FARC REBELS DEMOBILISE FOR PEACE
Colombia’s Marxist guerrillas are set to surrender 30% of their arms to the UN on Wednesday, with complete demobilisation slated for June 1.
The government has already transferred 7,000 rebels to 26 camps to facilitate this process. But the FARC’s leadership is unhappy with the arrangement, complaining that conditions in the camps are poor and food scarce. More significantly, the group accuses the government of violating the December peace deal by arresting rebels inside the camps on charges of extorting local businesses. This does not bode well for the deal’s integrity.
Outside these facilities, paramilitary groups and FARC dissident offshoots are ruthlessly vying for control amid a power vacuum left by the group’s demobilisation. Attempts to assert control over lucrative but illegal coca crops have prompted an uptick in violence and forced displacement, with more than 100 having been killed since the conclusion of the peace agreement.
These tensions – together with the fact that less than a quarter of the estimated 30,000 FARC militia have been demobilised so far – suggest total peace by June 1 is a hopeful, if not improbable, goal.
SAUDI ARABIA AND INDONESIA: AN EMERGING PARTNERSHIP
An entourage of 1,500 will accompany the Saudi king on his trip to Indonesia on Wednesday. Relations are ripe for improvement.
Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, and Saudi Arabia is the guardian of Islam’s holiest sites. An estimated one million Indonesians work in Saudi Arabia, and 220,000 will travel there this year for the Hajj pilgrimage.
Jakarta expects the king’s trip to generate $1 billion in new investments – quite an improvement on the $900,000 that Riyadh invested in 2016. Potential areas of cooperation include counter-terrorism, tourism facilitation, and improving Indonesian migrant rights.
President Joko Widodo will also hope to leverage his country’s heavy reliance on Saudi oil to reduce its dependence on refined fuels (such as gasoline). Currently, the country imports half its fuels, but Jakarta plans to become self-sufficient in refined oil products in 10 years.
King Salman also plans on announcing a $6 billion investment in a jointly-run refinery that will be supplied by Saudi crude – bad news for Singapore, Asia’s biggest refined fuel exporter and Indonesia’s largest supplier.
HOW LONG UNTIL MERKEL ENTERS CAMPAIGN MODE?
Germany’s recent economic figures are impressive, with low unemployment, GDP growth stronger than expected, and the DAX stock index set for new records. However, the state of the economy will at best be a sideshow when Chancellor Merkel speaks at a gathering held by her party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), on Wednesday.
Ever since Martin Schulz’ bid for the chancellery was announced in late January, his Social Democratic Party (SPD) has enjoyed a huge popular upsurge, with many polls suggesting that the SPD might well beat Merkel’s CDU in the general elections scheduled for September.
Although it is still a long way until the election, CDU leaders are already worried about Schulz’ ascent. With the Social Democrats rising in the polls and the electoral revival of the CDU’s traditional political ally (the Free Democrats) still in doubt, Merkel may find herself short of coalition options.
While the German chancellor has so far refrained from attacking Schulz directly, she’ll have to do so soon: the campaign bells are already ringing.
Donald Trump is expected to sign a new immigration order after his initial visa ban on citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries was blocked by federal judges. Wednesday’s executive order is expected to sidestep this legal roadblock.
The leaders of the Luhansk and Donetsk breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine have set Wednesday as the deadline for a blockade on Ukrainian goods to be lifted. If not, the self-declared authorities say they’ll seize Ukrainian-run businesses and stop exporting coal to the rest of the country. Coal is critical to Ukraine’s steel industry and electricity production – further reductions in stocks could result in rolling blackouts.
An Iranian trade delegation will travel to Moscow for talks on a free trade agreement between the Eurasian Economic Union and Iran. President Rouhani is expected to travel to Russia later in March, possibly to sign the agreement. Russia and Iran – whose relationship has flourished in recent years – are also working towards a separate bilateral free trade agreement.
Authorities in Australia will release economic figures, which are forecasted to show that the economy grew by 0.8% between September and December. This means Australia has enjoyed 102 consecutive quarters without a recession – two more and they’ll clinch the world record (currently held by the Netherlands).
The two women accused of murdering the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un will be formally charged in Malaysia. They will receive a mandatory death sentence if convicted.