The politicisation of aid distribution: Security challenges for aid workers in Myanmar

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Impact of anti-NGO sentiment on international aid in Rakhine state

Recent attacks targeting the offices and personnel of international aid organisations highlight an increasingly difficult working environment for humanitarian staff in Myanmar’s Rakhine state. Following two days of targeted attacks against foreign NGO offices by Buddhist mobs in late March, organisations in the state capital of Sittwe, including OXFAM, Save the Children, World Food Programme (WFP) and others, were forced to suspend operations and withdraw up to 700 non-essential foreign and local staff. This is the biggest disruption to aid in two years; to these organisations, the impact is critical for people currently living in relief camps, which rely solely on aid distribution.

Who are the Rohingya?

Myanmar is a predominantly Buddhist nation of approximately 60 million people, and has only recently emerged from several decades of military rule. While burgeoning democratic reforms have fostered an environment receptive to foreign investment, an inveterate strain of religious extremism is threatening this progress. Myanmar has experienced periodic bouts of religious and communal violence between its minority Muslim and majority Buddhist communities since June 2012. The violence (the vast majority of which has taken place in Rakhine) has resulted in over 240 casualties and displaced over 150,000 Muslims, many of whom remain displaced. The most persecuted group during these attacks has been the minority Rohingya Muslims, who now live in overcrowded camps for internally displaced persons (IDP) on the outskirts of Sittwe.

Rakhine is the second-poorest state in the country and is also home to approximately 1.3 million Rohingya Muslims. The origin of the Rohingya people has long been disputed in Myanmar, as they are widely regarded as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. Several government policies reflect this prejudice, as the Rohingya have effectively been denied citizenship and their freedom of movement has been severely restricted. In addition, although this group has been disproportionally discriminated against during episodes of violent communal unrest, Buddhist groups have repeatedly accused aid organisations of unfairly favouring the Rohingya community at the expense of Rakhine Buddhists. As a result, humanitarian agencies are increasingly caught in the crossfire of these tensions and subjected to the growing politicisation of aid distribution.

Rising tide of anti-NGO sentiment

In the period since foreign staff departed Rakhine state, there has been a significant increase in the intensity of threats and acts of intimidation made against local staff still operating in the region. In addition, the day-to-day coordination of aid distribution is now being conducted under heavy guard. Should foreign staff resume aid operations in Rakhine, there is a credible threat that they will be exposed to targeted attacks.

Anti-NGO sentiment has embittered the region for some time. In February, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF)-Holland was forced to suspend all activities in the state. More recently, tensions have been elevated due to a UN-assisted national census that began on 30 March. The UN and other international organisations have been accused of not consulting with the local populations over the nature of the census. In addition, their insistence on including Rohingya as an ethnic category has been criticised, in essence, as an affront to Buddhist culture. To this extent, the growing hostility towards foreign aid workers could be considered the unintentional consequence of the erosion of the perception of neutrality and independence of humanitarian operations. Furthermore, the impact of these tensions is likely to further strain the capacity for aid organisations to provide humanitarian assistance to vulnerable communities.

The recent media spotlight on the issue has not only raised awareness over the decades-long and systematic discrimination of the Rohingya, but it has also opened the country to international criticism over the emergent Buddhist nationalism-cum-extremism. Moving forward, international aid agencies need to determine the extent of Myanmar’s political willingness to assist and protect their aid operations in Rakhine. Where this willingness is absent, they will be wholly responsible for their own security. It is from this departure point that humanitarian organisations will be able to manage their risk-mitigation strategies for future operations in Rakhine.

Listen to more on this topic and other security-related topics on our SoundCloud Database

Article by Samantha McTigue, follow her @SEA_Analyst

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Brazil: Staying safe at the 2014 World Cup

The 2014 football World Cup will be held in Brazil from 12 June to 13 July. The tournament will be contested between 32 national teams and will see a total of 64 matches played in 12 host cities.

Security risks

Persons travelling to the tournament should be aware of the security threats in Brazil. All the host cities tabled above are assessed to be high-risk destinations. The greatest concern facing travellers is crime. Incidents of petty crime are common throughout these urban centres. Criminals may take advantage of the anonymity of large crowds to conduct their activities at matches, other events linked to the tournament and popular tourist areas. Violent crime is an established security issue in World Cup host cities. Although most instances of violent crime affect locals in lower-income favela areas, red24 is aware of several incidents that have involved foreign nationals elsewhere in host cities in recent months.

A further concern pertains to short-term express kidnapping. This form of kidnapping involves victims being held for a short duration while they are forced to withdraw money or hand over PIN details so that money can be withdrawn from ATMs; in other cases, they are held while being relieved of other possessions. Significantly, express kidnappings are equally likely to take place in affluent areas as in lower-income areas. Although the use of bogus taxis or rogue taxi drivers is a primary modus operandi of express kidnappers, incidents are also perpetrated near outdoor ATMs. There is a lesser threat of traditional kidnapping for ransom. Most cases of this longer form of kidnapping involve locals; the number of foreign nationals in the country on short-term visits that have been kidnapped is assessed to have decreased significantly in recent years. Nevertheless, the risk does extend to non-Brazilians; appropriate security protocols should be established to minimise the risk.

Sporadic demonstrations over socio-economic and labour concerns have been affecting Brazil since June 2013. The largest of these protest campaigns corresponded with the Confederations Cup football tournament, which took place between 15 and 30 June 2013. It is anticipated that there will be an attempt on the part of protest movement organisers to use the added media attention of the World Cup to highlight their respective causes. These groups have already indicated their intention to disrupt the tournament if their demands are not met. Gatherings will likely be planned in areas that allow for maximum exposure; these include sites associated with the World Cup, including in the vicinity of stadiums. Demonstrations have the potential to turn violent, as they are often infiltrated by disruptive elements, such as members of the anarchist Black Bloc.

The risk of terrorism in Brazil is low. There are no notable terrorist groups currently active in the country, nor has red24 received any information or intelligence to suggest that terrorist attacks are being arranged or planned; however, the risk of an incursion during a major international tournament such as the World Cup cannot be discounted. Any potential targets are likely to be symbolic and associated with the tournament.

 

red24 service capabilities

red24 has experience assisting clients in managing their risk during international sporting tournaments, including the London 2012 Olympics and Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics. Our services include the creation of crisis management plans, facilitating security escorts, check-in and alert services, and hostile environment awareness courses. Our products and services are provided by a range of experts and facilitated through our 24/7 Crisis Response Management Centre.

We recommend that you clarify what support services are available to you via your insurance or your travel provider prior to departure. If you feel that there are any significant gaps in the support that you hope to receive in the event of a serious travel-related incident, please contact us. We have the capabilities to provide versatile, cost-effective solutions for both individuals and groups travelling to the 2014 World Cup.

Should you be interested in making use of any of these services for travel to Brazil, please do not hesitate to contact us.

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Boko Haram: A domestic or regional threat?

Boko+Haram+file+photo

There are concerns that the Boko Haram, which has generally been regarded as a domestic terrorist group, is on the verge of adopting a transnational agenda. In doing so, Boko Haram would pose a significant threat in an African region already afflicted by a myriad of challenges; these include political instability, ethnic conflicts and Islamist extremism.

For the full free analysis, click here

Analysis by Ryan Cummings, follow him @Pol_Sec_Analyst

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The growing threat of kidnapping in Mexico – Part 2

Mex soldierIs there a link between the war on drugs and kidnapping in Mexico?

As noted in part one of this blog series, 2013 marked the biggest year-on-year increase in the number of kidnapping cases reported per month since 2008. There are numerous theories that attempt to explain this apparent rise in kidnappings in the country and determine whether this trend will continue or even be further accelerated in years to come. A number of these theories examine the link between ongoing ‘war on drugs’ in Mexico, including the arrests of high-value targets (HVTs), such as top cartel leaders, and increases in violence and other forms of crime, such as kidnapping. Part two of this series provides a brief overview of these theories.

The war on drugs in Mexico

In 2006, Mexico’s former president, Felipe Calderon, launched an extensive anti-narcotics strategy in an effort to combat drug trafficking in the country. Under incumbent president Enrique Pena Nieto, the so called ‘war on drugs’ is continuing with his anti-crime strategy. Although Nieto declared that his strategy would be more holistic and focus on addressing the socio-economic roots of violent crime, to date there hasn’t actually been as much of a change in strategy as was proclaimed or even anticipated. The recent arrests of high-ranking transnational criminal organisation (TCO) figures, such as the 22 February arrest of Sinaloa cartel’s highest-ranking member, Joaquin Guzman (also known as El Chapo), illustrate that Nieto has not entirely abandoned the ‘kingpin strategy’ that was utilised by his predecessor.

Government focus on kidnapping

The fight against kidnapping in Mexico also forms a central part of the war on drugs and Nieto’s holistic anti-crime strategy. Nieto has promised to halve kidnappings during his term in office; however, evidence of this has not yet been seen. The government sees the threat of kidnapping as a serious concern. In January 2014, Nieto’s government re-pledged themselves to the fight against kidnapping with the launch of the National Anti-Kidnapping Strategy (Estrategia Nacional Antisecuestros). This strategy includes a ten-step action plan focusing on technological and legal improvements, the creation of additional anti-kidnapping units, and a focus on the ten states most impacted by the crime; these include Durango, Mexico, Guerrero, Michoacan, Morelos, Tabasco, Oaxaca, Veracruz, Tamaulipas and Zacatecas. According to government sources, as many as 74 percent of kidnappings occur in these states; however, it should also be noted that it is estimated that only one in ten cases of kidnapping is ever reported and all kidnapping statistics could therefore be misrepresentative of the actual threat.

To what extent the new National Anti-Kidnapping Strategy will come to fruition is still to be seen. Many have criticised the plan for being too broad and lacking specifics on exactly what is to be done to reduce the kidnapping threat in the country. However, the fact that the government has acknowledged the extent of this threat in Mexico is a positive sign as more resources will be made available to traditionally under sourced anti-kidnapping units. In recent months, increased concerns over the anti-kidnapping strategy have been raised; these include the continued use of the kingpin strategy and the effect that the ongoing war on drugs has on kidnapping in the county. The two most prominent concerns are examined below.

Diversification of cartel tactics

TCOs such as Mexico’s major drug cartels have been increasingly diversifying their operations beyond traditional drug trafficking in recent years. Cartels are expanding into new segments of the ‘criminal industry’ and also investing in business outside of the scope of its existing operations. Beyond drug trafficking, criminal groups are branching out into prostitution, piracy, human trafficking, human organ harvesting, illegal mining and logging, merchandise, oil and mineral theft, kidnapping for ransom and extortion, and various other illicit activities.

Traditionally in business, there are two dimensions of rationale for diversification in any industry; these are defensive or offensive strategies. In the case of organised crime in Mexico, it has been argued that the ongoing war on drugs has forced cartels to adopt a more defensive strategy in order to spread the risk as their traditional (drug trafficking) markets are contracting. According to this argument, the police and army crackdown on drug traffickers in recent years, including the arrest of major cartel leaders, has inadvertently forced cartels to peruse other avenues of revenue.

Although proving a direct link between the diversification of cartel operations and the war on drugs can be tenuous, this theory has received credence with various scholars and members of the Mexican government. According to this theory, the countrywide increase in kidnappings can in part be linked to this diversification.

Splintering of cartels and the rise of ‘super-powered’ street gangs

mexican-cartel-map

Another related trend contributing to escalating violence and the rise in kidnappings in the country is the fracturing of cartel networks. Since the 1980s, Mexican cartels have begun to fracture into smaller, geographically compact regional networks. This process of splintering (also referred to as ‘balkanisation’) has affected the operations of major cartels. There are various drivers for this balkanisation, including inter- and intra-cartel violence, external pressure from governments (including the arrest of cartel leaders), changes in drug production operations and the evolving global drug industry.

This balkanisation can in turn lead to the rise of what has been called super-powered street gangs. These smaller localised gangs could replace (or at least supplement) cartels as the major drivers of violence in Mexico in years to come. Hyper-local groups are able focus all their attention on a small area of operation and potentially control these areas more effectively than large cartels. They utilise an assortment of tools from social media, to contacts in government, the local community and police to spread fear and maintain control.

Tactics of these smaller street gangs often differ from that of the large cartels. Although most of these gangs are also involved to some degree in the drug industry, other forms of crime, such as kidnapping, and specifically express kidnapping, is often more lucrative for these smaller gangs. The rise of these groups can therefore be seen as a contributing factor in the ongoing increase in kidnapping.

Historically, the kingpin strategy has also been blamed as a contributing factor for the apparent splintering and decentralisation of violence. The most common critique of the strategy states that the killing or arrest of an organisation’s leader creates a void. This void in turn can lead to the internal fracturing of a cartel and allows rival groups (internally or externally) to challenge the cartel; this often results in violent conflict. Also, as mentioned above, this could provide opportunities for smaller groups to gain a foothold in the industry. Larger gangs can also split, as happened with the Gulf Cartel. This cartel was dominant in large parts of north eastern Mexico until 2010, when a split within the organisation saw its armed wing, Los Zetas, form its own cartel and subsequently supplant the Gulf Cartel as the foremost organised crime group in the north east. In turn, extensive infighting within Los Zetas occurred between 2010 and 2012 and lead to fracturing within the group. It should be noted that today this group is believed to generate about 50 percent of its revenue through traditional drug trafficking; the rest of the revnue comes from low-level criminal activities such as extortion, kidnapping, theft, piracy and other licit and illicit activities. It can be argued that this business model has been pursued due to fractioning within the group and also as a diversification strategy.

Findings and Forecast

It is important to note that although the above-mentioned theories have received strong support, proving a direct link between the war on drugs, including the arrest of cartel leaders and a change in kidnapping rates, is tenuous. Theories surrounding the diversification of cartel operations and the potential splintering of large cartels can be seen as contributing factors to the increase in crimes such as kidnapping; however, with the limited information available, the link is speculative at best. The problem lies in the dictum; correlation does not necessarily imply causation. There might be unknown lurking variables that play a crucial part in explaining and forecasting kidnapping trends in Mexico. The theories above should therefore be seen as guidelines towards the truth, but not as empirical proof in and of themselves.

However, with the information available, one can make a number of well-supported forecasts for kidnapping in Mexico. Firstly, it should be noted that the increasing focus of the government on kidnapping, and the launch of the Anti-Kidnapping Strategy, will eventually bolster anti-kidnapping units at a state level. It could also lead to a decrease in kidnappings in the long-term. However, this plan is still vague and will take time to implement. As such, the potential benefit from this plan is not expected to be seen in the coming months.

The government is also expected to continue its traditional approach to the war on drugs and use of the kingpin strategy in coming months. Most of the major heads of cartels have been arrested, but as new leadership arises, this strategy will continue. This in turn could continue to lead to increases in kidnappings countrywide, according to the theories posited above.

As noted in the introduction, Mexico already has an increasing trend in kidnapping. This trend is partially driven by the above-mentioned theories. As new kidnapping statistics are released, it will become evident to what extent these factors have impacted kidnapping trends. At present, it is anticipated that 2014 will remain consistent with previous years and see a continuation of the trend of increasing year-on-year countrywide kidnappings; there will likely be more abductions in Mexico in 2014 than in 2013. In terms of geographical area, kidnapping rates will remain high in states that have traditionally been badly affected by the crime and increase elsewhere. It is anticipated that there will not be any meaningful decrease in abductions in any particular state.

More free stuff, listen to our Mexico: Kidnapping Overview – January 2014 on SoundCloud


Part three of this series will focus  in more detail on violence and kidnapping in Mexico on a municipal level.

Article by Barend Lutz, follow him @LutzBarend

If you have thoughts and views on why kidnapping in Mexico is increasing, or have any questions about this article, please leave a comment below.

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The growing threat of kidnapping in Mexico – Part 1

Mex Kidnapping

This is part one of a three part series; part two can be found here.

During 2013, which was President Enrique Pena Nieto’s first year in power, Mexico witnessed a significant increase in the number of kidnapping cases. In 2012, the country recorded 1,407 kidnappings; by the end of 2013, this figure had increased by as much as 20 percent to 1,695 kidnappings, marking the biggest year-on-year increase since 2008.

The records used to arrive at these numbers are from the Mexican government and are not beyond reproach. Those with some conception of the security situation in the country will agree that most kidnappings are not reported by victims. In addition to this, there is a disincentive by local authorities to account for those cases that are reported. The extent of this total non-reporting rate is assessed to be between 1 and 10 percent; there were, therefore, likely somewhere in the region of 30,000 kidnappings in Mexico in 2013.

Despite the shortfalls in using government statistics, they are an effective means of establishing changes in kidnapping characteristics in Mexico. This is of importance in assessing trends, which are arguably more valuable to those with interests in the country than accurate absolute figures. The main trend that was seen in 2013, besides an increase in absolute numbers that is accepted to be at least 20 percent, was the consolidation of the risk in areas that have traditionally been significantly affected. These mainly include those border states that perennially exhibit high homicide rates, which in turn stem from elevated levels of organised crime violence. At the same time, central states exhibited significant increases in kidnappings in 2013, which accounts for why Guerrero, Tamaulipas, Michoacán, Mexico state, Morelos, Veracruz, Tabasco and Jalisco were ranked the top in terms of kidnapping numbers in 2013.

Trends identified during the course of 2013 suggest that the year ahead will not be characterised by a significant decrease in total kidnapping numbers in Mexico. This conclusion is supportive by the continued failure of the Mexican authorities to address the complicated root causes of the crime.

More free stuff, listen to our Mexico: Kidnapping Overview – January 2014 on SoundCloud


Part two of this article will focus  in more detail on various theories to explain this apparent rise in kidnappings in the country and determine whether this trend will continue or even be further accelerated in years to come?

Article by Nick Piper, follow him @AmericasRisk

If you have thoughts and views on why kidnapping in Mexico is increasing, or have any questions about this article, please leave a comment below.

This article was originally posted in the KR Magazine 2014 Forecast, for additional Kidnap and Ransom articles, including by other red24 analysts, subscribe here.

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Afghanistan: Elections and the ongoing security challenges

Operation Mountain Fire

On 5 April, presidential and provincial council elections will be held across Afghanistan.  Chief Asia Analyst, Jonathan Vincent, analyses the ongoing security challenges in the country and forecasts how these could impact the elections.

For the full free analysis, click here

Analysis by Jonathan Vincent, follow him @South_Asia_Risk

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Pele fears protests could ruin World Cup; but what do the analysts say?

Pele

Security at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil

The 2014 FIFA World Cup will be held in Brazil from 12 June to 13 July.  In a recent interview, Pele (Edson Arantes do Nascimento), the retired Brazilian football legend, stated that as a Brazilian, the ongoing civil unrest in the country not only saddens him but could also sour the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Pele is one of the most lauded players in the history of football and is frequently ranked the best player ever. However, does his expertise carry over to the field of political and security risk analysis, and will the protests, as he believes, spoil the World Cup?

Brief background on protests

Sporadic protests over socio-economic and labour concerns have been affecting Brazil since June 2013. Although the largest of these corresponded with the FIFA Confederations Cup (FCC) period (15 to 30 June), related gatherings have been ongoing in recent months. The civil unrest was initially motivated by an increase in public transport fares in Rio de Janeiro; however, the campaign soon garnered significant support and momentum. It formed a convenient platform for various civil society groupings to voice their respective grievances, including issues regarding service delivery, concerns over the World Cup, corruption, etc. Despite significantly reduced support for the protest movement following the FCC period, periodic protests continue in the country and violence still remains a considerable concern at related events. Most recent socio-economic demonstrations have focused on Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. It should be noted that police forces often resort to heavy-handed tactics to disperse protesters (as seen in the video below):

(WarningVideo contains scenes of violence some viewers may find disturbing )

Will there be protests?

Yes, protests by a variety of disparate groups are expected in host cities during the World Cup. These groups have already indicated their intention to disrupt the tournament if their demands are not met. Pele’s views are therefore based on credible concerns. However, it should be noted that disruptions caused by potential protests are anticipated to be largely minimised by government security operations in the 12 host cities. It is red24’s position that these events will not reach the magnitude of those witnessed during the FCC period. This is due, in roughly equal measures, to the large-scale increase in security aimed at limiting disruptions caused by potential protests (the government has invested over US$2.2 billion into World Cup security in 2013 alone) and the placating options that are available to President Dilma Rousseff so as to counter any burgeoning protest movement. Nevertheless, gatherings will still likely be planned in areas that allow for maximum exposure; these include sites associated with the tournament. Further details on planned protests and city-specific protest hotspots can be found at red24.com. These events have the potential to turn violent, as these are often infiltrated by disruptive elements, such as members of the anarchist Black Bloc. A great source for additional views from Brazil, specifically related to the World Cup, can be found on the “A Brazilian Operating in This Area” – blog, by the local journalist, Mauricio Savarese.

What should Pele be concerned about?

According to the red24 2014 Threat Forecast, despite the media focus on protests, the most apparent risk during the World Cup is the high threat from crime in Brazil, particularly in major urban centres. Already-high petty crime rates will likely be elevated, particularly near stadiums, popular tourist areas and transport hubs; violent crime will remain an ever-present concern, mainly in lower-income areas and within cities at night. The government will attempt to reduce this risk through increased surveillance and an overall heightened police presence; however, official efforts are likely to fall short of significantly reducing the risk of crime in host cities.

A further concern is that of express kidnapping. This form of kidnapping involves victims being held temporarily while they are forced to withdraw money or hand over PIN details so that money can be withdrawn from ATMs. Although the use of bogus taxis or rogue taxi drivers is a primary modus operandi of express kidnappers, incidents are also perpetrated near outdoor and isolated indoor ATMs. In recent years, there have been a number of instances of this short-term form of abduction affecting foreign nationals in Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and other cities that are set to host World Cup matches. Although somewhat mitigated by an increased security force presence, there is still a credible concern of express kidnapping facing those visiting host cities.

It should also be noted that there is a risk of terrorism at the World Cup that is associated with all international events. Lastly, those visiting host cities are not immune from the prevailing kidnapping for ransom risk.

Brazil security Overview of risks in Brazil

Pele’s concern over protests in Brazil is therefore valid, but it is unlikely at this stage that these gatherings will ruin the World Cup. As seen above, there are various other concerns of which visitors to Brazil should be made aware. However, by adopting a number of commonsense precautions, these risks can be greatly mitigated.

red24 has launched a tailored package of services for visitors to the 2014 World Cup. This has been designed to provide travellers with detailed advice, security updates and 24/7 telephone support during the event. For more information about this package, please click here

Article by Barend Lutz, follow him @LutzBarend

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Could CAR become the next Somalia?

CAR

Jihadist intervention in the CAR crisis: Could it happen?

In September 2013, French Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, warned that ensuing lawlessness within the Central African Republic (CAR) could see the country become the next Somalia; i.e. a failed state, which could serve as a safe haven for both regional and transnational terrorist groups. Less than two months later, Fabius’ concerns were reiterated by Assistant Secretary General for Peacekeeping Operations at the United Nations, Edmund Mulet, who claimed that al-Qaeda-aligned militants were on the verge of exploiting growing instability within the CAR to their advantage. However, in contrast to Fabius, Mulet likened the prevailing situation within the CAR to that of northern Mali, where a power vacuum resulting from a military coup had seen the region fall under the control of Islamist extremists. Initially dismissed as mere rhetoric aimed at generating greater international attention to the CAR crisis, Fabius and Mulet’s claims recently gained credence following a statement released by Nigerian-based Islamist extremist group, Boko Haram. In a video message posted online on 14 February, Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau, purportedly threatened to avenge what he coined the massacre of Muslim communities in the CAR by Christian militias collectively known as anti-balaka.

Although somewhat unexpected, Boko Haram’s threat to enter the CAR conflict is not all that surprising. Since Seleka rebels toppled the government of Francois Bozize in March 2013, the CAR has experienced widespread and sustained outbreaks of ethno-religious violence, which has seemingly pitted the country’s Muslim and Christian populace against each other. The CAR’s minority Islamic population has been particularly hard hit by the violence, with human rights advocacy group, Amnesty International, recently asserting that the ethnic cleansing of Muslims were occurring within the country. Conforming to the Salafi jihadism interpretation of Islam, extremist groups such as Boko Haram would likely consider it their religious duty to avenge the persecution of Muslims by members of another religion. Such reasoning was perhaps best exemplified during the Bosnian civil war where hundreds of foreign Muslim jihadists fought alongside their Bosniak counterparts against a predominantly orthodox Christian Serbian army. Within the African context, coordinated jihadist intervention was also recently witnessed in northern Mali where various Islamist militant groups, including Boko Haram, allegedly engaged in joint combat operations against Malian, Chadian and French forces. Although the avenging of Muslim persecution was not central to this co-operation, the Malian conflict nevertheless underlined that regional Islamist extremist groups possessed both the intent and operational capacity to coordinate combat operations on foreign soil.

With both motivations and statements of intent for Islamist extremist involvement within the CAR made explicit, what is the actual threat of such a development occurring? Any such undertaking will be subject to significant logistical challenges. In terms of its geographical location, the CAR is far less accessible to Islamist militants than Mali. In terms of the latter, Islamist militants had near-unrestricted access to the region from their operational strongholds in neighbouring Algeria and, perhaps to a lesser extent, Niger and Mauritania. Moreover, long-established and clandestine smuggling routes located across much of Mali’s desert north also provided militants with a constant supply of arms and other resources. As mentioned, access routes for both supplies and personnel deployment is not as readily available for Islamist extremist groups seeking to infiltrate the CAR. There have been claims that Sudan’s Darfur region, which shares a common border with the CAR’s northern Vakanga province, could be used as a platform for Islamist extremist groups to deploy both personnel and arms into the country. However, such assertions have largely been based on spurious claims of an existing jihadist presence within Darfur, in addition to simplifying the motivations of Sudanese militias involved in the Darfur conflict. Another suggestion is that Nigerian Islamist militants, such as Boko Haram and its alleged offshoot, Ansaru, could infiltrate the CAR from neighbouring Cameroon. Although there is significant evidence to suggest that the aforementioned groups possess an operational presence within Cameroon, their operations to date have been limited to areas along the Nigerian border, specifically within the country’s Far-North province. These areas are located several hundred kilometers away from the Cameroon-CAR border, which itself has been fortified by the Cameroonian military amid an influx of CAR refugee populations.

Apart from logistical problems, jihadist infiltration within the CAR will also likely be subject to several operational challenges. The majority of Islamist militant groups operating within Africa have done so within the semi-arid Sahel and Maghreb regions of the continent. Their familiarity with often harsh and inhospitable desert conditions have given them the edge over regional and/or international forces tasked with uprooting them from such areas. However, the desert plains of North and West Africa differ considerably to the jungle and savannah which comprise much of the CAR. Islamist militants’ unfamiliarity with such conditions may not only see them lose an important tactical advantage but could place them firmly on the back foot against local militias accustomed to such environments. Further to this, an Islamist infiltration within the CAR will occur in the absence of any significant on-the-ground support. According to a recent Human Rights Watch report, the majority of the CAR’s Muslim population has fled to neighboring Chad and Cameroon. Those left behind have found refuge in ad hoc refugee camps dotted across the country. As such, local intelligence networks, upon which militant groups rely on, would be minimal to non-existent within the CAR. Although the possibility exists that Seleka rebels could assist jihadist fighters in their operations, such co-operation is by no means guaranteed. It is true that Seleka is mainly comprised of Muslim fighters, primarily emanating from Chad and Sudan; however, the group was never motivated or united by religion. Instead, the majority of rebel combatants coalesced under the motley Seleka rebel coalition due to individual motivations, which ranged from grievances against the Bozize regime to the mere economic reward of pillaging civilian populations. With the majority of such motivations already fulfilled, there is little evidence to suggest that Seleka’s assistance to jihadists groups is assured or even likely.

At first glance, the CAR appears to have all the conditions desirable for Islamist infiltration. The collapse of security and governance structures in the vast and sparsely populated country could serve as the ideal environment for Islamist extremists to hide or even establish an operational presence. In addition, jihadist groups would likely consider it their religious duty to avenge the hundreds of CAR Muslims killed by their Christian counterparts. However, on closer inspection, it becomes apparent that sustaining any armed campaign within the CAR will be subject to significant, if not insurmountable, challenges. Nonetheless, threats issued by Islamist groups such as Boko Haram should not be dismissed. Instead, they should serve to exemplify just how far the CAR conflict has spiraled out of control and how urgent the need is to find a lasting solution to the crisis. With international and regional troops already struggling to contain disorganised bands of machete-wielding militias, the risk of highly-trained and conflict-hardened terrorist groups gaining a foothold in CAR is one that simply cannot be taken.

Article by Ryan Cummings, follow him @Pol_Sec_Analyst

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Venezuela: The link between politically motivated protests and regime instability

JORNADA DE PROTESTA DE LA OPOSICIÓN EN CARACAS

In light of near-daily anti-government protests and violent unrest in Venezuela since 12 February, Chief Americas Analyst, Nick Piper,  analyses the possible short-term and long-term political outcomes in Venezuela.

For the full free analysis, click here

Analysis by Nick Piper, follow him @AmericasRisk

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Upheaval in Ukraine: What comes next?

On 22 February, Parliament voted to impeach President Viktor Yanukovych, prompting him to flee the capital. Chief analyst for Europe desk, Louw Nel, looks at the  short- to long-term political outlook following this development in the country.

For a free, detailed security analysis of the current political situation in Ukraine, please click here.

Analysis by Louw Nel, follow him @Euraspect

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