The 2001 Armed Conflicts Report

Tasneem Jamal Armed Conflicts

The Ploughshares Monitor June 2001 Volume 22 Issue 2

The year 2000 saw no relief from current high levels of armed conflict.

At the end of 2000, there were 40 armed conflicts being fought on the territories of 35 countries. The total number of armed conflicts was unchanged from the previous year, although the number of countries involved was down by one. In 1999 there were 40 armed conflicts in 36 countries, compared to 36 armed conflicts in 31 countries in 1998, and 37 armed conflicts in 32 countries in 1997.

The Armed Conflicts Report 2001 includes 3 new conflicts (Aceh-Indonesia appears for the second time in the post-Cold War era, Guinea, and Nepal), and three conflicts that were included in earlier reports have been removed (Cambodia, Egypt, and Tajikistan), leaving the total unchanged at 40. In two of the new armed conflicts, the fighting had begun earlier, but it was in 2000 that they reached the threshold of 1,000 combat deaths (the report’s definition of armed conflict includes a minimum cumulative total of combat deaths of 1,000 in the current phase of the conflict).

The new wars

Fighting in Aceh-Indonesia increased sharply in 2000, with violent clashes between the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) and the Indonesian security forces spreading throughout most of the province, despite the signing of a formal ceasefire (The Joint Understanding on Humanitarian Pause) between the two parties in May. The armed conflict actually dates back to 1989 when the separatist Aceh forces mounted an armed insurgency. By the mid-1990s more than 1,000 people had been killed in the fighting. A period of relative calm led to the removal of Aceh from the list of active conflicts, but in 1998 there were reports of renewed violence. The escalation in 2000 also involved Government forces in extrajudicial killings, and the cumulative death toll in this new phase of unrest exceeded 1,000 in 2000. In fact about 1,000 people, mostly civilians and separatist guerrillas, were killed in 2000 alone, more than three times the number killed the previous year.

Beginning in September 2000 southern Guinea was subject to border attacks from Sierra Leone and Liberia. While a little known Guinean dissident group, the Rally of Democratic Forces of Guinea (RFDG), claimed responsibility for the attacks, most observers assume complicity by Sierra Leone’s Revolutionary United Front (RUF) and Liberian forces in the attacks which focussed on refugees from Sierra Leone and Liberia. An estimated 1,000 people, including Guinean civilians, were killed in the cross-border raids. The Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS) has sent 1,600 peacekeepers to the region for an initial six-month period with the intention of protecting civilians, refugees, and humanitarian operations.

Growing political dissent and armed conflict in Nepal have not received the attention accorded the dramatic killings within Nepal’s Royal Family earlier this year, but during 2000 armed insurgency spread to at least 35 of Nepal’s 75 districts. In 1996 the Communist Party of Nepal declared a “people’s war” against the Nepalese government with the main goal of establishing a republican state. Serious human rights violations and clashes between the Nepalese police force and the insurgents have continued, and in 2000 the number of cumulative deaths passed the 1,000 mark. With the establishment of a multi-party democracy in Nepal in 1990, as well as a new constitution, there were expectations of increased human rights protections, stability, and development, but in fact the level of disorder has been rising.

Wars ended

The war in Cambodia can now be regarded as over – a decade after the 1991 Paris Peace Accords. Fighting involving Khmer Rouge factions had continued throughout the 1990s, but in 1999 and 2000 the annual death toll fell below 25, leading to the removal of Cambodia from the list of active conflicts. The recent disbandment of the Khmer Rouge and a start in demobilizing government troops reinforced the relative peace.

Egypt has also seen a steady decline in casualties in the armed clashes involving militant Islamic and government forces. There were fewer than 25 conflict-related deaths during 1999 and 2000, and in 2000 the Muslim Brotherhood participated in parliamentary elections.

The Tajikistan armed conflict ended in 2000 when the 1997 negotiated settlement appeared to take hold amid a second year of few reported conflict deaths. Following presidential and parliamentary elections, the Commission on National Reconciliation and other international peacebuilding instruments were being withdrawn.

Regional distribution

The accompanying table indicates that Africa continues to be a major site of ongoing war, with just over 40 per cent of all current wars being fought there. Asia follows with 35 per cent, while the Middle East is the site of 12 per cent of the world’s armed conflicts. Africa and the Middle East must be judged the most war-torn regions of the world, in the sense that 36 per cent of states in each region are experiencing warfare, compared with 19 per cent in Asia and significantly fewer in Europe and the Americas.

The full Armed Conflicts Report will soon be available on the Ploughshares website and as a wall poster.

Geographic Distributions of Armed Conflicts in 2000

Region # of countries in region # of conflicts in region # of countries hosting conflicts % of countries in region hosting conflicts % of world conflicts
Africa 50 17 18 36 42.50
Asia 42 14 8 19 35
Europe 42 2 2 5 5
The Americas 44 2 2 4 5
Middle East 14 5 5 36 12.50
World Totals 192 40 35 18 100

40 armed conflicts in 35 countries:

India and Indonesia each host 3 conflicts;
Philippines and Iraq each host 2 conflicts;
Israel and Lebanon together host the Israeli/Palestinian conflict;
Eritrea and Ethiopia together host the Eritrea/Ethiopia war.

Added: 3 (Aceh-Indonesia, Guinea, and Nepal)
Removed: 3 (Cambodia, Egypt, and Tajikistan)

 

Defining Armed Conflict: For the purposes of the annual Armed Conflicts Report an armed conflict is defined as a political conflict in which armed combat involves the armed forces of at least one state (or one or more armed factions seeking to gain control of all or part of the state), and in which at least 1,000 people have been killed by the fighting during the course of the conflict. An armed conflict is added to the annual list of current armed conflicts in the year in which the death toll reaches the threshold of 1,000, but the starting date of the armed conflict is shown as the year in which the first combat deaths included in the count of 1,000 or more occurred.

The definition of “political conflict” becomes more difficult as the trend in current intrastate armed conflicts increasingly obscures the distinction between political and criminal violence. In a growing number of armed conflicts, armed bands, militia, or factions engage in criminal activity (e.g., theft, looting, extortion) in order to fund their political/military campaigns, but frequently also for the personal enrichment of the leadership and the general livelihood of the fighting forces. Thus, in some circumstances, while the disintegrating order reflects the social chaos borne of state failure, the resulting violence or armed combat are not necessarily guided by a political program or a set of politically motivated or defined military objectives. However, these trends are part of the changing character of war, and conflicts characterized more by social chaos than political/military competition are thus included in the tabulation of current armed conflicts.

In many contemporary armed conflicts the fighting is intermittent and involves a very wide range of levels of intensity. An armed conflict is deemed to have ended if there has been a formal ceasefire or peace agreement and, following which, there are no longer combat deaths (or at least fewer than 25 per year); or, in the absence of a formal cease-fire, a conflict is deemed to have ended after two years of dormancy (in which fewer than 25 combat deaths per year have occurred).

The above definition builds upon, but differs in some aspects from, the definitions of other groups producing annual conflict tabulations, notably reports by Peter Wallensteen and Margareta Sollenberg of the Department of Peace and Conflict Research, Uppsala University (Sweden), published annually in the yearbook of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

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