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Northern departments continued to face sporadic jihadist attacks on military and civilian targets.
Suspected combatants from al-Qaeda-affiliated Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM) 1 May killed around 15 civilians and kidnapped another 12 in Kérou commune, Atakora department, and next day killed three civilians and kidnapped one more in Banikoara commune, Alibori department. In rare public statement on insecurity, govt 3 May announced investigation into both incidents. Soldiers 12 May killed one suspected JNIM militant and seized weapons following firefight in Matéri commune, Atakora department.
Amid rampant violence, civic space continued to shrink as transitional military govt further mobilised society against jihadists, while hinting at election delay.
Rampant jihadist violence continued to affect most regions. Spate of suspected jihadist attacks in Boucle du Mouhoun region (west) took heavy toll on civilians, killing at least 53 in Mouhoun province 11 and 28 May; another 13 in Kossi province 14 May; and 14 in Banwa province 19 May. Also in Boucle du Mouhoun, suspected jihadists 27 May attacked armoured convoy in Bourasso department (Kossi province), with around 20 dead, most of them army auxiliaries (VDPs). In North region, suspected jihadists 18 May attacked several villages in Yatenga province, killing 12 VDPs and 16 civilians; 31 May ambushed food convoy escorted by troops in Loroum province, killing two civilians while army reportedly shot 50 assailants dead. In East region’s Kompienga province, presumed jihadists 21 May killed 15 civilians on outskirts of provincial capital Kompienga; army reportedly retaliated, killing dozens. In Centre-East region, suspected al-Qaeda-affiliated Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM) 15 and 17 May killed around 20 civilians in Koulpélogo province.
Security forces continued counter-insurgency operations. Army and VDPs 18 May launched assault on presumed JNIM positions in Gnagna forest (Gnagna province, East region), killing around 30 militants; same day raided other JNIM positions near Bittou town (Boulgou province, Centre-East region), killing over 20.
Authorities ramped up repression of dissent and adopted national security law. Security forces 5-11 May arrested four members of civil society on various charges. Transitional legislature 9 May adopted new national security law further formalising govt’s strategy of mobilising society in struggle against jihadists; law notably provides for private security companies to support govt forces. In address to transitional legislature, interim PM Apollinaire Kyelem de Tambela 30 May ruled out negotiations with jihadists, and suggested security situation could delay country’s return to civilian rule beyond July 2024. As late-April killing of at least 146 civilians by suspected army elements in Karma village (North region) sparked international condemnation, interim President Capt. Traoré 4 May denounced actions of “coalition against Burkina Faso”.
Dissenters continued to suffer violence and harassment, anti-Kigali rebels staged attack near Rwandan border, and Burundi hosted regional peace summit on DR Congo.
Persecution of govt critics continued. Provincial security forces 4-9 May arrested and reportedly tortured three members of main opposition party, National Congress for Freedom (CNL), in Bubanza province, allegedly on ruling party Sec Gen Révérien Ndikuriyo’s orders to track down “troublesome elements”. Provincial authorities 5 May detained three CNL activists in Gitega province, releasing them three days later. Violence by ruling party youth militia, Imbonerakure, also continued. Notably, Imbonerakure 5 May macheted to death local CNL leader in Ruyigi province. Meanwhile, appeals court in Bujumbura city 2 May upheld ten-year prison term for journalist Floriane Irangabiye for “undermining the integrity of the national territory”.
Rebel activity persisted near Rwandan border. In Cibitoke province, anti-Kigali National Liberation Forces rebels 14 May reportedly ambushed members of Imbonerakure in Mabayi commune, killing two and injuring four before military pushed them back into Kibira forest.
In other important developments. Authorities early May indicted former PM Alain-Guillaume Bunyoni, who was detained in April, for “undermining the internal security of the state, undermining the proper functioning of the national economy and illegal enrichment”. Bunyoni’s arrest puts an end to long-running power struggle between him and President Ndayishimiye, both of whom come from ruling party’s old guard, and comes in context of increased pressure from International Monetary Fund to sort out country’s highly corrupt foreign currency exchange sector, in which Bunyoni was thought to have a big hand. Burundi 6 May hosted summit of Regional Oversight Mechanism of Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for DR Congo and Great Lakes region in bid to revitalise peace and cooperation initiatives; Rwandan President Paul Kagame and Kenyan President William Ruto both failed to attend (see Rwanda).
Anglophone separatists escalated violence around Cameroon’s National Day, notably launching rare attack in Francophone region near economic capital Douala; ethnic conflict erupted in south, and Boko Haram stepped up attacks in Far North.
Separatist militias escalated attacks leaving heavy toll on military. Anglophone separatist rebels 1 May crossed border from Anglophone South West region (SW) into Francophone Littoral region, attacked military post at Matouke village, Moungo division, less than 40km from economic capital Douala, killing five soldiers and one civilian. In retaliation, govt forces same day reportedly killed six civilians and arrested 14 people in nearby Maumu village, Fako division (SW). Explosive device 16 May killed at least three soldiers in Mabonji locality, Meme division (SW). As Cameroon celebrated National Day – which commemorates date in 1972 when referendum abrogated two-state federation, ushering in unitary state – armed separatists 20 May abducted about 30 women in Kedjom-Keku (Big Babanki) village, Mezam division in North West region (NW), after they protested taxes levied by separatists; all women released 23 May. Govt forces 21 and 28 May fought off ambushes in Otu village, Manyu division (SW) and Bambalang village, Ngo-Ketunjia division (NW) respectively, killing at least four separatists. Explosive device 31 May reportedly killed five soldiers in Mbengwi town (NW).
Ethnic tensions turned violent in South region. Govt mid-May sounded alarm on unprecedented levels of hate speech, pledged tough sentences. Violent unrest around 24 May erupted in Sangmelima town, Dja-et-Lobo division in Francophone South region, between members of local Bulu community and members of Bamoun and Bamileke communities from Francophone West region, leaving unclear number of casualties; army intervened to quell tensions.
Boko Haram (BH) conducted several deadly attacks in Far North region. BH militants 4 May killed two civilians in twin raids on Goldavi locality, Mayo-Tsanaga division, and Wilda locality, Mayo-Sava division, also stealing cattle and provisions. BH 21 May attacked Mozogo village, Mayo-Tsanaga; security forces killed two militants and lost a local vigilante. Suspected BH militants 29 May killed two customs officers, one police officer and one civilian in Mora town, Mayo-Sava. One soldier and two BH militants killed same day in clash in Ziguague town, Logone-et-Chari division.
Rebel offensive continued, and N’Djamena pursued armed groups in CAR’s border region amid growing mistrust between neighbours over cross-border rebel activity.
Rebel groups clashed with govt forces in north east and north west. Coalition of Patriots for Change (CPC) rebels 5 May attacked army position and seized strategic town of Tiringoulou (Vakaga prefecture), killing three soldiers; counter-offensive by govt forces and UN mission (MINUSCA) 7 May forced them to withdraw. UN humanitarian agency in CAR 26 May condemned attacks on humanitarian workers and other civilians after unidentified assailants 24 May reportedly ambushed aid convoy on way back from Am-Dafok village (also Vakaga), killing driver. CPC elements 15 May ambushed armed forces near Bossangoa town (Ouham prefecture), killing four soldiers.
CAR and Chad launched joint operation against cross-border rebel activity. Following reports that Chadian rebels have established rear bases in CAR’s north, N’Djamena 16 May said two countries 14 May launched joint operation in CAR’s north-western Ouham-Pendé prefecture, killing dozen rebels and arresting 23 (see Chad). Meanwhile, alleged French support for late April inauguration of border military post near Chadian town of Goré (Logone Oriental province) fed suspicion in Bangui that France is backing CAR’s rebels based in southern Chad (see Chad). Further feeding mistrust, unidentified military aircraft 3 May crashed in Ouham-Pendé.
Self-defence militia accused UN mission of inaction against rebels in south east. Self-defence militia Azandé Ani Kpi Gbé 7-9 May clashed with Union for Peace in Central African Republic (UPC) rebels in Mboki town (Haut-Mbomou prefecture), losing at least 19 militiamen. Militia later blamed MINUSCA for not taking preventive measures despite indications rebels were preparing assault.
In other important developments. Security forces and Russian paramilitary Wagner Group elements 27 April-4 May conducted raids in Bangui’s Muslim neighbourhood PK5, reportedly arrested ten individuals on allegations of illegal weapons possession and trafficking, demanding payments for their release. PK5 retail traders 5 May shut down shops in protest at “arbitrary” detentions. President Touadéra 30 May announced constitutional referendum will be held 30 July.
As intercommunal violence spiralled out of control in south, leaving dozens dead, N’Djamena launched military operation across border to chase rebels based in Central African Republic (CAR).
Intercommunal violence surged in south near border with CAR. Several deadly incidents of intercommunal conflict reported in Logone Oriental province. Notably, suspected herders early May killed at least 17 people in Don town, Nya Pendé department; and unidentified gunmen 17 and 19 May launched attacks in Andoum area, Monts de Lam department, killing between 35 and 40 civilians, burning houses and stealing livestock. In neighbouring Mandoul province, suspected herders 25 May raided Bara 2 village, Barh Sara department, killing at least nine farmers; attack reportedly took place after dispute with local farmer left one herder seriously injured. Authorities in April and May accused Chadian rebels based in CAR of fuelling violence in southern provinces (see Central African Republic).
Army launched operation against rebels based in CAR. N’Djamena late April announced inauguration, with support of French military, of military post near Goré town along border with CAR, with a view to better monitoring new security dynamics on frontier, including Chadian rebels’ activities in northern CAR. Despite growing mistrust over cross-border rebel activity, N’Djamena 11 May announced bilateral cooperation agreement between Logone Oriental province and CAR’s north-western Ouham-Pendé prefecture to combat Chadian rebels based in CAR, and 16 May said Chad and CAR 14 May launched joint military operation in Ouham-Pendé, killing dozen rebels and arresting 23.
In other important developments. Interim President Mahamat Déby 24 May pardoned 67 people sentenced to prison for participating in bloody 20 Oct 2022 protests, which called for return to civilian rule, along with 11 others who had been sentenced for alleged involvement in foiled Dec 2022 “coup”. UN refugee agency late May said 90,000 refugees had arrived in Chad from Sudan since conflict started in mid-April, called for international aid in delivering life-saving assistance.
Amid ongoing preparations for regional and municipal elections due in September, former President Gbagbo’s absence from electoral list sparked outcry from his party.
Main political parties discussed ad hoc electoral alliances. Ahead of regional and municipal votes scheduled for 2 Sept, ruling Rally of Houphouëtists for Democracy and Peace (RHDP) and former PM Pascal Affi N’Guessan’s Ivorian Popular Front 2 May signed partnership agreement in economic capital Abidjan, pledging to promote peaceful politics and avoid electoral violence; N’Guessan said partnership did not amount to “electoral agreement”. Media outlets including RFI 4 May reported nascent talks between former President Laurent Gbagbo’s Parti des peuples africains – Côte d’Ivoire (PPA-CI) and former President Henri-Konan Bédié’s Democratic Party of Côte d’Ivoire with a view to fielding common candidates in certain regions or municipalities to better challenge RHDP’s favourable position.
Gbagbo and others remained absent from electoral list. Electoral commission 20 May published electoral list, confirming that Gbagbo will not be able to vote in Sept elections; Gbagbo has been stripped of his civic and political rights since his 2018 condemnation for robbery of Central Bank of West African States in 2011, despite presidential pardon granted in 2022. PPA-CI immediately denounced “unacceptable provocation” and “casus belli”, and 30 May condemned “irregularities and fraud” on electoral list, notably presence of deceased voters. Prominent politicians and former Gbagbo associates Charles Blé Goudé and Guillaume Soro also remained absent from electoral list.
Amid mounting discontent with East African force, President Tshisekedi secured deployment of Southern African troops to help quell M23 rebellion in North Kivu; intercommunal conflict spread further in western provinces.
Southern Africa’s regional bloc pledged troops for eastern DR Congo. As Tshisekedi stepped up criticism of East African Community (EAC) force’s approach to tackling M23 rebellion, Southern African Development Community 8 May approved troop deployment to eastern provinces. Tshisekedi next day threatened to expel EAC force, accusing it of taking weak stance vis-à-vis M23 and even colluding with rebels in some instances. EAC 11 May denounced Tshisekedi’s criticism as “not fair”, and 31 May approved extension of force’s mandate until Sept. Kinshasa late May reported movements of Rwandan army and M23 rebels in North Kivu province, warned of imminent offensive on Goma city.
Amid fragile M23 calm, other armed group attacks continued unabated in east. Local CMC-Nyatura militia 3-4 May killed 13 people in attack on Kizimba site for internally displaced persons in Rutshuru territory, North Kivu. Islamist militia Allied Democratic Forces in May launched repeated raids in North Kivu’s Beni territory, killing at least 34 people, and 18 May killed another 13 in Irumu territory, Ituri province. Unidentified assailants, possibly CODECO or Front for Patriotic Resistance in Ituri local militias, 12 May killed at least 47 people in several villages of Djugu territory, Ituri. Local Maï Maï Kabido militia 18 and 28 May killed at least five eco-guards in and near Virunga national park in Lubero and Rutshuru territories (both North Kivu).
Intercommunal violence spread further in west. Conflict between Yaka and Teke communities, triggered by land dispute, continued to spread beyond Mai-Ndombe province’s Kwamouth territory. Notably, local militias 11-13 May clashed with security forces and other militias, leaving at least 16 people dead in Nguma and Mongata villages (Kinshasa province), as well as Batshongo village (Kwango province).
Police cracked down on protesters in Kinshasa. Ahead of general elections expected in Dec, opposition demonstrators 20 May took to streets in Kinshasa to denounce alleged voter registration irregularities, prolonged insecurity and cost-of-living crisis. Security forces responded forcefully, with opposition claiming dozens injured. UN 23 May said police used “disproportionate” force.
Eritrea’s efforts to bolster its international standing continued as President Isaias spoke out on Sudan conflict and strengthened ties with China, Russia.
President Isaias sought influence in addressing Sudan crisis. In 1 May interview with state media, President Isaias discussed conflict in Sudan, urging “an immediate end” to fighting and emphasising potential mediating role of neighbouring countries, including Eritrea; also advocated for Intergovernmental Authority on Development regional bloc to play support role. During meeting with Sudanese ambassador 12 May, Isaias denied allegations Asmara is cooperating with United Arab Emirates to provide sanctuary for fighters from Sudan’s paramilitary Rapid Support Forces.
Eritrea bolstered relations with China and Russia. President Isaias 14 May arrived in China for four-day state visit at invitation of Chinese President Xi Jinping as countries sought to “enrich their strategic partnership”. Leaders held talks on bilateral cooperation, regional stability and global issues, with Xi saying China “is ready to work with Eritrea to advance mutually beneficial cooperation”. Isaias 30 May arrived in Russian capital Moscow for four-day official visit at invitation of Russian President Putin, who 31 May announced sides would soon sign various cooperation agreements.
Violence in Oromia intensified after govt-OLA talks failed to produce agreement, federal-Tigray relations faced setback, and security operations in Amhara drew criticism from human rights body.
Govt-OLA talks ended without agreement amid uncompromising stances. Peace talks between govt and Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) that began 25 April in Tanzania ended 3 May without agreement as sides failed to reach consensus on key political issues: OLA demanded greater political role in Oromia region, proposing power-sharing arrangement via transitional administration until next election; govt rejected proposition, which would threaten power of Oromo ruling elites, instead insisting on rebels’ disarmament. OLA 17 May accused govt of launching “all-out offensive” after talks concluded, with fighting reported in East and West Shewa Zones (centre), Horo Guduru, East and West Wollega Zones (west), and parts of southern Oromia.
Authorities refused to restore TPLF’s political party status. National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) 13 May denied Tigray People’s Liberation Front’s (TPLF) request to restore its political party status, cancelled Jan 2021 after outbreak of war, citing lack of legal provision for status restoration; NEBE said TPLF can submit re-registration request, meaning legally it would become new political party. TPLF and Tigray’s Interim Regional Administration that TPLF controls said board’s decision endangers peace and urged authorities to reinstate TPLF’s “pre-war status”. Thousands of displaced Tigrayans 23 May protested in major cities in Tigray, demanding withdrawal of outside (Eritrea, Amhara) forces to allow their return home. Meanwhile, World Food Programme and U.S. international development agency 3 May said food aid to Tigray was being diverted and sold on local market, suspended deliveries.
Security forces accused of abuses during operations in Amhara. Tensions eased in Amhara region following April violence, which broke out over govt plans to integrate regional paramilitaries into federal security structures, though suspicion of federal govt as it improves relations with TPLF and engages with OLA persisted. Meanwhile, concerns emerged about “law enforcement campaign” launched late April in Amhara after assassination of key figure from ruling Prosperity Party; notably, Ethiopian Human Rights Commission 9 May accused security forces of “arbitrary arrests, inappropriate treatments of people in custody [and] disproportionate use of force”.
Talks between govt and opposition stalled; Al-Shabaab resumed attacks along Somalia border after months of low-level activity; and clashes over land and cattle continued in north.
Bipartisan talks stalled after making limited progress. Opposition Azimio La Umoja coalition 2 May resumed countrywide anti-govt protests; next day called off demonstrations planned for 4 May, saying govt had agreed to key demand to review formation of new electoral commission. President Ruto 13 May met with Azimio leader Raila Odinga, ushering in ten-day détente. Azimio 23 May however suspended talks to consult with colleagues, next day gave govt six-day ultimatum to yield on four points of contention – including acting to lower cost of living and launching audit of Aug 2022 election servers – or else consider talks dead. As ultimatum lapsed, Azimio reiterated demands, also urged govt to withdraw controversial 2023 finance bill, which expands tax base amid growing debt pressure.
Al-Shabaab staged attacks as Kenya announced reopening of border with Somalia. Explosive devices allegedly planted by Al-Shabaab 1 and 14 May injured nine people in Burta Ashaqa village, Mandera county. Kenya and Somalia 15 May announced reopening by mid-August of three border crossings, which Kenya closed in 2011 in bid to prevent Al-Shabaab attacks; move signals thawing relations and emergence of trade as key agenda item between neighbouring countries, but raises risk of Al-Shabaab seeking refuge in Kenya as Somali govt presses its offensive against group.
Violence over resources continued in north despite above-average rainfall. Most of Kenya – except south and south-eastern regions – received above-average rainfall during March-May season, providing welcome relief. Clashes over land and cattle however continued. Notably, armed men 6 May killed police officer and stole 200 cattle in Samburu county.
In other important developments. Amid protests over insecurity in Isebania town, Migori county, demonstrators 25 May reportedly attempted to overrun police station; police shot four dead.
Authorities scheduled constitutional referendum for June amid mixed reactions, and UN report on 2022 Moura massacre prompted sharp response from Bamako, contributing to tense climate facing UN mission.
Malians to vote on new constitution in June. Military govt 5 May announced 18 June for constitutional referendum, originally scheduled for 19 March. New constitution expected to pass fairly easily despite concerns from some segments of society that it could open door for military junta members to run in presidential election expected in Feb 2024. Notably, Appel du 20 février coalition of political parties and civil society organisations 7 May claimed transitional authorities do not have mandate to adopt new constitution and lack sufficient territorial control to hold credible vote.
UN released long-awaited report on Moura massacre, heightening tension. UN Human Rights Office 12 May released report on March 2022 massacre in Moura village, Mopti region, concluding that Malian military and unspecified “foreign elements” killed about 500 civilians. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk same day said exactions could amount to war crimes or crimes against humanity. Bamako 13 May condemned “biased” and “fictious” report, claiming only “terrorists” were killed in Moura; also opened judicial inquiry against UN fact-finding mission over alleged “military conspiracy” and “espionage”.
IS Sahel maintained position in north, JNIM launched attacks in west. Islamic State Sahel Province (IS Sahel) 9 May ambushed and killed two members of 2015 Algiers peace agreement signatory armed group Movement for the Salvation of Azawad near Intadeyni village, Ménaka region (north east). In relatively uncommon attacks in Kayes region (west), suspected al-Qaeda-affiliated Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM) 8 May ambushed troops near Kita town, 130km from capital Bamako, leaving six soldiers dead; 14 May reportedly attacked customs post in Melgué town, with unknown number of casualties.
Tensions between Bamako and signatory armed groups declined. National Reconciliation Minister Col. Ismaël Wagué 12 May met with representatives of coalition of formerly separatist armed groups signatory to Algiers Accord, Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA), in Kidal city; parties likely talked about modalities for holding constitutional referendum in CMA-held territory, as CMA has previously come out against new constitution.
End of holy month of Ramadan and rainy season coincided with resurgence of Islamist militant attacks in northern province.
Violence resurged in Cabo Delgado after weeks-long lull. Islamic State Mozambique Province (ISMP) from late April stepped up activity in Cabo Delgado province (north), mostly along Messalo river. Notably in Macomia district, suspected ISMP and Local Forces (militia allied with govt) around 5 May clashed near Litandacua village, with at least two Local Forces injured; suspected ISMP 14 May launched assault on base of Southern African Development Community mission in Macomia town but were repelled; presence of militants also reported around 26 May near Novo Cabo Delgado and Litandacua villages. In Muidumbe district, govt soldiers and Local Forces 3 May engaged suspected ISMP in Mandela village, reportedly killing six. Militants were sighted again in Nangade district, where they have not been seen since Feb, prompting residents who had recently returned home to move back to Nangade district headquarters. Notably, suspected ISMP 19 May briefly abducted 12 civilians in Nkonga village, warning them not to collaborate with security forces; police 24 May ambushed suspected ISMP militants near Ngangolo village, killing five, while police lost two officers.
TotalEnergies published report on Cabo Delgado, key step to restart LNG project. TotalEnergies 23 May released long-awaited report on humanitarian situation in northern province, which will inform deliberations about resuming Mozambique LNG project; report highlighted improvement, particularly with return of displaced persons to Palma and Mocímboa da Praia towns.
Civil society expressed concern over municipal election process. Ahead of municipal elections scheduled for 11 Oct, More Integrity consortium of seven local civil society organisations 16 May called for extension of voter registration period, saying irregularities and equipment breakdowns threaten integrity of registration. National Electoral Commission 19 May announced extension of opening hours for voter registration but refused to extend registration period, citing budgetary constraints. Meanwhile, ruling party Frelimo 3 May submitted draft amendment to change constitution and postpone country’s first district elections scheduled for 2024 as part of 2018 deal on decentralisation and demobilisation of armed wing of main opposition party Renamo; Renamo immediately protested move.
President Bazoum maintained hard-line approach toward critics of French military presence, and deadly violence persisted in region bordering Burkina Faso.
Govt arrested critics of security partnership with France. Govt 2 May accused civil society group Union Committee Tillabery for Peace, Security and Social Cohesion of “sowing disorder” after group late April accused French forces of seeking to destabilise Niger and demanded their departure; police same day detained group’s leader Amadou Arouna Maïga.
Tillabéry region (south west) saw jihadist and intercommunal violence. In Gotheye department, military convoy 7 May hit explosive device likely planted by al-Qaeda-affiliated Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims near Samira Hill gold mine, leaving seven soldiers dead. Suspected Islamic State Sahel Province militants 3-13 May attacked villages in Tillabery’s Téra department, killing at least eight people. Meanwhile, in Tillabery department, clashes late April-early May erupted between sedentary Djerma and nomadic Fulani communities in Dessa, Kandadji and Ayorou communes, leaving at least ten people dead and up to 18,000 displaced, who mid-May returned home.
Security operations continued along Nigerian border in south east. Military 10 May announced intercepting 1,400 Boko Haram militants since March as they fled into Diffa region following clashes with rival Islamic State faction in Nigeria’s Borno state; 30 combatants also killed during operations. Military 29 May said joint operation with Nigerian army 6-28 May left 55 Islamic State West Africa Province militants dead in Niger-Nigeria border regions, including several senior commanders.
President Kagame failed to attend regional peace summit on eastern DR Congo crisis; despite heightened bilateral tensions, Kigali and Kinshasa revived agreement on refugee repatriation.
Regional peace summit proceeded without Kagame. President Kagame 6 May failed to attend 11th summit of Regional Oversight Mechanism of Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for DR Congo and Great Lakes region, with PM Edouard Ngirente representing Rwanda. Participants called for “restraint, de-escalation … and pursuit of dialogue” between Kigali and Kinshasa amid heightened bilateral tensions since resurgence in March 2022 of M23 movement in eastern DR Congo (see Burundi).
Kigali and Kinshasa made headway on voluntary repatriation of refugees. During meeting in Switzerland, Rwanda, DR Congo and UN Refugee Agency 15 May signed joint statement committing to resuming facilitation of sustainable return and reintegration pathways for Congolese refugees in Rwanda and Rwandan refugees in DR Congo, in line with 2010 Tripartite Agreement on voluntary repatriation. Parties to hold follow-up technical meeting in Kenya in June to define practicalities.
As military operations against Al-Shabaab reached standstill, group launched major attack on African Union (AU) military base, leaving large number dead; Puntland state conducted local elections amid tensions and violence.
Al-Shabaab conducted largest attack on AU mission in a year. In Lower Shabelle region (South West state), Al-Shabaab 26 May targeted Buulo Mareer base manned by Ugandan contingent of AU Transition Mission; group claimed 137 soldiers killed, while Ugandan military source said Uganda lost “under 100” troops.
Govt struggled to get offensive off ground in south and sustain gains in centre. Mogadishu failed to make significant progress against Al-Shabaab militants in country’s south, illustrating difficulty in getting military offensive’s second phase off ground. As level of external military assistance remained unclear, govt and Kenyan officials 12 May met to discuss Nairobi’s pledge of support for southern offensive. Recurring clan conflict in centre distracted clans from fight with Al-Shabaab, threatening consolidation of gains made during offensive’s first phase. Notably in Hirshabelle state’s Hiraan region, clan conflict in May erupted between Hawadle and Gaaljecel clans, around Beledweyne city, and between Hawadle and Ayr clans around Mataban town.
Local vote held in Puntland despite rising tensions and violence. Group of Puntland opposition leaders mid-May called for postponement of 25 May local council elections, saying they are part of plot by Puntland President Said Deni to extend his term. Puntland forces and militia 16 May clashed near Garowe airport reportedly over delivery of electoral materials, leaving three dead. Puntland’s attorney general next day ordered arrest of four opposition politicians for alleged role in fighting. Govt and opposition 23 May reached agreement that saw arrest warrants withdrawn and election proceed peacefully in all but three districts. Puntland-Mogadishu relations remained tense. PM Abdi Barre 8 May complained Puntland’s non-participation in National Consultative Council (NCC) meetings between federal govt and member states threatens progress on debt relief, while Deni next day accused Mogadishu of “attempting to destabilise” Puntland by backing opposition.
In other important developments. NCC 28 May announced restructuring of political system, including direct elections every five years and abolishment of premiership; moves, which will require constitutional amendment, were criticised by some opposition and regional politicians as unconstitutional.
Fighting between govt forces and Dhulbahante clan militias spread in Sool region; as parties recruit new fighters, conflict could morph into confrontation between clan families and ripple into other parts of Somaliland.
Govt and local clan militias clashed north of Las Anod. Govt forces and Dhulbahante fighters 16-17 May clashed heavily around Dhabansaar and Samakab villages, north of Sool region’s capital Las Anod, as field of conflict widened; warring parties fought for control of road connecting Las Anod to Burco town, with reports that militias from wider Harti clan joined the fray in support of Dhulbahante. Recruitment of new fighters risks fuelling confrontations between clan families and widening conflict beyond Sool. Meanwhile, in attempt to woo Dhulbahante voters living on Somalia side of border in lead-up to 25 May local elections in Puntland state (see Somalia), Puntland President Said Deni 10 May pledged commitment to “liberating” Las Anod from Somaliland forces, raising concern of more substantial backing for Dhulbahante militias.
Violence also flared elsewhere. Protesters clashed with security forces in various locations in lead-up to 18 May Independence Day, including 8 May in Borama city, Awdal region (west), where local clan members have long complained about marginalisation. Communal clashes between two Isaaq sub-clans 15 May left two dead in Togdheer region’s capital Burco (centre); President Bihi and opposition leader Abdirahman Irro (who hail from respective sub-clans) in following days reportedly travelled to Burco to lead reconciliation efforts.
Influx of people fleeing Sudan put pressure on scarce resources in Upper Nile state, raising ethnic tensions; militia leader returned to Juba.
South Sudan struggled to cope with refugee influx from Sudan. As of 23 May, over 73,000 refugees and returnees had reportedly crossed into South Sudan, mostly through Renk county (Upper Nile State), from Sudan where fighting continued (see Sudan). With new arrivals, dire humanitarian situation in Upper Nile deteriorated amid lack of food, clean water and sanitation, raising ethnic tensions. Notably, brawl between two groups of displaced South Sudanese over water in Renk county 15 May killed one; fighting 28 May erupted at water point in Malakal town between Nuer and Shilluk communities. Situation could worsen, especially with coming rainy season. Meanwhile, President Kiir spearheaded Intergovernmental Authority on Development regional bloc’s mediation efforts between Sudan’s warring parties. Sudanese army 8 May sent envoy to capital Juba, paramilitary Rapid Support Forces 17 May reciprocated; fighting continued despite efforts.
Militia leader returned to Juba, more opposition figures defected to govt. After peace agreement with govt in Jan 2022 and months of subsequent negotiations, Shilluk Agwalek militia leader Gen. Johnson Olony 14 May arrived in Juba; unclear whether return will de-escalate tensions in Upper Nile, where Olony was reportedly mobilising for attack on areas along White Nile controlled by VP Machar’s Sudan People’s Liberation Army-In Opposition (SPLA-IO). Govt 14 May announced dozens of high-ranking SPLA-IO members from Machar’s strongholds in Jonglei and Unity states joined ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement; around two dozen members of Simon Gatwech’s SPLA-IO Kitgwang faction same day joined govt.
Violence persisted in several states. In disputed Abyei region between Sudan and South Sudan, unknown assailants 20 May killed five in Hafir el-Silik area. In Jonglei State, armed group 23 May looted World Food Programme trucks outside UN compound in Bor county.
In other important developments. Legislative assembly 9 May ratified UN convention prohibiting use, production and stockpiling of cluster munitions. UN Security Council 26 May extended sanctions on South Sudan, including arms embargo, for another year.
Fighting between army and paramilitary force escalated in Khartoum and Darfur, where growing involvement of tribal militias and armed groups raises risk of all-out civil war; various mediation initiatives failed to halt violence.
Hostilities intensified in and around Khartoum. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan’s Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and Mohamed “Hemedti” Hamdan Dagalo’s paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) fought over strategic sites in capital Khartoum and sister cities Omdurman and Bahri as conflict escalated; SAF pounded cities with heavy artillery and aerial bombardment, while RSF used guerrilla warfare and ground-to-air missiles. Fighting also continued in North Kordofan state capital El Obeid, but subsided in Kassala, Red Sea, Gedaref and Blue Nile states. Both forces faced internal challenges: SAF’s inability to defeat RSF created discontent within its ranks, raising fears of mutiny; RSF’s reputation worsened further, with its leaders unable to prevent troops from looting and vandalising property as reports of rape also emerged.
Fighting surged in Darfur, fuelling intercommunal tensions. RSF intensified attacks in Darfur region as it sought control of major cities, possibly to strengthen negotiating position. Conflict aggravated intercommunal tensions, especially between Rezigat and Masalit groups, leading to frequent clashes. Notably, intercommunal violence 12-13 May in West Darfur state capital el-Geneina killed at least 280 people and displaced thousands. Reports late May emerged of armed militias laying siege to Zalengei town, Central Darfur state. Governor of Darfur and leader of Sudan Liberation Army/Movement Minni Minnawi 28 May called on Darfuris to arm themselves in light of region’s growing lawlessness. Continued hostilities risk entangling more tribal groups, including from neighbouring countries, making risk of all-out civil war in Darfur very high.
SAF and RSF held talks in Jeddah amid competing mediation tracks. Despite AU attempts to ensure coordinated mediation process, stakeholders initiated several and at times competing negotiating tracks. Most notably, South Sudan spearheaded Intergovernmental Authority on Development regional bloc’s mediation efforts (see South Sudan), while U.S.-Saudi-brokered talks 6 May began in Saudi Arabian city Jeddah. Both tracks produced agreements, but with little change on the ground, civilians continued to bear brunt, with well over 800 killed and 1.4mn displaced as of 29 May amid escalating humanitarian crisis.
Dodoma announced decision to revive constitutional review process.
President Suluhu Hassan 6 May gave go-ahead to revive constitution-writing process, which had stalled in 2015, in line with recommendation made in Sept 2022 by govt-backed task force on democratic reform.
Assassination of minister by bodyguard headlined month of multiple killings involving security personnel.
Spate of shootings put spotlight on gun violence and weak weapons control system. Bodyguard 2 May shot and killed Labour Minister Charles Okello Engola at his home in capital Kampala. Also in Kampala, unidentified assailants 6 May shot influential vlogger Ibrahim Tusubira (alias Isma Olaxes) dead. Several other incidents of fatal gun violence involving police or private security guards reported in May throughout country. Meanwhile, authorities in Kayunga district said they were investigating 15 May robbery in which four gunmen in army uniforms set up illegal roadblocks near police station and robbed travellers.
Cattle-related violence in Karamoja sub-region remained on govt’s agenda. Military around 11 May deployed additional troops in Karamoja sub-region bordering Kenya and South Sudan, where army continues disarmament exercise in bid to contain cattle thefts and herder-farmer violence. Following recent instances of cross-border violence, President Museveni 19 May inked executive order banning armed Kenyan Turkanas from entering Uganda and asking Turkanas both to return all “stolen” cattle to Uganda and to surrender those alleged to have killed Ugandan geologists in March within six months; pastoralists from Kenya’s Turkana county often cross into Uganda’s Karamoja sub-region during dry spell in search of water and pasture.
In other important developments. Civil society activists 22-28 May held online campaign to highlight brutality and corruption in police and other law enforcement agencies, as well as to expose service provision weaknesses in roads and health sectors. House committee 23 May presented recommendations on iron sheets corruption scandal, calling for three of 15 top officials suspected of involvement to be put on trial. Museveni 29 May enacted repressive anti-LGTB+ law, sparking widespread condemnation. Notably, U.S. President Biden same day decried move as “tragic violation” of human rights.
Clampdown on govt critics in run-up to general elections sparked outcry, and Constitutional Court rejected bid to postpone vote now scheduled for 23 August.
Conviction of high-profile opposition figure sparked outcry. Court in capital Harare 3 May sentenced prominent lawmaker from main opposition party Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC), Job Sikhala, to pay $600 fine for obstruction of justice or else serve six months in prison; Sikhala remained in custody awaiting trial on other charges, including inciting violence. CCC leader Nelson Chamisa next day condemned “unjust and unfair” verdict, demanded immediate release of Sikhala and “all political prisoners”. European Union delegation in Zimbabwe 3 May called on country’s judiciary to protect fundamental rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, and NGO Amnesty International also next day said sentence was “further evidence of an escalating crackdown on peaceful dissent”. In response, ruling party Zanu-PF around 7 May said Zimbabwe’s judicial system is free of political interference.
Election preparations went ahead despite challenges from opposition. Constitutional Court 8 May dismissed application by Movement for Democratic Change-Tsvangirai opposition party leader Douglas Mwonzora seeking postponement of general elections on grounds that electoral commission’s constituency delimitation report is null and void; Mwonzora same day decried ruling as politically motivated. After electoral commission 27-31 May made voter roll available for public inspection, CCC signalled “serious anomalies” including registered voters missing or misplaced in list. President Mnangagwa 31 May scheduled presidential and parliamentary elections for 23 August.
Taliban claimed they killed deputy leader of Islamic State’s local branch, while border clashes erupted between Taliban and Iranian forces, killing at least three.
Violence countrywide remained low despite Taliban crackdown on Islamic State. Hostilities remained at low ebb compared to past 18 months. Notably, Taliban 8 May announced that they had killed deputy head of Islamic State-Khorasan Province (ISKP) in recent operation; announcement followed U.S. statement 25 April that ISKP’s mastermind behind August 2021 attack at Kabul Airport had been killed, reportedly by Taliban. After suffering loss of several leaders in recent months, ISKP may go further underground to rebuild capabilities. Taliban suppressed other insurgents: reports 12 May emerged that former Afghan governor of Bamyan province (centre), Muhammad Tahir Zuhair, who had joined Mawlawi Mehdi’s rebellion against Taliban, had surrendered.
Taliban and Iran traded barbs over water dispute and exchanged fire at border. Amid water shortages on both sides of Iran-Afghan border, FMs 17 May discussed flow of Helmand river to Iran. Iran’s President Raisi next day urged Kabul to take seriously Iran’s concerns and abide by 1973 water agreement; in response, Taliban voiced commitment to 1973 deal and criticised Raisi’s statements as “harmful” to bilateral ties. Skirmishing with heavy weapons at border post between Nimroz province (south west) and Iran’s Sistan-Baluchistan province 27 May killed at least two Iranian border guards and one Taliban fighter; such fatalities along border are unusual, and no link with water dispute was confirmed.
Taliban’s emir reportedly met Qatar’s PM, UN criticised Taliban’s harsh justice. Reuters 31 May reported that Qatar’s PM held talks with Taliban’s Supreme Leader on 12 May in Kandahar city, which if confirmed marks first such meeting between Taliban emir and foreign leader. Taliban-run Supreme Court 4 May announced that courts had handed down 175 judgements of qisas (death penalty) and 37 stonings since returning to power. UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan 7 May published report calling Taliban’s use of corporal punishment violation of peremptory norms of international law and urged death penalty moratorium. Meanwhile, Minister of Interior Siraj Haqqani 11 May stated that Taliban govt should not be so exclusive that only people from “one madrasah” see themselves being represented.
Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) vowed to step up protests to unseat govt, violence and cyclone struck Rohingya refugee camps, and armed attacks continued in Chittagong Hill Tracts.
Tensions remained elevated between govt and opposition. After opposition BNP late April announced it would step up protests with aim of creating mass movement by Islamic holiday Eid-ul-Adha in late June/early July, BNP activists 17 May held march in capital Dhaka at which senior member declared “popular uprising to remove this government”; police arrested hundreds of BNP members following marches in major cities 23-28 May. Govt pressed ahead with 11 charges against BNP leader Khaleda Zia. Ahead of general election in Jan 2024, head of the Election Commission 15 May warned it would be difficult to hold “impartial election” if govt “lacks political will”. U.S. 24 May announced new policy to impose visa restrictions on individuals and family members “if they are responsible for, or complicit in, undermining the democratic election process in Bangladesh”.
Violence continued in Rohingya refugee camps, where cyclone made landfall. In Ukhiya camps, gunfight between Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) and rival group 8 May injured three; armed assailant 11 May shot dead man; security forces 15 May shot dead Rohingya man during raid on “criminals”. Delegation of around 20 Rohingya and officials 5 May visited Myanmar’s Rakhine State aimed at facilitating voluntary repatriation; Myanmar delegation 25 May visited Cox’s Bazar to discuss repatriation with refugees. World Food Programme late month revealed plans to cut rations for second time this year, from $10 to $8 per day; govt said it would cause malnutrition and could force Rohingya into criminality to survive. Meanwhile, Cyclone Mocha 14 May made landfall in Cox’s Bazar, damaging or destroying estimated 10,000 Rohingya shelters as well as community facilities (see Myanmar).
Insecurity persisted in Chittagong Hill Tracts. Authorities 8 May found three members of Bawm minority group dead in Bandarban district, following reports of gunfire. Authorities 14 May found member of armed group United People’s Democratic Front (UPDF) shot dead in Rangamati. Militant ambush 16 May killed two army soldiers on boundary of Bandarban and Bilaichari districts near Myanmar border; security forces blamed Kuki-Chin National Army.
Amid Chinese maritime presence in East China Sea, Japan lodged protests and resorted to new hotline; G7 expressed concern over region, while Tokyo strengthened defence ties to Europe.
Japan protested and used military hotline amid China’s maritime activity. As of 28 May, Japan spotted 98 Chinese vessels in its contiguous zone and 12 ships inside its territorial sea. Notably, Japan 11 May lodged diplomatic protests with Beijing over Chinese intrusions around Japan-controlled and disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu islands in East China Sea, as two Chinese coast guard ships passed within 12-mile limit and remained in waters for some 35 hours in 13th such incident in 2023; Chinese navy flotilla same day sailed through Miyako Strait and waters between Japan’s Okinawa Islands. Japan 16 May for first time used military hotline established with China in March to discuss East China Sea. Tokyo 8 May announced that Japanese forces will deploy surface-to-air guided PAC-3 missiles at its base on Miyako Island in Okinawa Prefecture, citing North Korean ballistic missile threats (see Korean Peninsula); given proximity to Taiwan, however, observers questioned if deployment is also aimed at countering threat of China’s missiles.
G7 voiced concerns over East China Sea, Japan courted ties with NATO and UK. During G7 summit in Japan, leaders in joint communique 20 May said they “remain seriously concerned about the situation in the East and South China Seas” and “strongly oppose any unilateral attempts to change the status quo by force or coercion.” After reports early month revealed NATO intended to open liaison office in Japan and pair will upgrade cooperation ahead of NATO summit in July, China 4 May said alliance’s “eastward foray” will “inevitably undermine regional peace and stability”. UK and Japan 18 May signed “Hiroshima Accord”, described as “enhanced global strategic partnership” aimed at strengthening cooperation in broad range of areas, including defence.
Ethnic clashes in north east killed scores and displaced tens of thousands, stoking dormant separatist insurgency.
Ethnic violence erupted in Manipur, killing at least 80. In Manipur state bordering Myanmar in India’s north east, thousands of members of Kuki-Zomi tribe 3 May protested in Churachandpur district against possible extension of their state-recognised identity-linked benefits to ethnic majority Hindu Meitei community, which demands tribal status in part to acquire land in hills populated by Kuki-Zomi tribes. Violence broke out between Kuki and Meitei people, which killed at least 80, displaced 35,000 (including hundreds that fled into Myanmar) and destroyed thousands of homes, properties and churches; unrest prompted govt to deploy thousands of troops. Fresh rounds of rioting and arson 21 May erupted, with govt extending internet ban until 26 May. In worrying sign, Kuki insurgent groups – which signed ceasefire agreement with govt in 2008 – demanded separate administrative entity within India, amid uptick in militant violence: suspected militants 24 May shot dead resident in Bishnupur district; clashes late month continued between security forces and militants amid reports of several civilian deaths and claims from Manipur’s chief minister that security forces had killed some 40 Kuki militants.
India-China relations remained tense amid G20 boycott. China 23 May boycotted G20 working group meeting on tourism hosted by govt in Kashmir’s summer capital Srinagar, citing opposition to “holding any kind of G20 meetings in disputed territory” (see India-Pakistan). Indian FM S. Jaishankar 27 May stated India faced “very complicated challenge” from China, particularly in border regions.
Maoist violence persisted. In Chhattisgarh state (centre), Maoists 21 May shot and injured two security forces personnel during security operation in Dantewada district. In capital New Delhi, security forces same day arrested head of People’s Liberation Front of India, Maoist outfit active in Jharkhand state (east). In Telangana state (south), security forces 22 May arrested five Maoist supporters and five Maoist militia members in Kothagudem district.
In other important developments. Ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) 13 May lost election in Karnataka state (south) to opposition Congress party, boosting latter’s confidence ahead of national elections in 2024. Delhi High Court 22 May issued summons to BBC in defamation case for documentary made on PM Modi.
Relations between New Delhi and Islamabad remained acrimonious as India hosted G20 meeting in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), where deadly violence persisted.
India and Pakistan exchanged criticism amid G20 meeting in Srinagar. In first visit by Pakistani FM since 2016, Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari 4 May arrived in India for Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Council but did not hold bilateral meetings with his Indian counterpart S. Jaishankar. In their respective addresses to conference, Jaishankar said neglecting menace of terrorism would be “detrimental to our society and interests”, while Bhutto-Zardari warned against “weaponising terrorism for diplomatic point scoring”. Zardari-Bhutto 5 May stated Pakistan is open to dialogue but needs India to “create a conducive environment for talks”, citing India’s decision to revoke J&K’s special autonomy status in 2019 as making engagement “difficult”. In response, Jaishankar said only topic of discussion with Pakistan on Kashmir is about when they would “give up their occupation of Pakistan[-administered] Kashmir.” India 22-24 May hosted G20 working group meeting on tourism in Srinagar, summer capital of Indian-administered Kashmir; Pakistan condemned meeting being held in disputed territory, accusing India of instrumentalising its G20 presidency for political purposes, while China, Türkiye, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Oman also skipped it.
Security operations and militant attacks continued in J&K. Notably, security forces 3 May killed two militants in alleged infiltration attempt in Kupwara district; 4 May killed two Lashkar-e-Tayyaba militants in Baramulla district and claimed to foil plot to attack G20 meeting. Gunfight during security operation near Kashmir’s Line of Control against militants of People’s Anti-Fascist Front (considered to be offshoot of Jaish-e-Mohammad) 5 May killed five Indian security personnel. Security forces 20 May shot dead alleged Pakistani intruder in Poonch district and alleged militant in Mendhar sector. Govt 3 May expanded immunity against arrest to all “armed forces of the Union of India” deployed in J&K and Ladakh.
Separatist fighters in Papua region threatened to kill kidnapped pilot.
Members of West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB) – military wing of Free Papua Organisation – 26 May threatened to kill captured New Zealand pilot Philip Mehrtens unless outside powers engage in dialogue on Papua’s independence within two months; Mehrtens was taken hostage by group in Feb in remote, mountainous regency of Nduga, Papua province.
North Korea began attempts to launch satellite as U.S. and South Korea started large-scale drills in run-up to alliance anniversary, raising tensions and risk of miscalculation in June.
Pyongyang attempted satellite launch, U.S. and South Korea began largest ever live drills. Pyongyang 28 May announced plans for launch of military reconnaissance satellite between 31 May and 11 June, one of leader Kim Jong-un’s five military priorities announced in Jan 2021; Japan’s defence ministry warned it would take “destructive measures” if ballistic or other missiles used for launch “land in our territory”. In Pyongyang’s first launch attempt 31 May, rocket crashed off west coast; Pyongyang vowed second attempt. Concurrently, U.S. and South Korean forces 25 May began largest-ever live-fire drills close to North Korean border, commencing period of military exercises extending into June to mark 70th anniversary of alliance. Heightened activity on peninsula in June could lead to misconceptions about each side’s intentions that raises risk of clashes, potentially in form of cross-border skirmishes or between vessels in West Sea.
South Korea and Japan strengthened rapprochement. South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol and Japanese PM Fumio Kishida 7 May held summit in South Korean capital Seoul, reciprocating Yoon’s ground-breaking trip to Japan in mid-March; Kishida remarked that his “heart aches” over treatment of Koreans during colonial period but stopped short of full apology. Pair subsequently advanced military plan in which radar and command-and-control systems used by Japanese and U.S. forces in Japan would be connected to South Korean military and U.S. Forces Korea via U.S. Indo-Pacific Command; goal of linkage is to provide more effective trilateral monitoring of regional military activities and eliminate surveillance blind spots.
South Korea agreed to supply Ukraine, North Korea inched toward reopening China border. Wall Street Journal 25 May reported South Korea had agreed to supply hundreds of thousands of artillery rounds to Ukraine via U.S. After Chinese companies with experience shipping cargo to North Korea by truck were issued so-called “river crossing passes” in April, May witnessed abnormal levels of maintenance of North Korean aircraft used for international routes, potentially signalling Pyongyang’s intent to soon reopen Chinese border to human traffic for first time since pandemic.
Deadly clashes continued between military and resistance forces, regime released over 2,000 prisoners, and cyclone wreaked devastation and killed hundreds of Rohingya in coastal areas.
Countrywide clashes continued between military and ethnic armed groups. In southern Shan State (east), military 5-6 May bombed Pekon township after Karenni Nationalities Defence Force and People’s Defence Forces (PDFs) 26 April killed some 20 regime soldiers. Unidentified gunmen 7 May attacked regional bloc ASEAN’s diplomatic convoy comprising Indonesian and Singaporean diplomats carrying supplies for Hsi Hseng township displacement camp. In Chin State (north west), Chin National Army 1 May clashed with military on Hakha-Gangaw road, Magway region, killing several soldiers. Chinland Defence Force in Matupi town 5 May ambushed military base, killing two officers; military 9 May launched airstrike on group’s headquarters in Hakha township, killing two. In Kayin State (south east), Karen National Liberation Army Brigade 5 on 2 May attacked military post in War Thot Kho village, killing seven soldiers and guards.
Regime released prisoners, urged resistance fighters to disarm. Regime 3 May released 2,153 political prisoners and commuted 38 death sentences to life imprisonment, timed to coincide with Chinese FM Qin Gang’s first visit to capital Nay Pyi Taw since Feb 2021 coup. Regime 9 May invited members of “terrorist groups” and “illegal organisations” to “return to the legal fold”. Regime-controlled election commission continued to prepare for elections, approving re-registration of nine ethnic minority parties; no election date has been set.
ASEAN reasserted Five-Point Consensus to manage crisis. ASEAN leaders 11 May jointly stated Five-Point Consensus remained “main reference” and for first time backed Indonesia’s approach of engaging all stakeholders. Statement also supported efforts to repatriate Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh: delegation of 20 Rohingya refugees 5 May held “go and see” visit to Rakhine State (see Bangladesh).
Severe cyclone made landfall, hundreds fled conflict in India’s north east. Cyclone Mocha 14 May became strongest ever to make landfall on Myanmar-Bangladesh coast; hitting near Sittwe, it killed at least 400, primarily Rohingya, in coastal areas or camps, and devastated lowland areas and livelihoods of 1.6mn people. Meanwhile, ethnic conflict flared in India’s Manipur state, killing scores and forcing some 300 Indians to flee into Sagaing region (see India).
Refugee scandal embroiled mainstream parties, while PM Pushpa Kamal Dahal undertook first visit to India since taking office.
Refugee scandal rocked major parties. Following arrests made by police, Kathmandu District Attorney’s Office 24 May filed charges against three senior politicians – former deputy PM, former home minister and former home secretary, all members of ruling Nepali Congress or opposition Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) – and 27 others for their alleged involvement in issuing fraudulent documents to Nepali nationals to enter U.S. as Bhutanese refugees. Speculation grew that Nepali Congress may threaten to quit ruling coalition after it had reportedly unsuccessfully lobbied against arrests of senior officials.
PM Dahal visited India. In his first foreign visit since becoming PM, Pushpa Kamal Dahal 31 May arrived in India’s capital New Delhi for four-day state visit, signalling continued importance of bilateral ties. U.S. State Department’s 2022 Report on International Religious Freedom issued 15 May claimed that religious groups associated with India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party had lobbied Nepali politicians in favour of restoring Hinduism as official state religion; Nepal’s foreign ministry 28 May sent “diplomatic note” to U.S. embassy regarding report.
Arrest of former PM Imran Khan triggered deadly unrest, widening breach with govt and straining Khan’s relations with military; militant attacks continued in provinces bordering Afghanistan.
Street clashes between Khan’s supporters and security forces killed nine and injured hundreds. Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) 3 May informed Supreme Court that dialogue with govt on election dates had failed. Khan 6 May announced mass protests and alleged Major General Faisal Naseer was responsible for two assassination attempts against him. While at Islamabad High Court, paramilitary rangers 9 May arrested Khan for failing to join investigation on corruption charges, prompting enraged Khan supporters to take to streets in several cities and attack police and paramilitary personnel, govt buildings and military sites, including corps commander’s house in Lahore and army headquarters in Rawalpindi. Govt deployed troops in Islamabad, Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and military 10 May warned of severe retaliation against “group that wants to push Pakistan into a civil war”; police arrested most of PTI leadership. Violence – which killed nine and injured almost 300 – 11 May subsided as Supreme Court invalidated Khan’s arrest and Islamabad High Court granted him bail. PTI next day renewed calls for nationwide protests, as Khan blamed army chief Asim Munir for his “abduction” and “organised conspiracy” against PTI. Military 15 May decided to try civilians involved in attacks on its sites through military courts, prompting widespread opposition. Defence minister 24 May said govt may ban PTI.
Deadly militant attacks persisted in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s North Waziristan, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) 4 May claimed attack that killed six soldiers; shooting at school in Kurram district same day killed six Shia Turi Bangash tribe members; TTP militants 23 May attacked energy facility in Hangu district, killing six security guards. In Balochistan province, militants 12 May killed two soldiers in attack on police camp in Saifullah district; operation to clear site next day left six soldiers, six militants and civilian dead.
Relations with Afghan Taliban remained strained. After govt raised concerns about cross-border militancy, Afghan Taliban’s FM 8 May said Islamabad and TTP should “find a solution to these problems on their own”.
Insecurity continued in south amid clan violence and militant surrenders, while deadly fighting persisted between military and Communist rebels.
Insecurity persisted in Bangsomoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM). Gunfight 2 May erupted between two clans from different villages in Malabang town, Lanao del Sur province, injuring three civilians and one police officer. In Maguindanao del Sur, unidentified gunmen 15 May ambushed National Irrigation Administration employee and his daughter in Shariff Aguak town; gunman 29 May shot former village councillor of Damasulay in Paglat town. Meanwhile, militant surrenders continued. Six Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) members 3 May surrendered in Sultan Kudarat town, Maguindanao del Norte province. Police 13 May formally received 50 BIFF members – including those who surrendered previously – in Parang town, Maguindanao del Norte. Two Abu Sayyaf group members 19 May surrendered to 18th Infantry Battalion in Al-Barka town, Basilan province.
Deadly clashes continued between military and communist rebels. Military operations and some militant ambushes by communist New People’s Army (NPA) in Mindanao Island in south, Visayas Islands in centre and Luzon Island in north killed at least 20 combatants and civilians. VP Sara Duterte 10 May assumed post as head of National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, interagency govt body tackling insurgency.
Marawi’s rehabilitation continued. Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development 18 May said Task Force Bangon Marawi was set to complete all remaining rehabilitation projects by end of 2023; 500 permanent shelters are slated to be turned over to some of 15,000 displaced families. Marawi Compensation Board 23 May signed implementing guidelines on procedure for compensating war victims for loss of properties during Marawi conflict.
Philippines strengthened ties with U.S. and Japan amid tensions among claimant states at various flashpoints in South China Sea (SCS).
Philippines affirmed close cooperation with U.S. and Japan. Marking first visit by Philippine leader to U.S. in ten years, President Marcos, Jr. 1 May met U.S. President Biden in Washington; Biden affirmed “ironclad” commitment to defence of Philippines, including in disputed SCS, while Marcos, Jr. said it was “only natural” for Manila to be close to its sole treaty ally amid “most complicated geopolitical situation in the world”. Philippine military chief Andres Centino 18 May visited Balabac airbase, Palawan, to assure troops of provision of more resources and manpower; site is one of four granted to U.S. under bilateral Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement announced in April. Philippine FM Enrique Manalo and Japanese counterpart Hayashi Yoshimasa 16 May agreed to work together closely on SCS issues as well as against “economic coercion”. U.S. 30 May condemned China for “unnecessarily aggressive manoeuvre” against one of its aircraft operating in SCS.
Tensions surfaced among Philippines, Vietnam and China over competing claims. Philippines 14 May placed five navigational buoys bearing national flag within its Exclusive Economic Zone to assert sovereignty over disputed Spratly Islands; Vietnam, which also claims features, 18 May criticised move. China 24 May placed three buoys in Irving Reef, Whitsun Reef and Gaven Reef in Spratlys Islands. Vietnamese and Chinese vessels 14 May confronted each other at disputed Vanguard Bank area of SCS – claimed by China under its “nine-dash-line” – following Vietnamese notice of expanded oil-drilling operations in area. Meanwhile, on diplomatic front, Chinese and regional bloc ASEAN negotiating parties 17 May struck agreement to complete SCS Code of Conduct second reading this year. G7 leaders 20 May expressed “serious concerns” over situation in SCS, criticising “China’s expansive maritime claims” and its “militarisation activities in the region”.
Govt continued engagement with international lenders for economic recovery and promoted initiative to end ethnic conflict, as country marked 14 years since end of civil war.
Dialogue with International Monetary Fund (IMF) and creditors continued. After parliament late April approved in non-binding resolution govt’s agreement with IMF for $3bn fund, senior IMF staff 15-23 May held meetings to review progress, praising govt for having “already started implementing many of the challenging policy actions” but forecasting 3% contraction in economy this year. Members of Paris Club of bilateral donors 9 May held their first formal debt-restructuring negotiations co-chaired by Japan, France and India, which was attended by 26 nations, including Chinese govt observer.
Amid widespread scepticism, govt pursued initiatives to address decades-old ethnic conflict. President Wickremesinghe 1 May reiterated his determination “to address the ethnic problem”, adding, “I hope to reach a mutually agreeable solution by the end of this year”. After meeting Wickremesinghe, Tamil leaders 15 May expressed disappointment at lack of progress on devolution of power and failure to call long-overdue elections for provincial councils, with one parliamentarian describing talks as “nothing but a time-wasting tactic”. Cabinet 29 May approved proposal for Truth-Seeking Commission, drawing on experience of South Africa’s truth commission. Following series of controversies – including arrest of prominent comedian – over statements allegedly insulting Buddhism, Wickremesinghe 29 May ordered police to establish special police unit to “investigate into and act on persons or groups that disrupt religious harmony”.
Activists commemorated 14th anniversary of civil war’s end. Organisers mid-May held events across north and east to mark end of civil war on 18 May and remember tens of thousands of Tamil civilians believed to have been killed in final months of conflict. Sinhala nationalist activists 18 May violently disrupted low-key, multi-ethnic and multi-religious ceremony in capital Colombo to commemorate all those killed in war. In response to Canadian PM Justin Trudeau’s “Statement on Tamil Genocide Remembrance Day” on 18 May, foreign ministry summoned Canadian high commissioner to condemn Trudeau’s “arbitrary and erroneous” remarks.
China maintained military activities around Taiwan, G7 leaders expressed importance of stability in strait, and Taiwan’s presidential candidates ruled out independence ahead of 2024 vote.
China continued aerial and maritime presence, Taiwan held military exercises. As of 29 May, Taiwan detected 348 Chinese military aircraft in its Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ), of which at least 124 crossed unofficial demarcation “median line” or entered south west region; Taiwan recorded 156 sightings of Chinese naval vessels in surrounding waters. Notably, Chinese reconnaissance drone accompanied by transport aircraft 3 May made round-island loop, several days after Chinese combat drone took similar path. Chinese aircraft carrier Shandong 27 May passed through Taiwan Strait. Taiwan’s parliament 2 May passed law to allow officers of Coast Guard Administration to decide whether to fire cannons in emergency situations. Taiwan 15 May began annual series of tabletop military exercises, simulating responses to potential Chinese invasion.
G7 leaders acknowledged Taiwan, U.S. continued military support. During meeting in Japan, G7 leaders 20 May reaffirmed “the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait” and stated no change in members’ positions on Taiwan, including “one China policies”; Beijing same day said G7 should oppose “Taiwan independence”. U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee 16 May passed Taiwan International Solidarity Act, which aims to counter Chinese interference in Taiwan’s participation in international organisations. Taiwan Defence Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng 7 May announced talks with U.S. on priority list of weapons under possible $500mn emergency grant; U.S. 16 May confirmed it will soon provide “significant additional security assistance”.
Taiwan’s main parties ruled out independence ahead of elections next year. Ahead of Jan 2024 elections, VP and ruling Democratic Progressive Party presidential candidate William Lai 16 May asserted there is no need to publicly declare Taiwan’s independence as island is implicitly not part of People’s Republic of China, and formal declaration could cause more cross-strait tension. Opposition Kuomintang party 17 May nominated Taipei City Mayor Hou You-yi as its presidential candidate; Hou 8 May said he opposes “one country, two systems” and will uphold Taiwan’s own democratic values, while emphasising Taiwan’s independence “has no legal basis under the Constitution”.
Progressive opposition Move Forward Party won resounding election victory and began uncertain process of forming govt, while deadly violence continued at high levels in deep south.
Move Forward set about forming next govt. Progressive Move Forward Party (MFP) 14 May won 151 seats – including 32 of 33 Bangkok constituencies – in general election; main opposition Pheu Thai Party won 141 seats, while outgoing PM Prayuth Chan-ocha’s United Thai Nation Party and Deputy PM Prawit Wongsuwon’s Palang Pracharat Party won 36 and 40 seats, respectively. MFP leader Pita Limjareonrat quickly assembled eight-party coalition comprising 313 MPs, short of 376 required in joint sitting of upper and lower houses for majority. MFP and partners 22 May released 23-point agenda, which includes drafting new constitution, ending military conscription and abolishing monopolies; MFP’s pledge to reform lèse-majesté law was absent, likely reflecting need to win over members of 250-member junta-appointed Senate in vote for next govt, likely to take place in Aug at earliest. In meantime, MFP faces hurdles to form govt, including 10 May petition of Election Commission to investigate Pita over alleged illegal holding of shares in media company and possibility that prospective coalition partner Pheu Thai could form its own coalition that includes parties from incumbent govt; prospect of establishment preventing Move Forward from forming govt raises likelihood of mass protests and potential conflict.
Militants in deep south continued violent attacks following escalation in April. In Pattani province, roadside IED 3 May targeted police vehicle in Thung Yang Daeng district, injuring four police officers. Militants 11 May carried out arson attacks in some 30 locations across Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat provinces, targeting mobile phone towers and electricity pylons. In Yala, IED 12 May killed one ranger and wounded three in Bannang Sata district; militants 16 May ambushed police vehicle in Muang district, wounding two police officers. Gunmen 22 May shot and killed Volunteer Defence Corps volunteer in Than To district, Yala. On political front, election winner MFP’s 22 May declaration included pledge to “collaborate on the process of building sustainable peace in the southern border provinces”.
After long pause, high-level talks with Azerbaijan resumed as fatal clashes erupted along border.
U.S., EU and Russia facilitated parallel negotiations between Yerevan and Baku. Amid fears of major violence between Armenia and Azerbaijan after latter in late April installed checkpoint along Lachin road connecting Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) with Armenia, FMs 1 May met in U.S. capital Washington for talks. Key issues discussed included future of Armenians in NK, state border and resumption of transport links. U.S. Sec State Antony Blinken 4 May said parties “made tangible progress” and were “within reach of an agreement”; FMs 19 May held second meeting in Russian capital Moscow. PM Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Aliyev, meanwhile, 14 May met in Brussels, agreed to resume work on border delimitation agreement and made progress on transport routes. Leaders 25 May met Russian President Putin in Moscow, who said on “principal issues, there is an agreement”, though Aliyev and Pashinyan exchanged harsh words regarding Lachin. Meanwhile, Pashinyan 22 May told news conference that “Azerbaijan’s territory includes Nagorno-Karabakh”, but called for special arrangements to protect rights and security of ethnic Armenians living in enclave (see Nagorno-Karabakh).
Sides traded blame for cross-border shelling. Armenia 11, 12 May blamed Azerbaijan for attack on its forces at tensest part of state border between Azerbaijan’s Kelbajar district and Armenia’s Gegharkunik region, reporting one casualty and several injured; Azerbaijan blamed Armenia for escalation, reporting two casualties. Armenia 17 May said Azerbaijani gunfire killed a serviceman at same section of border. Baku 26 May reported detention of two Armenian soldiers who had crossed into Azerbaijan’s Zangelan district, allegedly to mount “sabotage” operations; Armenia denied accusation and said Azerbaijan abducted soldiers. Detentions came after leaders recommitted to releasing soldiers found on their territory during mid-May European Union meeting.
After long pause, high-level talks with Armenia resumed as fatal clashes erupted along border.
U.S., EU and Russia facilitated parallel negotiations between Yerevan and Baku. Amid fears of major violence between Armenia and Azerbaijan after latter in late April installed checkpoint along Lachin road connecting Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) with Armenia, FMs 1 May met in U.S. capital Washington for talks. Key issues discussed included future of Armenians in NK, state border and resumption of transport links. U.S. Sec State Antony Blinken 4 May said parties “made tangible progress” and were “within reach of an agreement”; FMs 19 May held second meeting in Russian capital Moscow. President Aliyev and Armenian PM Pashinyan, meanwhile, 14 May met in Brussels, agreed to resume work on border delimitation agreement and made progress on transport routes. Leaders 25 May met Russian President Putin in Moscow, who said on “principal issues, there is an agreement”, though Aliyev and Pashinyan exchanged harsh words regarding Lachin. Meanwhile, Pashinyan 22 May told news conference that “Azerbaijan’s territory includes Nagorno-Karabakh”, but called for special arrangements to protect rights and security of ethnic Armenians living in enclave (see Nagorno-Karabakh).
Israeli president visited Baku. Amid Azerbaijan-Iran tensions, which escalated after Baku late March opened embassy in Israel’s capital Tel Aviv, Israeli President Herzog 30 May met with Aliyev in Baku; sides hailed deepening ties and promised further cooperation.
International actors denounced govt crackdown, president dismissed rumours of poor health, and Minsk signed agreement with Moscow to deploy nuclear warheads in Belarus.
Foreign actors expressed solidarity with political prisoners held in Belarus. On eve of International Day of Solidarity with Political Prisoners in Belarus, U.S. 20 May condemned govt for “unjustly holding over 1,500 political prisoners”, called for their “immediate” release. EU High Representative Josep Borrell 21 May said authorities had made 40,000 politically motivated arrests since Aug 2020 amid “regime’s intensified repression”; other govts and civil society organisations also decried crackdown, which continued unabated.
Rumours of Lukashenko’s ill health circulated. During President Lukashenko’s 9 May trip to Russia, rumours began circulating about his poor health. Exiled opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya 15 May urged public and international community “to be prepared for every scenario”. Lukashenko 23 May appeared in public, dismissing talk he was seriously ill, but rumours he had been hospitalised 27 May flared once more.
Minsk and Moscow moved ahead with plan to deploy nuclear weapons in Belarus. Russian and Belarusian defence ministers 25 May met in capital Minsk, signed documents defining procedure for keeping Russian non-strategic nuclear weapons in storage facility on Belarusian territory; Moscow said it retained control of nuclear weapons and decision to use them.
Tensions surfaced over Republic of Cyprus military drills with partner countries and property in contested Varosha/Maraş area, amid Republic of Cyprus initiative for greater EU involvement.
Republic of Cyprus held military drills with partner countries. Republic of Cyprus National Guard and Israel 7-11 May conducted military exercises involving jets and helicopters in divided capital Nicosia’s Flight Information Region – part of which is de facto controlled by “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” (“TRNC”) – and 23 May held similar drills with UK; “TRNC” described operations as “provocation”. Republic of Cyprus 15-18 May held military drills with Egypt, France, Greece, Israel, Italy, U.S. and UK during which U.S. destroyer docked at Limassol port, which “TRNC” said “demonstrated once again that [U.S.] is not observing the delicate balance” on island. Republic of Cyprus and France 28 May held aerial exercises off Limassol’s coast.
Ghost resort Varosha/Maraş and energy exploration stoked concern. In response to reports of potentially unlawful property purchases by Turkish Cypriot entrepreneur in fenced-off ghost town Varosha/Maraş in “TRNC”, Republic of Cyprus House of Representatives president 8 May denounced Türkiye’s policy on town to UN Security Council members, European Union (EU) member states and Middle Eastern countries. Meanwhile, Turkish FM Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu 1 May reiterated support for Turkish Cypriots’ energy rights after Republic of Cyprus late April announced drilling preparations in zone that allegedly overlaps with area licenced by Turkish Petroleum Corporation.
Republic of Cyprus sought France’s involvement, deepened ties with Israel. In meeting with French President Macron on 3 May, Republic of Cyprus President Christodoulides said Republic of Cyprus expects France’s support in breaking deadlock; “TRNC” next day dismissed Christodoulides’ initiative for EU involvement and urged Paris to cease arms sales to Republic of Cyprus. UN Special Representative in Cyprus Colin Stewart 15-16 May met separately with Christodoulides and “TRNC” leader Ersin Tatar, said “a very important period” will begin after elections in Türkiye and Greece that could see progress on Cyprus issue. Republic of Cyprus and Israeli defence ministers 5 May discussed “strategic partnership” and Republic of Cyprus energy minister 15 May announced possible natural gas pipeline between two countries.
Russia cancelled visa requirements for Georgians and resumed flights to capital Tbilisi amid internal and external opposition.
Russia cancelled visa regime and resumed direct flights to Georgia. Russian President Putin 10 May abolished visa requirement for Georgian citizens, imposed early 2000s when Georgia accepted refugees and fighters fleeing war in Chechnya, and lifted ban on direct flights. One Russian airline 19 May resumed flights to capital Tbilisi, more expected early June; starting 20 May, Georgian Airways launched direct daily flights to Russia.
West and opposition criticised resumption of flights, govt remained defiant. President Zourabichvili 16 May labelled decision to cancel visa requirements and resume flights “a Russian provocation” while opposition 19 May gathered around 200 protesters at airport to oppose flight; U.S. State Dept 22 May warned “companies in Georgian airports could be at risk [of] sanctions”; and EU 29 May said decision contradicts position of member states. Breakaways Abkhazia and South Ossetia mid-May also raised concerns. PM Garibashvili 24 May defended decision.
Govt claimed progress on EU candidate status reforms. As Brussels finalised report concerning Georgia’s progress on reforms needed to earn candidate status, FM 9 May claimed authorities had adopted most recommendations, with “around 20% still to deliver”.
Protests following elections in Serb-majority northern municipalities turned violent, while tensions simmered with Belgrade over these municipalities’ political status.
Clashes broke out in north following April’s municipal elections. After tense municipal elections in April boycotted by most Kosovo Serbs, newly elected mayors in northern municipalities 26 May attempted to enter municipal buildings amid increased police presence. Small groups of Kosovo Serbs sought to block new mayors from buildings in three communes; in Zvecan town, police intervened, leading to clashes with protesters. Serbian President Vučić same day placed army on high alert and ordered “urgent movement [of troops] to Kosovo border”. U.S. Sec State Antony Blinken 26 May criticised police’s use of force, which “unnecessarily escalated tensions”, while European Union (EU) urged “everyone” to de-escalate. Unrest continued, however, and NATO-led force KFOR 29 May moved to disperse Serb protesters, leading to clashes that left dozens injured, including NATO troops; NATO next day announced deployment of additional forces. Tensions began to ease end May.
Frictions with Belgrade over political status of northern Serbs persisted. PM Kurti 2 May met with Vučić in Brussels as dialogue on agreement to normalise relations, mediated by EU High Representative Josep Borrell and EU Special Representative Miroslav Lajčák, continued. Sides discussed draft statute proposed by Kosovo Serbs to establish “Association/Community” of Serb municipalities in north, which would enable them to form self-governing association. Kurti said he could not accept draft, fearing arrangement would result either in northern municipalities’ secession or internal fracturing reminiscent of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Republika Srpska; Borrell same day emphasised draft statute was “a starting point”.
NGO said Kyrgyz, Tajik forces committed “apparent war crimes” during 2022 border conflict; China sought closer ties with Central Asian countries during “milestone” summit.
Kyrgyz and Tajik forces accused of “apparent war crimes”. NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) 2 May published report detailing attacks on civilians by Kyrgyz and Tajik forces during border conflict in Sept 2022; HRW said several of these violations “likely amount to war crimes” and urged both sides to investigate potential abuses and hold perpetrators to account.
Central Asian leaders attended China summit following Russia trip. Leaders from all five Central Asian countries – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan – 9 May travelled to Russian capital Moscow for Russia’s Victory Day parade, which marks Soviet victory over Nazi Germany. Chinese President Xi Jinping 18-19 May hosted Central Asian leaders in north-western Xian city for “milestone” China-Central Asia Summit. In sign of Beijing’s growing influence in region, Xi unveiled ambitious development plan that includes building infrastructure, boosting trade and strengthening security networks.
Tensions ran high in Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) amid Azerbaijan’s blockade of Lachin corridor, which aggravated humanitarian crisis and heightened fears of ethnic cleansing; clashes occurred along line of contact.
Checkpoint on Lachin corridor faced fierce opposition amid humanitarian crisis. After Azerbaijan late April installed checkpoint on Lachin road connecting Armenia to NK, Azerbaijani-backed protesters ended months-long rally, which had hampered NK residents’ access to basic necessities. Azerbaijani military consolidated blockade, however, leading to even fewer crossings and reduced transportation of goods. De facto NK authorities early May said reinforced checkpoint caused “acute humanitarian crisis”. Armenia 22 May urged UN Security Council to ensure unimpeded humanitarian access to NK by “sending an international mission”. Meanwhile, thousands 9 May protested in de facto capital Stepanakert, chanting “No to ethnic cleansing”, amid fears checkpoint could be precursor to such acts.
Azerbaijani leader urged de facto officials to dissolve parliament in NK. Amid resumption of talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan (see Armenia and Azerbaijan), Armenian PM Pashinyan 22 May said “Azerbaijan’s territory includes Nagorno-Karabakh”, while still calling for special arrangements to protect rights and security of ethnic Armenians living in enclave. De facto President Arayik Harutyunyan 23 May called possible Armenian recognition of Azerbaijan’s sovereignty over NK “unacceptable and inadmissible”. Azerbaijani President Aliyev 28 May said NK population should “obey the laws of Azerbaijan” and called for dissolution of parliament, warning Baku was capable of launching “operation” in region immediately; de facto authorities 29 May decried statement, while Armenian foreign ministry said Aliyev was threatening “the people of Nagorno-Karabakh with ethnic cleansing”.
De facto armed forces and Azerbaijan traded blame for unrest in northern NK. Azerbaijan 12 May reported de facto NK armed forces fired on Azerbaijani army; de facto defence ministry same day denied allegations. De facto authorities 18, 21 May accused Azerbaijan of violating ceasefire “in the northern & eastern directions” of NK contact line, attacking civilians.