Violence in other world troublespots too - GulfToday

Violence in other world troublespots too

Michael Jansen

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.


People flee a village after renewed fighting between Myanmar\’s military and the Arakan Army, an ethnic minority armed group, in Pauktaw Township in western Rakhine State. Agence France-Presse

Violence in the world’s hotspots has soared while international attention has zoomed in on Israel’s war on Gaza. Prior to this deadly and devastating offensive, the focus had been on the Russia-Ukraine war which has stalemated and turned into a war of attrition. While the West has touted the suffering of Ukrainians and backed Israel’s latest onslaught on Gaza, insurgents have stepped up anti-government campaigns in Myanmar and Ethiopia, Sudan has descended into civil war, and Syria faces poverty driven by Western sanctions.

At the end of last month, three ethnic armed groups launched a joint offensive against the Myanmar army in the northern Shan State, seizing military posts, capturing several towns, and disrupting key trade routes to China. The operation involved several thousand well-armed veteran fighters who struck simultaneously on several fronts. Taking their cue from these groups, other insurgent groups have attacked the army at additional locations, forcing the military to fight on multiple fronts. The Arakan Army — formed by the persecuted ethnic Rohingya — has approached Mandalay, the country’s second city, and struck army reinforcements en route to the north. The military, which mounted a coup against the elected government in 2021, has replied with aerial bombing and artillery strikes.

Some 200,000 people have been displaced across Myanmar, increasing the number of displaced civilians to two million.

In Ethiopia, the military faces a revolt in Amhara, the country’s second most populous region. Amhara militias fought with government forces during the 2020-2022 revolt by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front. But once the conflict ended, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed attempted to crack down on the Amhara groups, which, with some popular backing, seek to take control of their rregion. As Ahmed has also had to contend with unrest in his native Oromia region, the Amhara revolt amounts to the third by ethnic nationalists since he came to power in 2018. While confronting unrest at home, Ahmed has also created tension with neighbouring Eritrea, Somalia, and Djibouti by demanding unimpeded access to Red Sea ports for landlocked Ethiopia. Sudan and Egypt have been angered by the threat posed to the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam which could cut the flow of the mighty Nile to these downstream countries.

Meanwhile, bloody battles between the Sudanese army and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) have continued unabated since mid-April and the RSF has resumed ethnic cleansing of the non-Arab Masalit people in Darfur. An estimated 5,000 Sudanese have been killed during battles between the army and RSF in the country’s capital Khartoum. Soon after fighting broke out, thousands seeking refuge in Egypt fled to Port Sudan from Omdurman, the city across the Nile from Khartoum. Port Sudan subsequently became a hub for humanitarian flights. In eight months, hostilities have displaced more than 4.5 million people within Sudan while 1.1 crossed the borders into neighbouring countries, according to the UN International Organisation for Migration. At least 15 million people, about 31 per cent of the population, are hungry, almost doubling the 7.7 million who were food insecure last year. There have been outbreaks of cholera, measles, malaria, and dengue fever. Nineteen million children cannot go to school, Save the Children and UNICEF have reported. Unemployment is soaring as the economy is set to shrink by 12 per cent this year.

Although fighting in Syria has largely ceased since 2019, Syrians face drought, crises in neighbouring Lebanon and Turkey, and war-by-economic means waged by the US and Europe using punitive sanctions. The aim of the sanctions is to force the government to capitulate to the terms of the expatriate opposition which has no support within the country or goad Syrians to try again to overthrow the government. Neither of these objectives are achievable.

After the government imposed control on 70 per cent of the country, Syrians expected to reconstruct areas devastated by warfare after insurgents took up arms in March 2011. The World Bank reported, “As a result of the destruction of physical capital, casualties, forced displacement [of half the population of 23 million], and the breakup of economic networks, Syria’s GDP shrank by more than a half between 2010 and 2020.” Depreciation of the country’s currency has produced soaring inflation, dramatically depreciating wages, and driving 90 per cent of Syrians into poverty. The health and educational sectors have been degraded and electricity and water have been severely rationed. Lifting subsidies on fuel has forced up prices for everything. While under pressure in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan to return home, 6 million refugees have largely stayed put. Most survive on relief assistance provided by the UN as long as they remain outside Syria. If the UN extended food and financial aid to returnees, they would be encouraged to go home as long as there was security.

For many to return there would have to be an amnesty for millions of men who fled conscription and fear being recruited into the army or jailed. Former residents of devastated areas have nothing to return to so temporary housing would have to be provided until new homes are constructed. Farmers would need financial aid to return to their land in abandoned villages and resume planting crops.

More than three years ago the World Bank warned that “the Syrian conflict broke down bilateral and transit trade routes, destabilised the region, and led to the largest displacement crisis since the Second World War. As a result, Syria’s neighbours faced the combination of a decrease in economic activity, deterioration in labour markets, and increase in poverty that would have overwhelmed even the world’s most advanced economies.”

While violence in Myanmar, Ethiopia and Sudan requires urgent concerted international efforts to mediate truces, the West must end its efforts to use sanctions to destabilise Syria. This year Syria returned to the Arab League and would attract reconstruction investment from expatriate Syrians, foreign firms, and the Gulf. As the World Bank has suggested, this would have a positive impact on neighbouring Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey and help stabilise the region.

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