CrisisWatch is a monthly early warning bulletin designed to provide a regular update on the state of the most significant situations of conflict around the world.
Iraq faced greater instability when government forces swiftly took back disputed territories including Kirkuk in the aftermath of the Kurdish region’s independence referendum, while in Libya fighting worsened in the west and could spread in November. Insurgent violence spiked in Afghanistan resulting in mass casualties, and Somalia saw its deadliest ever terror attack. In Cameroon, security forces cracked down on militant secessionist groups in the Anglophone minority, while tensions over the contested independence referendum in Spain’s Catalonia deepened. Clashes between herders and farming communities in Nigeria could flare with the Benue state government imposing its ban on unrestricted grazing.
The government of Iraq responded to the Kurdish region’s independence referendum on 25 September – in which Kurds overwhelmingly voted “yes” – by forcibly taking back the disputed city of Kirkuk and its oil fields, as well as other parts of the disputed territories. Federal forces met little resistance as Kurdish troops withdrew or fled. The move pushed the Kurdistan regional government onto the back foot; with few options, it accepted Baghdad’s call for dialogue and offered to suspend its push for independence. On 29 October the region’s president, Masoud Barzani, said he would resign. As Crisis Group has argued, the only sensible way forward is a return to UN-led negotiations, supported by the U.S., EU, Iran and Turkey, focused on the issues that gave rise to the crisis: the unresolved status of the disputed territories, and how to share oil revenues.
In Libya, fighting escalated in the west. The Anti-ISIS Operations Room militia said in early October it had taken full control from rival militias of Sabratha, a major jumping-off point for illegal migrants crossing the Mediterranean to Europe. Forces with sympathies for General Khalifa Haftar’s east-based Libyan National Army captured other strategic areas. In coming weeks, with multiple armed groups vying for high stakes, fighting risks erupting elsewhere in the west. Meanwhile, UN-led talks aimed at renegotiating parts of the 2015 Libyan Political Agreement faltered. As Crisis Group has explained, while the UN is rightly focused on resetting the political process, recurrent violence underlines the need to establish a dialogue among security actors in various parts of the country starting at the local level.
In Somalia’s deadliest ever terror attack, two lorry bombs killed over 350 people, mostly civilians, in the capital Mogadishu on 14 October. No one has claimed responsibility but suspicion falls squarely on Islamist insurgent group Al-Shabaab. In the aftermath, Crisis Group urged President Farmajo to make the most of surging popular support for the government to overcome divisions in society and chronic weaknesses in the security sector that make Al-Shabaab such a persistent threat.
The confrontation between Cameroon’s government and the Anglophone minority in the South West and North West regions continued to sharpen, with the security forces’ repression of protests claiming dozens of lives and stoking calls for secession. Militant secessionist groups’ symbolic declaration of independence on 1 October set the stage for more intense clashes. Crisis Group has called on President Biya to implement key reforms and pursue inclusive, high-level dialogue mediated by the UN or African Union.
In Nigeria, where violent conflicts between nomadic herders and sedentary farming communities have escalated in recent years, the Benue state government’s ban on unrestricted grazing risks provoking more violence as herders have vowed to resist it. As Crisis Group has warned, to avert further escalation federal and state-level governments need to collaborate to shore up security for herders and farmers, strengthen conflict-resolution mechanisms and initiate longer-term reform of livestock management.
October saw another spike in casualties from insurgent attacks in Afghanistan. Among the incidents, over 70 people were killed, mostly police, in Taliban attacks in Paktia and Ghazni provinces, south of Kabul, on 17 October. Two days later, a Taliban attack on a military base in the southern province Kandahar killed over 40 soldiers. In the capital Kabul at least 56 people were killed in an attack on a mosque by Islamic State-Khorasan on 20 October.
Tensions worsened in Spain as Catalonia’s regional government pressed ahead with a unilateral independence referendum on 1 October. Catalan officials reported hundreds of people were injured as police tried to block voting. After Catalonia’s parliament voted to declare independence on 27 October, Madrid dismissed the Catalan government and called snap regional elections. Spain’s attorney general announced it had filed charges against Catalan leaders for rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds.
Opposition coalition CNARED (National Council for the Respect of the Arusha Agreement, Restoration of the Rule of Law) 14 Oct met UN envoy, former Burkina Faso President Kafando, and demanded dialogue with regime; govt refused to attend meeting with opposition planned for Oct. Cabinet 24 Oct approved bill proposing constitutional amendments that would allow President Nkurunziza to run for fourth term in 2020; new draft constitution to be put to referendum by Feb 2018. Tanzanian police 12 Oct found 40 firearms in Burundian refugee camp at Nduta, Tanzania. Ruling party CNDD-FDD 14 Oct organised rally in Bujumbura to protest alleged plot by Rwanda, Belgium and UN to destabilise country. Rebel group Popular Forces of Burundi (FPB) said security forces from Tanzania and Burundi arrested four of its members including leader Jeremie Ntiranyibagira in Ngara, Tanzania 21 Oct, who were next day extradited to Burundi; Burundi govt has not confirmed. Burundi’s membership of International Criminal Court ended 27 Oct after one year elapsed since govt notified court of decision to leave.
Confrontation between govt and Anglophone minority in South West and North West regions intensified, with repression of protests by security forces claiming dozens of lives and stoking calls for secession. Tens of thousands protested 1 Oct to symbolically declare independence of “Ambazonia”, putative name of English-speaking region; security forces used live bullets and tear gas to disperse protests, dozens killed, crackdown continued in following week including in capital Yaoundé. Secessionist leaders 12 Oct referred President Biya and some govt members to International Criminal Court for genocide and crimes against humanity. Biya instructed Anglophone elites including PM and parliamentarians to conduct dialogue mission in Anglophone regions; mission started 16 Oct but population largely rejected it saying they were against interlocutors sent, not dialogue. Govt banned opposition pro-Anglophones demonstration in Douala 21 Oct, security forces dispersed protestors. International community called for dialogue and U.S. 4 Oct condemned govt’s “unacceptable” use of force. Boko Haram attacks in Far North eased, but start of dry season in Nov could see rise. Double suicide bombings in Mozogo, Mayo Tsanaga department 2 Oct killed two female bombers and one civilian; insurgents killed two civilians in Ladaoutsaf, Mayo Tsanaga 10 Oct; double suicide bombings in Limani, Mayo Sava department 18 Oct and triple suicide bombings 25 Oct in Mozogo killed only bombers, all female; insurgents killed eleven people in Gouderi and two people in Mada, both Mayo Sava department 30 Oct. Female suicide bomber 31 Oct reportedly killed five children in Zamga village, 2km from Nigerian border. Army corporal killed senior army officer and then himself 4 Oct in Mora, Mayo Sava department. At least fourteen insurgents surrendered to vigilante groups in month in Tolkomari and Gansé villages, Mayo Sava department.
Violence involving armed groups continued in east and north. Anti-balaka militia 10 Oct attacked Kembe, Basse-Kotto province in east to push back ex-Seleka faction Union for Peace in the Central African Republic (UPC), targeting Muslims, reportedly killing 25 people in mosque including imam, 22 combatants also killed. Anti-balaka 18 Oct attacked Pombolo, Mbomou province in east, clashing with UPC and targeting Muslims, killing at least 26. Anti-balaka clashed repeatedly with ethnic Fulani in Zemio, Haut Mbomou province in south east, several reportedly killed. Abdoulaye Hissene, leader of ex-Seleka faction Popular Front for the Central African Renaissance (FPRC), early Oct initiated talks in Ippy, Ouaka province in east that resulted in 9 Oct ceasefire in Ouaka and Basse-Kotto provinces among three ex-Seleka factions (FPRC, UPC and Central African Patriotic Movement) and local anti-balaka branch, Rassemblement des Républicains; deal includes dismantling of roadblocks, mixed patrols and return of Fulani herders. In north, UN mission (MINUSCA) 7 Oct forced Fulani-dominated Retour, Réclamation et Réhabilitation armed group to leave Bocaranga, Ouham-Pende province in large-scale operation after 3 Oct deadline passed; group reportedly went to Koui nearby. Ex-Seleka faction 24 Oct clashed with anti-balaka in Saragba, near Batangafo, Ouham province in north, six people reportedly killed. President Touadéra 11 Oct appointed members of armed groups to presidency including Mahamat Ousmane Mahamat of FPRC and Hassan Bouba of UPC. UN Sec Gen’s special advisor for prevention of genocide Adama Dieng visited 6-11 Oct, concluding country “not in pre-genocide situation”. UN Sec Gen Guterres visited 24-27 Oct, appealed for 900 additional MINUSCA troops.
Army completed withdrawal of its troops, begun late Sept, from Diffa region in south east Niger, where they had been operating against Boko Haram; govt said troops to be redeployed to Wour, Tibetsi region in north as part of G5 Sahel joint force against Islamist militancy and trafficking. President Déby visited north early Oct, replacing civilian and military officials over security lapses. Eleven people reportedly killed 18 Oct in local conflict in Darasna, Salamat region in south east. Niger authorities captured three Chadian rebels of Conseil de commandement militaire pour le salut de la République 4 Oct and stated intention to hand them over to Chadian govt. French President Macron 9 Oct said France would in next two years offer resettlement to 10,000 refugees, of which 3,000 would be from Chad and Niger; French refugee agency (OFPRA) started first mission in Chad to identify eligible refugees late Oct.
Electoral commission (CENI) president 11 Oct said it would need at least 504 days to prepare elections after voter registration, pushing vote to mid-2019, beyond deadline of end-2017 set in 31 Dec 2016 agreement; Felix Tshisekedi, leader of opposition coalition Rassemblement, 12 Oct called statement “declaration of war”. CENI, govt and committee overseeing implementation of 31 Dec deal assessed its implementation 14-18 Oct; agreed CENI should publish realistic electoral calendar as soon as possible. U.S. Ambassador to UN Nikki Haley visited 25-27 Oct, said DRC must hold elections before end-2018 or else vote would “lose international support”. Tshisekedi 31 Oct said Rassemblement would agree to elections by June 2018 if President Kabila steps down at end of 2017 and transition govt put in place. Clashes in Goma in east 30 Oct between security forces and people protesting President Kabila’s extended rule left four civilians and one policemen dead. In centre, voter registration, begun mid-Sept, advanced in Kasai, Kasai Central and Lomami provinces. In Ituri province in east, skirmishes between UN mission (MONUSCO) and Front for Patriotic Resistance in Ituri (FRPI) near Tshanda 11 Oct wounded three peacekeepers. In N Kivu province, armed groups remained active in Lubero, Masisi, Rutshuru and Beni territories; MONUSCO repelled Mai Mai attack on its base in Lubero 6 Oct killing two militiamen. Suspected Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) militants attacked military and civilians 7 Oct north of Beni city, at least 22 people, mostly civilians, killed; two peacekeepers killed 11 Oct in attack on MONUSCO along Mbau-Kamango road. Mai Mai militants attacked army post at Isale-Bulambo, Beni territory 29 Oct, one attacker reportedly killed. In S Kivu province, after army and MONUSCO late Sept held off offensive on Uvira by Mai Mai Yakutumba and allied National People’s Coalition for the Sovereignty of Congo (CNPSC) militias, army continued operations south of Uvira to dislodge CNPSC. Mai Mai Malaika associated with CNPSC from 8 Oct attacked Shabunda territory, west of Bukavu. In Haut-Katanga province in south east, unidentified militants 6 Oct attacked Pweto airport and post on Zambia border, leading to escape of some 50 inmates from Pweto prison; dozens of protesters arrested in provincial capital Lubumbashi 23 Oct before visit of Felix Tshisekedi. DRC elected to UN Human Rights Council 16 Oct, effective Jan 2018; U.S. and UK criticised election on basis of authorities’ human rights violations.
Security forces clashed with anti-govt protestors on several occasions in Oromia regional state. Oromia official said federal forces killed at least six anti-govt protesters in multiple locations 11 Oct. Following clashes between ethnic Somalis and Oromo in disputed areas along border between Somali and Oromia regional states in Sept, residents in Soddo, Oromia region 12 Oct blocked lorries escorted by federal security forces which they suspected were taking arms to Somali regional state’s Liyu special police; security forces reportedly opened fire killing four protestors. Federal security forces 26 Oct fired on demonstrators protesting sugar shortage in Ambo, 120km west of Addis Ababa; regional official said eight killed. About ten people killed in clashes between ethnic Oromo and Amharas in western Oromia mid-Oct; federal govt 29 Oct said it had arrested over 240 people. Parliamentary speaker Abadula Gemeda 8 Oct resigned because his fellow Oromos had been “disrespected”. Clashes in Benishangul Gumuz regional state in west between ethnic Gumuz and Amharas left eight people dead late Oct.
Political standoff over presidential election re-run continued, fuelling clashes between opposition supporters and security forces and intercommunal violence, tens killed. Main opposition candidate Raila Odinga pulled out 10 Oct citing insufficient electoral reforms since first vote 8 Aug, saying that new vote would not be free and fair. Repeat election held 26 Oct: voter turnout reported at 38.8% (nearly 80% voted in Aug poll) and voting suspended in some areas due to clashes between opposition supporters and police. Odinga 29 Oct rejected “sham” election and called for fresh vote in 90 days. Electoral commission (IEBC) 30 Oct declared incumbent President Kenyatta winner with 98% of vote. Odinga 31 Oct rejected results and vowed to embark on campaign to “restore democracy”. After vote ethnic violence erupted in Nairobi slum and in west where one man was killed; up to 55 people reportedly killed since 8 Aug vote. Demonstrations held frequently throughout Oct after NASA opposition coalition 2 Oct urged supporters to protest to demand electoral reform. Govt 12 Oct banned protests in central business districts of capital Nairobi, Kisumu in west and Mombasa at coast, fuelling clashes between opposition supporters and police; high court lifted ban 17 Oct. Parliament 11 Oct approved electoral law amendments proposed by ruling Jubilee Party that privileged manually transmitted results over electronic tallies. Senior IEBC official 18 Oct resigned and left country citing death threats; said IEBC unable to deliver credible election within timeframe due to politicisation and internal divisions. In south east, military 9 Oct killed five Al-Shabaab militants during clash in Boni Forest, Lamu county; two university staff killed 10 Oct when gunmen attacked convoy carrying staff and students in Kwale.
Twin lorry bombings 14 Oct killed over 350 people, mostly civilians, in capital Mogadishu in deadliest attack since Al-Shabaab insurgency began early 2007; bombings unclaimed but Al-Shabaab suspected responsible. Al-Shabaab militants 9 Oct raided checkpoint in Puntland in north east, killing at least seven people, and 25 Oct attacked African Union peacekeeping force (AMISOM) patrol in Arbis village 23km south west of Mogadishu, killing one peacekeeper. Unclaimed roadside explosion 22 Oct killed at least seven people, mostly farmers, in Daniga village 40km north west of Mogadishu. Gunmen and suicide bombers 28 Oct killed at least 29 people in attack on Mogadishu hotel involving lorry bomb, claimed by Al-Shabaab; govt next day sacked heads of police and national intelligence. Saudi Arabia 3 Oct released $50mn to govt as reported one-time donation, having stopped regular financial aid over Somalia’s neutral stance in dispute between Saudi and Qatar. Amid ongoing tensions between federal and regional state govts, latter 11 Oct formed caucus and criticised federal govt’s constitutional review process. State media 12 Oct reported resignation of defence minister and chief of defence forces without giving explanation.
As part of peace process revitalisation forum, Horn of Africa grouping Intergovernmental Authority on Development continued pre-forum consultations begun late Sept with armed opposition groups, triggering opposition leaders to claim command of significant armed groups. Rebel group Sudan People’s Liberation Army-In Opposition loyal to former First VP Riek Machar launched attacks against govt positions and continued fighting smaller rebel factions in Equatorias in south to demonstrate that it remains strongest rebel group. Some political opposition groups met in Kenya 16-18 Oct to form united front against Kiir with limited success. During trip to S Sudan, U.S. Ambassador to UN Nikki Haley 25 Oct said U.S. had “lost trust” in President Kiir’s govt; her visit to displaced persons’ camp same day sparked protests by those unable to meet her; displaced people destroyed some aid facilities.
U.S. announced permanent repeal of economic and trade sanctions on Sudan 8 Oct after nine-month assessment of govt’s progress on five tracks; Sudanese officials travelled to Washington DC 19 Oct to discuss new process to further normalise relations. President Bashir 8 Oct extended ceasefire between govt and rebels in S Kordofan and Blue Nile states until 31 Dec. Rebel group Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) at conference in Kauda, S Kordofan state 8-10 Oct confirmed Abdelaziz al-Hilu as new chairman following leadership dispute and endorsed Nuba people’s right to self-determination; al-Hilu’s main rivals, former chairman Malik Aggar and former Sec Gen Yassir Arman, did not attend.
Bill to remove constitutional age limit for presidential candidates, which currently prevents President Museveni running for sixth term in 2021, brought before parliament 3 Oct; most opponents of bill absent, some in protest. Unidentified assailants 3 Oct attacked with flash grenades homes of two MPs opposed to lifting age limit. At rally against extension of Museveni’s rule in Rukungiri 18 Oct, two protestors died in clashes with police; police next day arrested main opposition leader Kizza Besigye and two colleagues on murder charges, claiming they were responsible for protestors’ deaths. Parliamentary spokesman 24 Oct said MPs had each received $8,000 to help them “consult their constituents” over age limit bill; some MPs denounced payment as “bribe”. Police dispersed MPs’ consultative meeting on age limit in Lira district in north 24 Oct using tear gas and rubber bullets; two MPs hospitalised.
President Lourenço, elected in Aug, moved to consolidate his authority by removing VP Vicente and Minister of State Manuel “Kopelipa” Hélder Vieira Dias Jr.
Former head of armed forces Lt Gen Tlali Kamoli arrested 11 Oct, charged 21 Oct with murder of police official during attempted coup in Aug 2014. Opposition Democratic Congress party mid-Oct filed motion of no confidence in PM Thabane’s govt and demanded that parliament be re-opened. Opposition leaders remained in exile. Southern African Development Community regional bloc prepared to deploy Contingent Force comprising military, intelligence and civilian components to support Lesotho govt.
Reportedly Muslim armed group which locals call “Al-Shabaab” attacked three police stations in Mocimboa da Praia, Cabo Delgado province in far north about 30km from Tanzanian border 5 Oct, killing two policemen; govt forces retaliated killing sixteen people, including local community leader. Same group reportedly clashed with security forces at Maluku on coast 21 Oct, and further clashes reported night of 22 Oct at Columbe village. In north, unidentified assailant in Nampula, stronghold of opposition Democratic Movement of Mozambique, killed city’s mayor 4 Oct. Police opened fire on crowd in Mandimba, Niassa province in north west 2 Oct reportedly protesting suspected police involvement in trader’s death previous day, four people killed in clashes. President Nyusi late Oct replaced heads of intelligence, police and army.
In cabinet reshuffle 9 Oct President Mugabe stripped VP and potential presidential contender Emmerson Mnangagwa of his responsibility for justice ministry and dismissed his key ally Patrick Chinamasa from finance ministry. Ruling party ZANU-PF 27 Oct suspended party membership of four Mnangagwa allies. ZANU-PF late Oct decided to hold extraordinary Congress in Dec, expected to recalibrate ZANU-PF top leadership ahead of 2018 elections. Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai returned from South Africa 13 Oct having spent almost month there for medical treatment, but flew back again late Oct reportedly for check-up. World Health Organization named Mugabe goodwill ambassador 18 Oct but rescinded appointment 22 Oct after criticism from Western donors, rights groups and opposition.
Attacks continued in north against security forces and civilians. In Soum province, unidentified assailants attacked gendarmerie stations at Nassoumbou 2 Oct and Inata 4 Oct and police station at Mentao 5 Oct; killed person allegedly close to Malam Ibrahim Dicko, Islamist militant leader reportedly dead, in Djibo 13 Oct; attacked administration building in Belehede 16 Oct and burned down school 19 Oct in Tem. Assailants temporarily abducted four civil servants near Oursi, Oudalan province, also north 7 Oct; attacked police station and police commissioner’s house in Sollé, Loroum province 15 Oct. Assailants killed soldier and brother at home in Gorom-Gorom, Oudalan province 23 Oct; killed five people at Djibo and Basnéré, both Soum province 25 Oct; killed teacher in Komé, Gorom-Gorom area 27 Oct. Kogleweogo community defence group arrested three policemen accused of corruption in Ouagadougou outskirts early Oct. Former FM Bassolé, detained since late 2015 for involvement in Sept 2015 coup, provisionally released 10 Oct and put under house arrest. François Compaoré, brother of former President Blaise Compaoré, under international arrest warrant since May for involvement in 1998 murder of journalist Norbert Zongo, arrested in Paris 29 Oct, released next day pending consideration of Burkinabe govt request for his extradition. UN Security Council visit to Mali, Mauritania and Burkina Faso 19-22 Oct concluded need to support planned G5 Sahel joint force to counter Islamist militancy and trafficking in region. Following UN Security Council meeting on joint force 30 Oct, U.S. Sec State Tillerson pledged up to $60mn in support.
Souleymane Kamagaté, close associate of former rebel leader and now assembly speaker Guillaume Soro, arrested 9 Oct over weapons found in his house in Bouaké late May following army mutiny; Kamagaté accused President Ouattara of using him to attack Soro. Demobilised former rebels 2 Oct demonstrated in Bouaké in centre and Man in west demanding CFA18mn (some $32,000) each. Seven killed during Oct in repeated clashes between Wê and Baoulé tribes over land in Dramanekro in west.
Opposition led demonstrations in Conakry 4 Oct against security forces’ use of firearms against protestors.
Supporters of opposition coalition comprising eighteen parties demonstrated daily 27-31 Oct to demand dissolution of govt and implementation of Oct 2016 political agreement; party leaders pledged to continue protests until 3 Nov. PM Embalo, leader of opposition African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde Domingos Pereira, and former PM Djá met mediator of political crisis Guinean President Condé in Guinea mid-late Oct to address hold-up in implementation of Oct 2016 political agreement.
In first round of presidential election 10 Oct, Congress for Democratic Change candidate and former footballer George Weah won 38.4% of vote and ruling Unity Party candidate VP Boakai won 28.8%, pushing election to run-off 7 Nov. Third-placed Liberty Party claimed vote marred by “irregularities” and 23 Oct complained of fraud. Unity Party 29 Oct supported legal challenge, claiming “massive systematic irregularities and fraud” and accusing party member President Sirleaf of interfering with election by meeting privately with election officials before vote; Sirleaf 30 Oct said meetings did not prejudice vote. Supreme Court 31 Oct instructed Liberty Party and elections commission to file briefs by 2 Nov, potentially delaying 7 Nov run-off.
Following 20 Sept agreement between rebel Coalition of Azawad Movements (CMA) and pro-national unity Platform coalition, parties 10 Oct signed new local agreement called Anefis Two, aimed at setting up local security arrangements to keep peace in Kidal region in north. Mainly ethnic Doosaak CMA splinter group Movement for the Salvation of Azawad (MSA) said it clashed with ethnic Fulani associated with Islamist militants in Ménaka region in east 2-3 Oct and 15 Oct, claiming at least a dozen killed. Alleged Islamist militants continued attacks in north and centre: gendarmes’ vehicle hit IED on Saye-Mougna axis, Ségou region in centre 2 Oct; gunmen fired at boat in Kouakourou, Mopti region in centre 5 Oct; gunmen shot at gendarmerie post Ségou region killing two civilians 8 Oct; gunmen attacked army outpost in Ansongo circle, Gao region in north killing soldier; alleged Islamist militants fired rockets at gendarmerie position in Kew, Mopti region 15 Oct. UN Security Council visit to Mali, Mauritania and Burkina Faso 19-22 Oct concluded need to support planned G5 Sahel joint force to counter Islamist militancy and trafficking in region. Following UN Security Council meeting on joint force 30 Oct, U.S. Sec State Tillerson pledged up to $60mn in support. French officials 26 Oct said French Barkhane force had “neutralised” fifteen al-Qaeda-linked jihadists in extreme north 23 Oct. Jihadist coalition Group to Support Islam and Muslims (JNIM) 27 Oct said eleven Malian soldiers and three national guards taken hostage by jihadists were also killed during 23 Oct operation.
Gunmen allegedly from Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) led by Abu Walid Al Sahroaui ambushed mixed Niger-U.S. military patrol near Tongo Tongo village, in Tillabery region in west near Mali border 4 Oct, killing five Nigerien and four U.S. soldiers. Security forces arrested chief of Tongo Tongo for alleged involvement in ambush. Assailants attacked gendarmerie post at Ayorou, Tillabery region 21 Oct killing at least thirteen gendarmes. Chad completed withdrawal of its troops from Diffa region in south east which began late Sept, officially to reinforce presence in northern Chad; govt declared south east no-go zone for Westerners, fearing abductions. Following UN Security Council meeting on planned G5 Sahel joint force to counter Islamist militancy and trafficking 30 Oct, U.S. Sec State Tillerson pledged up to $60mn in support. French President Macron 9 Oct said France would in next two years offer resettlement to 10,000 refugees, of which 3,000 would be from Chad and Niger.
Boko Haram (BH) insurgency in north east continued amid fears herder-farmer violence could flare in Nov. Violence between mostly Fulani herders and farming communities continued in Oct: six Fulani killed in Bassa Local Govt Area, Plateau state in north centre 15 Oct; next day in same area in apparent reprisal attack 29 people, mostly women and children, killed in school at Nkiendonwhro. Ban on unrestricted grazing by authorities of Benue state in centre planned to take effect 1 Nov could provoke more violence as herders have vowed to resist it. BH insurgents attacked military base in Marte near Lake Chad 13 Oct killing at least one soldier, injuring nine; attacked army base in Sasawa village, near Yobe state capital, Damaturu 24 Oct, killing at least fifteen, mostly soldiers. BH suicide bombers killed sixteen in Maiduguri, Borno state capital 22 Oct; killed at least five people at mosque near Maiduguri 30 Oct; same day killed four travellers in ambush on Banki-Maiduguri road, army reported it killed many insurgents in response. Air Force reported it had killed scores of insurgents in repeated bombing of BH locations in Sambisa forest. Govt 9 Oct began closed-door trials of 2,300 suspected insurgents detained since start of insurgency in 2010; govt 14 Oct said of 575 suspects arraigned, 45 convicted and sentenced to three to 31 years in prison, 468 discharged since they had no case to answer and 34 cases thrown out. Criminal violence continued in Niger Delta: gunmen killed fifteen people in Port Harcourt, Rivers state capital 9 Oct reportedly in long-running cult rivalry. President Buhari 30 Oct sacked head of external intelligence organisation, National Intelligence Agency, and Secretary to Govt of the Federation following reports of corruption.
Clashes between security forces and citizens protesting against regime of President Gnassingbé continued as several attempts to launch dialogue between govt and opposition foundered. Arrest of imam close to opposition leader Tikpi Atchadam 16 Oct in Sokodé in centre triggered protests there and in other cities. Three people reportedly killed in Sokodé and one in Lomé 16-18 Oct in clashes with security forces. Hundreds of Togolese sought refuge in neighbouring Ghana. Govt 12 Oct formed electoral commission to oversee referendum by end of 2017 on govt-proposed constitutional reforms including limiting presidential terms to two. Opposition coalition continued to reject referendum, insisted on return to 1992 constitution that would prevent Gnassingbé running again and called for more protests. Opposition coalition 4 Oct rejected joint request by Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), African Union and UN to pursue reform through planned referendum and 10 Oct refused dialogue with International Organisation of La Francophonie (OIF) citing bias of delegation head; govt 23 Oct cancelled upcoming OIF ministerial conference. Attempts by political leaders in Benin, Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana to launch mediation between govt and opposition failed to take off. Delegation from West African Economic and Monetary Union consulted with political actors in Lomé 23-27 Oct. Heads of state of Togo, Niger, Ghana, Nigeria and Côte d’Ivoire held mini summit on Togo 24 Oct during ECOWAS monetary conference. France 25 Oct called for “immediate dialogue” between govt and opposition.
China further increased security and surveillance measures in restive Xinjiang region ahead of 19th Party Congress 18-24 Oct. In Xinjiang, civil servants, employees of state enterprises, govt-affiliated sectors and some schools were reportedly called back to work 2 Oct during national holiday week.
Congratulating new members of China’s Politburo Standing Committee, Japan’s chief cabinet secretary 25 Oct said Tokyo hopes to improve relationship with China; also said Tokyo still trying to organise trilateral summit with Chinese and South Korean leaders before year-end. Chinese and Japanese foreign and defence ministers met in Tokyo 27 Oct; Japan reportedly urged China to be transparent about military expansion to help build trust. Sides also agreed to continue efforts to begin maritime hotline to avoid accidental clashes in East China Sea as soon as possible. Japanese PM Abe won snap election 22 Oct, in result seen as supporting his push to deepen alliance with U.S. and amend constitution to unfetter military.
North Korea refrained from conducting missile or nuclear test of any kind during month; some observers speculated that Pyongyang sought to avoid antagonising Beijing during 19th Communist Party of China National Congress 18-24 Oct; or drive wedge between U.S., Seoul and Beijing ahead of visit by President Trump to South Korea and China in early Nov. After visiting North Korea early month, Russian MP Anton Morozov said country preparing to test long-range missile capable of reach U.S. west coast. U.S. flew two B-1B bombers over Korean peninsula 11 Oct in night time exercise joined by Japanese and South Korean fighter jets. U.S. intelligence chief Mike Pompeo 20 Oct said Pyongyang could be just months away from being capable of hitting U.S. with nuclear weapons. North Korean foreign ministry’s director general of North America Affairs, Choi Sun-hee, appeared at Moscow Nonproliferation Conference 19-21 Oct: laying out North Korea’s demands, said country would not return to Six-Party Talks and sought talks only with U.S., “the country that is trying to pressure and to bring about the collapse of North Korea”. Also said “nuclear armament is critical” in facing “U.S. policy of hostility”. Meeting with his South Korean counterpart during regional tour 28 Oct, U.S. Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said threat of North Korean nuclear attack “is accelerating”; also said U.S. goal “is not war” but denuclarisation of peninsula and added that defending Seoul against artillery barrage from DPRK “infeasible”. U.S. 26 Oct imposed sanctions on seven North Koreans and three entities due to human rights abuses. In Pyongyang, leader Kim Jong-un promoted his sister Kim Yo-jong to politburo, country’s highest decision-making body.
President Tsai Ing-wen took conciliatory tone toward China during her National Day speech 10 Oct, saying old path of confrontation was over and vowing to maintain her commitment to cross-strait status quo. Opening Communist Party of China’s 19th Congress 18 Oct with Party’s Political Report charting next five years, General Secretary Xi Jinping reaffirmed that Beijing has “the resolve, the confidence and the ability to defeat separatist attempts for Taiwan independence in any form”. Xi went on to state that China respected Taiwan’s “current social system and way of life”, but that island must recognise historical fact “that the two sides both belong to one China”.
Month saw spike in casualties from insurgent attacks including: Taliban 17 Oct attacked police training centre in Paktia province (south-east), killing 52, mostly police; killed twenty police in attack in neighbouring Ghazni province same day. Taliban attack on military base in Kandahar 19 Oct killed 43 soldiers; fifteen soldiers killed in Kabul bus attack 21 Oct. Islamic State-Khorasan attacked mosque in Kabul 20 Oct, killing at least 56; bombing campaign against group in eastern Nangarhar and Kunar provinces continued. As fighting season comes to a close, Taliban bolstered territorial gains, overrunning (or coming close to it) district centres in five provinces, despite accelerated U.S. air campaign against it. U.S. Defence Secretary Jim Mattis 3 Oct said new aspects of Afghanistan strategy included relaxed rules of engagement allowing U.S. forces to actively target Taliban members, and intention to embed U.S. advisors in front-line Afghan forces. Air Force Central Command data showed number of U.S. bombs dropped is at highest level in seven years. New York Times 22 Oct said U.S. Central Intelligence Agency to expand covert operations in Afghanistan to hunt and kill Taliban fighters; joint Afghan-U.S. teams to target bomb-makers, carry out controversial night raids and drone operations. Slight improvement in relations with Pakistan: Pakistan’s army chief 1 Oct visited Kabul, met President Ghani, discussed anti-terrorism cooperation, trust-building, enabling political settlement. Quadrilateral Coordination Group, dialogue platform for Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and U.S., 16 Oct resumed meetings after year of inactivity to discuss path to peace. President Ghani 24 Oct threatened in New Delhi to stay out of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor if Islamabad prevented India-Afghanistan connectivity. At head of increasingly influential opposition camp, former President Hamid Karzai 12 Oct called for convening supreme tribal council Loya Jirga to revise security agreements with U.S., alter National Unity Government composition; also condemned new U.S. strategy. Pakistan 18 Oct unveiled plan to fence disputed border; fence will run along most of the 2,500km-long border, with 750 border forts and high-tech surveillance systems.
Arrival of Rohingyas fleeing Myanmar military crackdown continued; some 607,000 estimated to have entered Bangladesh from start of Myanmar military operations on 25 Aug to 28 Oct (see Myanmar), bringing total Rohingya presence in Bangladesh to nearly 1 million. Myanmar and Bangladesh 2 Oct agreed to set up “working group” to plan refugee repatriation; Bangladesh’s UN ambassador 23 Oct described situation as “untenable”. Bangladeshi authorities reportedly resumed trying to restrict entry of new arrivals across border. UN 3 Oct issued revised response plan to assist 1.2 million people in Bangladesh (refugees and host communities); donor countries pledged $344mn at 23 Oct conference. Amid ongoing tension between govt and judiciary, Law Minister Anisul Huq 2 Oct said supreme court Chief Justice Surendra Kumar Sinha would take leave on health grounds; Sinha 14 Oct contradicted claim he was unwell and criticised govt for undermining judiciary. Under new acting chief justice, court next day announced that president had submitted at least eleven charges against Sinha, including corruption. Police 9 Oct arrested Jamaat-e-Islami head and other top party leaders, reportedly for sabotage; Jamaat 11 Oct observed strike in protest. Three suspected Islamist extremists arrested 29 Oct, weapons and explosives seized in raid in district Chapai Nawabganj (north west).
Security forces 25 Oct reported they killed three Maoist insurgents in Rajnandgaon district, Chhattisgarh. Maoist rebels 6 Oct reportedly killed person in Malkangiri district, Odisha, same day killed two people in West Singhbhum, Jharkhand.
Tensions within Indian-administered Kashmir remained high as protestors demonstrated around Srinagar and Kashmir Valley against rising incidence of “braid-chopping” assaults on women by attackers who cut their hair off. Police reported over 100 such attacks in Sept; protesters accused security agencies of being behind attacks. Police 6 Oct imposed restrictions to stop protests and detained separatist leaders, but protestors took to streets and some reportedly attacked suspected “braid choppers”; state govt initiated investigation into attacks. As protests spread, state govt 12-13 Oct closed all educational institutions in Kashmir Valley; strikes and protests 13 Oct across state resulted in violent clashes between demonstrators and police. During debate at university in London, former Indian intelligence chief Amarjit Singh Dulat 6 Oct acknowledged India had created a “mess” in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir since mid-2016. Indian army 2 Oct said it killed five militants attempting to cross Line of Control (LoC) into Indian-administered territory. One policeman killed after militants infiltrated camp at Srinagar airport disguised as soldiers 3 Oct; three militants also reportedly killed in attack, which was claimed by Jaish-e-Mohammad. Intermittent firing across LoC continued, including incident Pakistani army 24 Oct said killed two people; Indian army said Pakistani artillery 21 Oct killed army porter and injured girl, and 12 Oct reported deaths of army jawan and porter; exchange of fire on 18 Oct resulted in at least eight people wounded. Pakistan protested reported killing of six civilians in firing on 22 Sept.
Amid uncertainties about logistical preparations, political manoeuvring hastened in lead-up to provincial and national elections scheduled for 26 Nov and 7 Dec. Opposition UML and ruling coalition member CPN (Maoist Center) 3 Oct announced “leftist alliance” with view to an eventual merger. CPN (Maoist Center) decided to remain in current govt led by Nepali Congress (NC) but NC President and PM Sher Bahadur Deuba responded 17 Oct by relieving CPN (Maoist Center) ministers of their portfolios; launched efforts to form countervailing “democratic alliance”; merged 16 Oct with fifth largest party in parliament, Nepal Loktantrik Forum; 17 Oct appointed ministers from monarchist Rastriya Prajatantra Party to cabinet. Electoral delay fears emerged as Election Commission claimed insufficient time left to abide by 25 Oct Supreme Court ruling to print separate ballot papers for First Past the Post elections at provincial and national levels; commission eventually announced 30 Oct it could print all ballot papers within twenty days. UML and CPN (Maoist Center) leaders accused NC of trying to postpone polls due to fears of defeat. Nepal elected to 2018-2020 UN Human Rights Council term for first time 16 Oct after securing 166 votes – highest among all Asia-Pacific candidates.
Diplomatic engagement with U.S. continued in aftermath of Aug announcement of new U.S.-Afghanistan strategy. Meeting with U.S. Sec State Rex Tillerson in Washington, Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif 4 Oct said Pakistan sought “broad based relationship” with U.S.; Tillerson told media U.S. has “reliable partner” in Pakistan. Pakistani forces 12 Oct freed Canadian-American family held hostage by Haqqani network since 2012. Four reported U.S. drone strikes in Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA, north west) 16-17 Oct killed at least 30 Haqqani militants; military said strikes occurred across border in Afghanistan, not Pakistan. Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) 18 Oct said Umar Mansoor, alleged mastermind of Dec 2014 attack on Peshawar military school, died from injuries in drone strike; TTP Jamaat-ul-Ahrar faction 19 Oct reported its head also killed by drone strike. In Balochistan (west), suicide attack on shrine in Jhal Magsi district 5 Oct killed at least twenty people; suicide attack claimed by TTP 18 Oct killed at least seven police in Quetta. Four soldiers killed in roadside bombing in Kurram, FATA 15 Oct. Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) (PML-N) 1 Oct re-elected former PM Sharif as party leader after National Assembly 30 Sept passed Election Bill 2017 without amendment requiring party leaders to be eligible for public office Accountability Court 19 Oct indicted Sharif, his daughter and son-in-law on corruption charges; all pleaded not guilty. PM Abbasi and Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal condemned paramilitary Punjab Rangers takeover of Accountability Court 2 Oct, calling for explanation. Amid ongoing debate between military and civilian leadership over “mainstreaming” of jihadists, Milli Muslim League (MML), new party created by group responsible for 2008 Mumbai attacks, inaugurated new office in Peshawar 4 Oct, endorsed independent candidate running in 26 Oct by-election. Punjab court 12 Oct passed death sentence against three Ahmadis for blasphemy.
Political and religious groups continued to react negatively to draft constitution presented to parliament 21 Sept, which is scheduled for debate early Nov. Media 18 Oct reported two leading Buddhist sects’ opposition to constitutional reform process; PM Wickremasinghe dismissed story and said sects’ leaders denied reports. Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa 16 Oct urged govt to abandon “destructive” process. Response to draft in former conflict-affected areas also largely unfavourable; coincides with continuing demonstrations, including major shut down of towns across north and east 13 Oct to protest long-term detentions of Tamils arrested under Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). Shutdown triggered after cases of three detainees were transferred under PTA to courts in Buddhist majority town Anuradhapura; detainees went on hunger-strike in protest, fuelling further public outcry; President Sirisena escorted away by police after protestors in Jaffna 14 Oct blockaded his motorcade. Protests by families of disappeared continued into seventh month. Basil Rajapaksa, former minister and brother of former president, 1 Oct said military may have committed atrocities during civil war, contradicting earlier denials by previous Rajapaksa govt. Police 11 Oct arrested parliamentarian and former President Rajapaksa’s son Namal Rajapaksa for unlawful assembly and damage to public property after he led protest against lease of Mattala airport to Indian company. Several people including a Buddhist monk were arrested over 26 Sept attack by extremist Buddhist monks on UN-run safe house for Rohingya refugees.
Amid concern over potential return of hundreds of Islamic State (ISIS)-linked Indonesian extremists from Syria’s Raqqa and dozens from Marawi City in Philippines, national police chief 19 Oct said govt tightening security in border areas. Defence minister 13 Oct warned about possibility of Rohingya refugees joining ISIS network and need for preventive measures. Govt 18 Oct reported new trend of terror financing through donations on social media. Police 24 Oct arrested nine men in Riau and South Sulawesi provinces suspected of having links to ISIS-linked Jemaah Ansharut Daulah and planning attacks on police posts. Amid growing concern over wave of Islamisation spreading from rural to more secular urban areas, lawmakers 24 Oct approved July presidential decree banning any organisations deemed to pose threat to national security and threatening “Pancasila” state ideology of tolerance and inclusivity. Speaking during his inauguration as new Jakarta governor, Anies Baswedan 16 Oct targeted ethnic Chinese Indonesians, associating them with colonial legacy; some of Anies’s supporters called him symbol of “the awakening of the indigenous Muslims”.
Defence ministers of Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia 12 Oct launched Trilateral Air Patrol in Subang to counter Islamic State (ISIS) and piracy in Sulu Sea; follows marine patrols launched in April. Police reported 7 Oct arrest of four foreigners and four Malaysians, allegedly involved in terror activities linked to Abu Sayyaf, ISIS and Jemaah Islamiah; 17 Oct reported arrest of nineteen-year-old in north-eastern Kelantan state, accused along with two others of plotting attack in capital. Media 13 Oct reported 45 foreigners with alleged ISIS ties arrested to date in 2017. Deputy home minister 17 Oct reported that ISIS is eyeing Malaysia to strengthen its position in South East Asia.
Rohingya refugee exodus from northern Rakhine state to Bangladesh continued, with some 607,000 estimated to have crossed border between 25 Aug and 28 Oct. Military operations reportedly mostly ended; insecurity and restrictions on movement and humanitarian access, plus lack of means of survival fuelled second wave of refugees, mainly from southern Buthidaung township. Govt took diplomats on tour of northern Rakhine 2 and 10 Oct; first group reported dire humanitarian need, called on authorities to fully investigate allegations of human rights violations (including by granting access to UN Fact Finding Mission) and allow unimpeded humanitarian access; encouraged govt to enable “voluntary, dignified and safe” return of refugees. Myanmar and Bangladesh 24 Oct agreed to set up “working group” by 30 Nov to discuss refugee repatriation; they disagreed during month on UN role and return of longstanding refugees. UN 3 Oct issued revised response plan to assist 1.2 million people in Bangladesh (refugees and host communities); donor countries pledged $344mn at 23 Oct conference. Majority of Myanmar population continue to support govt/military approach to crisis. State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi 12 Oct gave speech to nation stating commitment to address concerns of international community and announcing establishment of body to support repatriation, resettlement, rehabilitation and development in Rakhine. EU 16 Oct decided to suspend visits by high-level Myanmar military officers to Europe and review defence cooperation, but no formal sanctions. U.S. 23 Oct announced restriction on military assistance to units/officers involved in violence against Rohingya, considering further measures. Office of UN human rights chief 11 Oct released mission report accusing Myanmar security forces and Rakhine Buddhist militia of brutal, well-organised and systematic attacks against Rohingya, with intent to drive population out of Myanmar and prevent their return. Amnesty International 18 Oct accused Myanmar’s security forces of crimes against humanity in northern Rakhine state. Office of Commander in Chief 13 Oct announced internal military investigation into whether troops followed orders and code of conduct during “clearance operations” following Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army’s 25 Aug attacks.
President Duterte 17 Oct announced liberation of Marawi City from Islamic State (ISIS)-influenced Abu Sayyaf and Maute Group, following five-month military campaign. Military confirmed it had killed Abu Sayyaf/ISIS regional leader Isnilon Hapilon, Omar Maute, and Mahmud Ahmad, Malaysian who facilitated transfer of funds from ISIS central to Marawi City; govt arrested alleged ISIS recruiter Karen Aizha Hamidon, widow of militant alleged to have staged Sept 2016 Davao City bombing. As of 29 Oct, 920 extremists, 165 govt forces and at least 45 civilians reported killed in conflict. Moro group Suara Bangsamoro 22 Oct said govt responsible for death, displacement and disruption in Marawi, called for probe into alleged human rights violations by military. Govt task force for Marawi reconstruction 27 Oct working on post-conflict assessment; govt initially estimated at least 50 billion pesos ($971 million) needed for city’s recovery. Military on high alert for possible retaliatory attacks from remaining members of Abu Sayyaf and Maute groups. Bangsamoro Transition Commission’s version of Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), currently with congressional committees for deliberation, is expected to face opponents in congress. Congressman Celso Lobregat 4 Oct warned BBL might create Bangsamoro “superstate” in Mindanao that will receive more rights and resources than other regions, and said govt’s federalism agenda needs to be tackled first. Moro Islamic Liberation Front Chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim 23 Oct reiterated that BBL is crucial in fight against ISIS, with delays in peace process used to foster radicalism. Duterte 29 Oct asked congress to expedite passage of BBL or else there will be “trouble”. Govt negotiator Silvestre Bello 12 Oct said peace negotiations with Communist Party of the Philippines, National Democratic Front and New People’s Army (NPA) remained alive, govt waiting on Duterte’s instructions. Police 19 Oct arrested two high-ranking NPA officials, Aurora Cayon (Lilay) and Louie Antonio Martinez (Louie Castro) in Negros Occidental, and eighteen NPA rebels 23 Oct surrendered to govt forces in Sultan Kudarat province.
U.S. guided-missile destroyer 11 Oct conducted Freedom of Navigation Operation (FONOP) in South China Sea (SCS), fourth of 2017; challenged China’s disputed claim of Paracel Islands by sailing within sixteen nautical miles. In response, Chinese Navy sent guided-missile frigate, two fighter jets and helicopter; Beijing urged U.S. to respect its sovereignty and security interests. Meeting in Philippines 23-24 Oct, ASEAN defence ministers discussed freedom of navigation, non-militarisation, rules-based world; in joint statement emphasised need to “effectively implement the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties” in SCS, reiterated importance of concluding code of conduct. On sidelines of meeting, China and ASEAN agreed to aim for joint maritime exercise in 2018 to build trust. UK defence minister 11 Oct said Royal Navy does not have agenda to conduct deliberate FONOPs or exercises in SCS that would directly challenge China’s territorial claims – apparently contradicting July statement by UK foreign minister. Philippine Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana 1 Oct announced plans to upgrade outposts on disputed Spratly Islands, including airstrip on Thitu Island (Pag-Asa); Philippines late Sept made progress on joint oil development with China in north-west Palawan. In closed-door meeting with U.S. state department late Sept, Chinese foreign ministry officials employed novel legal theory to assert China’s sovereignty and maritime claims in SCS, shifting from long-used “Nine-Dash Line” to new “Four Sha” claim (referring to four island groups forming basis of sovereignty claims). Washington Free Beacon 21 Sept reported theory adopts language closer to that used by UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
Year of official mourning for King Bhumibol Adulyadej ended 30 Oct following cremation ceremony 26 Oct. PM Prayuth Chan-ocha 10 Oct said military govt will announce general election date “around June” of 2018, by which time all four organic laws should be completed; under new constitution, election must be held within 180 days of their promulgation. Prayuth met U.S. President Trump 2 Oct; said “President Trump did not put any pressure on us at all [regarding elections]”. Senior officials made conflicting statements about lifting military’s ban on political activities, key step on roadmap for restoration of civilian rule. Violence continued in southern insurgency, including roadside IED attack targeting motorcycle-borne ranger patrol 9 Oct, killing one ranger and wounding another in Narathiwat's Bacho district; assistant village chief shot dead 14 Oct in mosque in Thung Yang Daeng district, Pattani. BBC news 29 Sept reported interview with “Yusuf” of main militant group Barisan Revolusi Nasional’s information department, who said group will continue with military operations until govt “opens up for both sides to jointly solve the conflict”; also said BRN would not join MARA Patani, umbrella group of separatist fronts, in talks with Bangkok facilitated by Malaysia. General Aksara Kerdpol, chief of Thai dialogue delegation, said Thailand would not accede to BRN’s demands under pressure from insurgent violence.
Authorities 4 Oct said 200 police and soldiers being deployed to Southern Highlands capital Mendi to address continuing post-election violence in province, including two policemen killed 30 Sept.
EU foreign ministers meeting 16 Oct reiterated commitment to Bosnia’s EU perspective, but urged it to step up reform efforts. Lawmakers in Republika Srpska entity 18 Oct passed non-binding resolution insisting on entity’s military neutrality, in expression of opposition to potential Bosnian NATO membership.
EU-brokered deal between Kosovo and Serbia unifying Kosovo’s justice system by integrating Kosovo Serb judicial personnel into Kosovo judiciary set to come into force 17 Oct, however Kosovo Serb judges (42) and prosecutors (fourteen) did not appear at presidency to take oath; Kosovo President Thaci blamed Serbia. Local elections in 38 municipalities passed smoothly 22 Oct; results saw Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) gain support compared with June general election performance, while Vetevendosje (Self-determination) party gained smaller vote share. 28 municipalities including Pristina to go to run-off vote scheduled for 19 Nov.
Ruling Social Democrats (SDSM) made large gains in local elections, winning 40 out of 81 municipalities in 15 Oct first round, including capital Skopje, against three for opposition VMRO-DPMNE and two for junior ruling party Democratic Union for Integration. SDSM won eighteen out of 35 remaining municipalities in 29 Oct second round, giving it total of 57 municipalities. VMRO-DPMNE, which won five seats overall, rejected results. OSCE monitors said elections democratic, competitive and respected fundamental freedoms.
Govt 12 Oct approved draft agreement for $100mn Russian loan to purchase Russian military hardware, increasing 2018 defence budget by about 17% to $515mn. National Assembly 5 Oct ratified controversial defence accord with Russia to establish “united group of forces” committed to cooperation in case of foreign attack. Seven opposition MPs voted against accord, voicing concerns about increasing Russian military presence.
Baku-Akhalkalaki-Kars railway officially launched in Baku 30 Oct; railway connects Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey to Europe, hailed as a new “bridge” to economic prosperity and regional stability. Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) 11 Oct passed resolution condemning prosecution and detention of NGOs leaders, human rights defenders, political activists, journalists and bloggers, criticised cases of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment in country. Council of Europe 25 Oct called on govt to release imprisoned opposition politician Ilqar Mammadov. Umbrella group of opposition organisations organised anti-corruption protests in Baku during month, drawing hundreds; police estimated attendance at 1,000 on 28 Oct. UN human rights office 13 Oct reported UN rights experts’ alarm over reports of persecution of LGBT people, called on authorities to investigate.
Baku-Akhalkalaki-Kars railway 30 Oct officially launched in Baku; railway connects Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey to Europe (see Azerbaijan). Ruling Georgian Dream (GD) consolidated power securing comfortable majorities in all main regions in 21 Oct local elections; opposition UNM party 24 Oct said it would boycott run-offs, scheduled in five districts and second largest city Kutaisi before 15 Nov. OSCE said “fundamental freedoms were generally respected” and “candidates were able to campaign freely”, but also questioned ruling party’s predominance in electoral process. Former European footballer Kakha Kaladze, energy minister for GD govt who also reportedly secured control of security services and some financial sectors, became Tbilisi mayor with over 51% of vote. Following Russia’s example, South Ossetia’s de facto justice ministry banned Jehovah’s Witnesses (estimated to number around 1,000), declaring them extremist.
Long-awaited meeting between Armenian President Sargsyan and Azerbaijani President Aliyev in Geneva 16 Oct, first in a year and a half, provided some hope for re-energising settlement process, however month saw no further progress in talks or security improvements. Few details reported from meeting; joint statement by foreign ministers and co-chairs expressed commitment to intensify negotiations and reduce tensions on Line of Contact (LOC). Immediately after meeting, Sargsyan said there could be no concessions on NK status issue, de facto republic would never return to Baku’s control; prior to meeting, Aliyev 10 Oct reiterated he would never submit to foundation of “another Armenian state” in region. Relative calm continued along LOC for third consecutive month, with occasional use of light weapons and snipers. Three Armenian soldiers reported killed 28 Sept, 10 and 19 Oct – latter two in north east, where violence spiked following presidents’ meeting. De facto NK defence ministry 22 Oct released video ostensibly showing Azeri use of mortars and rockets; Baku said it was in response to killing of one soldier. Both sides blamed each other for violation of presidents’ agreement to sustain peace along LOC and declared readiness to re-engage in combat.
In Dagestan, two suspected militants who allegedly shot police officer reported killed during counter-terrorism operation in Babayurt district 2 Oct. Authorities in Moscow and Dagestani capital Makhachkala arrested suspected members of Islamic State (ISIS) cell 13-14 Oct. Moscow court 2 Oct detained two Dagestanis for plotting terrorist attack in Moscow. Makhachkala court 24 Oct detained two Dagestani women after their return from Syria. President Putin 3 Oct named ruling United Russia party deputy Vladimir Vasilyev new head of Dagestan republic. At military base near Chechen village Shelkovskaya, Russian National Guard soldier reportedly of Dagestani origin 23 Oct shot dead four colleagues after conflict with his commanders before being shot dead. “Caucasian Knot” website 27 Oct reported at least 43 people kidnapped in Chechnya since Jan 2017. Igor Kochetkov, founder of Russian LGBT Network, linked ongoing disappearance of Moscow-based singer Zelimkhan Bakayev to alleged anti-gay campaign, said Chechen police had declined to open criminal case. “Memorial” human rights group 27 Oct claimed singer may have been killed by authorities in anti-gay campaign.
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg 26 Oct said Russia misled alliance over military exercises in Belarus in Sept, specifically in number of troops involved, which Stoltenberg said far exceeded 12,700 reported by Moscow; in geographic scale of exercise; and in scenario of exercise, which Stoltenberg said simulated attack on West; Moscow denied. Opposition leader Mikalay Statkevich reportedly detained again in Minsk 30 Oct.
Amid ongoing tensions between pro-EU govt led by PM Filip and Russian-oriented President Dodon, Constitutional Court 17 Oct said president could be temporarily suspended for refusing to swear in new defence minister proposed by PM. European Commission 3 Oct said it would closely monitor implementation of July’s controversial new electoral law introducing mixed electoral system. EU 11 Oct said was withholding €28mn loan tranche for reforms to Moldova’s justice system citing “insufficient commitment” to reform of sector.
Parliament 6 Oct approved law “On the aspects of state policy of the restoration of Ukraine's state sovereignty over the temporarily occupied territories of Donetsk and Luhansk regions”. Law refers explicitly to “Russian armed aggression” and names Russia the “occupying administration”, disclaiming Kyiv’s responsibility for human rights violations committed in the conflict zone; redefines conflict as self-defence operation; and enables president to impose martial law even beyond the conflict zone. Parliament removed all references to Minsk after 5 Oct brawl in parliament. Parliament 7 Oct approved law prolonging special status of disputed territories, including local self-governance. Western allies welcomed passage as sign of Kyiv’s commitment to Minsk; Moscow called it important. U.S. special representative for Ukraine Volker met Putin aide Surkov 7 Oct to reportedly discuss peacekeeper scenarios. Ceasefire violations increased following early-Sept reduction, OSCE monitoring mission (SMM) reported 180 explosions daily mid-Oct. Kyiv 3 Oct claimed militants used multiple launch rocket system (MLRS) for first time since Aug ceasefire; SMM 10 Oct recorded MLRS use near Lebedynske. Amid heavy fighting in Luhansk 13 Oct, SMM assessed about 240 explosions as outgoing artillery and mortars. Defence ministry reported four soldiers killed and 34 injured 18 Sept-15 Oct; Donetsk separatists reported five dead over same period. Reported civilian casualties included man killed by shrapnel in Zaitseve 8 Oct. Kyiv accused separatists of blocking opening of new Zolote crossing 20 Oct. Several thousand people reportedly rallied in support of former Georgian President/Odesa Governor Mikheil Saakashvili 17 Oct outside parliament in Kyiv, urging govt to cancel parliamentarians’ immunity from prosecution, change electoral law and implement plans to create anti-corruption courts; protests continued late month. Amid growing international and domestic pressure, Poroshenko 20 Oct stated his readiness to sign bill for anti-corruption courts. 25 Oct explosion in Kyiv killed two people in what authorities called a terrorist act.
Turkish Cypriot officials said they will impose tax restrictions on humanitarian aid (excluding medical items) to around 400 Greek Cypriots and Maronites living in north effective 1 Oct; justified move saying that untaxed goods obtained in the form of aid were being traded on the market; Greek Cypriot govt 3 Oct said it will protest to UN. Turkish Cypriot “FM” 3 Oct said in Washington that “Monaco-like” autonomous system, dependent on Ankara for defence and foreign affairs, was conceivable option for Turkish Cypriot side, adding that “it is time to seek international recognition”; Turkish Deputy PM Recep Akdağ 9 Oct dismissed remarks as “personal opinion”, said “Ankara and [northern] Cyprus will decide on a political solution together”.
Catalonia pressed ahead with contested independence referendum 1 Oct; Catalan officials reported hundreds injured as police tried to block voting. Nearly 90% reportedly voted for independence; turnout reported at 43%. Spanish PM Rajoy continued to condemn referendum as illegal. Catalan parliament 27 Oct voted 70-10 to declare independence (55 abstentions); Spanish senate for first time gave Rajoy permission to apply article 155 of constitution which allows for direct rule of regions in exceptional circumstances. Rajoy 27 Oct dismissed Catalan govt and called for snap regional elections to take place in Dec. Attorney general 30 Oct announced it has filed charges against Catalan President Carles Puigdemont and other members of Catalan govt of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds. Puigdemont and five former Catalan govt ministers travelled to Belgium hours earlier; Puigdemont next day said he would abide by Dec election, but will return to Spain only when guaranteed fair judicial process. Month saw mass protests for and against independence in Catalonia.
Clashes between Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and Turkish military killed at least 28 in Oct, mostly in Diyarbakır, Hakkari and Şırnak provinces. PKK-claimed bomb attack in Mersin province 17 Oct wounded eighteen people, mostly police. Interior minister 11 Oct said over 68,000 security operations in past twelve months had resulted in 30,167 arrests: 40,215 operations against PKK, 25,818 against state-christened FETÖ/PDY, and some 2,000 against Islamic State (ISIS) and leftist “terrorist” organisations. As crackdown on Kurdish movement continued, Democratic People’s Party (HDP) 3 Oct boycotted first session of parliament. Court in Muğla province 4 Oct jailed Erdoğan’s former aide-de-camp and 30 others to life imprisonment over role in July 2016 failed coup; govt 16 Oct extended post-coup state of emergency for another three months. Istanbul court 25 Oct ordered release of eight human rights campaigners pending trial – including Amnesty International Turkey Director and a German and a Swedish citizen. Authorities 18 Oct detained leading philanthropist and businessman Osman Kavala and NGO director Şaban Kardaş reportedly in same probe; Kavala formally arrested 31 Oct, charged with attempting to overthrow govt and constitutional order. Turkish military 8 Oct crossed border into Syria’s jihadist-controlled Idlib province to conduct reconnaissance activities reportedly with 200 special forces, military vehicles and advanced equipment as part of joint mission with Russia and Iran to establish “de-escalation zone”. Turkish military 27 Oct announced that it set up second observation post inside Idlib. Turkish FM 26 Oct said they expected Kurdish Regional Govt (KRG) to cancel independence referendum. Ankara also continued to firm up its cooperation with Iraqi central govt; the two sides agreed to open second border gate 26 Oct. Relations with U.S. hit new low after govt 4 Oct arrested U.S. consular employee for alleged links to FETÖ/PDY; both U.S. and Turkey 9 Oct suspended all non-immigrant visa services for travel between two countries. Tensions between refugee and host communities remained high, with small-scale violent outbreaks, among others in Istanbul, Izmir and Antalya. Baku-Akhalkalaki-Kars railway 30 Oct officially launched in Baku; railway connects Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey to Europe (see Azerbaijan).
After Kyrgyz President Atambayev accused President Nazarbayev of “meddling in Kyrgyz internal affairs” by inviting Kyrgyz opposition presidential candidate Omurbek Babanov to Almaty 19 Sept, Nazarbayev 10 Oct retaliated by tightening controls along Kazakh-Kyrgyz border. Move severely disrupted trade, but restrictions eased 18 Oct.
Ruling Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan (SDPK) candidate Sooronbai Jeenbekov won 15 Oct presidential election with a count of 54.22% of vote, beating opposition candidate Omurbek Babanov with 33.49%; OSCE said election valid but noted numerous violations. Weeks leading up to elections marred by arrests and allegations of intimidation, abuses and vote buying. President Atambayev claimed foreign state was interfering in elections, while Babanov was accused of stoking ethnic tensions in Osh; National Security Committee (GKNB) investigating. At 16 Oct press conference, Babanov said he would stay in Kyrgyz politics and not flee the country. Up to 1,000 people protested in Babanov’s hometown Talas demanding fresh elections. OSCE election observers 16 Oct noted “generally positive example” although “cases of the misuse of public resources, pressure on voters and vote buying remain a concern”. Amid ongoing bilateral tensions, govt 20 Oct cancelled $100m aid from Kazakhstan; deputy PM said it “will look for funding in other places”.
Defence Minister Sherali Mirzo met Uzbek counterpart Abdusalom Azizov in Dushanbe 11-13 Oct, pledged to improve bilateral trade; both met with Russian counterpart Sergey Shoigu at Commonwealth of Independent States defence ministers summit 12 Oct; Shoigu emphasised deteriorating Afghan security situation requiring close cooperation between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Court sentenced two brothers and nephew of former Colonel Gulmurod Khalimov, police commander who defected to Islamic State (ISIS) in 2015, to jail terms of seven to eighteen years, following convictions for inter alia attempting to fight as mercenaries, attempt to cross border illegally.
Russian President Putin 2 Oct made first official visit to Ashgabat in five years, signed new strategic partnership document.
Govt early Oct released long-jailed journalist Salijon Abdurakhmanov and human rights defender Azamjon Farmonov, however also made arrests of several journalists and a rights activist. Uzbek and Tajik defence ministers met for first time since dissolution of Soviet Union (see Tajikistan). Uzbek national suspected of truck attack in New York killing eight people 31 Oct, reportedly claimed to have carried out attack on behalf of Islamic State (ISIS).
Ceasefire between govt and National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla group began 1 Oct, although ELN’s western war front admitted to killing indigenous leader in Chocó 25 Oct in possible first violation of ceasefire. Govt continued rush to pass laws agreed upon in peace accord with FARC through fast-track mechanism, including 5 Oct deal with attorney general on Special Jurisdiction for Peace in bid to assuage opposition concerns regarding powers of ordinary judicial system. Former VP and candidate in May 2018 presidential election Germán Vargas Lleras 16 Oct declared opposition to controversial parts of peace accord with FARC; Supreme Court 11 Oct ruled that peace deal with FARC could not be amended for next twelve years. Illicit crop substitution efforts continued to provoke tensions. Police 5 Oct reportedly opened fire on crowd protesting forced eradication of coca crops in south-western Tumaco, killing seven coca farmers; govt blamed FARC dissidents but 9 Oct suspended four police officers. Violence against social leaders continued with at least three killed during month, including José Jair Cortés 17 Oct in Tumaco. FARC dissidents carried out several attacks, while govt continued offensives against them. Alleged FARC dissidents 21 Oct attacked security forces in Jamundí, Valle del Cauca, killing one soldier; authorities 15 Oct identified new group of fifteen FARC dissidents from 48th front operating in Putumayo. Reprisals by alleged FARC dissidents against former FARC rebels continued with 15 Oct ambush and killing of six former FARC fighters in south-western town of El Charco, Nariño department; former FARC rebel Henry Meneses Ruiz 20 Oct killed by unidentified assailants in south-western Cauca province. FARC 10 Oct announced registration as official political party. Drug trafficking groups continue to operate but with low levels of violence. Govt 24 Oct presented law regarding potential surrender to judicial authorities of Gulf Clan, Colombia’s main drug trafficking organisation.
Month dominated by long-postponed elections for state governors 15 Oct, which under constitution should have been held Dec 2016. Govt continued to insist that participation as candidates in state governor elections amounted to recognising Constituent Assembly (ANC)’s legitimacy and authority to swear in elected candidates; opposition Democratic Unity alliance (MUD) rejected terms but persisted with taking part in elections, amid predictions that its candidates could win in as many as eighteen out of 23 states, compared with three seats held before election. Electoral authority (CNE) 15 Oct announced landslide victory for govt candidates: eighteen states, including key opposition stronghold Miranda, went to govt, five won by opposition (including four by Acción Democrática (AD)). MUD rejected results, called for complete nationwide audit of election process with independent, international verification. U.S., Canada, EU and twelve-country Lima Group formed to press for restoration of democracy echoed calls; govt said it would only publish vote tallies. During campaign, govt hampered opposition efforts to mobilise supporters and ensure effective vote by keeping names of MUD candidates who pulled out after losing in primaries on ballot to confuse voters, and reassigned over 700,000 voters from opposition strongholds to alternative polling stations. In south-eastern Bolívar state, announcement of results was delayed amid three consecutive days of street protests; after authorities declared govt candidate winner, MUD produced paper vote tallies contradicting official count. AD governors agreed to be sworn in before ANC, whereupon party leader Henry Ramos said they had “excluded themselves” from party. Juan Pablo Guanipa of Primero Justicia, winner in Zulia state, refused; govt called fresh election in Zulia. MUD’s participation in elections, and governors’ swearing-in, fomented further division within opposition ranks, as vocal minority accused MUD leadership of treachery. Govt called delayed municipal elections for Dec, provoking opposition debate over whether to take part.
Political tension remained high as Supreme Court 10 Oct cancelled all requests to lift President Morales’ immunity from prosecution, including one from attorney general’s office based on monthly bonus paid to Morales by defence ministry since Jan 2017. Court also cancelled requests to lift immunity of 107 congressional deputies who mid-Sept tried to modify criminal code to avert prosecutions on corruption and illegal financing charges. Foreign ministry 9 Oct revoked visa of UN-backed International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) Commissioner Ivan Velásquez, citing administrative errors in request for renewal; 17 Oct announced it would maintain validity of visa, but reminded Velásquez of obligation to “abstain from meddling in internal affairs”. Constitutional Court 18 Oct threatened to order dismissal of foreign minister and his deputy if warning not revoked. CICIG 5 Oct opened new case on prison-based criminal network linked to Guatemala City mayor and former President Álvaro Arzú. New U.S. ambassador to Guatemala 18 Oct declared anti-corruption would be his priority. Re-trial of former military dictator José Efraín Ríos Montt on charges of genocide started 13 Oct.
Ahead of 26 Nov general elections in which he is running for second term, President Hernández introduced two new security measures: 14 Oct closed San Pedro Sula prison following transfer of over 900 inmates to new jails with tighter security measures; 9 Oct signed milestone National Police Law and Police Career Law reform. New York Times 6 Oct published article describing how former leader of “Cachiros” drug trafficking group told U.S. authorities he paid bribes to many Honduran politicians, including Hernández during 2013 presidential campaign; Hernández’s administration 7 Oct denied accusations, 17 Oct said allegations concerned not just ruling party but “all [political] colours”. Honduras 26 Oct hosted internally displaced and refugees summit to adopt regional protection mechanisms to address humanitarian crisis in Northern Triangle countries.
Violence remained high, including at least 53 homicides reported 14-15 Oct, allegedly related to gang response to 12 Oct transfer of five recently captured gang leaders to maximum security prison operating under highly restrictive “extraordinary measures”. Prison chief 14 Oct said some of these measures in prisons might become permanent. Prosecutor’s office 2 Oct announced major overhaul of high-level positions, including downgrading former chief of anti-corruption unit who was leading cases against ex-Presidents Antonio Saca and Mauricio Funes. National commission 24 Oct discussed country’s deteriorating security situation and agreed to focus efforts on territorial recovery. U.S. attorney general 24 Oct declared that prosecuting MS-13 gang was a “priority” for Trump administration.
Protests against 2017-2018 budget law continued into Oct; law entered into force 1 Oct. Coalition of opposition parties 3 Oct called for six days of protest; following protests, 40 protesters arrested. Opposition 10 Oct called for resignation of President Moïse and announced start of four additional days of demonstrations; several thousand protesters 17 Oct clashed with riot police in Port-au-Prince. In letter to U.S. authorities, govt 6 Oct asked for eighteen-month extension of Temporary Protected Status program, due to expire 22 Jan 2018, which grants legal residency to some 50,000 Haitians living in U.S.. Thirteen-year UN Stabilisation Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) officially ended 15 Oct; new, smaller UN mission (MINUJUSTH) started with six-month initial mandate, brings police force of 1,300 international officers to country to train national police and strengthen rule of law. UN Food and Agriculture Organization yearly report said 47% of Haitians undernourished.
Criminal and political violence continued unabated across much of country. In Tamaulipas state (east), cities of Reynosa and Río Bravo saw confrontations between two criminal organisations, army and state police 15-17 Oct, resulting in death of four presumed criminals, one civilian and three unidentified victims, and cities under virtual siege. In Guerrero state (south), 50-strong armed commando group 4 Oct attacked police, killing two and kidnapping four policemen in Xochipala. NGOs in Guerrero state requested support from state and federal govts regarding increase in reported homicide rates and forced displacement of 530 families due to violence. Reported violence increased in Veracruz (south), including three killed in Minatitlán-Coatzacoalcos and two murdered in bar in Las Choapas 15-17 Oct; four gas pipeline workers shot dead in San Luis Potosí 17 Oct. In Puebla state (south), mayor Manuel Hernández Pasión killed in alleged politically-motivated attack 10 Oct. New armed group Cártel Santa Rosa de Lima emerged in Guanajuato state (centre), 18 Oct declared war on Jalisco New Generation Cartel via social media. Deadly attacks on journalists continued: Edgar Esqueda, reporter from San Luis Potosí, kidnapped 5 Oct, found dead next day with signs of torture; unidentified gunmen 16 Oct shot and injured Cecilia Méndez, radio presenter in Zapopan, Jalisco state (south west). In Guerrero, unidentified armed assailants kidnapped and killed former leftist major of Zitlala 13 Oct; prominent human rights activist Ranferi Hernández Acevedo killed along with wife and mother-in-law 14 Oct. National statistics agency INEGI published data 17 Oct showing 76% of citizens questioned in national poll said their cities insecure. Weekly newspaper Proceso 10 Oct reported over 400 criminal groups resulting from fragmentation of criminal organisations, up from just six in 2007. National Commission of Human Rights called on govt to act promptly on 10,262 refugee requests, mostly from Northern Triangle countries, representing 578% increase from 2016.
Rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas took steps toward reconciliation and formation of unity govt: Hamas 1 Oct released five Fatah prisoners; cabinet of West Bank-based Fatah-led Palestinian Authority (PA) convened in Hamas-governed Gaza 3 Oct for first time in three years, with facilitation of Israeli govt. During cabinet meeting Hamas and Fatah announced intention to end decade-long division and hold talks in Egypt 10-11 Oct. Following those talks, parties 12 Oct signed reconciliation agreement, under which national consensus govt is to assume responsibility for Gaza’s administration by 1 Dec. Hamas 1 Nov handed over control of crossings on Gaza’s borders with Israel and Egypt to PA. Further talks in Cairo scheduled for 14 Nov and early Dec. Israeli PM Netanyahu 12 Oct said Israel objects to any reconciliation that does not include Hamas’s disarmament, and that Fatah-Hamas deal “makes peace much harder to achieve”. Israeli Security Cabinet 17 Oct said Israel would not negotiate with Palestinian govt “that relies on Hamas” unless seven conditions met, including Hamas disarming, ending ties with Iran and recognising Israel. U.S. envoy Jason Greenblatt 19 Oct said Hamas must recognise Israel and commit to non-violence to play role in Palestinian govt. Israel increased pace of settlement expansion, reportedly began building some 1,600 homes 15 Oct in Givat Hamatos, East Jerusalem, and 16 and 18 Oct approved plans to build over 2,500 homes in West Bank. EU 18 Oct said settlement building hinders efforts to renew peace talks and is “illegal under international law”. Israel 30 Oct destroyed tunnel running beneath Gaza-Israel border, reportedly killing seven militants. U.S. 12 Oct announced its withdrawal from UNESCO citing organisation’s “anti-Israel bias”; Netanyahu praised decision and same day said Israel planned to withdraw.
President Aoun 16 Oct said Syrian refugees in Lebanon should return to “stable and low-tension areas” in Syria, because Lebanon could no longer cope with strain of hosting them. Parliament 19 Oct passed 2017 budget, first since 2005. As part of effort to undermine Iran’s influence in region, U.S. 25 Oct imposed new sanctions on Iran-backed Lebanese Shiite political and military movement Hizbollah, including for allegedly using civilians as human shields in 2006 conflict with Israel.
Turkish forces deployed in north west in effort to calm fighting, as Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) claimed to have taken full control of Raqqa from Islamic State (ISIS) and continued race with regime forces to capture more territory in east. In north west, Islamist group Hei’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) launched offensive late-Sept to retake regime-held areas in Hama province; made few gains but captured economically significant Abu Dali village 7-8 Oct. As part of deal negotiated between Turkey, Russia and Iran in Kazakh capital, Astana 15 Sept, Turkish forces mid-Oct entered Idlib province in north west to establish de-escalation zone to end fighting between rebel and pro-regime forces. Govt 14 Oct claimed Turkish troop deployments violated terms of Astana deal and demanded they pull out. In north east, U.S.-backed SDF led by Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) 20 Oct said they had taken full control of Raqqa, ISIS’s de facto capital, ending four-month offensive. Local civilian Raqqa Civil Council 14 Oct announced deal with ISIS to allow Syrian and foreign militants to leave Raqqa with civilians. U.S. coalition 15 Oct said it opposed letting go foreign ISIS fighters, but local official same day said some foreign militants had left. In Deir el-Zour province in east, pro-regime and SDF forces continued race to take territory from ISIS. Pro-regime forces captured al-Mayadeen mid-Oct on west bank of Euphrates River meeting little resistance. SDF forces 22 Oct captured nearby al-Omar oil field, country’s largest, on east bank. UN 31 Oct said aid was delivered to Damascus suburb Eastern Ghouta for first time in over a year; next day govt shelling in area reportedly killed ten people, including five children.
Blast near capital Manama 2 Oct injured five policemen. Unidentified assailants attacked police bus west of capital Manama 27 Oct killing one policeman. Rights monitor 22 Oct said govt released three human rights activists, including Ebtisam al-Sayegh detained since 3 July. Amnesty International 30 Oct reported that three relatives of Sayed Ahmed al-Wadaei, critic of govt living in exile, had been sentenced to three years in prison in “grossly unfair trail”. FM al-Khalifa 30 Oct said Gulf Cooperation Council should freeze Qatar’s membership until country accepts demands of other Arab states imposing blockade.
President Rouhani and Turkish President Erdoğan 4 Oct met in Tehran and pledged to preserve borders in region in light of Iraqi Kurdistan’s 25 Sept independence referendum. U.S. President Trump 13 Oct failed to reissue congressionally-mandated certification of Iran’s compliance with July 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA); Congress has until 14 Dec to decide whether to restore sanctions waived under JCPOA. Supreme Leader Khamenei 18 Oct said govt would remain committed to agreement until other signatories withdraw. U.S. Treasury 13 Oct blacklisted Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) as “Specially Designated Global Terrorist” organisation for supporting its expeditionary Quds Force; in response, IRGC said U.S. military bases within 2,000km missile range were at risk and that Iran would consider U.S. army “ISIS around the world”. Quds Force Commander Soleimani reportedly facilitated Iraqi govt forces’ 16 Oct takeover of Kurdish-held Kirkuk city by convincing Kurdish peshmerga commanders not to fight back (see Iraq).
Following Iraqi Kurdistan’s independence referendum 25 Sept, govt forces and allied militias 16 Oct advanced on Kurdish-held Kirkuk and nearby oil facilities and military installations in area contested between Baghdad and Erbil; Kurdish forces withdrew largely without fighting. In north, Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) forces 17 Oct retreated from other disputed areas in Nineveh province, seized after army’s 2014 collapse before Islamic State’s (ISIS) advance. Iran reportedly closed land border with Kurdish region before offensive on Kirkuk. Turkey 16 Oct closed its airspace to flights to and from Iraqi Kurdistan, and 17 Oct welcomed govt’s capture of Kirkuk. PM Abadi 18 Oct ordered govt-aligned Shiite Popular Mobilisation Unit (PMU) militiamen, who took part in assault, to withdraw from Kirkuk and other disputed areas following Kurdish protests against their presence. Kurdistan Regional Govt (KRG) 19 Oct accepted Abadi’s call for dialogue and 25 Oct offered to suspend push for independence. Kurdistan region’s election commission 18 Oct postponed presidential and legislative votes previously planned for 1 Nov without setting new date, and Kurdish opposition party Gorran 22 Oct demanded KRG President Barzani resign for bringing “disaster to the Kurdish people”. Barzani 29 Oct said he would step down as president 1 Nov and asked Kurdistan region’s MPs to fill power vacuum. Kurdish parties in opposition to Barzani said their offices had been looted or burnt night of 29-30 Oct. Turkish PM 31 Oct said Iraqi federal troops had deployed to border crossing between Turkey and Kurdish region. KRG 31 Oct reportedly proposed deal to Baghdad, including ceasefire and joint Kurdish and federal troop deployments to disputed areas and on border with Turkey. Referring to Shia PMU forces, U.S. Sec State Tillerson 22 Oct said after meeting Abadi that “Iranian militias” in Iraq should “go home” now ISIS almost defeated; govt said PMU forces are part of Iraq’s institutions and “should be encouraged”. Military 5 Oct said govt and PMU forces had retaken from ISIS Hawija in north 66km west of Kirkuk. Iraqi forces 26 Oct launched assault against ISIS-held territory along Syrian border in west.
Emir Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah 25 Oct warned that diplomatic and trade blockade of Qatar by Saudi Arabia-led bloc imposed early June for alleged support of Islamist groups could lead to collapse of Gulf Cooperation Council.
Ahead of Gulf visit late-Oct, U.S. Sec State Tillerson 19 Oct called on Saudi Arabia-led bloc to engage with Qatar to end diplomatic and trade blockade of Qatar imposed early June for alleged support of Islamist groups including Muslim Brotherhood; Qatar 24 Oct reiterated its commitment to Kuwait-led mediation.
Security forces 4 Oct raided three locations in capital, Riyadh, killing two suspected militants; govt next day said it had dismantled Islamic State cell. Gunman 7 Oct attacked guard post outside royal palace in Jeddah, killing two security officers; gunman also killed in attack. Ahead of Gulf visit late-Oct, U.S. Sec State Tillerson 19 Oct called on Saudi-led bloc to engage with Qatar to end ongoing diplomatic dispute and trade blockade of Qatar imposed early June for alleged support of Islamist groups including Muslim Brotherhood. UN 5 Oct put Saudi Arabia on blacklist for grave violations against children in conflict for its actions in Yemen.
Fighting continued between on one side Huthi rebels and allied forces loyal to former President Saleh and on other Saudi-led coalition, especially along Saudi border. Tensions mounted in Aden in south between forces loyal to President Hadi and Emirati-aligned security forces associated with separatist Southern Transition Council (STC). Pro-Hadi and secessionist groups held competing rallies 17 Oct commemorating southern fight against British occupation; Hadi forces clashed briefly with Emirati-backed faction over Hadi govt raising Yemeni flag, signifying national unity. STC leader Aydaroos Zubaydi 14 Oct said at rally that STC would organise referendum on southern independence soon and continue fight against extremists. Emirati-backed security forces 10 Oct raided HQ of Hadi-aligned Islamist party Islah in Aden and arrested several members for terrorism. In north, tensions between Huthis and allied pro-Saleh forces continued; Huthis 7 Oct raided Saleh-aligned foreign ministry in Sanaa. U.S. 16 Oct claimed its drone strikes had destroyed Islamic State (ISIS) training camp in Bayda province in south, but locals said attacks targeted local al-Qaeda-affiliated fighters. Five suspected al-Qaeda male suicide bombers 23 Oct attacked checkpoint in Abyan province in south, killing four soldiers. UN 5 Oct put Saudi Arabia on blacklist for grave violations against children in conflict, list also includes Huthis and Hadi govt forces.
Three prominent Algerians, former FM Ahmed Taleb Ibrahimi, ex-minister, lawyer and human rights activist Ali Yahia Abdenour, and former navy chief retired General Rachid Benyelles, 8 Oct jointly said President Bouteflika was no longer able to lead country and should be barred from seeking fifth term in 2019. Authorities launched crackdown on migrants, arresting hundreds from African countries including Niger, Mali, Cameroon and Côte d’Ivoire and abandoning hundreds in desert in Niger.
Parliament 13 Oct extended for three months state of emergency imposed following 9 April bombings against Coptic Christian churches. Under expanded powers govt pursued crackdown on LGBT community begun in Sept; UN 13 Oct condemned crackdown. Militant group known as Hassm, reportedly Muslim Brotherhood offshoot, claimed responsibility for 30 Sept blast near Myanmar embassy in Cairo, reported in media as gas pipe explosion; blast was reportedly failed attack on EU ambassador’s residence. In N Sinai, militants killed six police in ambush near Arish 13 Oct claimed by Islamic State (ISIS). Over 100 militants launched coordinated attacks on five checkpoints in and around Sheikh Zuweid 15 Oct, also claimed by ISIS, killing at least nine security officers. Militants 16 Oct attacked security forces outside unused Coptic Church in Arish causing distraction from bank robbery nearby; robbers killed seven including child and stole EGP17mn (about $1mn). Militants 21 Oct attacked police in al-Wahat around 135km south west of Cairo reportedly killing at least 52 officers, interior ministry acknowledged sixteen fatalities. In reaction to attack, President Sisi 28 Oct instigated high-level security reshuffle, removing Armed Forces Chief of Staff Mahmoud Hegazy and several top interior ministry officials. Security forces 27 Oct killed at least thirteen militants at farm hideout in New Valley province around 400km south west of Cairo. Military 31 Oct said Air Force killed “large number” of militants in separate strike on hideout. Sisi 24 Oct made first visit to France since Macron became president; human rights groups called on France to end “indulgence” toward repression in Egypt.
Talks led by UN envoy Ghassan Salamé aimed at renegotiating parts of 2015 Libyan Political Agreement faltered, as violence escalated in west and risked erupting again in Nov. Delegation from east-based House of Representatives pulled out of second round of talks mid-Oct, demanding west-based State Council put its position in writing; Salamé 21 Oct ended talks without setting date for new round. Anti-ISIS Operations Room, militia nominally under Tripoli govt authority, 5 Oct said it had taken full control of western city of Sabratha from Dabashi Brigade and allied militias also nominally allied to Tripoli; at least 39 killed in weeks of fighting. Fighting risks erupting in Zwara and Zawiya, west and east of Sabratha respectively. Military advances suggested growing influence of east-based strongman General Haftar in west. Several units aligned with Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) moved to re-establish themselves near Sabratha after fighting ended. Forces with sympathies for LNA 9 Oct also took control of Ras Jdir on border with Tunisia and area near Mellitah, where Italian oil and gas company ENI has natural gas facility. Islamic State (ISIS) suicide bombing at court in Misrata 4 Oct killed at least four people and wounded nearly 40; undetonated car bomb found nearby. ISIS 25 Oct claimed attack on checkpoint south of LNA-controlled Ajdabiya in east that left two soldiers dead. UN 10 Oct said LNA’s siege of Derna in east continued to restrict entry of medical supplies and at least three health workers detained at checkpoints near city remained incommunicado. Airstrikes on Derna by unidentified warplanes 30 Oct killed at least fifteen civilians.
UN Security Council delegation 19 Oct visited to assess preparations for deployment of G5 Sahel joint force to counter Islamist militancy and trafficking in region; authorities have not identified battalion to join force nor sent liaison officer to Mopti, Mali. Following UN Security Council meeting on G5 Sahel joint force 30 Oct, U.S. Sec State Tillerson pledged up to $60mn to support force.
After months of protests to demand jobs, denounce corruption and repression in al-Hoceima in Rif region, King Mohammed VI 24 Oct dismissed several ministers and other high-ranking officials for failing to implement development plan for region. Protestors called for release of 21 opposition supporters on trial over protests, after 24 Oct initial hearing trial adjourned to 31 Oct. Authorities 14 Oct dismantled Islamic State (ISIS) cell reportedly active in eight towns and planning terrorist attacks. After Algerian FM 21 Oct accused Moroccan banks of laundering drug money, Morocco recalled its ambassador to Algeria.
Amid sharp rise in Sept-Oct in number of Tunisians trying to reach Italy by boat illegally, navy vessel 8 Oct intentionally hit boat carrying 90 migrants, killing 50. Incident sparked protests in south, particularly in Souk Lahad from where some of the killed migrants came; protesters burned down local govt office and house of local official. Truth and Dignity Commission responsible for transitional justice process 17 Oct said its board had agreed to principle of reparations for activists tortured and jailed by state between independence and 2011 which could amount to $1.5bn.
New UN Special Envoy for Western Sahara Horst Köhler conducted regional tour meeting Morocco’s King Mohammed VI, PM and FM 17 Oct and visiting armed independence movement Polisario Front’s refugee camps in Tindouf, Algeria 18 Oct, Algerian capital Algiers 22 Oct and Mauritanian capital Nouakchott 23 Oct.