Eastern advantage.
According to reports by Amnesty International, opponents of Assad were hanged at Saydnaya prison; as many as 13,000 opponents died through torture and starvation, and “their bodies were dumped in two mass graves on the outskirts of Damascus between midnight and dawn most Tuesdays for five years.”
The new CIA chief, Mike Pompeo visited Turkey on 9th February to discuss ISIS and the Syrian civil war. This could mark a change in policy by America as under Obama they had used the Kurdish forces as a proxy to fight ISIS. Now under Trump, America may look to strengthen ties with Turkey once again and abandon their support to the Kurdish forces.
Reports from the UN suggest that up to 12 million Yemeni people are at risk of starvation and that over $2bn will be required to stop the disaster escalating further.
UK Foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, has urged the UK to continue to sell arms to Saudi Arabia despite a funeral bombing. A bombing had occurred in Yemen last October which killed 140 people and received UN condemnation. These revelations came out during court proceedings as Campaign Against Arms Trade is facing the government in a judicial review over the UK’s continued arms sales to Saudi regime.
The United Nations Security Council has condemned fighting in South Sudan, deciding as a result to extend the mandate of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) until 15 December 2017. In a statement, the Council said that they condemned ‘in the strongest terms’ the attacks against civilians, as well as ordering the continuation the Transitional Government of National Unity to continue supporting the free movement of UNMISS.
However, tensions continue in the government, as a South Sudanese army general resigned on February 11 2017. He was the SPLA Deputy Chief of General Staff for Logistics, but he accused the government of perpetuating an ethnically fuelled civil war, describing it as a ‘tribally engineered war’. Calls for a peaceful resolution by the UN thus seem to be of little impact, as disputes continue to emerge within the government. Such tensions are not abating.
The UK government, meanwhile, is showing positive signs of change, as they state that by the end of May, around 400 troops will be on the ground in South Sudan. These will be based primarily in two main refugee camps of civilians, which translates to an increase of 100 personnel. The estimated cost is £30 million, but is much needed in order to help to restore the economy and society in South Sudan. This move has been described as a ‘significant change’ for the UK government, indeed a necessary response to one of the world’s most devastating conflicts.
Pope Francis spoke out this week against the treatment of the Rohingya community in Burma, saying that Muslims there should be able to ‘live their faith’. This has been described as a ‘stinging attack’, which could pave the way for increasing international awareness of the plight of the Rohingya community.
In the short-term, however, the treatment of the Rohingya Muslims was made apparent when a Malaysian aid ship containing 2300 tonnes of aid arrived in Yangon, where around 60 Buddhist protestors, including 20 monks, had gathered. The protestors carried signs reading ‘No Rohingya’ and waved their national flag. They declared that they were not protesting the delivering of aid, but rather that the ‘political interests’ behind it, as they view the Rohingya as being illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. Whether the aid will even reach the Rohingya is also controversial, as the ship was not initially allowed to dock. The aid also had to be passed to representatives of the Burmese government, meaning that its destination cannot be entirely known. The government does not allow full access to the region, dismissing claims of any ill-treatment against the Rohingya.
Jamila Phillips is part of the STAND UK’s Education Taskforce and her areas of expertise are Syria and Yemen. She is an undergraduate student at the University of Cambridge.
Sophie Burke is part of the STAND UK’s Education Taskforce and her areas of expertise are Burma and South Sudan. She is an undergraduate studying Politics and International Relations at the University of Cambridge and loves to travel.