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CrisisWatch is our global conflict tracker, a tool designed to help decision-makers prevent deadly violence by keeping them up-to-date with developments in over 70 conflicts and crises, identifying trends and alerting them to risks of escalation and opportunities to advance peace.

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April 2021

Middle East & North Africa

Saudi Arabia

While Huthis continued cross-border attacks, Saudi and Iranian officials began dialogue to de-escalate inter-state tensions, raising prospect of deepening talks in coming weeks. In positive step forward, senior Saudi and Iranian officials 9 April held direct diplomatic talks in Iraqi capital Baghdad, facilitated by Iraqi PM Mustafa al-Kadhimi; talks, which showed signs of progress, focused on Huthi cross-border missile and drone attacks on Saudi Arabia, frequency of which has increased in recent months. Meanwhile, Huthis 12 April said they launched drones and ballistic missiles at Aramco facilities in Jubail and Jeddah cities; 15 April launched ballistic missiles and armed drones at Aramco oil facility and Patriot missile batteries in Jizan port city, with debris falling from intercepted drones causing fire on Jizan University campus. Saudi coalition 16 April announced that it intercepted ballistic missile launched by Huthis toward Jizan city. Huthis 17 April also claimed responsibility for explosive drone strike on King Khalid air base, Khamis Mushait city. Saudi-led coalition 18 April announced that it intercepted bomb-laden drone before it crossed into Saudi territory; Huthis same day said they successfully launched drone attack inside King Khalid air base. Saudi-led coalition 20 April destroyed explosive drone fired toward Khamis Mushait. Huthis 23 April claimed attack on King Khalid air base. Saudi defence ministry 27 April said it destroyed remotely controlled explosive-laden boat off Red Sea port city Yanbu, home to Aramco oil refinery. 


Hostilities in Taiz and Marib governorates continued between Huthis and govt-backed forces while tensions between separatists and govt persisted in south. Fighting continued throughout month between Huthis and govt-aligned forces in Taiz governorate as latter sought to open road access to Aden city and Red Sea coast in attempt to break Huthi siege of Taiz city and relieve pressure on Marib governorate. Fears rose that Huthis may be planning more attacks in Marib governorate in May aimed at securing tactical positions ahead of new offensive in summer months when dust storms will likely limit Saudi-led coalition’s ability to provide defensive air support. Huthis late April intensified offensive and advanced deeper into Marib, seizing control of territory to west of Marib city; fighting reportedly killed dozens of Huthi and govt fighters, including senior military official Major General Abdullah al-Hadhiri on 24 April. On diplomatic front, as UN Security Council Resolution 2216 marked its sixth anniversary on 14 April, efforts to broker ceasefire remained stalemated as Huthis continued to reject Riyadh’s unveiling in March of “an initiative to end the Yemeni crisis”, largely reiteration of Riyadh’s position in year-long UN-led negotiations. In south, tensions continued between govt and pro-independence Southern Transitional Council (STC) in Aden amid electricity shortages and protests as STC accused govt of purposely withholding services in city; discord also centred on series of military, judicial and local appointments made by President Hadi, with STC claiming they were not consulted despite formation of unity govt in Dec 2020; popular anger could rise further in summer months if increased demand for electricity is not met. Meanwhile, Huthis continued cross-border attacks on Saudi Arabia (see Saudi Arabia). 


Authorities continued to respond to resurgence of Hirak protest movement with combination of repression and co-optation. Thousands took to streets throughout month in capital Algiers and other cities to reject early legislative elections scheduled for June and demand release of imprisoned Hirak activists. Police 3 April arrested over 20 demonstrators during Hirak protest in Algiers; several rights organisations including Amnesty International next day alleged 15-year-old subjected to sexual violence while in custody and called for investigation. Meanwhile, President Tebboune 6 April accused “separatist circles and illegal movements close to terrorism” of committing “subversive activities” to manipulate Hirak movement. Tebboune 8 April held new round of consultations with civil society representatives, 12 April created new consultative body National Observatory of Civil Society in alleged attempt to “promote civil society”. Authorities 18 April detained journalist Rabah Kareche in southern city of Tamanrasset, next day charged him with spreading “false news harmful to the public order” and “undermining national security and unity”; move comes after Kareche published articles on land-use protests by members of Tuareg community. Court in Oran city 21 April sentenced Noureddine Tounsi to one year in prison for allegedly “insulting the president of the Republic”, after he reported on alleged corruption in state-owned company. Authorities 28 April detained opposition activist Karim Tabbou on charges of “slander”, released him on probation next day. NGO National Committee for Liberation of Detainees 20 April recorded 66 “prisoners of conscience” across country and called for their release. Series of strikes from public health care, postal and education employees held throughout month amid deteriorating economic and social situation. Notably, demonstrations 6 April erupted in Bouira town after publication of social housing beneficiaries’ list; protesters 8-9 April set up roadblocks and police fired tear gas, with several injured on both sides.


Jihadist insurgency persisted in Sinai Peninsula, while govt took further steps toward rapprochement with Turkey. In Sinai Peninsula, Islamic State (ISIS)-affiliated Sinai Province reportedly redeployed from north to central Sinai under army’s pressure, with build-up reported in Bir al-Abd region and Jabal Maghara area. Suspected Sinai Province militants 2 April killed unspecified number of pro-army militiamen in Manjam village. ISIS 5 April published pictures of execution of tribal militiaman previously kidnapped in al-Barth area, south of Rafah city; 17 April released video showing killing of Coptic Christian and two other men in Sinai Peninsula. Court in capital Cairo 8 April sentenced Mahmoud Ezzat, former acting leader of outlawed Islamist organisation Muslim Brotherhood, to life imprisonment on terrorism charges. In likely attempt to respond to U.S. pressure, authorities 13 April released former opposition party leader Khaled Daoud, next day set free journalists Hosam al-Sayed and Solafa Magdy; all three had been imprisoned since 2019. After train wreck 18 April killed at least 11 people north of capital Cairo, Transport Minister Kamel al-Wazir 20 April sacked head of Railways Authority; al-Wazir 26 April appeared before Parliament amid mounting popular anger over recurrent train accidents. After Egyptian and Turkish officials late March took initial steps to normalise relations, bilateral contacts culminated in 15 April announcement of Turkish delegation’s visit to Cairo in early May; Cairo’s request that Ankara extradite Muslim Brotherhood officials who have taken shelter in Turkey after 2013 military coup remains stumbling block. Meanwhile, tensions mounted further with Ethiopia amid persistent deadlock in negotiations over Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on Blue Nile river (see Nile Waters). 


Discussions on roadmap for elections planned late this year and budget stalled amid disagreement between different constituencies. Legal Committee of UN-backed Libyan Political Dialogue Forum 7-9 April failed to reach consensus on legal roadmap for general elections scheduled for Dec; disagreements persisted over whether Libya should hold referendum on draft constitution first, or opt directly for parliamentary election or both parliamentary and presidential elections. Budget discussions turned into tug of war between institutions. Eastern-based House of Representatives 19 April rejected PM Dabaiba’s govt budget, reportedly making its approval conditional on Central Bank’s governor’s replacement, which eastern constituencies have long requested; National Oil Corporation same day said it was forced to declare force majeure – lifted 26 April – at key export terminal due to Central Bank’s reported refusal to release budget funds, accused latter of politicising oil sector. Dabaiba 25 April cancelled next day’s cabinet meeting in Benghazi city (east) after security officers aligned with Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s Arab Libyan Armed Forces (ALAF) barred Dabaiba’s security escort from entering city over presence of Tripoli-based militias in its ranks; ALAF 27 April clarified it had no issue with Dabaiba visiting if coordinated with local security forces. New mass graves in and around Tarhuna city (west), former stronghold of ALAF-aligned militia, continued to be uncovered throughout month; Dabaiba early April pledged to deliver justice. NGO Amnesty International 26 April said east-based military courts had convicted hundreds of civilians perceived to be ALAF critics or opponents – including 22 sentenced to death – in “sham, torture-tainted trials” between 2018 and 2021. UN Security Council 16 April unanimously approved deployment, “when conditions allow”, of UN team to Sirte city to monitor Oct 2020 ceasefire. Presidency Council Chairperson Mohamed al-Menfi 21 April ordered armed forces to secure southern border with Chad immediately after Haftar-aligned Chadian rebel group Front for Change and Concord based in southern Libya 11 April crossed border into Chad in bid to depose Chadian President Déby (see Chad). 


Power struggle pitting presidency against parliament and govt continued. President Saïed early April refused to ratify Parliament’s late March amendments to Constitutional Court’s law, saying constitutional deadline to create court had expired; bill aimed to reduce majority required to elect Constitutional Court members from 145 to 131 MPs in bid to reactivate process of setting up court, which has been delayed since 2015. In latest escalation of dispute with PM and acting Interior Minister Hichem Mechichi over division of powers, Saïed 18 April reiterated that his presidential powers as armed forces commander cover internal security forces, drawing criticism from PM Mechichi and largest party in Parliament, Islamist-inspired party An-Nahda; latter 20 April denounced Saïed’s “violation of constitution” and his “attempts to involve security forces in political conflicts” as threat to democracy. Despite Saïed’s statement, Mechichi subsequently appointed Lazhar Loungou as new interior ministry’s director for special services. Opposition MP Rached Khiari 19 April accused Saïed of treason for allegedly receiving from U.S. $5mn to fund election campaign in 2019; military court next day reportedly opened investigation into case, and 22 April summoned Khiari to appear before court on accusations of “undermining national security”. Security forces 1 April killed three suspected jihadists, including Hamdi Dhouib, senior figure of Islamic State (ISIS)-affiliated group Jund al-Khilafa, in two operations in centre west near Algerian border. Mechichi 30 April said Tunisia would seek $4bn loan from International Monetary Fund early May in “last opportunity” to save economy.

Western Sahara

Morocco reportedly used drone for first time on disputed territory, killing one Polisario Front independence movement leader. Moroccan forces 6 April reportedly killed Polisario gendarmerie chief Addah al-Bendir in suspected drone strike near Tifariti town inside UN buffer zone; strike, which could be first-ever use of drone by Moroccan army in Western Sahara, reportedly followed Polisario attempt to raid Moroccan positions along Morocco’s sand wall. French newspaper Le Figaro 15 April reported Polisario had turned down UN Sec-Gen Guterres’ proposal of former Portuguese FM Luis Amado as new UN envoy to Western Sahara; Amado is ninth candidate to be rejected by either Morocco or Polisario since former envoy Horst Köhler resigned in 2019. Local media late April reported Guterres had proposed Italian-Swedish diplomat Staffan de Mistura as next envoy. UN Security Council 21 April failed to adopt U.S.-drafted proposal on Western Sahara which warned of possible “escalation” in disputed territory and stressed need to speed up envoy appointment process. Senegal 5 April inaugurated consulate in Dakhla city in Morocco-controlled Western Sahara, thereby joining other African countries in supporting Morocco’s sovereignty claims over disputed territory.