Ones to Watch, 12 November 2018

Americas: ELN steps-up attacks in Colombia as prospects for peace talks resumption wane

Sectors: oil and gas; electricity; security force/government assets
Key Risks: terrorism; targeted attacks; armed clashes; kidnapping

In Colombia, the leftist ELN guerrillas reportedly carried out several attacks in the northern Cesar department on 10 November. Five civilians were injured when forced out from a bus by ELN rebels who had set up an illegal road checkpoint near Curumani municipality. At least two vehicles were set on fire and damages on infrastructure were reported. Clashes with the army were also were also reported. Meanwhile, state-owned oil company Ecopetrol announced that its Cano Limon pipeline was bombed in Toledo municipality, Norte de Santander, marking the 78th attack against the asset so far in 2018. The government has stated that peace talks would not resume until all kidnap victims have been released and attacks halted. Further guerrilla activity should be expected in ELN strongholds as the group appears increasingly unlikely to be willing to meet President Ivan Duque’s demands.

Asia-Pacific: British journalist denied entry to Hong Kong as threats to press freedom increase

Sectors: all
Key Risks: civil unrest; political stability; authoritarianism

On 8 November veteran British journalist and vice president of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club (FCC) Victor Mallet was barred from entering Hong Kong as a visitor. In October Mallet was denied a renewal of his Hong Kong work visa after he chaired a talk at the FCC by Andy Chan, founder of the pro-independence Hong Kong National Party (HKNP). The Hong Kong government, acting on pressure from mainland China, was moving to dissolve the HKNP at the time. Chinese President Xi Jinping has identified Hong Kong separatism as a ‘red line’ that must not be crossed. As such, the unprecedented move against Victor Mallet highlights the emergence of new threats against press freedom in Hong Kong and throws into doubt Beijing’s commitment to the ‘one country, two systems’ principle under which the city was guaranteed a high degree of autonomy until 2047.

Eurasia: EU more likely to back new Russia sanctions; US push forthcoming  

Sectors: all
Key Risks: sanctions

Austrian officials confirmed on 11 November that they arrested a retired 70-year-old colonel following reports he had spied for Russia for decades. On 9 November Austrian Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl – an appointee of the junior coalition partner the ultra-right Freedom Party (FPÖ) that has a partnership agreement with Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party – cancelled a visit to Moscow. The Austrian government has been arguably the most vocal critic of expanding European Union sanctions on Moscow. The Austrian government’s opposition to more sanctions on Russia could now change particularly as there are reports in Austrian media that that a second Austrian intelligence officer was under investigation. The US is expected to push for further sanctions on Russia, and calls for additional measures are only likely to grow now that the Democrats are set to take-over the House of Representatives in January 2019.

Europe: Brexit talks head toward culmination but UK political tensions continue to pose threat

Sectors: all
Key Risks: political instability; trade disruption; currency volatility; unrest in Northern Ireland

Reports emerged on 11 November that British Prime Minister Theresa May had at least thrice in recent days delayed a cabinet meeting to approve a deal with the EU on the Brexit transition that will run from March 2019 until 31 December 2020. There have been some suggestions the transition could be extended. On 9 November, Jo Johnson resigned as transport minister and the following day he called for a referendum on a final deal. Calls for such a vote are growing, but whether it would be a two or three-option vote – essentially whether remaining in the EU is an option or whether voters will only be asked to accept or reject the current deal May has negotiated  – would likely determine the course of Brexit, its chances are dubious. Two UK ministers told the BBC on 12 November there is little chance May’s current proposal will receive parliamentary approval, raising prospects of additional turmoil. The British pound could see significant volatility compared to the US dollar and Euro in the coming weeks.

MENA: Norway halts new weapons contracts to Saudi Arabia

Sectors: defense
Key Risks: sanctions; frustration of process

Norway announced that it was suspending all new licenses for arms exports to Saudi Arabia. Norway is the second European country to halt such licenses over the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul and over the war in Yemen. Germany suspended arms sales to Riyadh on 22 October and may set a precedent for other western governments to follow suit. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan explicitly acknowledged the existence of audio recordings of the killing stating that the recording has been shared with the US and other Western governments. Pressure could rise on other countries to impose punitive measures on Saudi Arabia. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was the first to acknowledge that his country had received the recording of the killing and announcements are expected imminently from Germany, France and the UK.

Sub-Saharan Africa: In first, DRC opposition picks Martin Fayulu as joint presidential candidate

Sectors: all
Key Risks: political stability

In a surprising development, a coalition of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s main opposition parties picked Martin Fayulu as its candidate for the 23 December presidential vote. Fayulu is a former ExxonMobil executive and the leader of the Engagement for Citizenship and Development party – a relative lightweight in the DRC’s political landscape. Fayulu’s selection is seen as a compromise between the more prominent Vital Kamerhe and Felix Thisekedi, who had been tipped to win the coalition’s backing. In selecting a relative outsider, the opposition is mimicking the ruling party, which in August chose former interior minister Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary as its candidate to succeed incumbent Joseph Kabila. Although polls show most voters supporting the opposition, Fayulu is facing an uphill battle. The ruling party will likely seek to manipulate the election to secure Shadary’s victory – and it has the means to do so.