Worldview Security Update – February 10, 2020
13-Feb-20

AMERICAS

Colombia (Security threat level – 4): The National Liberation Army (ELN) — a left-wing insurgent group — has announced a 72-hour “armed strike” that will run from 0600 local time (1100 UTC) on 14 February to 0600 local time on 17 February 2020 in areas under its control. The ELN has warned civilians to avoid all road, air and river transportation and threatened to attack those who travel on roads, especially those with military escorts. According to the announcement, ambulances and funeral convoys are exempt from the strike. Security officials have placed the Colombian military forces on high alert ahead of the planned strike, which is a show of force that has been conducted annually in recent years with the exception of during 2019. Such shows of force typically do not affect areas of Colombia outside of the ELN’s control, as it is unable to enforce the strike in those areas.

As evinced during previous such labor actions, the strike is expected to primarily cause disruptions in the departments of Antioquia, Arauca, Boyacá, Cauca, Santander and Norte de Santander. During previous strikes, the ELN primarily targeted key road and energy infrastructure. For example, in February 2018, the ELN conducted 16 attacks targeting Colombian security forces during a similar strike. In total, four ELN militants and two members of the Colombian security forces were killed during the strike, but there were no reports of civilian casualties. 

ASIA

China / Vietnam (Security threat levels – 3 / 3): As of 13 February 2020, approximately 60,350 confirmed cases of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) have been reported worldwide, with nearly 1,370 fatalities. The recent spike in reported cases — including almost 15,000 in Hubei province — followed a change in the official methodology for diagnosing cases that allows doctors to confirm the virus based on the results of computerized tomography (CT) scans instead of waiting on the results of genetic tests. After publicly reporting the sharp increase in confirmed cases, the Chinese Communist Party removed two senior party officials in the virus-stricken province of Hubei, likely signaling disapproval with how local authorities have handled the epidemic.

Schools in most of mainland China will remain closed until the end of February, and Hubei province — the epicenter of the viral outbreak — remains on lockdown. In addition, Hong Kong has extended work-from-home orders for civil servants to 23 February and delayed the resumption of school classes until at least 16 March.

In Vietnam, authorities have placed the northern village of Son Loi — located approximately 40 km (25 mi) northwest of Hanoi — under quarantine for 20 days after officials reported six new cases of coronavirus in the community of at least 10,000 people. This is the first such instance of quarantine of a town outside of mainland China.

Cruise ships continue to be affected by concerns of COVID-19. Authorities in Japan reported approximately 45 new cases of coronavirus on the cruise ship Diamond Princess on 13 February, which is docked in quarantine at the port of Yokohama, Japan. Nearly 220 individuals aboard the ship have tested positive for coronavirus. Additionally, Japan reported its first death from COVID-19, which is the third fatality outside mainland China. However, the patient was not a passenger aboard the Diamond Princess. Separately, the MS Westerdam received authorization to dock at port facilities in Sihanoukville, Cambodia — after being turned away from disembarkation points in Guam, Japan, the Philippines and Thailand. Health officials have been screening those aboard the ship, and it is expected to dock at 0500 local time on 14 February (2200 UTC on 13 February), after which the passengers will be transported to Phnom Penh aboard three chartered flights. The cruise line continues to assert that there are no known cases of coronavirus aboard the ship.

SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA

Guinea (Security threat level – 4): On 13 February 2020, supporters of the opposition National Front for the Defense of the Constitution (FNDC) coalition continued protests across Guinea as part of a two-day mobilization against President Alpha Condé’s efforts to amend the constitution in order to allow him to seek a third term. Small-scale protests are ongoing in several areas and are disrupting transportation services, commercial and other daily activities across Guinea, including in parts of Conakry, the capital. In Conakry, protesters burned tires and debris along the Fidel Castro Highway in the upper suburb Matam; police officers have since cleared this area. Thus far, no major clashes between protesters and police officers have occurred in Conakry or elsewhere in the country; however, protesters will likely continue to mobilize throughout the day and any gatherings could quickly escalate into violence.

According to the FNDC, protests were held on 12 February against the upcoming 1 March constitutional referendum in at least 10 cities across Guinea, including Boffa,  Boké, Conakry and Fria. In Conakry, clashes between protesters and police officers occurred in the Wanindara, Matoto and Kaloum areas. Police officers arrested at least 15 people and at least 14 others were injured during clashes.

South Africa (Security threat level – 4): At approximately 2120 local time (1920 UTC) on 12 February 2020, a luxury passenger train struck a stationary cargo train between the Roodepoort and Horizon stations in Horizon View, located west of Johannesburg. The crash caused several carriages of each train to derail. At least one person was killed and 30 others suffered injuries in the crash; four were hospitalized, including one with critical injuries. At least 31 passengers and 14 crew members were on board the Premier Classe passenger train — en route to Randfontein from Cape Town — where it departed on 11 February. It is not currently known whether anyone was onboard the stationary cargo train. The rail line was severely damaged in the crash, and metrorail services along the line between Randfontein and Johannesburg were suspended during the morning on 13 February. Authorities are investigating the cause of the accident.

GOVERNMENT WARNINGS

Iceland (Security threat level – 1): On 13 February 2020, the U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) issued updated travel advice for Iceland, which reads in part as follows: “Severe weather is forecast for Friday 14 February with rain/snow and hurricane force winds predicted. Major disruption to flights and road closures are expected. If you’re due to travel, you should check with your airline or tour operator beforehand and monitor the road and weather situation via safetravel.is . ”

South Africa (Security threat level – 4): On 13 February 2020, the U.S. Consulate in Cape Town issued a Demonstration Alert, which reads in part as follows:

“Location: Near the Steenberg Road entrance gate, U.S. Consulate General, Cape Town

"Event: On Friday, February 14 between 11:00am and 12:00pm, a group plans to hold a demonstration outside the Steenberg Road entrance gate. Although local police will be present, disruptions to motor vehicle and pedestrian traffic are likely in the vicinity of the demonstration.

“The Consulate General will be open during normal business hours.”