Ones to Watch, 18 June 2018

Americas: Dialogue to ease tensions to remain at risk in Nicaragua

Sectors: all
Key Risks: political stability; policy continuity; violent unrest

In Nicaragua, the government and opposition representatives resumed a Catholic Church-mediated dialogue on 15 June to try to end a crisis in which at least 178 people have been killed since 18 April. Despite having urged all parties to halt the violence, eight people were killed in Managua on 16 June, with both parties blaming each other for the incidents. Nevertheless, the talks are scheduled to continue on 18 June. The parties agreed to discuss issues including security concerns, the potential for a 2019 snap election, and potential Supreme Court reform. President Daniel Ortega’s term ends in 2021 and he has made no public statement on his position regarding early elections. Despite growing pressure, Ortega is not expected to make major concessions. Tensions and the risk of further violence will remain high over the coming weeks.

Asia-Pacific: State of emergency declared in LNG-rich province in Papua New Guinea

Sectors: LNG
Key Risks: violent unrest

On 15 June the government of Papua New Guinea declared a nine-month state of emergency in the restive Southern Highlands province, which is also home to many of the country’s LNG facilities. The declaration was prompted by violent riots in Mendi that destroyed a commercial aircraft and the courthouse following a dispute over local-level election results. The provincial government was suspended on 18 June and hundreds of police and armed forces have been deployed to the area to restore order. However, disgruntled residents are reportedly mobilising, armed with high-powered weapons, and there remains a very high risk of violence in the area. LNG facilities, such as ExxonMobil’s US$19bln PNG LNG project, are also at risk of attack given pre-existing public opposition to their presence in the area and disputes over the distribution of cash benefits from the project.

Eurasia: Amid first-ever ceasefire hopes rise for talks with Taliban

Sectors:  all
Key Risks: war, political stability, terrorism

On 16 June the Afghan government announced it would be willing to extend its ceasefire and invited the Taliban to peace talks, requesting they reciprocate by extending their ceasefire. Both sides pledged ceasefires around the Eid al Fitr holiday marking the end of Ramadan. The day saw unprecedented scenes of government and Taliban fighters celebrating together. The Taliban may be more open to formal talks following the ceasefire and President Ashraf Ghani’s statement he would be willing to discuss the presence of foreign troops, which the government has long refused. The Taliban has so far refused to apply its ceasefire to foreign troops and the US has been hesitant to engage. Ghani’s pledge does not appear to have been coordinated with foreign forces. Potential formal talks would face clear challenges as highlighted by attacks on celebrations attended by both Taliban and government representatives in Jalalabad on 16 and 17 June.

Europe: Eyes on Poland as EU Commission VP heads for last minute talks

Sectors: all
Key Risks: EU tensions , local rule of law

EU Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans is travelling to Poland on the invitation of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party for last minute talks after last week announcing the EU would move ahead with Article 7 consultations over Poland’s judicial reforms. Brussels alleges the reforms undermine the rule of law and violate both EU treaties and Poland’s constitution. Timmermans said that concessions agreed in recent months by PiS such as standardising the retirement age for male and female judges were insufficient, did not address already-sacked judicial officials, and said the key issue was the PiS’ government’s refusal to concede on EU demands Poland did not make judicial officials subservient to the government. Poland will likely avoid the most serious sanction as Hungary plans to block any effort to restrict its EU voting rights. Other moves to censure Warsaw could stoke further tensions within the bloc.

MENA: Yemen port offensive to intensify as coalition strikes target airport

Sectors: all
Key Risks: conflict; humanitarian crisis

The coming days will be decisive in the battle for Yemen’s main port of Hodeidah. In recent days Saudi-led coalition airplanes carried out multiple strikes in and around Huthi fortifications in Hodeidah airport. UAE-led ground troops were actively engaged in heavy fighting outside the gates of the airport on 16 June, and claimed to have taken control of the facility. Huthi fighters blocked the main road from Hodeidah to Sana’a with mounds of earth and chunks of asphalt to prevent coalition troops from advancing. UN special envoy Martin Griffiths has arrived in Sana’a to broker a ceasefire is unlikely to be able to stop fighting until Hodeidah has been captured. The offensive is controversial due to the potential humanitarian impact. Hodeidah port is the main entry point for food and medical aid to Huthi controlled territory, and aid agencies and the UN have warned that the offensive could worsen an already severe humanitarian crisis in these territories.

Sub-Saharan Africa: Machar ready to fly in for South Sudan peace talks

Sectors: all
Key Risks: internal conflict; sanctions

Sudan People’s Liberation Movement – in Opposition (SPLM-IO) leader Riek Machar reportedly plans to fly into Addis Ababa for a face-to-face meeting with President Salva Kiir before the African Union (AU) summit on 1-2 July. A meeting was supposedly scheduled for 20 June. However, comments made by government spokesperson Michael Makuei on 18 June have cast doubt on this. Makuei asserted that the countries that make up the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) are plagued by competing interests and that a third, neutral venue would be preferable. It is unclear if the conflict’s two main protagonists will meet, which further damages the prospect of a resolution to South Sudan’s civil war. In an effort to speed up progress towards a peace agreement, US officials have sought to affect the war economy by urging Kenya to crackdown on illicit financial flows into the country and have reportedly warned that funding cuts and sanctions will be forthcoming if Nairobi fails to investigate the matter.