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.
CrisisWatch highlights deteriorations in nine countries and conflict areas in March.
Our monthly conflict tracker also highlights improvements in four locations in March.
In this month’s CrisisWatch, aside from the 70+ conflict situations we regularly follow, we have tracked notable developments in: Bolivia, Brazil, Indonesia, Jordan, Nile Waters, Northern Ireland, Paraguay, Saudi Arabia, Senegal and U.S.-Russia.
In his introduction to this month’s CrisisWatch, Interim President Richard Atwood reflects on the pandemic’s impact one year after Crisis Group published its first report on COVID-19 and conflict.
Moscow recalled its ambassador to U.S. following remarks by President Biden. U.S. President Biden 16 March said he believed Russian President Putin is “a killer” and Putin would “pay a price” for interfering in U.S. elections; Moscow next day recalled its ambassador for emergency consultations and to assess U.S.-Russian relations. In following days, Russian officials, members of ruling United Russia party, governors and members of parliament condemned Biden’s remarks.
Ethiopia confirmed plans to fill Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) for second time in July as negotiations with Sudan and Egypt remained deadlocked; rhetoric among conflict parties grew increasingly tense. Following Sudan’s Egypt-backed proposal in Feb for quadripartite mediation by AU, EU, U.S. and UN to break deadlock in AU-led negotiations between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan over GERD, Khartoum and Cairo 2 March signed agreement to boost military cooperation, next day renewed calls for relaunching “serious and effective” negotiations to reach “fair, balanced and legally binding” agreement. Ethiopia 3 March said attempts to involve other mediators “demeaned” AU efforts. Sudan mid-March submitted formal request for international quartet to mediate GERD dispute; Ethiopia 16 March reiterated opposition to involving outside parties and renewed call for resumption of stalled AU-led tripartite talks, next day confirmed it would conduct second GERD water filling in July. Khartoum 23 March backed proposal by United Arab Emirates to mediate both its border and dam disputes with Addis Ababa; 29 March said U.S. and EU were willing to mediate dam dispute, after UN 5 March already said it was ready to support process. Cairo 28 March warned unilateral actions taken by Addis Ababa over filling and operation of GERD would have “massive negative repercussions”; 30 March said its share of Nile Waters was “untouchable”, and any reduction in Egypt’s water supply caused by GERD would bring “inconceivable instability” in region. Sudan next day said Ethiopia’s unilateral actions had undermined trust between both countries and explained it had proposed international quartet mediation after “learning Addis Ababa was eluding to buy time” to complete second filling of dam in coming months.
Jihadist attacks persisted in north and east, leaving scores dead, while govt denied negotiating with jihadists. Spate of jihadist attacks reported across Sahel region (north) early March. In Oudalan province, suspected Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) 10 March clashed with soldiers and volunteers fighting alongside security forces (VDPs) in Tin-Agadel village, leaving two ISGS and one civilian dead. In Soum province, ambulance 2 March struck improvised explosive device (IED) likely placed by al-Qaeda-linked Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM) on Mansila-Solhan road, killing six; unidentified gunmen next day killed five ethnic Fulani civilians including village chief and his son in Kabaoua. In Seno province, several incidents reported in Gorgadji department: suspected ISGS combatants 9 March attacked Guidé village, killing one civilian and seizing livestock; security forces 20 March clashed with suspected jihadists in Gorgadji commune, reportedly leaving five militants and one VDP killed. Meanwhile, clashes between JNIM and ISGS, notably near Ayagorou village, Oudalan province, 6-7 March continued to weaken ISGS’s positions in Sahel region. Centre-North region saw significant clashes between VDPs and jihadists. Notably, suspected ISGS 1 March killed two VDPs and one civilian in Poussoumpoudou mining site, Namentenga province; suspected JNIM combatants 5-6 March attacked VDPs and security forces convoy in Kourao area, Bam province, killing one soldier and five VDPs; further clashes 20 March reportedly left five suspected jihadists and one VDP dead in Ourfaré village, Namentenga province. Jihadist groups continued to demonstrate growing influence in East region: suspected jihadists 7 March abducted two, including member of Koglweogo self-defence group, in Kompienga village, next day killed one civilian in Tagou village, also Kompienga province. In Cascades region in south west, presumed JNIM-affiliated Katiba Macina militants 10 March attacked Gontiedougou village, Comoe province, wounding several residents. Govt 4 March denied it was negotiating with “terrorist groups”, after investigative newspaper L’Évènement late Feb claimed JNIM leader Iyad Ag Ghali negotiated release of 20 JNIM members with national intelligence agency.
Jihadists launched deadly attack on govt forces and temporarily lifted months-long siege of Farabougou village in centre, while French forces accused of killing civilians. In Gao region (north), suspected Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) militants 15 March ambushed army patrol near Tessit town, Ansongo district, killing at least 33 in deadliest attack on security forces in months. In Mopti region (centre), suspected al-Qaeda-linked Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM) 4 March attacked army position in Dinangorou village, Koro district; one soldier and eight militants reportedly killed. Also in Mopti, govt troops 1-3 March allegedly killed six ethnic Fulani civilians in Douentza and Youwarou districts. National reconciliation minister, Col-Maj Ismaël Wagué, 9 March met with Youssouf Toloba, leader of prominent ethnic Dogon self-defence group Dana Ambassagou to discuss intercommunal tensions and fight against jihadists in Mopti region; move comes after group late Feb refused to sign Fulani-Dogon peace agreement in Koro district. In neighbouring Ségou region, JNIM-affiliated Katiba Macina and Bambara communal “Donso” militias 15 March reached ceasefire agreement; jihadists agreed to lift months-long siege of Farabougou village, Niono district, for one month. French Operation Barkhane faced new accusations of killing civilians. Local officials 26 March said Barkhane airstrike previous day had killed at least five civilians in Indelimane area, Gao region; Barkhane immediately denied allegation. Media reports 30 March claimed UN investigation concluded Barkhane airstrike near Bounti village in Mopti region in Jan had killed 19 civilians. Interim legislative body National Transitional Council VP Issa Kaou Djim 6 March called on transition’s VP Colonel Assimi Goïta to contest next presidential election despite transition’s charter barring interim leaders from doing so. Influential cleric Mahmoud Dicko next day criticised interim govt’s handling of transition. Bamako Court of Appeals 2 March dismissed charges of “plot against the state” against five politicians, including former PM Boubou Cissé, arrested in Dec 2020 for allegedly planning to “destabilise” transitional govt; attorney general same day appealed decision to Supreme Court. Mauritanian diplomat El-Ghassim Wane appointed new head of UN mission in Mali (MINUSMA) 15 March.
Jihadist violence escalated as spate of attacks left over 200 civilians dead in south west, and authorities foiled coup attempt days before inauguration of president-elect. Suspected jihadist combatants 21 March raided villages of Intazayene, Bakorat and Wistane near Mali border in Tahoua region (south west), killing at least 141 civilians, and further fuelling intercommunal tensions. In neighbouring Tillabery region (also south west), suspected Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) 15 March ambushed passenger vehicles near Chinagoder locality and Darey-Dey village, Ouallam department, reportedly leaving at least 66 mainly ethnic Zarma civilians dead; govt next day said killings were “targeted”. Suspected ISGS also launched other raids in Ouallam, notably killing eight in Dinara village 9 March and six in Kaourakeri village next day. Unidentified assailants 10 March killed at least 11 in three villages in Tillabery. In Diffa region in south east, suspected Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) or Boko Haram faction led by Abubakar Shekau (JAS) 1 March killed four civilians near Garin Wanzam settlement, Gueskérou commune; overnight 2-3 March attacked gendarmerie in Mainé-Soroa town, killing two gendarmes. Meanwhile, presidential runner-up Mahamane Ousmane 8 March filed appeal with Constitutional Court to contest preliminary results of 21 Feb run-off vote, citing irregularities including abnormally high participation in nomadic communes and electoral officials forced to sign records at gunpoint. Constitutional Court 21 March however confirmed ruling party candidate Mohamed Bazoum as next president; Bazoum due to take office 2 April in first democratic transition of power in country’s history. Ousmane next day denounced “violation” of constitution, saying his appeal had not been examined. Military unit overnight 30-31 March reportedly assaulted presidential palace, but presidential guard repelled assault; govt 31 March said several people had been arrested and condemned attack on “democracy and the rule of law”. U.S.-trained police unit 2 March seized 17 tons cannabis resin worth FCFA 20bn in capital Niamey; authorities subsequently arrested 11 Nigerien nationals and two Algerians in connection with seizure, including former Tuareg rebel and tribal chief El Hadj Ghoumour Atouwa alias “Bidika”.
Ruling party continued to stifle opposition and armed forces launched offensives on Hutu rebels at border with Rwanda. In Karusi province’s Buhiga and Gitaramuka communes, ruling party CNDD-FDD youth wing Imbonerakure 14 March assaulted four members of opposition party National Congress for Freedom. In effort to reduce prison overcrowding, President Ndayishimiye 5 March issued presidential decree granting amnesty t0 over 5,000 prisoners, but left out many political prisoners detained over accusations of “participating in armed gangs” or “endangering security of the state”. NGO Human Rights Watch 8 March called on govt to drop charges and release eight former Burundian refugees – whom Tanzania forcibly returned in July 2020 – on trial for allegedly “attacking the integrity of the national territory and participating in armed gangs”; two additional refugees reported missing 6-7 March. In address to UN Human Rights Council, UN Commission of Inquiry on Burundi 11 March acknowledged some steps taken by authorities to improve human rights record but concluded that current situation “too complex and uncertain to be referred to as genuine improvement”; Burundian representative decried briefing as “politically motivated”. Meanwhile, Truth and Reconciliation Commission, set up as part of 2000 Arusha peace accords and tasked with investigating past violence, 19 March presented results of its findings in Bururi province to parliament; results sparked mixed reactions as some accused Commission of focusing on killings of Hutu ethnic group members only. Amid recent diplomatic rapprochement with Rwanda, Burundian armed forces late Feb-1 March launched offensive against Rwandan Hutu rebel group Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, remnant of Rwandan Hutu militia that killed much of the Tutsi minority and many moderate Hutu during Rwanda’s 1994 genocide; clashes in Mabayi commune, Cibitoke province left at least two rebels dead and 15 soldiers injured. Also in Mabayi commune, Burundian authorities 18 March arrested two civilians suspected of complicity with Kinyarwanda-speaking armed group.
Violence between govt forces and separatists continued unabated in Anglophone regions and jihadists stepped up attacks in Far North. In North West region, separatists 10 March killed two soldiers in regional capital Bamenda, and clashes between armed forces and separatists 7 March killed four civilians along Bamenda-Babadjou road in Akum town. Meanwhile pro-govt groups launched attacks on civilians; notably, Fulani gunmen 10 March killed community leader in North West’s Ndu town. In South West region, separatist commander Goddy Elangwe 2 March surrendered to authorities in Kumba city, and armed forces 8 March captured separatist commander General Nokia in Konye area. Armed forces 18 March killed at least six separatists, including commander in Foé Bakundu village, Meme division. Separatists 22 March ambushed govt forces in Eyumojock subdivision, Manyu division, allegedly killing three. After NGO Human Rights Watch 26 Feb accused state forces of raping at least 20 women during attack in Ebam village, Manyu division, in South West in March 2020, defence ministry 2 March acknowledged attack but rejected rape allegations. In interview with weekly newspaper Jeune Afrique, imprisoned leader of faction of Ambazonia Interim Govt, Sisiku Julius Ayuk Tabe, 12 March restated conditions for talks, including govt troops returning to barracks, amnesty for separatists and internationally mediated dialogue in neutral venue. In South West region’s capital Buea, former separatists enrolled in Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration program 19 March protested poor conditions and slow reintegration. In Far North region, despite ongoing joint operations by Multinational Joint Task Force, Boko Haram (BH) stepped up attacks. Notably, BH 10 and 14 March killed three civilians in Mora town; 11 March killed another one in Blassaley village. BH 20 March killed two soldiers in Soueram village and one civilian in Nguetchewe village, overnight 21-22 March killed three in Bla-Gossi Tourou village and 27 March attacked Dabanga village killing at least three civilians and one soldier; in retaliation, govt forces same day killed at least six BH, seizing ammunition and vehicles. Military 30 March said it had deployed additional troops to northern border with Nigeria after BH recently intensified attacks.
Second round of legislative polls, along with rerun in some constituencies, held without major disruption; military operations against rebels continued. Despite initial concerns that renewed fighting could erupt around 14 March votes, second round of elections for National Assembly and rerun of first round contests held in 118 of 140 total constituencies without major security incidents; some voting irregularities however reported. AU election observer mission 16 March welcomed smooth conduct of vote in its preliminary findings. Polls highlighted divisions within opposition; notably, Democratic Opposition Coalition (COD-2020), largest coalition of opposition parties, had several of its members participating in polls despite coalition’s Feb decision to boycott them. National electoral authority 21 March announced that Ruling United Hearts Movement (MCU) won 25 out of 92 seats, leaving it far from having absolute majority in National Assembly. President Touadéra 30 March sworn in for second term after winning Dec 2020 presidential election, vowed to eliminate all armed groups by end of his term. Govt pursued military offensive against rebel Coalition of Patriots for Change (CPC) and rejected talks, while rebels appeared to resort to criminal activities as sign of CPC weakening. Notably, CPC 7 March robbed UN truck on Bossangoa-Paoua route, Ouham-Pendé prefecture; CPC-led attacks 11 and 13 March left two civilians killed in Kemo and Ouham-Pendé prefectures, respectively. CPC 21 March confirmed former President Bozizé new CPC general coordinator. Amid ongoing efforts by Angola and Economic Community of Central African States to support dialogue with rebels, govt continued to reject talks; Touadéra 18 March however announced for second time national dialogue with opposition parties and civil society groups, with informal talks held last week of March. UN Security Council 12 March authorised deployment of 2,750 additional troops and 940 police to help UN mission (MINUSCA) protect civilians and facilitate humanitarian access. UN humanitarian office 19 March estimated that recent crisis had displaced more than 240,000 people since Dec, bringing total number of Central Africans displaced (IDPs and refugees) to over 1.5mn, third of country’s total population.
Political tensions ran high as main opposition leader called for boycott of 11 April presidential election. Following late Feb raid on home of presidential candidate and former rebel leader Yaya Dillo, which reportedly left five dead including two soldiers, main opposition leader Saleh Kebzabo 1 March withdrew his presidential candidacy citing “climate of insecurity”. French FM Jean-Yves Le Drian 2 March and AU Commission Chair Moussa Faki 5 March asked authorities to launch independent investigation into deadly raid at Dillo’s home and hold those responsible for killings accountable. UN Sec-Gen Guterres 1 March called on govt to “favour political dialogue ahead of forthcoming elections and continue efforts to foster inclusive political process”. Supreme Court 3 March approved ten of 17 candidacies for presidential election, including Kebzabo and two other candidates who also decided to withdraw, and presidential campaign started 11 March. Some opposition parties, civil society, unions and youth groups next day launched “Wakit Tama” (Now Is The Time) platform against President Déby’s sixth term bid. Déby 16 March met Succès Masra, leader of opposition party Les Transformateurs, whose presidential candidacy was rejected by Supreme Court for failing to meet cut-off age requirement; Masra reportedly called for postponement of vote to allow time for “dialogue between all actors” prior to election; following meeting, Masra obtained long-awaited official recognition of his party – allowing it to run in next legislative and communal elections. Kebzabo 19 March called on supporters to boycott election and on all opposition candidates to withdraw. Hundreds of opposition and civil society members next day demonstrated against Déby’s sixth term bid in capital N’Djamena; police arrested at least 40; most released same day. After soldier 23 March shot and killed two teachers in N’Djamena while allegedly trying to intercept thieves, public prosecutor 26 March said soldier had been arrested and investigation was under way. Police 28 March dispersed demonstration in N’Djamena calling for justice and reparation for bereaved families. Farmer-herder clashes 18 March allegedly killed at least four in Babourou locality, Tandjilé region (south).
Political contestation for power exposed fractures in President Tshisekedi’s Sacred Union; meanwhile, armed group violence continued in east. PM Sama Lukonde had yet to form govt by end of month, as members of newly formed Sacred Union competed for ministerial posts throughout March, including opposition heavyweights Moïse Katumbi and Jean-Pierre Bemba; Lukonde 18 March urged local population to remain calm amid continuing political wrangling. Modeste Bahati Lukwebo, a supporter of Tshisekedi, 2 March elected as new Senate president with 89 out of 109 votes; election ensured Tshisekedi supporters control three key institutions: Senate, National Assembly and Prime Ministership. U.S. State Department 10 March designated armed group Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) as Foreign Terrorist Organisation and its leader Seka Musa Baluku as Specially Designated Global Terrorist, referring to ADF as Islamic State of Iraq and Syria-Democratic Republic of the Congo (ISIS-DRC); Human Rights Minister André Lite 11 March welcomed designation and urged other countries to follow suit. ADF continued to destabilise rural areas in east, as it expanded its operational zones from North Kivu province toward Ituri province. In North Kivu, ADF rebels 10 March killed three during raid on Matombo village; 15 March killed 17 in Bulongo city; 22 and 29 March reportedly killed at least 15 in Samboko-Chanichani village. Also in North Kivu, Mai-Mai militia 25 March abducted 20 people in Kalonge village, Lubero territory. In Ituri, ADF launched several attacks in and around Walese Vonkutu chiefdom, Irumu territory: 14 killed in Mambelenga village 2 March; at least ten killed in Ndimo and Apende villages 7-8 March; and seven suspected ADF rebels killed in clash with army in Mahala village 29 March. Also in Ituri, six militia members of Patriotic and Integrationist Force of Congo 7 March killed in clashes with army in Kunda village in Irumu’s Babelebe chiefdom; at least 30 people including 11 civilians, two soldiers and one policeman killed during 15 March clashes between army and Cooperative for the Development of Congo (CODECO) militia in Djugu territory.
Al-Shabaab called for attacks on country’s foreign military bases and independent candidate announced presidential bid. Ahead of presidential election scheduled for 9 April, Al-Shabaab leader Ahmed Umar Abu Ubaidah 27 March called for “lone wolf” attacks against “American and French interests in Djibouti”, accused President Guelleh of turning country into “military base from where every war against Muslims in East Africa is planned and executed”. In response, U.S Africa Command said it “takes these statements seriously” and is “postured to respond to threats”. Meanwhile, independent candidate Zakaria Ismael Farah 10 March submitted his candidacy for presidential poll; move comes after opposition parties in Feb announced boycott of election in protest at Guelleh’s fifth term bid and increasingly constrained political space. Govt and Ethiopia 11 March signed memorandum of understanding to scale up cooperation on common security threats, agreed to establish joint task force stationed in eastern Ethiopian city of Dire Dawa and in Djibouti.
Amid ongoing accusations of serious international crimes, authorities reportedly agreed to withdraw troops from Ethiopia’s Tigray regional state. As fighting persisted between troops of Ethiopia’s federal govt and regional state of Tigray (see Ethiopia), UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock 4 March said Eritrean forces are operating throughout Ethiopia’s Tigray and “countless well-corroborated reports suggest their culpability for atrocities”; UN Sec-Gen Guterres and U.S. Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield same day called on Eritrean troops to leave Tigray. Echoing allegations made by NGO Amnesty International in Feb, NGO Human Rights Watch 5 March accused Eritrean forces of killing hundreds of civilians, mostly men and young boys, in Tigrayan city of Axum in Nov 2020, and called on UN to establish independent inquiry into war crimes and possible crimes against humanity by all parties in Tigray. For first time since conflict started in Nov 2020, Ethiopian PM Ahmed Abiy 23 March acknowledged presence of Eritrean troops in Tigray; 26 March said Eritrea had agreed to withdraw troops. Meanwhile, UN humanitarian office 22 March said Eritrean forces had been deployed alongside Ethiopian troops and ethnic Amhara militias in disputed Al-Fashqa border area between Ethiopia and Sudan. EU 22 March announced sanctions on National Security Office and its leader, Maj Gen Abraha Kassa, “for serious human rights violations in Eritrea, in particular arbitrary arrests, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances of persons and torture”; authorities immediately denounced “malicious” move. Govt continued to strengthen ties with Saudi Arabia: Saudi delegation 28 Feb-2 March visited Eritrea to discuss political, economic and security cooperation.
Govt faced mounting international pressure to address serious crimes in Tigray regional state; violence erupted in centre and clashes with Sudan continued in disputed area. Amid ongoing fighting between Tigray’s and federal govt’s forces in Tigray regional state in north, UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet 4 March said multiple conflict parties had committed grave violations that could amount to “war crimes and crimes against humanity” in Tigray since Nov 2020. PM Abiy 9 March said govt had taken “concrete steps to address alleged human rights abuses”. U.S. Sec State Antony Blinken next day denounced “acts of ethnic cleansing” in Tigray, which govt 13 March “vehemently” denied. Abiy 23 March admitted for first time that Eritrea had deployed troops in Tigray since conflict broke out; 26 March said Eritrea had agreed to withdraw its forces. Govt-appointed Ethiopian Human Rights Commission and UN human rights office 25 March said they would jointly investigate alleged abuses by all parties. In Oromia region in centre, suspected armed group Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) insurgents 6-9 March reportedly killed at least 42 ethnic Amhara civilians in Horo Guduru Welega area and 30 March reportedly killed another 30 civilians in West Welega area; OLA later denied responsibility. Opposition party Oromo Liberation Front 8 March said it would not participate in 5 June general elections, citing continued harassment and detention of its members by federal and Oromia regional state authorities. Army 1-2 March reportedly clashed with Sudanese forces near Barkhat settlement, last area still under Ethiopia’s control in disputed Al-Fashqa border zone; death toll unknown. Sudan 17 March demanded all Ethiopian forces withdraw from “Sudanese territory”, tied negotiations over land dispute to Addis Ababa’s recognition of Sudan’s sovereignty over it. UN humanitarian office 22 March said Eritrean forces had been deployed alongside Ethiopian troops and ethnic Amhara militias near Barkhat. Govt remained at loggerheads with Sudan and Egypt over Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on Blue Nile river (see Nile Waters).
Political jockeying continued ahead of 2022 general election, while Al-Shabaab staged further attacks in east and north east. Amid power struggle between President Kenyatta and his de facto ally, nominal opposition leader Raila Odinga, on one hand, and Deputy President Ruto on the other, ruling Jubilee Party’s National Management Committee 15 March voted to remove Ruto as party deputy leader; Kenyatta 22 March blocked Ruto’s ouster. Ruto 25 March said he was prepared, if tensions persist, to leave Jubilee Party for its coalition partner United Democratic Alliance. Suspected Al-Shabaab IEDs killed one civilian in Lamu county in east 23 March and four others in Mandera county in north east next day. U.S. aviation authority 2 March warned civilian airlines flying in Kenyan airspace of possible Al-Shabaab attacks, said group possesses weapons that can hit low-flying aircrafts; Police 30 March warned Al-Shabaab militant – believed to be currently in Somalia – who trained as pilot in Philippines, sought to carry out attack in Kenya. Govt 24 March gave UN refugee agency two-week ultimatum to present plan for closure of Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps – host to some 410,000 refugees, mostly from South Sudan and Somalia – within four months, reportedly over national security concerns. Kenya 11 March pulled out of upcoming International Court of Justice (ICJ) hearing on Kenya-Somalia maritime border dispute, citing ICJ’s “bias” and refusal to delay hearing as requested by Nairobi in Feb; hearings started without Kenya 15 March.
Electoral process remained stalled, and Al-Shabaab launched deadly attacks in capital Mogadishu, demonstrating potential to disrupt electoral proceedings. Following constitutional expiration of President Farmajo’s mandate and deadly clashes between opposition supporters and security forces in Feb, third round of talks between PM Roble and opposition bloc of 15 presidential candidates on organisation of parliamentary and presidential elections broke down 4 March, after bloc insisted on being part of national consultative council (NCC) talks on elections. NCC talks involving federal govt and member states 22-23 March concluded without meaningful progress as presidents of Puntland and Jubaland states did not attend, reportedly over security concerns. Govt faced mounting international pressure to hold election. Notably, UN Security Council 12 March unanimously urged govt to organise elections “without delay”, 31 March reiterated call; U.S. Sec State Antony Blinken 19 March expressed “deep concern” at electoral impasse and called on political leadership to “immediately” organise elections. Parliament Speaker Mohamed Mursal Abdirahman 27 March called off same day parliamentary session after opposition MPs reportedly disrupted session over allegations that Abdirahman and pro-govt MPs were planning to pass term extension for Farmajo. Former Jubaland state Security Minister Abdirashid Janan, who escaped in 2020 from jail in Mogadishu, 24 March surrendered to federal govt. Meanwhile, Al-Shabaab launched deadly attacks in Mogadishu. Notably, Al-Shabaab suicide bombing 5 March killed over 20 and roadside bomb targeting local govt official 29 March killed at least five civilians; first mortar attacks in Mogadishu since mid-2020 9 and 25 March targeted airport compound that houses African Union mission (AMISOM) base in Mogadishu, killing at least two civilians. In Puntland state in north, Al-Shabaab 5 March raided Bosaso central prison, breaking out hundreds of prisoners; at least seven soldiers reportedly killed. In Lower Shabelle region in south, army 27 March killed 11 Al-Shabaab militants, including senior commander known as Ismail Jiis, in Bula Haji village. UN Security Council 12 March renewed AMISOM mandate until 31 Dec. International Court of Justice (ICJ) hearings on maritime border row between Somalia and Kenya 15 March started without Kenya after latter 11 March pulled out citing ICJ’s “bias” and refusal to delay hearing.
Preparations for parliamentary and local elections scheduled for 31 May continued. Electoral commission, ruling Kulmiye party and opposition parties Justice and Welfare Party (UCID) and Waddani 25 March signed electoral code of conduct, notably committing to facilitating free and peaceful campaigning and public debate, and respecting human rights. Electoral commission late March reportedly rejected 28 local council candidates from all three parties for not meeting candidacy requirement; 30 March said it would start distributing voter cards next day. Authorities 7 March released two UCID candidates for parliament and Hargeisa city council seats, after police arrested them in Feb. In state of nation address, President Bihi 8 March said govt will continue to strengthen ties with African countries as part of its efforts toward recognition of Somaliland as a state.
Fighting resumed between govt and holdout rebel group in south, President Kiir achieved formation of state govts amid mounting calls to resign, and intercommunal violence persisted. Deadly clashes resumed in south between govt and National Salvation Front (NAS), which refused to be part of 2018 peace deal. Notably, NAS 14-15 and 18 March reportedly clashed with govt’s South Sudan People’s Defence Forces in Central Equatoria state and Western Equatoria state’s Movolo area; death toll unknown. Following four-day negotiations in Kenya’s Naivasha town, govt and factions of South Sudan Opposition Movements Alliance (coalition of non-signatory rebel groups) led by Paul Malong and Pagan Amum 11 March signed Declaration of Principles, which forms basis for subsequent political dialogue. Kiir 2 March appointed Upper Nile and Eastern Equatoria’s govts, concluding formation of all ten state govts; national legislative assembly, council of states and some local govts yet to be formed. Meanwhile, Kiir faced rising pressure to step down from senior figures within his political base. Notably, former presidential adviser and prominent ruling party figure Daniel Awet Akot 14 March called on Kiir to hand over power to Presidential Affairs Minister Nhial Deng Nhial. Intercommunal violence persisted in several states. Notably, in Lakes state, clashes between ethnic Pakam and Gok 9 March left ten dead in Mabor cattle camp, Rumbek North county, and fighting between Gok community’s Ayiel and Pagok sections next day killed 17 people in Ngap village, Cueibet county. Unidentified gunmen 28 March killed at least 14 people in Budi county, Eastern Equatoria state; state governor 28 March reportedly survived assassination attempt on Budi-Buya axis that left two people dead. EU 22 March announced sanctions on Kiir-aligned Maj Gen Gabriel Moses Lokujo over his alleged role in abduction and execution of three officers of VP Riek Machar’s Sudan People’s Liberation Army-In Opposition in May 2020. UN Human Rights Council 24 March renewed mandate of UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan for one year.
Clashes persisted in disputed border area with Ethiopia, intercommunal violence continued in North and South Darfur states, and govt signed agreement with holdout rebel group. Army 1-2 March reportedly launched offensive against Ethiopian forces near Barkhat settlement, last area still under Ethiopia’s control in disputed Al-Fashqa border zone, leaving unknown number dead. Sovereign Council head Abdel Fattah al-Burhan 17 March accused Ethiopia of deploying additional forces to area in past two weeks, demanded withdrawal of all troops from “Sudanese territory”, and negotiations to resolve land dispute tied to Ethiopia’s recognition of Sudan’s sovereignty over area. UN humanitarian office 22 March said Eritrean forces had been deployed alongside Ethiopian troops and ethnic Amhara militias near Barkhat. At border between Ethiopia and Sudanese states of Gadaref and Sennar, south of Al-Fashqa, army 24 March reportedly repelled attack by Ethiopian militia backed by Ethiopian army in Basinda area; 29 March allegedly clashed with Ethiopian militia after latter attempted to alter border markers in Sudan’s al-Dinder National Park, one combatant killed on each side. In North Darfur state, intercommunal clashes between Fur and Tama communities 3 March left 11 dead in Saraf Omra locality. In South Darfur state, fighting between ethnic Fellata and Masalit 1-2 March killed 11 in Gireida locality. Holdout rebel group Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North of Abdel Aziz al-Hilu 28 March signed Declaration of Principles with govt in South Sudan’s capital Juba; document commits govt to unification of armed forces, and further edges al-Hilu toward agreement bringing his faction into govt. Sovereign Council 11 March pardoned former Janjaweed militia leader and current head of armed militia Sudan Revolutionary Awakening Council Musa Hilal, detained since 2017 for allegedly resisting govt-led disarmament campaign, prompting local uproar; deputy head of Sovereign Council and paramilitary Rapid Support Forces leader Mohamed Hamdan “Hemedti” reportedly instrumental in Hilal’s release. Meanwhile, Sudan, Ethiopia and Egypt remained at loggerheads over Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on Blue Nile river (see Nile Waters).
Following President Magufuli’s death, VP Samia Suluhu Hassan sworn in as new president until 2025. Authorities 17 March said Magufuli had died of heart attack. Announcement followed weeks of speculation over Magufuli’s health since his last public appearance in late Feb. Notably, opposition leader Tundu Lissu 11 March claimed Magufuli was receiving COVID-19 treatment abroad; govt next day denied claim, insisting Magufuli was “around, healthy, working hard”, and authorities 12-15 March arrested at least four people for allegedly spreading false information about Magufuli’s health. VP Samia Suluhu Hassan 19 March sworn in as president – to serve remainder of Magufuli’s term until 2025. MPs 30 March approved Finance and Planning Minister Philip Mpango as new VP; Mpango sworn in next day. Stampede 21 March left at least 45 killed as tens of thousands attempted to enter capital Dar es Salaam’s Uhuru stadium to view Magufuli’s body. Hassan 28 March suspended Tanzania Ports Authority Director General Deusdedit Kakoko over corruption allegations; authorities next day arrested Kakoko in Morogoro city in east. Meanwhile, U.S. State Department 11 March sanctioned Tanzanian national Abu Yasir Hassan for allegedly leading Islamist insurgency in neighbouring Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province (see Mozambique).
Opposition continued to challenge results of Jan presidential election as crackdown on dissent persisted. Opposition National Unity Platform (NUP) leader Bobi Wine 9 March called for peaceful protest against President Museveni’s re-election, claimed NUP’s own tally showed Wine had won 54.19% of votes in Jan election. In capital Kampala, security forces 15 March briefly arrested Wine during protest against continued detention of NUP supporters and later heavily surrounded Wine’s home. Wine next day petitioned Chief of Defence Forces Gen David Muhoozi to release NUP members under military detention and end military trials of civilians. High Court in Kampala 16 March dismissed torture claims by 49 jailed NUP supporters, citing lack of evidence. NGO Human Rights Watch 11 March called on govt “to end the ongoing abductions by suspected state agents and cease the unlawful detention without trial of opposition supporters”. Museveni 18 March filed defamation case against local media Daily Monitor, which had alleged that Museveni and inner circle had received COVID-19 vaccines in Feb, prior to vaccination of health-care workers and vulnerable groups. Police 21 March detained U.S. citizen in Kitebutura village in west for suspected involvement in “anti-govt subversive activities”. In north, armed forces 7 March killed at least ten semi-nomadic Karamojong cattle raiders in Moroto district.
Islamist insurgents launched major attack on strategic port town of Palma in far north, leaving scores dead and triggering mass exodus as govt forces struggled to respond. Hours after French oil and gas company Total announced it was resuming full operations at Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) project site in Palma district, Cabo Delgado province, Islamist insurgents 24 March launched large-scale assault on district capital Palma. In following days, coordinated attacks in and around Palma reportedly killed scores of civilians including for first time foreigners, and displaced thousands. Reports of major killings started to emerge by month’s end. Notably, assault on Amarula hotel prompted dozens, including foreigners, to flee in 17-vehicle convoy; insurgents 26 March ambushed convoy, reportedly leaving unknown number dead and at least 50 missing. Meanwhile, security forces moved to flush insurgents out of Palma, with govt 25 March saying troops were “pursing the enemy’s movement” and “working tirelessly to restore security” in Palma. Islamic State 29 March claimed responsibility, said its combatants had seized town and killed 55 including “western citizens”. In Nangade district, Islamist insurgents 1-3 March set roadblocks between district capital Nangade and garrison town of Mueda pushing west near Muiha village, and killed at least three soldiers and four civilians in several attacks in area; in response, govt forces 6 March raided insurgent encampment at Nkonga village, and next day reportedly reopened Nangade-Mueda road. In Macomia district, insurgents 24 March struck administrative posts of Mucojo and Quiterajo, taking unknown number hostage and killing others. NGO Amnesty International 2 March accused insurgents, govt and South African private military company Dyck Advisory Group (DAG) of violations of international humanitarian law, including war crimes, in Cabo Delgado in 2020. U.S State Department 10 March designated Cabo Delgado insurgents as foreign terrorist organisation linked to Islamic State and Tanzanian national Abu Yasir Hassan as leader. President Nyusi 12 March appointed Joaquim Rivas Mangrasse as armed forces chief of staff. Mariano Nhongo, leader of Renamo Military Junta (armed dissident faction of opposition Renamo party) 11 March ruled out amnesty as first step toward negotiations with govt.
Govt continued to harass opposition and civil society, and infighting between main opposition party factions reached new heights. In capital Harare, authorities 5 March arrested three female members of Nelson Chamisa-led faction (MDC-A) of main opposition party Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) for third time in less than a year on charges of breaching COVID-19 regulations; one granted bail 10 March. In second largest city Bulawayo, security forces 10 March arrested nine members of opposition Mthwakazi Republic Party who were protesting police raid on home of party leader Mqondiso Moyo previous night. In Raffingora town, authorities 27 March arrested three MDC-A members for allegedly violating COVID-19 regulations; court 29 March granted them bail. After Chamisa 12 March accused President Mnangagwa of “rising authoritarianism”, ruling party ZANU-PF next day said Chamisa was making “veiled attempts to unseat a constitutionally elected government”. ZANU-PF 24 March removed its political commissar Victor Matemadanda over alleged mishandling of district coordinating committee elections in Dec 2020 and “reckless” remarks after Matemadanda said ZANU-PF was responsible for crippling MDC-A. Meanwhile, infighting between two competing factions of opposition MDC party intensified. Parliament 17 March expelled six MDC-A MPs, including MDC-A VP Tendai Biti, after competing faction of MDC claimed they no longer belonged to party; move came after High Court 11 March ruled that joining MDC-A translated to “self-expulsion” from party. U.S. 23 March said it is following events “closely” and accused ZANU-PF of “misusing the levers of government to silence critics and entrench its political power”. U.S. 3 March renewed sanctions against Mnangagwa and other top officials for one year, citing security services’ violent repression of citizens throughout 2020 and lack of reforms needed “to ensure the rule of law, democratic governance and the protection of human rights”. VP Kembo Mohadi 1 March resigned amid allegations of sexual misconduct.
Suspected jihadists launched deadly attack on security forces; ruling party won majority in parliament, while PM Bakayoko’s death sparked protests. In north near border with Burkina Faso, suspected jihadists overnight 28-29 March launched twin attacks on army post in Kafolo town and gendarmerie in Kolobougou locality, reportedly leaving at least three dead; several assailants also killed. Legislative elections held peacefully 6 March, but turnout low at 37.88%. Electoral commission 9 March released preliminary results, with ruling party Rally of Houphouëtists for Democracy and Peace taking 137 of 255 seats, strengthening President Ouattara’s hand to pursue his political agenda. Mainstream opposition made up of platform Together for Democracy and Sovereignty, close to former President Gbagbo, and main opposition party, Henri Konan Bédié’s Democratic Party of Côte d’Ivoire, won 81 seats. Second opposition coalition, made up of Pascal Affi N’Guessan’s branch of Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) and Albert Mabri Toikeusse’s Union for Democracy and Peace in Côte d’Ivoire, gained ten seats. Constitutional Council 25 March confirmed results. PM Hamed Bakayoko (aka Hambak) 10 March died in Germany, reportedly of cancer; Hambak had been main architect of political dialogue following Oct 2020 violent presidential vote. News of his passing immediately sparked protests in Séguéla town in west, with Hambak’s followers and members of his ethnic Koyaka community claiming ethnic Senufo supporters of late PM Amadou Gon Coulibaly poisoned him. National Assembly Speaker Amadou Soumahoro 12 March called for appeasement. Ouattara 26 March appointed Presidency’s Sec Gen Patrick Achi as new PM. NGO Amnesty International same day said hundreds still in prison after being arrested during election-related protests and violence in 2020, denounced use of pre-trial detention as “punishment for people who have not been – and may never be – found guilty”, called for immediate investigation into torture allegations of detainees. Meanwhile, International Criminal Court 31 March rejected prosecutor’s appeal against Gbagbo’s acquittal on charges of crimes against humanity during 2010 political crisis, paving way for his return to Côte d’Ivoire.
Authorities continued to stifle dissent, and opposition appeared increasingly divided. Authorities 1 March charged journalist Amadou Diouldé Diallo – detained late Feb after he criticised President Condé in radio broadcast in Jan – with “offence to the president”; NGO Reporters without Borders 17 March called for his immediate release. Court of Appeal in capital Conakry 4 March confirmed Dixinn Court’s early Feb decision to keep main opposition party Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea (UFDG)’s headquarters closed; offices were shut down in Oct 2020. UFDG 16 March said authorities same day prevented party leader Cellou Dalein Diallo from leaving country and seized his passport. Legal team of five opposition figures imprisoned for over four months on several charges, including “infringement of the fundamental interests of the nation” and “inciting violence”, 12 March lodged complaint with West African regional bloc ECOWAS Court of Justice, citing irregularities in judicial procedure. NGO Human Rights Watch 17 March said four opposition supporters died in detention between Nov 2020 and Jan 2021; NGO Amnesty International had disclosed similar findings in Feb. Meanwhile, Condé 1 March pardoned seven individuals imprisoned for “illegal gathering”, but hundreds of opposition supporters arrested around March 2020 constitutional referendum and Oct 2020 presidential election still in pre-trial detention. Condé next day received Mamadou Sylla, nominally leader of parliamentary opposition, and allowed him to visit imprisoned opponents; prominent figure of civil society coalition National Front for the Defence of the Constitution Oumar Sylla, alias Foniké Mengué, who has been detained in Conakry prison since Sept 2020, 11 March refused to meet him, accusing him of playing into Condé’s hands.
NGOs accused authorities of suppressing dissent. NGO Committee to Protect Journalists 16 March said four unidentified gunmen 9 March abducted journalist António Aly Silva in capital Bissau and later beat him unconscious; President Embaló had reportedly called Silva few days before to complain about article critical of govt. NGO National Network of Human Rights Defenders in Guinea-Bissau 26 March denounced increasing violence against human rights activists, especially in country’s south.
Jihadists mounted significant attacks in north east, criminal violence continued unabated in north west, and suspected Biafra secessionists’ attacks on security forces persisted in south east. In Borno state in north east, Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) targeted major humanitarian hub and military base despite military operations. Insurgents 1-2 March attacked Dikwa town, setting UN office ablaze and forcing evacuation of aid workers from Dikwa, Monguno and Ngala towns. ISWAP 11 March ambushed military convoy near Gudumbali town, reportedly killing 15 soldiers and four Multinational Joint Task Force troops, and 14 March attacked army’s super camp in Damasak town, killing at least 12 soldiers. Special forces 15 March reportedly killed 41 jihadists in operations near Gamboru and Ngala towns; 27 March killed 48 members of Boko Haram faction led by Abubakar Shekau (JAS) around Chibok and Askira towns. UN humanitarian office 16 March reported “worst [humanitarian] outlook in four years” in north east, with close to 2mn people internally displaced and up to 5.1mn facing hunger during lean season. In north west, armed group violence remained high. Notably, in Zamfara state, unidentified gunmen 16 March attacked Kabasa village, killing at least ten, including three soldiers; army said troops thwarted attack, killing scores. Also in Zamfara, 279 female students kidnapped late Feb released 2 March. In neighbouring Kaduna state, unidentified gunmen 11 March abducted 39 students in Afaka town; 15 March abducted several students and three teachers at primary school in Birnin Gwari area, later freed all children; 18 March killed 13 and burnt 56 houses in Zangon Kataf, Kauru and Chikun areas. Herder-farmer relations continued to deteriorate in south, with many incidents of violence, notably 27 people killed 28-29 March in attacks on four farming villages in Ebonyi state (south east) by suspected herders. Also in south east, attacks on police personnel and facilities by suspected members of Eastern Security Network (ESN), paramilitary wing of secessionist group Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), continued; troops 24 March killed 16 ESN in Aba town, Abia state.
Arrest of opposition leader sparked deadliest political unrest in years. Authorities 3 March arrested main opposition leader and MP Ousmane Sonko – whose parliamentary immunity was removed late Feb – over rape allegations. Hours earlier, hundreds of youths protested in support of Sonko outside his house and at Cheikh Anta Diop University in capital Dakar, decrying charges as politically motivated; protesters clashed with police, leaving at least three injured. Sonko 5 March appeared in court on additional charge of disrupting public order. Protesters in Dakar same day set up street barricades, burned tyres and threw stones at police who fired tear gas and stunt grenades; Interior Minister Antoine Félix Abdoulaye Diome same day said six had died in violence, while authorities curbed internet access, suspended TV broadcasts covering protests and banned use of motorcycles and mopeds in capital as part of attempt to discourage mobilisation of Sonko’s young supporter base. Protesters 6 March burned down military police station and ransacked govt buildings in southern town of Diaobe; at least one 17-year-old killed and six others injured. Mediator of the Republic Alioune Badara Cissé next day called on authorities to “pause and speak with our youth” and warned that country was “on the verge of an apocalypse”, while education ministry announced school closures until 15 March. Unrest subsided after Sonko charged with rape and released on bail 8 March. President Sall 10 March declared day of national mourning and said COVID-19 restrictions would be lifted 19 March. NGO Human Rights Watch 12 March called for independent investigation into “reported deaths of at least ten people and injuries of hundreds” during early March protests.
Tensions continued between Japan and China over disputed island chain in East China Sea as U.S. reaffirmed its support for Tokyo. Following tensions in Feb over new Chinese Coast Guard Law,Chinese defence ministry 1 March defended its coast guard activities in area near disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in East China Sea and urged Japan not to take “dangerous actions that may complicate” situation in area; Japanese Defence Minister Kishi Nobuo 2 March told media that such activities are unacceptable as islands are part of Japanese territory. Chinese defence ministry 2 March confirmed that Beijing and Tokyo have expanded their military hotlines. Two Chinese coast guard ships 29 March entered Japanese waters around Senkaku Islands, prompting Tokyo to lodge protest with Bejing. U.S. Sec Defence Lloyd Austin and Sec State Antony Blinken 15-17 March visited Japan and 16 March met with FM Toshimitsu Motegi and Defence Minister Kishi in Japanese capital Tokyo to discuss China’s “destabilising actions” in South and East China Seas; Blinken same day warned that U.S. “will push back if necessary, when China uses coercion or aggression to get its way"; Kishi and Austin also reached agreement to hold joint exercises between Japanese Self-Defence Forces and U.S. military in preparation for contingencies involving Senkaku Islands. In response, Chinese MFA called joint statement “malicious attack” and “gross interference in China’s internal affairs.” Tokyo and Indonesia 30 March signed deal to bolster security ties; Motegi said parties “exchanged views on the situation in the East and South China seas” and “shared serious concern about[…]unilateral attempts to change the status quo by force”. Municipal govt of Ishigaki in Japan’s Okinawa Prefecture, which has jurisdiction over Senkaku Islands, 16 March confirmed it had applied to central govt for approval to install signposts on islands with newly chosen district name “Tonoshiro Senkaku”.
North Korea rebuffed Washington’s diplomatic overtures, top U.S. officials visited South Korea, and Pyongyang conducted provocative missile tests. U.S. 15 March confirmed that it had attempted to reach out to Pyongyang through several channels since mid-Feb, with no response from Pyongyang; North Korea’s First Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Choe Son Hui 17 March called U.S. efforts “cheap tricks”, claiming that no dialogue would be possible until Washington drops its hostile policy. U.S. Sec Defence Lloyd Austin and Sec State Antony Blinken 17 March met with South Korean FM Chung Eui-yong and Defence Minister Suh Wook in South Korean capital Seoul; Blinken accused North Korea of committing “systemic and widespread abuses” against its people. Meeting concluded with joint statement emphasising that North Korean nuclear and ballistic missile issues are priority for alliance. Shortly after visit, North Korea 21 March fired two cruise missiles into Yellow Sea; U.S. and Japan 24 March confirmed North Korea subsequently fired two suspected ballistic missiles into Sea of Japan, in violation of UN Security Council resolutions prohibiting such tests; Japan and South Korea condemned launches while U.S. President Biden 25 March said he was open to diplomacy but warned Pyongyang not to escalate. Earlier in month, U.S. and South Korea 7 March reached deal for new six-year Special Measures Agreement that includes 13.9% increase in Seoul’s contribution to cost of hosting some 28,500 U.S. troops for 2021. U.S. and South Korea 8-16 March held nine-day joint military exercises, noting exercises are “defensive” in nature and had been scaled back because of COVID-19; Kim Yo-jong, senior official and sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, 16 March condemned exercises, warning that U.S. should refrain from “causing a stink.” Pyongyang 18 March said it would sever diplomatic relations with Malaysia after North Korean man previous day extradited to U.S. on money-laundering charges. Kim Jong-un 22 March stressed to Chinese President Xi need to strengthen unity and cooperation between both countries. International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Rafael Grossi 2 March said North Korea continues developments of its nuclear program which remains “cause for serious concern.”
Cross-strait tensions rose as China rejected new U.S.-Taiwan coast guard cooperation deal and deployed dozens of military aircraft in Taiwanese air zone. In their first major accord under U.S. Biden administration, U.S. and Taiwan 25 March established Coast Guard Working Group to “improve communications, build cooperation, and share information” on related matters; China next day denounced deal, warning Washington to “be cautious with its words and actions on Taiwan-related issues”. Beijing same day deployed 20 military aircraft into Taiwan’s Air Defence Identification Zones (ADIZ), in largest ever incursion reported by Taiwan’s defence ministry since it started making public Chinese military plane movements in area in Sept 2020. China deployed further ten aircraft on 29 March. Prior to deal, Taiwanese defence ministry claimed series of Chinese military aircraft entered ADIZ, including: one Y-8 anti-submarine warfare aircraft 1, 10, 11, 14, and 17 March; one Shaanxi Y-8 reconnaissance aircraft 2 March; one Shaanxi Y-8 reconnaissance aircraft and one Y-8 anti-submarine warfare aircraft 4,8, and 15 March; two Chengdu J-10 fighter jets 22 March. In response, Taiwan scrambled jets, broadcast radio warnings and tracked planes with air defence system on each occasion. Taiwan Coast Guard Administration 1 and 9 March held live-fire artillery drill. Earlier in month, Chinese Premier of State Council Li Keqiang 5 March stated govt remained committed to “China’s reunification” and would “resolutely deter any separatist activity seeking Taiwan independence”; Taiwanese Mainland Affairs Council responded “healthy and orderly exchanges are better than enforced pressure”. Chinese FM Wang Yi 7 March said there was “no room for compromise or concessions” in China’s sovereignty claim over Taiwan and that U.S. should recognise this. U.S. and Japanese defence ministers 16 March agreed at meeting in Japanese capital Tokyo to cooperate closely in case of military clash between China and Taiwan. Taiwanese Defence Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng 17 March confirmed that U.S. had approved export permits for sensitive technology for Taiwan’s indigenous submarine fleet. After Chinese ambassador in France warned French lawmakers against meetings with Taiwanese officials, French MFA 17 March stated that French parliamentarians were free to meet with whomever.
Deadly attacks targeted women and Hazara community as Taliban continued assaults and clashes erupted between security forces and Hazara militia; U.S. proposed new peace plan. Following brief lull in violence late Feb, attacks – particularly targeting women, children and Hazara community – rose during first half of month. In Nangarhar (east), three separate attacks claimed by Islamic State’s Khorasan Province branch 2-3 March killed three female journalists and one female doctor, and armed gunmen 3 March killed seven Hazara civilians. Two IEDs in Hazara-majority neighbourhoods in capital Kabul 13 March killed four women and one child. Taliban attacks continued at high intensity in Nimroz, Kunduz, Daikundi, Sar-e-Pul provinces and elsewhere; notably, attacks targeting security outposts 19 and 22 March killed 11 and wounded ten in Baghlan province, and attack by Taliban infiltrator 13 March killed eight soldiers in Balkh province. In Wardak province (centre), tensions rose between security forces and Hazara militia after helicopter 18 March shot down by likely advanced weaponry, killing at least ten govt soldiers; govt forces responded by retaking Behsud district centre, under control of Hazara militia leader Abdul Ghani Alipur, raising prospect of clashes in coming month. Meanwhile, in Khost province (east), U.S. Central Intelligence Agency-backed paramilitary group Khost Provincial Force (KPF) 8 March killed 15 civilians during military operation against Taliban in Spera district. On diplomatic front, U.S. early month outlined multi-part peace plan in letter to Afghan leaders, proposing UN-led regional conference, interim power-sharing govt between Taliban and Afghan leaders, and high-level meeting hosted by Turkey to finalise agreement; U.S. Envoy Zalmay Khalizad shared plan with Taliban and Pakistan during visits to Qatari capital Doha and Pakistani capital Islamabad 4-9 March; letter also noted U.S. yet to make decision on whether to completely withdraw forces by 1 May deadline; uncertainty over U.S. decision raises prospect of Taliban dropping self-imposed restrictions on attacks on provincial capitals and large-scale urban attacks, potentially escalating violence in run up to 1 May – or at least thereafter. Moscow 18 March hosted dialogue attended by China, Pakistan, Iran, India, Afghan political leaders and Taliban; President Ghani did not attend.
Anti-India rallies to protest visit of Indian PM Modi turned deadly, while election-related violence continued. Muslim and student activists held large rallies to protest Indian PM Modi’s 26-27 March visit; at least 50 protesters injured in police action on 25 March in capital Dhaka. During Modi’s visit, police shot dead at least 11 Hefazat-e-Islam protesters in Chittagong city and eastern Brahmanbaria district; four more shot dead as protests continued 28-29 March in Brahmanbaria, Dhaka, Chittagong, Sylhet, Ghazipur and Khuna, with Hefazat protesters attacking Hindu temples, govt offices and police stations; around 20,000 protesters charged by 31 March. Earlier in month, Facebook post by Hindu man criticising Hefazat-e-Islam’s Joint Sec Gen Mawlana Mufti Mamunul Haque 17 March prompted group supporters to vandalise more than 80 homes in Sunamganj district (east) as Hindus fled; at least 22 people arrested, while ruling party blamed opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party for attack. Violent clashes between Awami League (AL) factions over municipality elections continued throughout month; clash in Noakhali District (south) 9 March killed one while clash in Bogra district (north) 16 March killed local leader of AL’s student wing; clashes in Bagerhat (south) and Narsingdi (east) districts 18-19 March left dozens injured. UN 1 March called for “independent” investigation into death of journalist imprisoned under controversial Digital Security Act (DSA) in Feb, expressed concern for cartoonist Ahmed Kishore, detained on similar charges since May 2020, and urged govt to review DSA; law minister next day said govt will amend act to prevent misuse and authorities 3 March granted Kishore bail. Anti-militancy operations continued. Counter-terrorism police in Dhaka 4 March arrested three suspected members of banned militant outfit Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami Bangladesh and three alleged supporters of Hizb ut-Tahrir. Authorities 23 March sentenced 14 militants to death for attempt to assassinate Sheikh Hasina in 2000. Approximately 4,000 Rohingya refugees 3 March relocated to Bhasan Char, flood-prone island, bringing total number of refugees relocated to island since Dec to over 13,000; UN delegation 17-20 March conducted first safety assessment of island. Massive fire at Cox’s Bazar Balukhali refugee camp 22 March left at least 15 dead, 400 missing and over 45,000 homeless.
Farmer protests against agricultural reforms continued, Maoist violence persisted, and disengagement agreement with China over border dispute held. Farmers 6 March marked 100 days of protests against govt’s proposed agricultural reforms by staging roadblock of major highway outside capital New Delhi; thousands of women 8 March participated in farmer protests on outskirts of Delhi to mark International Women’s Day. Farm unions 26 March called for 12-hour nationwide shutdown to maintain pressure on govt, while protesters in northern regions blocked railways in dozens of locations. Anti-Maoist security operations and Maoist violence continued throughout month. In Jharkhand state (east), IED 4 March killed three security personnel in West Singhbhum district. In Chhattisgarh state(centre), IEDs 4-5 March killed officer in Dantewada district and Maoists 23 March killed five police in Narayanpur district; security forces 20 March killed two Maoists in Dantewada district; Maoists 26 March killed local govt member in Bijapur district. In Andhra Pradesh state (south east), Maoists 5 March killed former militant suspected of being police informer in Visakhapatnam district. In Odisha state (east), Maoists and security forces 14 March exchanged fire in Malkangiri district. In Bihar state (east), security forces 16 March killed four Maoists in Gaya district. Following partial disengagement deal along unofficial and disputed Himalayan border known as Line of Actual Control in Feb, Chinese FM Wang Yi 7 March said India and China should “expand and enhance cooperation to create enabling conditions for the settlement” of border issue, while stressing that “initiating confrontation will not solve the problem”.
Ceasefire held along Line of Control (LoC, dividing Pakistan and Indian-administered Kashmir) as rhetoric cooled between India and Pakistan; deadly violence continued in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). Tensions between New Delhi and Islamabad eased following Feb agreement to observe ceasefire along Kashmir’s LoC. Pakistan’s Army Chief Bajwa 18 March said Pakistan supported “peace process or meaningful dialogue” but cautioned that “our neighbour would have to create a conducive environment, particularly in Indian-occupied Kashmir”; Pakistan’s PM Khan previous day said “India would have to take the first step [to normalise ties]”. India’s PM Modi in message to Khan on Pakistan day 23 March said India desired “cordial relations with the people of Pakistan. For this an environment of trust, devoid of terror and hostility, is imperative”. Meanwhile, India and Pakistan’s Indus Waters Commissioners 23-24 met in India’s capital New Delhi; first such meeting since India’s Aug 2019 actions in J&K. India’s Minister of State for Home Affairs G. Kishan Reddy 17 March told parliament of “instances of supply of weapons via drones from across the Pakistan border”; J&K’s police chief 20 March repeated allegation. Within J&K, clashes with security forces and militant attacks continued: Indian security forces 9 March killed alleged militant commander in Baramulla district; J&K police next day arrested four alleged Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) militants in Pampore district; security forces same day killed two militants in Anantnag district. Grenade attack on police post in Baramulla district 13 March injured two police officers. Security forces 14 March killed one militant in Shopian district; locals demonstrating against security operation 16 March clashed with police, leaving several injured. Attack on outskirts of regional capital Srinagar 25 March killed two paramilitary soldiers and injured two. Two militants and one soldier killed on 28 March in Shopian district. Grenade attack on police 28 March killed two civilians in Anantnag district; militant attack next day killed local official and his security guard in Baramulla. Militants 29 March killed policeman and councillor in Baramulla district.
Supreme Court dissolved ruling party, bringing judiciary’s independence into question and prompting political jockeying in parliament as PM KP Oli reportedly sought fresh elections. In unexpected decision, Supreme Court 7 March invalidated legal status of ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) in response to 2018 petition by another party with same name. Decision created fresh political uncertainty, effectively dissolving NCP and annulling 2018 merger between Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) and Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre); both parties now effectively reinstated. Ruling came hours before House of Representatives — recalled after Supreme Court last month overturned December 2020 dissolution by Oli — reconvened. Supreme Court 31 March rejected petition filed by Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal 30 March seeking a review of 7 March decision. Original ruling sparked discussions between formerly merged communist parties and opposition leaders on potential new alliances to secure parliamentary majority or possible no-confidence motion against Oli. Tensions between Oli and senior communist leader Madhav Kumar Nepal escalated as Oli 29 March suspended Kumar Nepal from newly reinstated Unified Marxist-Leninist party. Oli’s absence from House of Representatives throughout month fuelled speculation that he is attempting to discredit parliament in bid to once again call for fresh elections.
Tensions continued between ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and opposition amid elections, while deadly militant violence persisted. Following the victory of the 11-party opposition alliance that includes Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) in almost all Feb by-elections to the national and provincial legislatures, political tensions remained high with PM Khan’s PTI govt. In line with Feb decision from Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), Supreme Court 1 March ruled Senate elections must be held under secret ballot, nullifying govt’s request to hold elections through open ballot. PML-N leadership 11 March accused govt of using state institutions, specifically security agencies, to help their candidate in election for Senate chair; PTI candidate Muhammad Sadiq Sanjrani next day won election. Amid ongoing tensions between the top electoral body, and the PTI govt, PTI ministers 15 March called for the resignations of the entire ECP leadership. PPP next day opposed PML-N demand to resign from federal and provincial parliaments, straining opposition’s unity; tensions heightened between them after appointment 26 March of PPP nominee as Senate opposition leader. In Balochistan province, bomb 5 March killed five in Sibi city Baloch militants next day left two Pakistan Navy officers dead in Gwadar district; Pakistani Taliban bomb attack outside paramilitary prison in Chaman city 23 March killed four. Meanwhile, security forces 8 March killed five Baloch militants in operation in Mastung district. In North Waziristan district, security forces 7 March claimed to have killed at least eight militants, including three commanders of Pakistani Taliban, in Deta Khel town; security operation 17 March killed one militant and two civilians in Swat district; bomb blast 25 March injured Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam leader in Bajaur district. In Punjab province, successive militant attacks 7 March killed one police officer in Rawalpindi and one in Islamabad. In Karachi city, Balochistan Liberation Army-claimed explosion 15 March killed one soldier and injured ten others in Orangi Town. Pakistani Taliban 12 March threatened organisers of International Women’s Day march; Islamist groups same day held protests demanding govt prosecute march organisers for blasphemy, which carries death sentence; Peshawar court 25 March ordered registration of case.
UN Human Rights Council adopted groundbreaking resolution establishing new accountability process, while govt unveiled new restrictions targeting Muslims. UN Human Rights Council 23 March adopted new resolution on Sri Lanka expressing “deep concern” at “warning signs of a deteriorating human rights situation” and calling on govt to protect religious freedom, review anti-terrorism laws, allow civil society to “operate free from hindrance, surveillance, insecurity and threat of reprisals” and “ensure the prompt, thorough and impartial investigation” of serious rights violations “including for long-standing emblematic cases”. Resolution authorised UN human rights body OHCHR to “collect, consolidate, analyse and preserve information and evidence” in support of “future accountability processes for gross violations of human rights or serious violations of international humanitarian law in Sri Lanka” including through universal jurisdiction cases in individual states. Ahead of vote, in attempt to court support from Muslim-majority states for countering new UN resolution, President Rajapaksa 19 March visited Bangladesh with high-level delegation and made series of phone calls with Indian PM Modi, Egyptian President Sisi and senior officials at Organisation of Islamic Cooperation; India and Japan abstained in council vote while China and Pakistan voted against. Following vote, govt rejected UN resolution and launched public media campaign against those supporting it domestically; President Rajapaksa 27 March declared: “We are not afraid to face the impact of Geneva. It is possible not to succumb to it. We are a free country”. Meanwhile, govt announced new laws targeting Muslims. Notably, defence ministry 5 March said new regulations will require all imported Islamic books to be screened beforehand as part of counter-terrorism measures; Minister of Public Security Sarath Weerasekera 13 March announced that he had signed cabinet paper to ban burqa and nikab face veil and that 1000 madrasas will be closed on national security grounds; MFA 16 March clarified measure would be implemented following public consultations. President Rajapaksa 9 March also signed new regulations under Prevention of Terrorism Act permitting two-year detention without trial for “deradicalisation” of those accused of supporting “violent extremist religious ideology”. Police 16 March arrested prominent Muslim politician Azath Salley under terrorism act.
Suspected Islamist militants attacked church in Sulawesi while govt considered terrorist designation for West Papua separatist armed groups. In South Sulawesi province, suspected Islamic State-linked Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD) newlywed suicide bombers 28 March attacked Catholic church in Makassar city, leaving at least 19 injured and two assailants dead. President Widodo same day “strongly condemned this act of terror” and urged people to stay calm, as govt would ensure “safety to worship”; in response, police 29 March arrested dozen across several locations, including in South Sulawesi, West Nusa Tenggara and Banten provinces. In Papua province, international NGO Coalition for Papua 7 March reported that security forces previous day killed Indigenous Papuan teenager in Puyagia village, Intan Jaya, marking fifth such case since Jan and causing unknown number of civilians to flee. National Counterterrorism Agency chief Inspector General Boy Rafli Amar 22 March told House of Representatives govt ministries and agencies were discussing possibility of labelling armed groups affiliated with separatist political umbrella, Free Papua Movement, as terrorist organisations; NGO Amnesty International next day denounced potential move as “further justification for the limitation of Papuan’s freedom of speech and assembly”.
Mass protests continued against military’s Feb coup as security forces ramped up deadly crackdown on demonstrators, prompting international outcry. Amid tightened restrictions on internet services, hundreds of thousands of pro-democracy protesters demanding end to military rule continued street action nationwide, including in capital Naypyitaw, Yangon, Mandalay and many other towns and cities; in response, police and soldiers increasingly used deadly force against demonstrators, firing tear gas shells, stun grenades and live ammunition, and burning at least one person alive. Security forces throughout March also conducted intimidating terror campaign at night in residential neighbourhoods, which involved summary executions, indiscriminately firing rubber bullets, arbitrary house searches, beatings and other abuses. Rights group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners stated over 500 people killed during security crackdown between 1 Feb coup and late March, with over 2,258 – including 37 journalists – arrested. Armed Forces Day 27 March marked deadliest so far with security forces killing some 158 protesters and bystanders, including 14 children. Despite crackdown, civil disobedience movement persisted among govt employees and during month expanded into general strike; hundreds of police officers have also resigned, joined disobedience movement or fled country. Military 11 March confirmed new bribery charges against Aung San Suu Kyi, and said ruling military council will only control country for certain period of time before holding election. Acting VP of civilian parallel govt 13 March vowed to pursue “revolution” to overturn coup. Military 23 March expressed regret for deaths of demonstrators and security forces; next day freed hundreds of arrested protesters. FMs from South East Asia regional group ASEAN 2 March stated they were “appalled” by violence while EU 4 March suspended financial support for development projects and 22 March sanctioned military leaders. After freezing around $1bn in Myanmar’s central bank reserves held at U.S. Federal Reserve in Feb, U.S. 4, 10 and 22 March announced new sanctions against junta. UN Security Council 10 March strongly condemned violence against protesters. Junta 11 March confirmed it had removed Arakan Army (AA) insurgents from list of terrorist groups; AA 23 March condemned military coup and “cruel and unacceptable” crackdown.
Violence persisted in south between militant groups and security forces, prompting tens of thousands to flee in Maguindanao. In Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao in south, low-level violence between insurgents and security forces continued. In Maguindanao, suspected elements of Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) 3 and 17-19 March repeatedly attacked military outposts, leaving four militants dead and three soldiers injured, and displacing 70,000 civilians; military 18 March retaliated with ground offensive, including mortar shelling, that reportedly killed 20 combatants and displaced 60,000 locals from ten towns; five BIFF combatants 17 March surrendered. Govt security forces 6 March clashed with elements of Daulah Islamiyah in Madalum, Lanao del Sur, in five-hour-long gunfire exchange. Smaller cohorts of Islamic State (ISIS)-linked Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) 14, 16 March continued to surrender to govt, especially in Sulu province; govt forces 19 March rescued three Indonesian hostages held by ASG elements in Tawi-Tawi province. Military 20 March killed key ASG commander Majan Sahidjuan, aka “Apo Mike”. Clashes between communist New People’s Army and armed forces throughout March continued in Visayas islands in centre, Mindanao island in south and Luzon island in north, leaving at least 13 dead and six injured. In south, implementation of peace agreement with Moro Islamic Liberation Front remained stalled.
Amid ongoing regional tensions and military activity, U.S. and China traded critical comments while Philippines protested Beijing’s maritime presence near disputed reef. Beijing late Feb announced naval military exercises in South China Sea (SCS), west of Leizhou Peninsula, from 1 to 31 March. Chinese MFA 3 March said freedom of navigation in SCS “should not be used as an excuse to endanger the sovereignty and security of littoral countries” and Chinese FM Wang Yi 7 March said instability and security risks in SCS “come mainly from outside the region”. Leaders of U.S., India, Japan and Australia 12 March held virtual Quadrilateral Security Dialogue meeting, vowing to “prioritise the role of international law in the maritime domain.” Following meeting with Japanese counterparts, U.S. Sec State Blinken and Sec Defence 16 March expressed serious concerns over China’s “destabilising actions” in South and East China Seas; Blinken warned Beijing that U.S. “will push back if necessary, when China uses coercion or aggression to get its way”; Chinese MFA 17 March called statement “malicious attack on China’s foreign policy” and asserted China’s “indisputable sovereignty” over SCS. Philippines 21 March lodged diplomatic protest against China for deploying hundreds of maritime militia ships in “clear provocative action” at Whitsun Reef in Spratly Islands; Chinese MFA next day rejected claims, stating that ships were fishing vessels sheltering from rough seas; U.S. embassy in Manila 23 March issued statement saying: “We stand with the Philippines”. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte 25 March reportedly expressed concern to Chinese ambassador. Vietnam, which also claims reef, same day said China must cease violating Vietnam’s sovereignty. Philippine defence secretary 27 March said more Navy and Coast Guard vessels would be deployed to area, as well as light fighter aircraft. U.S. tech firm 25 March reported new Chinese construction on Subi Reef, near Philippine-occupied Pag-asa (Thitu) Island. Taiwanese defence minister 17 March confirmed govt increased personnel and armaments on Itu Aba island in SCS, warning “[China is] capable of starting a war”; U.S. and Taiwan 25 March signed agreement to enhance coast guard cooperation (see Taiwan). Germany 2 March announced it will send frigate to Asia in Aug, which will transit through SCS on its return.
Anti-govt protests persisted as authorities arrested and charged activists under lèse-majesté law, and violence in deep south rose for second consecutive month, leaving several dead. In capital Bangkok, pro-democracy protest movement continued, with weekly rallies throughout month, calling for release of jailed protest leaders, amendment of lèse-majesté law and reform of monarchy. Protesters 1 March set ablaze police vehicle following march from Victory Monument in Bangkok. Around 1,000 protesters 6 March gathered outside of Criminal Court to reiterate demands; four smaller protests took place same evening. Several hundred protesters 13 March marched from Victory Monument to Government House. Over 1,000 protesters 20 March converged next to Grand Palace and clashed with police, leaving 13 police officers and at least 20 civilians injured. Over 3,000 protesters 24 March rallied peacefully at Bangkok’s Rachaprasong intersection. Court 8 March indicted 18 people for role in pro-democracy protests, using various charges including lèse-majesté, sedition and organising illegal gatherings; at least 72 people charged under lèse-majesté law since Nov. Police 28 March launched raid on protesters encamped outside Government House since 13 March; at least 99 people arrested. Meanwhile, Constitutional Court 11 March ruled that parliament has authority to amend constitution providing referendums are held both to approve reform effort and new constitution once drafted; opposition criticised ruling, citing lack of reference to referendum in constitution; parliament 17 March rejected amendment bill proposing constitution drafting committee that passed second reading in Feb. Violence in deep south rose again for second consecutive month, leaving three dead. In Narathiwat province, gunmen 10 March killed Malay-Muslim defence volunteer in Bacho district; 28 March killed assistant village headman in Bacho district. In Yala province, IED attack 19 March wounded eight defence volunteers in Muang district. In Pattani province, insurgents 19 March ambushed team of rangers patrolling in Thung Yang Daeng district; motorcycle-borne gunmen 20 March killed Malay-Muslim defence volunteer in Khok Pho district. Armed group Barisan Revolusi Nasional 13 March criticised govt’s economic development programs for southernmost provinces as insincere and exploitative. Supreme Court 3 March sentenced six Malay-Muslim men to death for bombings in Pattani in 2016.
Parliament confirmed new govt led by Albin Kurti as PM, while EU special representative sought to reignite Kosovo-Serbia dialogue. Following landslide win of Vetëvendosje party in snap parliamentary elections in Feb, Central Election Commission 4 March ratified results and parliament 22 March approved new govt headed by Vetëvendosje party leader Albin Kurti. Newly confirmed PM Kurti said govt would prioritise fight against corruption, economic development and missing persons issue in dialogue with Serbia. Serbian President Vučić 23 March accused Kurti of violating Kosovo constitution by not including two Serbian ministers in newly formed govt. Prior to formation of new govt, EU Special Representative for Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue Miroslav Lajčák 1-2 March visited capital Pristina and met with Kurti, then Acting President Vjosa Osmani and then Acting PM Avdullah Hoti. After meetings, Lajčák 2 March stated that under incoming govt “there are no obstacles to reaching a comprehensive agreement between Kosovo and Serbia”; Osmani said that end goal of dialogue should be EU membership for both countries, and that Kosovo could “no longer make concessions”. Lajčák 3 March met with Serbian President Vučić in Serbian capital Belgrade, and stated that “dialogue is key for [Kosovo and Serbia] to advance on their European path”. Belgian authorities 16 March arrested former commander of Kosovo Liberation Army Pjeter Shala under indictment issued by Kosovo Specialist Chambers in The Hague.
Greece and Turkey held second round of talks amid continued regional tensions, notwithstanding improved ties between Turkey and Egypt. Greece and Turkey held 62nd round of “exploratory talks” on Aegean issues in Greek capital Athens on 16-17 March. Following talks, Greek FM Nikos Dendias conditionally agreed to invitation by his Turkish counterpart Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu to visit Turkey’s capital Ankara on 14 April, saying: “We hope that it will lead to finding common ground for resolving the only bilateral dispute we have with Turkey, namely the delimitation of the [Exclusive Economic Zone] and the continental shelf in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean”. NATO Sec Gen Jens Stoltenberg 4 March said: “We must avoid going back to the 1990s” when “similar tension resulted in casualties and aircraft crashes”. EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrel 8 March said: “The relative calm we are currently experiencing at sea in the Eastern Mediterranean and on settlement-related issues is fragile”. Leaders at European Council summit 25-26 March abstained from imposing sanctions against Turkey and pledged conditional progress to improve trade ties and cooperation on other issues. Despite ongoing exploratory talks between Athens and Ankara, numerous incidents during month led to irritation on both sides. Notably, Turkey 25 Feb-7 March conducted large-scale military exercises in undisputed waters combined with hydrographic research of vessel “Çeşme” in international waters in Central Aegean; six Saudi fighter jets 13 March arrived in Greek island Crete for exercises with Greek air forces, prompting Turkish President Erdoğan 12 March to criticise move, saying: “Saudi Arabia’s joint exercise with Greece has saddened us. We would not want to see Saudi Arabia make such a decision”. Meanwhile, in sign of thawing relations between Turkey and Egypt, President Erdoğan’s office 8 March said Turkey wants to turn new page with Egypt and Gulf countries and Turkish FM Çavuşoğlu 12 March declared that diplomatic contacts between Turkey and Egypt had started; partial rapprochement could pave way for understanding on Eastern Mediterranean dispute.
Amid ongoing standoff between govt and army, PM Pashinyan announced intention to resign and snap elections for June to pave way out of political crisis. Amid widespread popular anger over govt’s handling of Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in Sept-Nov 2020, handful of anti-govt protesters 1 March stormed govt building in capital Yerevan demanding that Pashinyan step down as PM; group left shortly thereafter. Tensions subsequently remained high between Pashinyan and army. Following PM’s request in Feb to dismiss Chief of General Staff Onik Gasparyan for alleged attempted military coup, govt 10 March announced dismissal legally valid as President Armen Sarkissian failed to officially approve request within allotted time; in response, Gasparyan called dismissal “unconstitutional”, confirmed he had appealed to administrative court. Yerevan administrative court 19 March declared that Gasparyan had right to stay in current position; in response Pashinyan 23 March said ruling was unlawful and proposed new candidate for chief of general staff position. Pashinyan’s continued assertion that Gasparyan’s dismissal was effective despite Sarkissian’s refusal to approve it prompted dozens of senior military commanders to join calls for PM to step down. Pashinyan 18 March announced snap elections scheduled for 20 June – subject to parliamentary confirmation – and 28 March said he will resign as PM in April but stay in office as acting PM; Pashinyan 18 March added “snap parliamentary elections are the best way out of the current internal political situation”. Opposition 23 March ceased street protests and removed tents in front of parliament. Constitutional Court 26 March ruled that article 300.1 of Criminal Code is illegal, effectively ending court investigation into former President Robert Kocharyan launched by Pashinyan’s govt in 2018 to investigate Kocharyan’s order to disperse street protests in 2008.
De facto Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) and Azerbaijani officials cooperated on searching for remains of soldiers and civilians. Azerbaijani and de facto NK security services continued coordination on field missions in search of remains of soldiers and civilians in Azerbaijani-controlled areas (see Nagorno-Karabakh). EU Special Representative for South Caucasus Toivo Klaar 10-13 March visited Azerbaijan, meeting with President Aliyev, among others.
EU-facilitated talks between govt and opposition concluded without deal, while opposition lawmakers in de facto South Ossetia ended six-month boycott of parliament. After court last month sentenced leader of main opposition party United National Movement Nika Melia to pre-trial detention, prompting PM Giorgi Gakharia to resign in protest, European Council President Charles Michel 1 March arrived in capital Tbilisi and, without prior notice, invited both ruling party and opposition to joint meeting; following talks, both sides declared their commitment to continue discussions on contentious issues, including recent parliamentary elections, arrest of opposition members and need to reinforce role of opposition in parliament. Michel 8 March appointed Christian Danielsson as special envoy to continue talks; Danielsson 12-19 March held meetings with both parties and announced that discussions concluded without deal; opposition said ruling party refused to demonstrate flexibility regarding their demands for snap elections and release of those detained, while ruling party said opposition had put forward “anti-state ultimatums”. Michel 23 March announced that Danielsson will return to Tbilisi by 27 March to continue talks; following further talks between govt and opposition on EU proposal for agreement that included provisions of electoral and judicial reform as well as addressing “politicised justice”, Danielsson 31 March said he was “sad to report that none of the political parties could agree to this solution in whole.” In breakaway South Ossetia, opposition parliamentarians 16 March returned to parliament for vote on candidacy for new PM after six-month boycott; de facto President Anatoliy Bibilov’s candidate Gennady Bekoyev was confirmed as PM. De facto leader early 4 March announced constitutional reforms subject to possible referendum.
Russian-brokered ceasefire continued to hold in Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) conflict zone, as de facto NK and Azerbaijani officials cooperated on searching for remains of soldiers and civilians. In NK conflict zone, situation remained stable during month. Azerbaijani govt reported that mine explosions killed at least 18 military and civilians, with 79 others seriously injured, since Nov ceasefire agreement, mainly along pre-war front line. Azerbaijani and de facto NK security services continued coordination on field missions in search of remains of soldiers and civilians in Azerbaijani-controlled areas. NK resident 20 March reported one man missing in village of Karmir Shuka (Krasny Bazar), located at line of separation; de facto authorities 21 March said his body had been found burnt several hundred metres from village and are conducting investigation. Sides made no progress toward releasing Armenian detainees and prisoners held by Azerbaijan; Baku 10 March released one ethnic Armenian woman. In first military drills since Autumn 2020 escalation, Azerbaijan 15-17 March and Armenia 16-20 March held exercises in their respective territories. Swedish FM and Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe chairperson-in-office 15-16 March visited Azerbaijan and Armenia to discuss NK issue and situation after recent war, meeting with de facto NK FM David Babayan in Yerevan, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, as well as Armenian PM Nikol Pashinyan and Armenian President Armen Sarkissian. Russian President Putin 11 March had phone conversation with Aliyev, and 12 March with Pashinyan, reportedly to discuss practical implementation of ceasefire agreements; Putin and Pashinyan 26 March again spoke after Armenian govt held joint Security Council session with de facto NK leadership on situation in conflict zone.
Supporters of imprisoned opposition politician Alexei Navalny planned for new mass rally in coming months, while security forces conducted operations in North Caucasus. With dwindling momentum for street protests following Nalvany’s imprisonment, Navalny’s team 23 March announced new drive to demand his release with plans for largest rally “in the history of modern Russia” in Spring, encouraging citizens to register support. In letter publicised 31 March, Navalny announced hunger strike to protest lack of access to medical treatment amid reports of his deteriorating health, and highlighted abuse through “sleep deprivation” during detention. In North Caucasus, head of federal domestic security force 10 March stated that “the main centers of terrorist activity and all gang leaders were liquidated” in region. In Dagestan’s Makhachkala city, security forces 11 March killed suspected militant accused of preparing attack on law enforcement officers. In Adygea, security forces 17 March detained suspected supporter of Islamic State from Central Asia who confessed to suicide attack plot. Security forces 19 March detained 14 participants of Ukrainian youth group accused of promoting neo-Nazi propaganda and provoking inter-ethnic conflict in Black Sea town of Gelendzhik and in Yaroslavl city.
Opposition leader sought to reignite anti-govt protests and announced bid to hold talks with govt amid concerns over ongoing crackdown on dissent. In attempt to restart anti-govt protests that began after disputed presidential election in Aug 2020, exiled opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya 18 March called for “second wave of protests” to begin 25 March; police 25 March reportedly arrested over 200 protesters. Tsikhanouskaya 18 March said UN and Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe were “ready to organize a platform and act as mediators, as well as to force the regime to negotiate” and announced online poll aimed at delivering democratic mandate for pursuing talks with President Lukashenka; as of 19 March, over 450,000 people had signed poll. General Prosecutor’s Office 5 March said it filed extradition request with Lithuania for Tsikhanouskaya’s return to Belarus; Lithuanian FM next day responded that “hell will first have to freeze over before we consider your requests”. Tsikhanouskaya 17 March addressed U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee and urged U.S. to apply pressure on govt by expanding sanctions to include “judges, state-owned enterprises, security officers, oligarchs” and other officials. Prosecutor General 29 March opened terrorism investigation into Tsikhanouskaya alleging plot to conduct arson and plant explosives in capital Minsk and other cities. Lukashenka 2 March said: “The [new] constitution… we will adopt in January-February next year. And that is all that the transfer of power will be about”, and 19 March said: “There will be other presidents. I can guarantee this”. Meanwhile, UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders 19 March expressed concern over “increasing crackdown against human rights defenders in Belarus” amid reports of “raids on offices, arrests of human rights defenders and the hampering of lawyers’ work”; authorities 22 March reportedly detained leader of opposition United Civil Party. U.S. House of Representatives’ Human Rights Commission 13 March called on Minsk to immediately release jailed blogger Ihar Losik who has been detained since June 2020.
Conflict escalated further in east as Donbas ceasefire showed cracks, with over 20 killed amid deadlocked peace talks. In Donbas conflict zone, fighting during month killed up to 11 Russia-backed fighters and one civilian, according to data from de facto heads and social media, and at least nine Ukrainian govt servicemen, per official reports; latter included four killed by sniper fire 26 March, prompting Ukraine’s parliament 30 March to adopt resolution calling for increased Western pressure on Russia. During videoconference same day with French and German heads of state, Russian President Putin expressed “concern at the military escalation provoked by Ukraine”. Earlier in month, press service of so-called Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) 3 March granted troops permission to launch “preventative fire”, undermining July 2020 ceasefire provisions; Head of Ukrainian Trilateral Contact Group (TCG) delegation Leonid Kravchuk same day said that Russian-backed forces were escalating violence in response to Kyiv’s sanctions in Feb on Ukrainian pro-Russian opposition politicians and U.S. and EU “increased pressure” on Moscow. Ukrainian Commander-in-Chief 30 March accused Russia of building up military forces near Ukraine’s borders. President Zelenskyy’s Chief of Staff Andryi Yermak 9 March announced that French and German officials had helped produce new roadmap for peaceful reintegration of breakaway parts of Donbas; Dmitry Kozak, Russian President Putin’s deputy chief of staff, 16 March called new peace plan “a myth”, reflecting Feb recommendations made by Germany and France which Russia had largely rejected. Ukraine’s Security and Defence Council 11 March approved draft strategy “for the deoccupation and reintegration” of Crimean Peninsula; Russian MFA 15 March said “all of Kyiv’s efforts to return Crimea are illegitimate” and constitute “direct encroachment on [Russia’s] territorial integrity”. Gathering in support of imprisoned activist Serhiy Sternenko 30 March ended in damage to façade of Presidential Administration; interior minister attributed damage to possible plot by ex-President Poroshenko while supporters of Sternenko and Poroshenko blamed interior ministry.
Expectations for next month’s high-level talks on resolving longstanding conflict remained tempered. Ahead of five-plus-one talks – which will include UN, leaders of two Cypriot communities, and three guarantor powers Greece, Turkey and UK – scheduled for 27-29 April in Geneva, sides remained far apart on desired outcomes: Turkey/Turkish Cypriots favour solution based on equal sovereignty of two states, while Greece/Republic of Cyprus continue to voice support for return to settlement talks for bi-zonal, bi-communal federation. Turkish President Erdoğan 19 March called for debate around new and realistic options “instead of dictating to the sides past models that have proven to be unsuccessful”. Republic of Cyprus, Greece and Israel 8 March signed Memorandum of Understanding on project to establish new energy grid transporting electricity from Israel-Cyprus to Europe through Greece; Ankara 16 March issued verbal note requesting information and that its approval be sought for “works in areas within [Turkey’s] continental shelf”. EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrel 8 March said: “The relative calm we are currently experiencing at sea in the Eastern Mediterranean and on settlement-related issues is fragile. Progress in the Cyprus talks is more important than ever”.
Loyalist paramilitary groups temporarily withdrew support for Good Friday Agreement. Loyalist Communities Council (LCC), umbrella group representing paramilitary groups, 3 March temporarily withdrew support for 1998 Good Friday Agreement in protest of Northern Ireland Protocol – provision of UK-EU “Brexit” agreement in effect since 1 Jan 2020 that creates regulatory border in Irish Sea; Chairman of LCC David Campbell warned that EU and UK would be “responsible for the permanent destruction of agreement” if not honoured in its entirety. Campbell 19 March warned that if “core guarantees” were not honoured, this would lead “to significant protest, to the bringing down of the Northern Ireland executive and then into significant political crisis”.
Military slightly reduced operations against Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Turkey and northern Iraq while authorities actively sought to proscribe pro-Kurdish party. Govt escalated efforts to criminalise pro-Kurdish opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP): chief prosecutor 17 March filed indictment with Constitutional Court seeking ban of HDP, calling it undemocratic party that colludes with “terrorist” PKK and seeks to “destroy unity of state”, as well as five-year ban on over 600 HDP members. Meanwhile, operations continued in south-eastern Şırnak, Siirt, Van and Hakkari provinces and around northern Iraq’s Hakurk and Qandil areas during month. Missiles 18 March landed in Turkey’s Kilis province in south, reportedly fired from Tel Rifat city in Syria’s Aleppo province controlled by Kurdish-led People’s Protection Units (YPG); Turkish defence ministry same day announced retaliatory attacks on surrounding villages. Security forces continued operations against Islamic State (ISIS) operatives; police during month detained over 100 individuals for their alleged ISIS links, including Syrian and Iraqi nationals. In sign of thawing relations between Turkey and Egypt, FM Çavuşoğlu 12 March declared that diplomatic contacts between Turkey and Egypt had started (see Eastern Mediterranean).
Govt and Uzbekistan struck deal to resolve longstanding border disputes while lawmakers approved April referendum on constitutional reforms. Following state visit to Uzbekistan’s capital Tashkent, President Japarov and Uzbek President Mirziyoyev 12 March agreed to complete demarcation of sections of border within three months and improve access between Uzbekistan and its exclave of Sokh inside Kyrgyzstan. Kyrgyz and Uzbek PMs 25 March approved deal that includes land swaps and opening multiple checkpoints to improve access in and out of Sokh exclave; head of Kyrgyz security services next day said “issues around the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border have been resolved 100 percent” and “there is not a single patch of disputed territory left”. Separately, Tajik and Kyrgyz officials 15-18 March held talks on demarcation of Kyrgyz-Tajik border and agreed to hold further talks, which took place on 26 March. Meanwhile, lawmakers 11 March approved referendum, scheduled for 11 April, on constitutional amendments that include greater powers for president and reducing number of lawmakers from 120 to 90; President Japarov 15 March said “I believe this constitution will establish order in the country”. NGO Human Rights Watch 5 March criticised draft constitution, said it “undermines human rights norms and weakens checks and balances”. Dozens of protesters 9 March held rally in capital Bishkek against proposed amendments; police 15 March detained protest organiser Tilekmat Kudaibergenov. Govt 16 March repatriated 79 children born to Kyrgyz parents who in recent years travelled to Iraq to join Islamic State or other extremist groups; UN children agency UNICEF same day commended govt’s decision while U.S. said “Kyrgyz government deserves praise for its commitment to help the returned children”.
Govt held talks with Kyrgyzstan on border delimitation while concerns rose over instability of Afghan border. Tajik and Kyrgyz officials 15-18 March held talks over demarcation of Kyrgyz-Tajik border and agreed to hold further talks, which took place on 26 March. Governor of Shamsiddin Shohin district in south, at border with Afghanistan, 6 March confirmed that authorities engaged with local residents, including hunters and army reservists, to encourage them to “take up arms to defend our country” amid concerns of spillover from fighting inside Afghanistan’s northern provinces.
Govt and Kyrgyzstan struck deal to resolve longstanding border disputes. Following state visit to Uzbekistan’s capital Tashkent, Kyrgyzstan’s President Japarov and President Mirziyoyev 12 March agreed to complete demarcation of sections of border within three months and improve access between Uzbekistan and its exclave of Sokh inside Kyrgyzstan; Japarov’s press secretary 13 March said “the Uzbek side expressed its readiness not to claim the Unkur-Too area” in Kyrgyzstan’s Osh region. Kyrgyz and Uzbek PMs 25 March approved deal that includes land swaps and opening multiple checkpoints to improve access in and out of Sokh exclave; head of Kyrgyz security services next day said “issues around the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border have been resolved 100 percent” and “there is not a single patch of disputed territory left”. Meanwhile, Ferghana regional court 18 March found 22 defendants guilty of involvement in mass unrest in Kyrgyzstan’s Sokh exclave in May 2020, which left scores injured; defendants sentenced to between two and five years’ imprisonment.
Arrest of former Interim President Jeanine Áñez triggered mass protests. Police 13 March arrested Áñez, along with former cabinet ministers Rodrigo Guzmán and Álvaro Coimbra on charges of terrorism, sedition and conspiracy during 2019 political crisis, which led then-incumbent President Morales to resign and Áñez to declare herself interim president; authorities 11 March also issued arrests warrants for former general and ex-police chief who had both urged Morales to resign. Áñez 15 March transferred to prison for four-month pre-trial detention. Tens of thousands of Áñez supporters same day protested across country, including at least 40,000 in country’s largest city Santa Cruz. Organization of American States 15 March said “judicial mechanisms […] have been transformed into instruments of repression by the ruling party”. Thousands 18 March demonstrated in capital La Paz in support of govt and President Arce, asked for “justice” for what they consider “coup d’Etat” against Morales in 2019. Court 20 March extended Áñez’s pre-trial detention to six months. In letter posted on Twitter, Áñez 23 March accused police and govt of “abusive” actions, said she had been denied proper medical treatment while in detention.
Ombudsman reported record displacement figures since early 2021, while controversy emerged over govt’s handling of children forcibly recruited into armed groups. Ombudsman’s office 8 March reported more than 11,000 people forcibly displaced in 2021, compared to 15,000 in all of 2020; displacement highest along Pacific coast, where rival armed groups have been clashing over territorial control and opposing military; 90% of those displaced reportedly from Indigenous or Afro-Colombian communities. UN humanitarian office 9 March said unclear number of people, up to 3,000, displaced by brutal dispute between rival criminal groups in port city of Buenaventura, Valle de Cauca department (west along Pacific coast) since early Jan; UN Human Rights Office in Colombia 19 March recorded over 41 homicides and 13 cases of disappearance in city since early Jan, urged authorities to dismantle criminal networks operating there. Military airstrike on camp of alleged Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) dissident faction 2 March killed several combatants in Calamar municipality, Guaviare department (centre south). After local journalist 9 March claimed 14 minors killed, Defence Minister Diego Molano next day said child recruits are “war machines” no longer deserving state protection; in response, director of child protection agency Instituto Colombiano de Bienestar Familiar same day said child soldiers are victims. Forensics next day confirmed death in govt airstrike of 16-year-old and two other youths aged 18 and 19. Meanwhile, car bomb allegedly placed by FARC dissidents outside town hall of Corinto, Cauca department (south west), 26 March wounded 43 people. Colombian NGO Dejusticia 7 March released Dec 2020 letter from seven UN Special Rapporteurs to President Duque expressing strong opposition to resumption of aerial fumigation of coca, citing “enormous risks for the environment and human rights” and violation of 2016 peace agreement. Govt subsequently dismissed letter and maintained intention to restart fumigation in April. Clashes between Venezuela’s military and Colombian FARC dissidents 21 March erupted in Venezuelan border state of Apure; Colombian govt 28 March said 4,700 had sought refuge in Colombia since fighting started; refugees reportedly accused Venezuelan soldiers of abuses, including killing civilians.
Diplomatic efforts resumed to resolve political crisis, and clashes erupted between military and Colombian guerrilla group at border with Colombia. Norwegian delegation 9 March arrived in capital Caracas in attempt to revive comprehensive talks between President Maduro’s govt and mainstream opposition; initiative comes as civil society organisations and opposition faction led by former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles have been trying to negotiate with govt appointment of more inclusive National Electoral Council (CNE) ahead of regional and local elections due by late 2021. Mainstream opposition leader Juan Guaidó 3 March said he would support appointment of new CNE only if its members were not chosen unilaterally by govt-controlled National Assembly. National Assembly 16 March extended deadline for appointing CNE by two weeks, potentially allowing mainstream opposition to put forward candidates; but opposition did not take up opportunity. During visit to Caracas, Spanish deputy FM Cristina Gallach 28-29 March discussed political crisis with govt, opposition and business representatives. Guaidó, recognised by U.S. as Venezuela’s legitimate president, and U.S. Sec State Antony Blinken 2 March discussed “return to democracy in Venezuela through free and fair elections” and “urgent humanitarian needs”. UN Fact-Finding Mission on Venezuela 10 March said police forces committed at least 200 extrajudicial killings in 2021, and UN human rights chief Bachelet next day called for “prompt and independent investigations” into ongoing “extra-judicial executions”. Clashes between military and Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) dissidents 20-21 March erupted in Apure border state, leaving at least two Venezuelan soldiers dead; Colombian govt 28 March said 4,700 had sought refuge in Colombia since fighting started; refugees reportedly accused Venezuelan soldiers of abuses, including killing civilians. U.S. 8 March granted Venezuelan migrants temporary protected status, allowing them to stay and work in U.S. for 18 months. Amid negotiations between govt and mainstream opposition for access to COVID-19 vaccines under World Health Organization’s COVAX mechanism, mainstream opposition 19 March said it would seek to use $30mn in govt funds – frozen in U.S. accounts as part of sanctions against Maduro’s govt – to pay for vaccines. Maduro however reiterated refusal of AstraZeneca vaccine, one of main vaccines under COVAX, citing side effects.
Political tensions peaked as rifts deepened between President Bolsonaro and military, while COVID-19 pandemic spiralled out of control. Bolsonaro 29 March dismissed six cabinet members, including Defence Minister Fernando Azevedo e Silva and FM Ernesto Araújo; move followed growing rift between Bolsonaro and military on one hand, and lawmakers’ growing discontent over Araújo’s COVID-19 vaccine diplomacy, on the other. Commanders of Army, Navy and Air Force next day jointly resigned in protest. Meanwhile, spiralling COVID-19 infection rates – due partly to spread of COVID-19 P1 variant – overwhelmed hospitals across country; death toll 24 March reached milestone of 300,000 since outbreak of pandemic, and record 3,780 daily fatalities reported on 30 March. Bolsonaro 15 March appointed new health minister, fourth in a year, and 21 March labelled state governors and mayors “tyrants” for imposing lockdowns. Several Latin American countries strengthened travel restrictions to and from Brazil during month. Supreme Court 8 March annulled two corruption convictions against former President Lula on grounds that court did not have proper jurisdiction in case, clearing him to stand for re-election in 2022 general election; 23 March ruled that Judge Sergio Moro who presided over past proceedings was biased and acted in collusion with prosecutors.
As president’s brother sentenced for drug trafficking in U.S., top level officials continued to face accusations of supporting long-established drug trafficking network. U.S. court 30 March sentenced president’s brother, Juan Antonio “Tony” Hernández, to life imprisonment for drug trafficking and ordered over $138mn in his assets to be confiscated. U.S. court 22 March also found Honduran national Geovanny Fuentes Ramírez guilty of drug trafficking. During Fuentes’ trial, Los Cachiros drug cartel’s former head Devis Leonel Rivera Maradiaga 11 March said he had bribed President Hernández when he was head of Congress in 2012 in exchange for protection; also said Los Cachiros bribed current VP Ricardo Álvarez and former President Zelaya in 2012 and 2006 respectively; both immediately denied accusations. U.S. Prosecutor 19 March said Hernández accepted bribes from Fuentes as recently as 2019. Ahead of trial, Hernández 8 March said anti-drug cooperation between Honduras and U.S. would be jeopardised should U.S. authorities believe “false testimonies” and once again denied accusations of partnering with traffickers. Ahead of Nov general elections, primary elections 14 March took place for all political parties despite lack of electoral law, and absence of quick-vote count or results transmission mechanism; roughly 1mn voters (out of 5mn) reportedly unable to cast vote due to incongruencies between old and new voter registries. As of 26 March, preliminary results showed capital Tegucigalpa mayor, Nasry Afura (under investigation for alleged misuse of public funds), in lead position to gain ruling National Party’s nomination; former Minister Yani Rosenthal (who served three years in U.S. prison for laundering drug money) in lead position for opposition Liberal Party; and wife of former President Zelaya, Xiomara Castro, in lead position for opposition Libre Party. Luis Zelaya, losing candidate for Liberal Party, rejected preliminary results, citing “evident signs of fraud”, and 24 March formed electoral coalition with two Libre Party losing candidates and former presidential candidate Salvador Nasralla. As of 25 March, electoral authorities had received 147 challenges to electoral results. Unidentified assailant 22 March shot and killed indigenous and environmental activist Carlos Cerros near San Antonio city in north west.
President Bukele gained control of legislature amid persistent tensions between govt and electoral authorities. Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) 19 March announced final results of legislative and local elections held in Feb, giving Bukele’s party Nuevas Ideas absolute majority in Legislative Assembly with 56 of 84 seats, and 152 of 262 municipalities. TSE had delayed proclamation by a few days after Nuevas Ideas 16 March filed petition claiming electoral body was trying to reduce number of party’s city councillors in at least 83 municipalities. Earlier in month, police 1-2 March said they had found abandoned ballots in Chalatenango (north) and San Rafael Obrajuelo (centre) municipalities, but TSE head 11 March insisted that 100% of ballots had been counted. Meanwhile, after employees’ union of Legislative Assembly 10 March denounced existence of at least 1,000 ghost jobs in Congress, Attorney General’s Office 15 March opened investigation and next day searched Assembly, gathering more than a thousand documents. Organization of American States-backed International Commission against Impunity in El Salvador 25 March called on govt to carry out series of legal reforms to enhance fight against corruption. Association of Journalists in El Salvador 1 March reported at least 58 infringements of journalists’ activities on election day, including 40% by National Police. Supreme Court 5 March admitted claim for protection from digital newspaper El Faro against finance ministry’s audit, which included request for information about newspaper’s subscribers. Govt immediately said court was protecting El Faro’s “NGO-like agenda disguised as journalism”. Authorities 2 March detained MS-13 leader Hugo Armando Quinteros Mineros in Santiago de María municipality, Usulután department (east); U.S. authorities had charged him with terrorism in Jan. Criminal court 5 March sentenced 128 suspected gang members to between three and 415 years in prison for murder and terrorist activities.
President Ortega continued to face domestic and international pressure to cease crackdown on dissent and carry out electoral reforms. UN Human Rights Council 23 March passed resolution calling on govt to “release all those arbitrarily or illegally detained”, halt repression against dissidents and adopt “electoral and institutional reforms” ahead of general elections scheduled for Nov. Chair of EU Parliament’s delegation for relations with Central American countries 15 March expressed concern over lack of conditions for free and transparent elections, citing recent “adoption of new repressive laws” and absence of electoral reform. Six U.S. Congress members, both Democrats and Republicans, 25 March introduced bill to increase sanction pressure on Ortega’s govt to ensure that electoral reforms are carried out. U.S. State Department report 30 March said govt “continued to hold 106 political prisoners as of Dec 2020, nine of them in solitary confinement”; U.S. Sec State Antony Blinken same day said Ortega’s “corrupt” govt “passed increasingly repressive laws that limit severely the ability of opposition political groups, civil society and independent media to operate”. On occasion of National Journalist Day, around 500 journalists, editors and photographers 1 March called on govt to immediately cease attacks against media; Inter-American Commission on Human Rights’ Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression Pedro Vaca same day denounced “very sophisticated censorship mechanisms” and “significant erosion of the rule of law”. Ortega 8 March accused civil society organisations of laundering money “to develop destabilising terrorist activities”.
Death of police officers in anti-gang operation triggered violent unrest and President Moïse sought international support to combat mounting insecurity. Anti-gang operation in Village de Dieu neighbourhood of capital Port-au-Prince 12 March turned violent, leaving at least four special police unit officers dead and eight others wounded. After video showing gang members beating police circulated online, harsh criticism of botched operation and widespread insecurity emerged on social media under #FreeHaiti hashtag, and several days of unrest roiled Port-au-Prince and surroundings, with demonstrators 15 March erecting barricades on city’s main roads. Members of outlawed Fantom 509, group of disgruntled police officers, 17 March protested to demand return of officers’ bodies still held by gang members, also set Delmas police station on fire and freed four jailed comrades accused of participating in 7 Feb alleged coup attempt against President Moïse; next day broke into Croix-des-Bouquets police station, freeing one officer reportedly imprisoned for shooting gang member. Moïse 15 March asked Organization of American States (OAS) Sec Gen Luis Almagro for assistance to deal with security crisis and next day requested UN technical and logistical support for police forces. Govt 18 March declared state of emergency in several areas where gangs exert control. Meanwhile, thousands 7 March demonstrated in Port-au-Prince in massive pro-democracy protest, denounced surge in abductions and called on Moïse to resign. On anniversary of Haitian constitution, thousands 28-29 March took to streets in Port-au-Prince to protest constitutional referendum scheduled for 27 June; Moïse 29 March reiterated need for constitutional reform. OAS 17 March passed resolution welcoming Moïse’s invitation to send Electoral Observation Mission to monitor upcoming constitutional referendum and general elections. Meanwhile, Dominican Republic govt 2 March detailed plan, first announced 27 Feb, to build fence along border with Haiti to curb irregular migration and illicit trade.
Political violence continued in run-up to 6 June legislative, regional and local elections, and women mobilised against gender-based violence. Unidentified assailants 17 March killed Pedro Gutiérrez, ruling MORENA party precandidate for municipal presidency of Chilón town, Chiapas state (south), alongside his 8-year-old son and another person; 20 March killed Ivonne Gallegos Carreño, opposition precandidate for mayor of Ocotlán de Morelos town, in Oaxaca state (south). Govt 4 March said at least 64 politicians, including 17 candidates running for office, had been killed between Sept 2020 and Feb 2021. On International Women’s Day, thousands of women 8 March gathered across country against gender-based violence, high rates of femicides and impunity enjoyed by perpetrators, as well as President López Obrador’s backing of Félix Salgado Macedonio, who stands accused of rape, as ruling MORENA party candidate for Guerrero state governorship. Women’s march in capital Mexico City turned violent: demonstrators threw firecrackers and Molotov cocktails against fence erected outside presidential palace and clashed with police, leaving at least 81 injured including 62 police. National Electoral Institute 26 March suspended Macedonio’s candidacy alongside 26 other candidates, citing failures to report campaign spending. Suspected members of La Familia Michoacana criminal group 18 March ambushed and killed 13 police officers or agents from state prosecutor’s office in Coatepec Harinas municipality, Mexico state (centre). Angry villagers 29 March detained 15 soldiers for hours in Motozintla municipality, Chiapas state (south) near border with Guatemala after soldier reportedly shot dead Guatemalan migrant. Prosecutors 28 March said they were investigating four municipal police officers following death of woman in police custody previous day in Tulum town, Quintana Roo state (south); Obrador next day said woman had been subjected to “brutal treatment and murdered”. In major policy shift, Chamber of Deputies 11 March approved law partly legalising marijuana; law still has to pass Senate. U.S. President Biden 22 March dispatched envoys to Mexico and Guatemala for talks on how to manage major increase in number of migrants heading for Mexican-U.S. border; Biden 24 March said he had tasked U.S. VP Kamala Harris with coordinating efforts to stem flow of migrants on border.
Amid growing discontent over govt’s handling of COVID-19 pandemic, violent protests erupted and President Mario Abdo Benítez survived impeachment bid. Amid growing public discontent with record rates of COVID-19 infections, hospitals nearing collapse and country’s slow vaccine program, thousands 5 March demonstrated in capital Asunción to call for Benítez’s resignation; protest turned violent as some protesters threw rocks at police and broke down security barriers, and police fired rubber bullets and tear gas at demonstrators; clashes left at least one protester dead and over 32 injured including 12 police officers. Public Health Minister Julio Mazzoleni same day stepped down; dismissal followed lawmakers’ non-binding declaration previous day calling for Mazzoleni’s resignation amid health crisis. Benítez 6 March reportedly called on cabinet to resign and replaced ministers for education, women’s affairs and civil affairs, after thousands poured into streets of downtown Asunción for second day in a row. Lower-scale protests persisted in following days. U.S. Sec State Antony Blinken 14 March urged govt to work with international and regional partners to “overcome this global pandemic, combat corruption and increase transparency and accountability”. Lawmakers 17 March rejected impeachment motion filed by opposition against Benítez and VP Hugo Velázquez over govt’s handling of pandemic; as protesters gathered outside Congress, police used rubber bullets and water cannons to disperse them.