CrisisWatch is our global conflict tracker, a tool designed to help decision-makers prevent deadly violence by keeping them up-to-date with developments in over 80 conflicts and crises, identifying trends and alerting them to risks of escalation and opportunities to advance peace.
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In September, U.S. President Trump suspended talks with the Taliban, curtailing prospects for peace in Afghanistan, while an attack on Saudi oil facilities prompted a sharp rise in tensions between Riyadh and Washington on one side and Iran on the other. Cross-border attacks between Saudi Arabia and Yemen’s Huthis could multiply unless they agree on steps to de-escalate. In Egypt and Algeria, security forces cracked down on opposition protests, and Tunisia’s second round of presidential polls could stir tensions. Violence around protests in Indonesia’s Papua left at least 30 dead. Al-Shabaab stepped up attacks in Somalia, violence between armed groups rose in the Central African Republic, security forces increased attacks in Cameroon’s Anglophone areas, and intercommunal conflict deepened in central Mali. In October, insecurity could rise in eastern DR Congo, northern Burkina Faso, Malawi and Mozambique. Talks between Venezuela’s government and opposition fell apart, and Haiti’s political crisis gave way to more violence. In Sudan, the appointment of a new cabinet consolidated a power-sharing deal and imminent talks between the government and armed opposition groups are an opportunity to advance peace in the peripheries.
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In his introduction to this month's edition of CrisisWatch, Crisis Group's conflict tracker, our President Robert Malley reflects on how, in the absence of talks, the U.S.-Iran standoff and the A
U.S. President Trump dealt a blow to Afghanistan’s peace process when in a series of surprise Tweets he called off U.S.-Taliban negotiations and cancelled a secret meeting with the Taliban and Afghan government. The move, which harmed U.S. credibility and threatened to undo months of careful diplomacy, will mean at a minimum some delay in finalising a U.S.-Taliban deal that had seemed on the verge of completion. To repair the damage, talks should resume as quickly as possible.
Aerial attacks on oil facilities in Saudi Arabia triggered a sharp rise in tensions between Saudi Arabia and the U.S. on one side and Iran on the other. Yemen’s Huthis claimed the assault, but both Riyadh and Washington blamed Tehran, which denied involvement. Crisis Group analysed how the principal parties read the attacks and argued that the cost of further regional escalation should compel the U.S. and Iran to walk back from the brink. Conflict in Yemen could escalate on two fronts in October. Cross-border attacks between the Huthis and Saudi Arabia could intensify if they fail to reach a mutual de-escalation agreement. At the same time, troop movements in the south suggest that pro-government forces and southern separatists are readying for a new bout.
Several African countries face a possible escalation in violence in October. In DR Congo’s north-eastern Ituri province, deadly attacks partly driven by ethnic antipathy could rise if talks between authorities and a militia leader collapse. The cyclical unrest underscores our call for the UN to support local peacemaking efforts even if the UN mission draws down. In Mozambique, both a rebel faction and radical Islamist militants could seek to violently disrupt general elections set for 15 October. Malawi could see protests and repression rise if the constitutional court rules against the opposition’s bid to have President Mutharika’s re-election in May overturned. In northern Burkina Faso, jihadists could exploit their momentum and security forces’ partial withdrawal and step up attacks on urban centres.
Insecurity worsened in four other African hotspots. Over the border in central Mali, violence surged as attacks on a banned local militia by both jihadists and the military fuelled intercommunal conflict. Al-Shabaab intensified attacks in south-central Somalia, and relations between the federal government and Jubaland soured further. In the far north east of the Central African Republic, fighting between rival armed groups rose, leaving over 40 dead. And in Cameroon’s Anglophone regions, the military stepped up attacks on suspected separatist fighters and civilians. Ahead of a national dialogue on the Anglophone crisis, we urged the government to give more time to Anglophones, including federalists, to lay out their proposals, and let the UN and African Union help bridge divides.
Violence rose again in Indonesia’s Papua region, where at least 30 people were reportedly killed and scores injured as security forces clashed with protesters in Wamena city and the provincial capital Jayapura.
In Egypt, security forces cracked down on spontaneous anti-government protests, reportedly arresting some 2,000 people and deploying to prevent further unrest. The military in Algeria took a harder line against continued demonstrations there, stepping up arrests of protest leaders and preventing people from joining Friday protests in the capital. The two political outsiders who won most votes in the first round of Tunisia’s presidential election, including imprisoned media mogul Nabil Karoui, are due to face off in October. But the authorities could invoke his incarceration as grounds to cancel the second round or nullify the result, risking a constitutional void and power vacuum.
Talks to end Venezuela’s protracted crisis collapsed as the main opposition group pulled out of Norway-sponsored negotiations in Barbados, blaming President Maduro’s government for suspending talks in August and not responding to its proposal. The government in turn announced it had made a deal with a group of smaller opposition parties not involved in the Barbados talks. Political instability and unrest rose in Haiti as tensions boiled over in parliament, and several people were killed during anti-government protests.
Cause for some optimism in Sudan, where the new prime minister, Abdalla Hamdok, appointed a cabinet acceptable to key stakeholders, including the military, opposition parties and civil society, consolidating the August power-sharing accord. Talks due to start in October between the government and several armed opposition groups, who have refused to sign onto the transitional agreement, offer an opportunity to advance peace in the peripheries.
Suspected jihadists stepped up attacks against security forces and civilians especially in north, fuelling further protests in capital Ouagadougou; security forces’ partial withdrawal from Djibo, Soum province capital, and nearby military camps raises risk that jihadists further increase attacks on urban centres in coming weeks. In Soum province, Sahel region in north, suspected jihadists 2-3 Sept killed two civilians in Koutougou village; suspected members of jihadist Group to Support Islam and Muslims (JNIM) 9 Sept killed four gendarmes in ambush near Inata; JNIM 12 Sept killed two soldiers in Baraboulé and Nassoumbou military camps, reportedly seized camps, forcing withdrawal of military units; local police next day withdrew from province’s capital Djibo for fear of attacks. Suspected jihadists 28 Sept killed soldier in Déou, Oudalan province, Sahel region. Media 24 Sept reported that Adama Garibou, Burkinabe leader of jihadist group Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, and 24 other combatants had died of their wounds sustained in 19 Aug attack on Koutougou. In Centre-North region, suspected jihadists 8 Sept killed 29 civilians in two attacks in Sanmatenga province; JNIM 20 Sept apologised for death of civilians killed by mine 8 Sept; suspected jihadists 21-28 Sept killed at least 31 civilians in several areas of Bam province. Fewer attacks reported in East region than in recent months. In Ouagadougou, police 16 Sept used tear gas to disperse at least 2,000 protesters denouncing “security, social and economic crisis”. At Economic Community of West African States extraordinary session on terrorism in Ouagadougou 14 Sept, regional leaders announced $1bn 2020-2024 plan to fight jihadist violence in region by reinforcing national and joint military operations. Military court 2 Sept sentenced several leaders of 2015 attempted coup: Gilbert Diendéré, chief of Presidential Security Regiment under former President Compaoré, was sentenced to twenty years in prison, and Djibril Bassolé, FM under Compaoré, to ten years.
Violence surged in centre as jihadist group’s and army’s attacks against Dogon militia fuelled intercommunal conflict, and insecurity persisted in north. In Mopti region in centre, Dogon militia Dan Na Ambassagou 2 Sept attacked Fulani village of Ouro Fero, Bandiagara district killing one. Following pledge to protect Fulani, jihadist group Katiba Macina 3 Sept killed 27 Dan Na Ambassagou militiamen near Ouro Fero. Security forces continued attacks against Dan Na Ambassagou, outlawed in March, notably conducting 5 Sept airstrike on base in Bandiougou, Bandiagara district. Suspected Fulani militiamen 9 Sept ambushed vehicle between Simekanda and Parou, Bandiagara district killing six Dogon. Dogon militiamen 16-18 Sept set up checkpoints in Bandiagara city, arresting and chasing out Fulanis, reportedly killing two. Dogon youth groups demonstrated in support of Dan Na Ambassagou and against govt in Bandiagara city 9 Sept and capital Bamako 13 Sept. Protesters accusing police commissioner of abuses 19 Sept burned police station in Niono, Ségou region in centre and killed commissioner, one protester killed. Explosive device 26 Sept killed seven soldiers on Douentza-Sévaré axis. In north, civil society and youth groups protested early Sept in Timbuktu and Gao calling on govt to build roads and address insecurity, 7-10 Sept blocked access to Timbuktu airport. Intercommunal clashes in Timbuktu city 19 Sept killed three, including two children. Over 1,000 disarmed and demobilised former combatants of Mécanisme opérationnel de coordination (MOC) integrated into army 4 Sept, but unidentified gunmen 5 Sept kidnapped at least 22 of them as they travelled to their posts in Gao region. Govt cancelled meeting of 2015 peace accord follow-up committee (CSA) initially planned for 17 Sept in Kidal after Nigerien President Issoufou accused some signatory armed groups of collusion with jihadists. In reaction, ex-rebel Coalition of Azawad Movements suspended participation in CSA. Preparations for national dialogue continued, but opposition parties threatened to boycott over lack of inclusivity.
Jihadist groups continued attacks on civilians in south east near Nigeria, as President Issoufou accused Malian armed group leaders of collusion with jihadists in west. In south east, villagers in Diffa region reported deadly incursions by Boko Haram, in particular faction known as Islamic State West Africa Province, almost every day. In west, suspected jihadists 10 Sept stole two vehicles from International Committee of the Red Cross near Tongo Tongo, Tillabéry region. During visit to Malian capital Bamako 7 Sept, President Issoufou said unresolved status of Kidal region in northern Mali, still controlled by ex-rebel group Coalition of Azawad Movements, signatory of 2015 peace accord, was “threat to Niger’s domestic security” and accused some armed group leaders of collusion with jihadists. Issoufou raised issue again during 14 Sept extraordinary summit of regional bloc Economic Community of West African States in Burkina Faso’s capital Ouagadougou. Niger’s ambassador to Mali 13 Sept said he would not attend meeting of peace accord committee scheduled to take place in Kidal 17 Sept; consequently meeting postponed (see Mali). About 2,000 gathered to protest against electoral code and electoral commission in capital Niamey 28 Sept, ahead of 2020 elections.
Authorities and ruling party’s youth wing continued to repress opposition, in particular members of opposition party National Congress for Freedom (CNL), killing one. Security official 4 Sept reportedly tortured CNL member in Mwaro province and police 15 Sept arrested CNL member in Nyabikere commune. Imbonerakure, youth wing of ruling party CNDD-FDD, 1 Sept attacked CNL member and apprehended a dozen in Mutumba commune; 8 Sept attacked CNL member in Kayogoro commune; 22 Sept assaulted CNL member who next day died of injuries in Gihogazi commune; same day detained two CNL members in Mabanda commune in Makamba province; 23 Sept detained CNL member in Rumonge commune. Former members of coalition of opposition parties in exile CNARED-Giriteka 9 Sept created new opposition bloc, Coalition of the Burundian Opposition Forces for the Restoration of the Arusha Agreement (CFOR-Arusha); 12 Sept opposed holding of elections in current political climate. CNARED-Giriteka delegation sometime between 30 Aug and 2 Sept reportedly met govt officials in Kenyan capital Nairobi to discuss their return from exile. UN Commission of Inquiry on Burundi 4 Sept released report highlighting human rights violations against opposition, identifying 2020 elections as potential trigger for violence; govt and ruling party officials denounced report. UN Human Rights Council 27 Sept prolonged Commission of Inquiry’s mandate for one more year. After Burundi and Tanzania agreed late Aug to repatriate Burundian refugees from Tanzania, NGO Amnesty International 6 Sept revealed official document suggesting repatriation would not be voluntary.
Violence increased in Anglophone regions as military stepped up attacks mostly targeting civilians, and Boko Haram (BH) sustained attacks in Far North. In Northwest and Southwest regions, Anglophone separatists continued to impose ban started late Aug on economic activity and movement by vehicle until mid-Sept and prevented schools from reopening. In Northwest region, clashes between separatists and security forces 3-11 Sept left eleven dead in Bui and regional capital Bamenda; security forces 5-9 Sept killed nine in Weh, Kumbo, Bali Nyonga and Bambui; separatists 14 Sept kidnapped two in Bamenda; clashes between security forces and separatists 30 Sept left gendarme dead in Bamejin. In Southwest region, security forces 1-7 Sept clashed with armed separatists in Kumba, killing at least four; gunmen 9 Sept kidnapped four motorcyclists in Limbe; security forces 12-19 Sept reportedly killed at least a dozen in Muntengene and Munyenge; clashes between security forces and separatists 29 Sept left five dead in Owe. President Biya 10 Sept announced govt would organise national dialogue 30 Sept-4 Oct in capital Yaoundé to address Anglophone crisis principally, but also other issues. Separatists rejected initiative. PM Ngute held pre-dialogue consultations mostly with Francophones. Opposition party Movement for the Renaissance of Cameroon (MRC) 14 Sept said it would boycott dialogue unless authorities released party leader Maurice Kamto. Court 9 Sept sentenced imprisoned Anglophone activists and MRC members, including its Vice President, to two years in jail for taking part in prison riots in July. Cameroon bar association 16-20 Sept held nationwide boycott of courts to protest govt’s human rights violations. In Far North, BH militants 5-13 Sept killed ten civilians in several villages. BH combatants of Islamic State West Africa Province 14 Sept attacked military base in Soueram, killing six soldiers. Clashes between BH and security forces 19 Sept in Kouyapé left at least four militants and civilian dead. BH attack on military post in Guitsenad-Tourou, Mayo-Tsanaga 21 Sept left soldier dead.
Fighting between armed groups surged in north east leaving over 40 combatants dead; authorities launched mediation initiatives but tensions remained high. In north east, fighting between armed groups Popular Front for the Central African Renaissance (FPRC) and Movement of Central African Liberators for Justice (MLCJ) in Birao 1, 3 and 14 Sept left at least 44 combatants dead and over 14,000 displaced; fighting sparked when ethnic Runga FPRC members late Aug killed son of Sultan of Birao who was Kara, dominant tribe in MLCJ. Amid mediation initiatives, over 100 FPRC combatants 20 Sept left group’s base in Ndele for Birao, raising risk of reprisal attacks in coming weeks. In north west, UN mission (MINUSCA) 26-28 Sept conducted operation against armed group Return, Restitution and Rehabilitation (3R) in Ouham Pende, Nana Mambere and Mambere Kadei prefectures destroying several bases, seizing vehicles and weapons. MINUSCA helicopter 27 Sept crashed in Bouar in west leaving three peacekeepers dead. In south east, armed group Union for Peace in Central African Republic (UPC) 3 Sept attacked gold mine in Basse-Kotto prefecture, leaving unknown number dead. Suspected members of Lord’s Resistance Army armed group 16 Sept attacked Gbassigbiri village, Mbomou province killing three villagers. Following late Aug resignation of armed group leader Mahamat Al Khatim from position as special adviser in charge of mixed security units in north centre, leader of armed group 3R, Sidiki Abass, 3 Sept resigned from same role for north west. UN Security Council 12 Sept partially lifted arms embargo on CAR. President Touadéra 5 Sept met French President Macron in Paris and discussed France’s renewed support to govt. EU 26 Sept announced it would contribute some $65mn to support implementation of Feb peace agreement. Sudan 26 Sept said it would close its border with CAR citing security concerns.
President Déby pressured electoral bodies to hold legislative elections by Jan 2020, govt extended state of emergency in east and north, and Boko Haram (BH) continued attacks in west. Déby 16 Sept rejected electoral commission’s proposals to hold legislative elections in either April or Nov 2020 and ordered it to organise them by Jan 2020. Govt 24 Sept created commission to revise electoral code in order to organise elections as soon as possible. Opposition coalition General Coordination of the Opposition 21 Sept denounced Déby’s interference in electoral process and threatened to boycott elections. Opposition Party for Liberties and Development 24 Sept also called on Déby to stop interfering in electoral calendar, to lift state of emergency in east and north and to organise new electoral census. Parliament 10 Sept extended by four months state of emergency that govt declared in Aug in Ouaddaï and Dar Sila provinces in east following intercommunal violence and Tibesti province in north. In Lake Chad province in west, BH militants 11 Sept attacked Medi Kouta leaving at least one dead; mine planted by Boko Haram (BH) in Kaiga Kindjiria 17 Sept killed army commander. Chad and France 4 Sept signed agreements expanding French support to Chadian security sector. U.S. 26 Sept delivered 60 vehicles to Chadian G5 Sahel contingent.
Violence continued in Ituri province in north east killing at least 66 people, and could escalate in Oct if dialogue between provincial authorities and militia leader collapses. In Ituri province, unidentified gunmen 5-12 Sept attacked two villages and displaced persons’ camp killing ten and kidnapping at least six; suspected ethnic Lendu armed group 17 Sept killed fourteen ethnic Hema in Bukatsele; several attacks by unidentified assailants in Djugu territory 17-18 Sept left at least 42 dead. Ituri provincial authorities late Sept held talks with leader of armed group Cooperative for Development of Congo (CODECO), who said he was willing to lay down arms if authorities granted group amnesty and integrated his men into armed forces. CODECO 23 Sept released seven prisoners. In North Kivu province, 55 members of Raia Mutomboki militia surrendered in Walikale. Armed group Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) 16 Sept kidnapped three in Beni territory. In Rutshuru territory, security forces night of 17-18 Sept killed Sylvestre Mudacumura, leader of militia Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) under International Criminal Court arrest warrant. ADF attack on security forces in Beni territory 18 Sept left ADF commander dead. Gunmen 29 Sept ambushed security forces, killing two in Mulimbi, Rutshuru territory. Army chiefs of DR Congo, Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda 13-14 Sept met in Goma, North Kivu to discuss insecurity affecting east and neighboring countries. Parliament 6 Sept approved PM Ilunkamba’s program, which prioritises security, employment, health, access to infrastructure and anti-corruption; MPs from three main opposition groups boycotted vote. President Tshisekedi 13 Sept chaired his first cabinet meeting and asked ministers to disregard political divisions. In Belgium, Tshisekedi met country’s PM and EU officials 16-19 Sept, restoring diplomatic relations with Belgium broken off since 2017.
Govt 2 Sept dismissed claims that President Bongo, who suffered stroke in Oct 2018, had been hospitalised in London during visit there. After govt 22 Aug suspended magistrate who initiated hearing on whether doctors should assess Bongo’s fitness to rule, Court of Appeal 2 Sept refused to hear case.
Rwanda and Uganda continued efforts to ease tensions. Following agreement late Aug to normalise relations, Uganda 14 Sept released 32 Rwandan detainees. Govt 16 Sept received high-level Ugandan delegation in capital Kigali to discuss implementation of agreement. Two unidentified assailants 23 Sept stabbed to death senior member of unregistered opposition party FDU-Inkingi, authorities arrested two people in connection with crime. Party leader next day said killing was attempt by govt to intimidate opposition.
President Isaias 14-16 Sept visited Sudanese capital Khartoum for first time since 2014; he and chairman of Sudan’s Sovereign Council Lieutenant General Abdel-Fattah Burhan 16 Sept announced that their countries would increase security cooperation.
Insecurity persisted as opposition contested new electoral law ahead of 2020 general elections and new talks between Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan over Nile waters failed to make headway. Group of opposition parties 3 Sept threatened to boycott 2020 elections if govt refused to change electoral law passed in Aug, in particular new regulations that would raise number of signatures required for parties to register. Electoral board 9 Sept released plan for preparation of referendum scheduled for 13 Nov on changing Sidama zone in Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples’ state into new ethnic federal state; plan stipulates that all residents of Sidama zone are eligible to vote, not just ethnic Sidama. Following 12 Sept grenade attack on police camp in Burayu town, Oromia region near capital Addis Ababa, authorities arrested 22 people suspected of involvement in attack whom they accused of having ties with armed splinter of ethno-nationalist group Oromo Liberation Front. Army 12 Sept said security forces had detained unspecified number of Islamic State members in Addis Ababa, Oromia region and Somali region. In Gambella region in west, unidentified attackers 5 Sept killed two staff members of NGO Action Against Hunger prompting UN and humanitarian organisations to suspend operations in region until security has improved. Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan held talks in Cairo 15-16 Sept aimed at resolving dispute over Ethiopia’s construction of its Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on River Nile; parties failed to make breakthrough with Ethiopia and Egypt still disagreeing on fill rate of reservoir.
Al-Shabaab attacks continued in north east and Kenya-Somalia tensions eased. In Mandera county in north east, suspected Al-Shabaab attack on Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) convoy in Elwak 10 Sept left at least five soldiers dead. KDF 11 Sept arrested Al-Shabaab member in Mombasa. In south, herders attacked locals in Kitui South and Kitui East constituencies 8 Sept leaving at least two dead. Following killing of taxi driver by suspected herders, driver’s colleagues 14 Sept killed two herders in Voi constituency. In centre, unidentified gunmen 23 Sept ambushed herders, killing four and stealing livestock in Baragoi, Samburu county. After months of tensions between Kenya and Somalia particularly over maritime border dispute, President Kenyatta and Somali President Farmajo 24 Sept met on sidelines of UN General Assembly in New York and agreed to normalise relations. Despite African Union’s plan that its mission in Somalia (AMISOM) pull out by 2021, Kenyatta 11 Sept said KDF serving under AMISOM would stay until Al-Shabaab was defeated. Following govt’s 3 Sept request to International Court of Justice (ICJ) to postpone by one year hearing on maritime border dispute originally set for 9-13 Sept, hearing rescheduled for 4-8 Nov. In recording released 19 Sept, Al-Shabaab leader Sheikh Ahmed Diriye criticised Kenya’s maritime border claim and said Al-Shabaab would not accept any decision made by ICJ. Kenyatta and Ugandan President Museveni 12 Sept signed agreement to help mitigate cross-border violence between herding communities.
Al-Shabaab intensified attacks and relations between federal govt and federal member state Jubaland soured further. In capital Mogadishu, suspected Al-Shabaab attacks on checkpoint 2 Sept, president’s compound 11 Sept and govt official 18 Sept left at least seven dead; roadside bomb 30 Sept struck Italian military convoy in EU mission, no casualties. In south and centre, Al-Shabaab stepped up attacks on national forces and African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) troops. Attacks against AMISOM 8-17 Sept left at least seventeen Burundian and five Djiboutian soldiers dead in Middle Shabelle and Hiraan regions respectively. At least five attacks on security forces and officials in Bay, Lower Shabelle and Middle Shabelle regions 12-22 Sept left at least 52 dead. Army operations in Hiraan, Lower Juba and Lower Shabelle regions 17-27 Sept reportedly killed 80 Al-Shabaab militants. U.S. and Somali airstrikes in Middle and Lower Juba and Lower Shabelle 3-30 Sept reportedly killed 33 militants. Federal govt continued to reject Aug re-election of Jubaland state president Ahmed Madobe. Authorities in Mogadishu 22 Sept prevented ex-President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed travelling to Jubaland for Madobe’s inauguration 26 Sept and banned all flights to and from Kismayo 23-27 Sept; Jubaland govt postponed inauguration. In preparation for presidential polls in Galmudug state, following Galmudug Reconciliation Conference 5-16 Sept, federal govt 16 Sept said it would form committee to oversee formation of state administration and election guidelines. Opposition parties next day accused federal govt of “hijacking” process. Galmudug President Haaf 29 Sept reneged on agreement with federal govt to facilitate elections, saying it had failed to deliver tangible results in recent months and said he would reassume his executive role. Following Kenya’s request for delay, International Court of Justice postponed hearing on Somalia-Kenya maritime border dispute from 9-13 Sept to 4-8 Nov. In New York, Farmajo and Kenyan President Kenyatta 24 Sept agreed to normalise relations.
Govt 2 Sept set conditions for resumption of talks with Somalia federal govt, including holding talks at neutral venue, international mediation and that latter’s delegates not include individuals from Somaliland. Hargeisa regional court 3 Sept ordered internet providers to block news website Hadhwanaag News after mid-Aug it reported alleged corruption of Somaliland’s central bank governor; police 10 and 19 Sept arrested three of its journalists; authorities 23 Sept released all three. Police 6 Sept shut down independent TV station planning to air series on social ills and next day arrested its owner; released 16 Sept. President Bihi 14 Sept said that planned military airport being built with Emirati support would be used for both military and civilian purposes.
Ahead of Nov deadline to form transitional govt, President Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar met for first time since April to hasten implementation of Sept 2018 peace agreement; govt forces continued to clash with non-signatory rebels in south. Machar visited Juba 9-12 Sept accompanied by deputy head of Sudanese Sovereign Council General “Hemedti” before returning to Sudan’s capital Khartoum. Kiir and Machar held face-to-face meetings 9 and 11 Sept and agreed to form 3,000-strong protection unit tasked with providing security for govt officials in Juba during transitional period, and to form committee to resolve question of number of states and location of state boundaries. Machar’s rebel group Sudan People’s Liberation Army-In Opposition (SPLA-IO) 11 Sept announced it would move its HQ from Khartoum to Juba. SPLA-IO commander 20 Sept announced he and other officers had defected to govt; 25 Sept twelve more SPLA-IO officials defected. Clashes between govt forces and opposition National Salvation Front continued in Jubek, Yei River and Terekeka states in south. Attacks by unidentified gunmen in Tonj, Terekeka and Yei River states in south and centre 7-21 Sept left at least nine dead. Clashes between ethnic Dinka and Nuer 22 Sept left at least eleven dead in Eastern Lakes state in centre. Sudanese PM Hamdok visited Juba 12-13 Sept and met Kiir; leaders 12 Sept agreed to reopen access to several border areas in Sudan and South Sudan and reopen border crossings to improve bilateral trade and freedom of movement. Kiir facilitated talks between Sudanese govt and Sudanese armed opposition groups 11 Sept; parties signed roadmap for peace, pledging to begin talks 14 Oct in Juba and conclude agreement by 14 Dec.
Security forces continued to repress protests, but stakeholders agreed on new cabinet and talks between govt and several armed opposition groups to begin mid-Oct present opportunity to advance peace in peripheries. PM Hamdok 6 Sept appointed cabinet of twenty ministers, including four women; appointment followed weeks of negotiations among civilian technocrats, military, opposition parties, protest leaders and civil society groups. Police 12 Sept used tear gas to disperse protesters outside presidential palace in Khartoum demanding prosecution of security forces responsible for deaths during past protests. PM Hamdok 22 Sept said govt would initiate independent investigation into deaths of pro-democracy protesters in June. In Nyala in South Darfur state, security forces 22 Sept fired live rounds and tear gas to disperse students protesting high prices and bread shortages. Next day demonstrations erupted in Khartoum protesting security forces’ violence in Nyala. In South Darfur state, unidentified militants 18-19 Sept attacked Gereida killing two civilians and one army officer, five assailants also killed. Following talks in South Sudan’s capital Juba brokered by its President Kiir, Sudan govt and Sudanese armed opposition groups 11 Sept signed roadmap for peace called “The Juba Declaration of Confidence Building Measures and the Preparation for Negotiation”; armed groups Sudanese Revolutionary Front and Sudan Liberation Forces Alliance signed document and Sudan People’s Liberation Movement North faction led by Abdel Aziz al-Hilu signed same text in separate document. Declaration says full negotiations will begin 14 Oct in Juba and sets 14 Dec as deadline for agreement. Armed opposition faction Sudan Liberation Movement led by Abdel Wahid al-Nur refused to take part in talks. Hamdok and Kiir in Juba 12 Sept agreed to reopen access to several border areas in Sudan and South Sudan and reopen border crossings to improve bilateral trade and freedom of movement. Sovereign Council 26 Sept announced immediate closure of borders with Libya and Central African Republic citing undefined security and economic threats.
Govt maintained crackdown on press freedom. Authorities 12 Sept postponed for fourth time trial of investigative journalist Erick Kabendera, who could face five years in jail without trial as bail not permitted in cases related to economic crimes; national media council said case had been “politically handled”. NGO Amnesty International 6 Sept criticised Aug agreement between Tanzania and Burundi to repatriate Burundian refugees with or without their consent, despite UN Refugee Agency claims that political environment in Burundi is not conducive for returns.
Govt continued to repress opposition and took steps to thaw relations with Rwanda. Police 7 Sept prevented opposition party Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) from holding rally in Mbale in east, used teargas and live bullets to disperse FDC supporters, and arrested three party supporters and senior FDC member Patrick Amuriat Oboi, who was later released. In Hoima county, ahead of 26 Sept parliamentary by-elections, security forces deployed in large numbers as President Museveni campaigned for candidate of ruling party National Resistance Movement (NRM) and opposition leaders, including musician-turned-opposition leader Bobi Wine and Amuriat, campaigned for FDC candidate Asinansi Nyakato. Police 25 Sept arrested twelve FDC supporters over alleged voter fraud. After NRM candidate was declared winner 27 Sept, Amuriat claimed NRM had rigged poll. Police 26 Sept arrested ten FDC officials in Kasese for holding illegal meeting. After Uganda and Rwanda agreed late Aug to normalise relations, govt 14 Sept released 32 Rwandans. High-level govt officials 16 Sept met Rwandan counterparts in Rwandan capital Kigali to discuss implementation of agreement. Museveni and Kenyan President Kenyatta 12 Sept signed agreement to help mitigate cross-border violence between pastoral communities in north east.
Authorities and ruling party supporters continued efforts, sometimes using force, to thwart protests against electoral commission’s alleged rigging of May presidential poll; violence could escalate in Oct if constitutional court rules against opposition’s application to overturn President Mutharika’s election win. Constitutional court hearing resumed 3 Sept until 20 Sept, restarted 30 Sept; judge said case would conclude three weeks after resumption. Supporters of NGO Human Rights Defender Coalition (HRDC) 19 Sept protested in capital Lilongwe accusing electoral commission chairperson Jane Ansah of bias in favour of Mutharika; protesters also demanded parliament reject appointment of Duncan Mwapasa as new police chief. Supreme Court of Appeal 20 Sept rejected Attorney General’s application to stop HRDC protests. In Blantyre, youth wing of ruling party Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) 25 Sept blocked route of HRDC protest march to electoral commission conference before attacking protesters with stones and sharp objects, injuring senior HRDC official. Clashes between demonstrators and military in Karonga 25 Sept reportedly left 30 injured. HRDC vowed to return to streets 1-4 Oct.
Ahead of 15 Oct general elections, opposition accused ruling Frelimo party of intimidation and trying to rig polls and suspected jihadist attacks continued in north; rebel faction and jihadists could seek to violently disrupt polling. Breakaway faction of former rebel group now opposition party Renamo 19 Sept reiterated pledge to disrupt polling and increase attacks during campaign. Renamo district delegate for Nampula in north 23 Sept said that Frelimo members had been intimidating Renamo supporters and preventing them from putting up election posters. Renamo officials 24 Sept accused Frelimo members of illicitly collecting voter cards in southern province of Inhambane to manipulate voting. Stampede at election rally for President Nyusi in Nampula 12 Sept left ten people dead. In far north, unidentified militants 18 Sept attacked Christian village of Quiterajo and military post in Cobre in Macomia district, Cabo Delgado province killing six and abducting ten, Islamic State same day claimed responsibility. Suspected jihadists 23 Sept attacked Mbau village in Mocimboa da Praia district killing twelve people and burning down Frelimo HQ. Same day militants decapitated two farmers near village of Mindumbe. Locals in Niassa province 18 Sept killed five Chinese employees of mining company suspected of trafficking human organs; police 20 Sept arrested two people in connection with killings.
Xenophobic rioting continued, leaving at least ten people dead, including two foreigners, souring relations between South Africa and other African nations, especially Nigeria. Following riots and attacks on foreign-owned businesses in capital Pretoria late Aug, protests in Johannesburg against foreigners accused of drug-dealing 1 Sept deteriorated into riots and attacks on foreigners and foreign-owned businesses. Violence continued for several days and flared again mid-month in Johannesburg. Security forces arrested over 400. Lorry drivers 1 Sept began nationwide strike to protest employment of foreign drivers, some torched vehicles driven by foreigners and blocked roads in multiple places across country; in response police arrested over twenty people in KwaZulu-Natal province in south east. President Ramaphosa 3 Sept condemned xenophobic attacks. In response, Nigeria 4 Sept recalled its high commissioner to South Africa and refused to attend 4-6 Sept World Economic Forum conference in Cape Town. In Nigeria, following reprisal attacks against South African businesses in capital Abuja and Lagos, South Africa 5 Sept closed diplomatic missions in those cities. Nigeria 11 Sept repatriated 189 citizens from South Africa and said over 600 expected to return. Air Tanzania 5 Sept cancelled flights from Dar es Salaam to Johannesburg and Zambia and Madagascar boycotted football matches in South Africa. President Ramaphosa mid-Sept deployed special envoys to affected countries to brief leaders on actions his govt was taking to address xenophobic violence. After army deployed in Cape Town in Aug to support local police combatting gang violence, govt 26 Sept said military presence would remain for additional three months.
Civil servants went on strike nationwide 23-25 Sept to protest low pay and rising cost of living; police in capital Mbabane 25 Sept clashed with protesters using rubber bullets, stun grenades and water cannon to disperse them, reportedly leaving at least fifteen injured.
Severe economic crisis persisted, pushing doctors to strike, and former President Mugabe died. Doctors went on strike 3 Sept demanding 400% pay rise. Leader of doctors’ union Peter Magombeyi disappeared 16 Sept, reappeared 19 Sept 40km from capital Harare, he said unidentified men had abducted him. After security forces blocked two of doctors’ attempted protest marches, court 19 Sept ordered police not to intervene. Police lost High Court and Supreme Court bid to prevent Magombeyi from receiving treatment in South Africa. Former President Mugabe, who ruled from 1980 until he was ousted in Nov 2017, died 6 Sept in hospital in Singapore aged 95 reportedly from cancer. After initial announcement that he would be buried in mausoleum at National Heroes Acre in capital Harare, he was buried in courtyard of his residence in Zvimba according to his family’s wish.
Opposition parties continued to close ranks in likely bid to challenge President Ouattara’s party, Rally of Houphouëtists for Democracy and Peace, in 2020 presidential election. Former President Bédié’s Democratic Party of Côte d’Ivoire (PDCI) and former President Gbagbo’s Popular Ivorian Front (FPI) held joint rally 14 Sept in Abidjan, gathering about 10,000 supporters despite leaders’ absence. Jean-Louis Billon, PDCI’s head of communications and Ouattara’s former trade minister, visited Gbagbo’s former youth minister Charles Blé Goudé in The Hague 15 Sept. Ouattara 25-28 Sept made first state visit to N’zi region, PDCI stronghold home to Bédié’s ethnic group Baoulé. Electoral commission’s fifteen members took oath 27 Sept. Prosecutor of International Criminal Court 16 Sept appealed 15 Jan acquittal of Gbagbo and Blé Goudé.
President Condé seemed to continue manoeuvres to change constitution so that he can run for third term in 2020 presidential election. Condé 4 Sept said legislative elections, postponed since Oct 2018, must be organised by end of 2019. President of electoral commission 16 Sept said vote would take place 28 Dec, but opposition representatives in commission said they believed election could not be organised legally and practically before March 2020. At Condé’s request, PM Fofana 12-25 Sept discussed possible new constitution with national assembly, political parties, trade union and civil society organisations, but several opposition parties and civil society groups critical of govt refused to take part in consultations. Members of opposition movement National Front for the Defence of the Constitution (FNDC) 11 and 17 Sept blocked meetings of Condé’s supporters in Boffa in west. Security forces 19 Sept blocked FNDC demonstration against constitutional change in Macenta in south.
Ahead of presidential election scheduled for 24 Nov, nineteen individuals put forward candidacies, including incumbent President Vaz. Judiciary, which needs to approve applications, 24 Sept went on strike to demand better police protection and working conditions, potentially delaying vote. PM Gomes deferred vote on his program and budget, initially due 23 Sept.
President Weah 12 Sept endorsed creation of war crimes court and called on national assembly to take necessary steps toward its establishment.
Boko Haram (BH), especially Islamic State-allied faction known as Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), continued to stage attacks in north east and criminal violence persisted in north west, despite peace initiatives. In Borno state in north east, air force 21 Sept said air campaign 13-20 Sept killed scores of BH insurgents and destroyed hideouts, but overall military campaign seemed increasingly challenged. BH insurgents, mostly from ISWAP, launched some five attacks 4-12 Sept killing at least 22 soldiers, one police officer and one vigilante leader; notably 6 Sept they ambushed military convoy between Damaturu in Yobe state and Biu in Borno state, killing at least one soldier and stealing 15.5mn naira (about $43,000) intended as soldiers’ allowance. Troops 15 Sept repelled gun and suicide attack by Abubakar Shekau-led BH faction on military camp near University of Maiduguri. ISWAP 25 Sept beheaded one of six aid workers abducted 18 July and threatened to kill others. Army shut down offices of two humanitarian NGOs in north east – Action Against Hunger 20 Sept and Mercy Corps 25 Sept – accusing groups of sabotaging fight against BH. In north west, amid continuing bandit violence, state govts continued peace efforts, including through dialogue initiatives and amnesties, reporting some achievements. In Sokoto state, bandits killed six in two villages 11 and 14 Sept. In Zamfara state, authorities early Sept said peace efforts had allowed for return of 25,000 displaced persons as of late Aug and Zamfara police 22 Sept said they had led to release of 372 captives; but one report said at least 40 captives had been sold to slave dealers in Benin and Burkina Faso. Zamfara state govt 22 Sept accused unnamed “politicians” of planning with “dispersed elements of Boko Haram” to launch attacks in seven areas and on strategic targets in state capital Gusau to hamper peace process; authorities called for vigilance. Katsina state govt 8 Sept released six bandits in exchange for twenty captives; other bandit groups then released dozens more captives. Niger state governor 21 Sept granted amnesty to 27 bandits. Governors of Zamfara, Sokoto and Katsina states 8 Sept signed agreement on cross-border security cooperation with governor of Niger’s Maradi region.
Positive statements by U.S. and North Korean officials during month signalled potential for revival of bilateral dialogue, despite North Korea launching another test of short-range missile early Sept. North Korea 10 Sept launched two short range missiles, similar to launches in July and Aug. In 6 Sept speech, U.S. Special Representative Stephen Biegun signalled greater flexibility concerning U.S.’s North Korea policy. U.S. President Trump 20 Sept said he is open to “new method” in future talks; North Korean media same day reported Pyongyang’s chief negotiator Kim Myong-gil welcomed Trump’s comments. Trump 23 Sept held out possibility of another summit with Kim Jong-un, which observers fear could reduce the likelihood of working-level dialogue. South Korean President Moon 23 Sept met with Trump, reportedly advocating for creation of denuclearisation roadmap and stating Seoul’s objectives to strengthen U.S.-South Korean alliance. North Korea responded angrily, accusing U.S. of intervening in inter-Korean affairs, but statement from veteran North Korean official Kim Kye-gwan’s 27 Sept indicated North Korea keen to arrange third summit with U.S.. Chinese customs figures released mid-Sept showed steadily rising trend of oil exports to North Korea, suggesting ambivalent Chinese enforcement of international sanctions on North Korea.
Tensions with Beijing continued as two more countries cut diplomatic ties with Taiwan, and Taipei accused Beijing of interference ahead of presidential elections in Jan 2020. Solomon Islands 16 Sept became latest country to cut diplomatic ties with Taiwan, joined by Kiribati 20 Sept, leaving Taiwan with just fourteen countries that recognise its independence, plus the Vatican. President Tsai 20 Sept condemned China for its efforts to “suppress and coerce Taiwan” ahead of its elections. China 11 Sept confirmed Taiwanese national who went missing in Aug was arrested for “endangering national security”, prompting Taiwanese govt to warn citizens against visiting Hong Kong and China. Canadian warship sailed through Taiwan Strait 10 Sept, Chinese foreign ministry next day questioned Canada’s “intentions”.
U.S. cancellation of talks with Taliban dealt blow to peace process, while levels of violence remained high, including attacks around 28 Sept presidential election. Hopes for deal between Taliban and U.S. quashed after President Trump in series of surprise tweets 7 Sept cancelled U.S.-Taliban negotiations and secret meeting with Taliban and Afghan govt at Camp David in U.S., citing 5 Sept death of U.S. soldier in Taliban attack in Kabul and doubts over militants’ desire for peace due to their failure to agree to ceasefire. Tweets came day after U.S. Special Envoy Khalilzad and Taliban had completed discussion on draft deal and moved onto details of deal’s announcement; Khalilzad had earlier said in TV interview that agreement “in principal” with Taliban would see drawdown of 5,400 U.S. troops within 135 days of deal’s signing. Insurgent attacks continued; in Kabul, Taliban 2 Sept attacked housing complex used by international security contractors with vehicle packed with explosives followed by gunfight, killing at least 30. Taliban 16 Sept killed U.S. special forces soldier in Wardak province during joint U.S.-Afghan operation against militants; seventeenth U.S. combat fatality in 2019, highest yearly number since 2014. Next day, in election-related violence ahead of 28 Sept presidential election, Taliban suicide bomber attacked campaign rally for President Ghani in Charikar, Parwan province, killing 26; and same day killed at least 22 in suicide attack near U.S. embassy in Kabul, reportedly targeting Afghan military facility. Elections took place 28 Sept; bomb at polling station in mosque in southern city Kandahar wounded sixteen. Election commission reported low turnout from data from half of polling stations; full data and results expected mid-Oct. Amid continued high levels of civilian casualties, local civilians and officials in Nangarhar province 18 Sept reported U.S. drone strike, intended to hit Islamic State-Khorasan Province hideout, mistakenly killed 30 civilians.
Security forces continued anti-militancy operations, while govt took more hardline stance toward Rohingya refugees. Paramilitary Rapid Action Battalion 1 Sept arrested suspected members of Allahr Dal and Ansar-al-Islam (also known as Ansarullah Bangla Team, ABT) in Narayanganj. Following stalled 22 Aug attempt at repatriating Rohingya refugees to Myanmar and same day murder in Cox’s Bazar of Omar Faruk from Awami League-youth wing Juba League, allegedly by Rohingya refugees, Bangladeshi govt took more hardline approach, including reportedly returning or refusing entry to new Rohingya arrivals caught crossing border and imposing restrictions on telecommunications in refugee camps; govt claimed some NGOs had organised 25 Aug rally of hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas and had incited refugees to reject repatriation, withdrawing 41 NGOs from working in camps by early Sept and banning two. Police claimed Rohingya couple – reportedly part of gang that murdered Faruk – killed in gunfight soon after being detained 22 Sept; at least thirteen Rohingya refugees killed in alleged gunfights since Faruk’s murder. Insecurity continued in Chittagong Hill Tracts area; army officer injured 25 Sept during clash between military and members of United Peoples Democratic Front (UPDF, regional party supporting complete autonomy for Chittagong Hill Tracts); came after army claimed to have killed four UPDF members in gunfights in Rangamati and Khagrachhari district late Aug.
Clashes between security forces and Maoists continued, while militants targeted suspected police informants. In Gadchiroli district in Maharashtra state (centre), militants 11 Sept shot dead former Maoist member on suspicion of being police informant, and security forces 15 Sept claimed to have killed two militants during clash. Maoists 13 Sept slit throat of ruling Bharatiya Janata Party official in Munger district, Bihar (east), and next day killed villager in Dantewada district, Chhattisgarh (east), both reportedly for providing information to police. Police 22 Sept claimed to have killed five Maoists during gunfight on Andhra Pradesh-Odisha border (east). Police claimed Maoists responsible for 24 Sept IED that killed three in Bastar district and 28 Sept murder of man in Sukma district, both in Chhattisgarh state.
Fallout from Indian govt’s revoking of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) special constitutional status in Aug continued, amid sustained clashes along Line of Control (LoC, dividing Pakistan and Indian-administered Kashmir). Tensions remained high between India and Pakistan, with New Delhi insisting changes to J&K’s status was internal matter and Islamabad demanding reversal of decision. Despite rejecting India’s 29 Aug allegation that Pakistan was trying to infiltrate militants into J&K to create “alarmist situation”, Pakistan military spokesperson 4 Sept said “Kashmir is our jugular vein” and will be fought for “until our last bullet, soldier and breath”. Pakistani PM Khan 18 Sept statement made resumption of bilateral dialogue with India conditional on revival of J&K’s special status and end to security lockdown; Khan also stated any Pakistanis wishing to fight in Kashmir would do “greatest injustice to the Kashmiris” and give India pretext to “blame Pakistan for cross-border terrorism and infiltrating terrorists”. U.S. Assistant Sec State 19 Sept welcomed Khan’s statement and said Pakistan’s commitment to counter-terror groups was “critical to regional stability”. During speech to UN General Assembly 27 Sept, Khan warned of “bloodbath” once lockdown in J&K is lifted. Indian and Pakistani military continued clashing along LoC, including deaths of two Pakistani soldiers 12 and 14 Sept. Security lockdown and communications blackout continued through month in most Muslim-majority areas of J&K; UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Bachelet 9 Sept expressed concern about restrictions on internet communications, peaceful assembly and detention of local leaders and activists. Reuters reported Indian govt 6 Sept report showed 3,800 people have been arrested in J&K since clampdown started, 2,600 of them subsequently released. Indian govt 15 Sept formally charged former J&K chief minister Farooq Abdullah under controversial Public Safety Act, which allows detention for up to two years without charges, trials or judicial review. Six militants and a soldier reported killed 28 Sept during two separate clashes in J&K.
Four-year anniversary of promulgation of 2015 constitution met with protests 20 Sept by minority ethnic and indigenous groups who are critical of Nepal Communist Party (NCP)-led govt for refusing to amend key constitutional provisions, such as redrawing of federal provincial boundaries and ensuring proportional representation in upper house of parliament. Civil society leaders expressed concerns about govt’s overtly-nationalistic rhetoric in efforts to mark celebrations, including by demanding mandatory attendance of civil servants and urging civilians to don clothing bearing national flag. Constitutional experts criticised govt for failure to empower provincial govts throughout first four years under new constitution and thus weakening the core commitment underpinning the new statute: the transition toward a federal structure. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited Kathmandu 8-10 Sept and met PM KP Oli and NCP Co-chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal among others to lay groundwork for potential visit by Chinese President Xi in Oct; Yi’s 10 Sept meeting with Dahal caused controversy following official readout from Chinese Foreign Ministry describing Nepal’s disagreement with U.S.-led Indo-Pacific Strategy. Opposition figures also criticised ruling party for “importing ideology” after NCP’s 23-24 Sept symposium with Communist Party of China which included training on Xi Jinping Thought.
Govt faced concerns over terrorism financing and tensions with India over Kashmir (see Kashmir), while militant attacks persisted. Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf govt continued efforts to remove Pakistan from Financial Action Task Force (FATF)’s “grey list” for counter-terrorism financing and anti-money laundering deficiencies; FATF review due to begin in Oct. Interior Minister Ijaz Ahmed Shah 12 Sept said country had “spent millions of rupees” financing militant group Jamaat-ud-Dawa – whose leader Hafiz Saaed has petitioned Lahore High Court to dismiss several terrorism financing cases against him. Authorities continued corruption probes into opposition leadership: National Accountability Bureau 18 Sept announced it had arrested Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leader Khursheed Shah during investigation into his wealth; PPP condemned case as “political victimisation”. Insecurity persisted amid continued militant attacks; in Balochistan’s capital Quetta, security forces claimed to have killed six Islamic State-linked militants during operation in which one paramilitary officer was killed; one rescue worker was killed and ten people injured in two coordinated bomb blasts 5 Sept. Militants 13 Sept killed soldier in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) province’s North Waziristan tribal district; next day, cross-border militant attack in KPK’s Upper Dir district near Afghan border killed three soldiers. Officer and soldier killed in bomb attack near Afghan border in Mohmand tribal district 21 Sept. Following U.S. President Trump’s 7 Sept decision to cancel U.S.-Afghan talks, foreign ministry emphasised “no military solution” to Afghan conflict, urging both sides to “re-engage to find negotiated peace”.
Political manoeuvring continued ahead of presidential elections set for 16 Nov, while international actors raised concerns about progress of post-war reconciliation. Following months of bitter internal debate, governing United National Party (UNP) 26 Sept named its deputy leader Sajith Premadasa as its presidential candidate, with agreement of Premadasa’s rival, party leader and PM Ranil Wickremesinghe. Former defence secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, candidate for Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) and widely assumed to be front-runner, faced series of ongoing legal cases. President Sirisena 20 Sept testified to public parliamentary hearings into April terror attacks and next day appointed presidential commission of inquiry for further investigations. Police continued post-attack operations including late-Aug arrest and detention of Usthaz Hajjul Akbar, former head of Sri Lanka Jama’athe Islami; cabinet 18 Sept approved memorandum outlining new counter-terrorism legislation reportedly designed in part to address threats from international jihadi networks. UK 10 Sept made statement at UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on behalf of UNHRC core group on Sri Lanka noting govt implementation of 2015 resolution on accountability and reconciliation “remained slow in many areas” and sharing High Commissioner Bachelet’s Aug concerns over appointment of Lt. Gen. Shavendra Silva as army commander and effect on justice, accountability and reconciliation. UN Department of Peace Operations announced 25 Sept it was suspending future non-essential deployments of Sri Lankan military as peacekeepers in light of Silva’s appointment.
Demonstrations led to violence again in Papua, resulting in at least 30 reported dead and scores injured. Separate protests erupted in Wamena city and Papua’s capital Jayapura 23 Sept. Demonstrations in Wamena allegedly provoked by rumours that teacher directed racial slurs against indigenous Papuan student 21 Sept. Protesters reportedly set fire to buildings, including govt district office; at least sixteen people reported killed, most non-indigenous, and many after being trapped in fires; dead reportedly include children. In Jayapura, media reports indicated violence erupted after authorities stormed gathering of indigenous Papuan students at university, including some taking refuge from other cities; at least three protesters and one soldier reported killed in clashes in Jayapura. Media reported thousands of people attempted to flee Wamena late month; military 27 Sept said they evacuated about 700 residents. Authorities ramped up efforts to arrest activists suspected of involvement in Aug protests in Papua, including Buchtar Tabuni, arrested 9 Sept for suspected treason, and issued notice to Interpol for arrest of Australia-based Indonesian human rights lawyer Veronica Koman. Authorities 26 Sept arrested journalist Dandhy Laksono, accused of violating online hate speech laws in posts on Papua clashes. Military 19 Sept reported three civilians including a young child killed and four wounded in shoot-out with separatists in Ilaga town. Elsewhere, counter-terror unit Densus 88 arrested nine suspected members of Islamic State (ISIS)-linked Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD) during 23 Sept raids near Jakarta; police said they uncovered bomb-making materials. Anti-corruption protesters clashed with police in Jakarta and other cities late Sept; at least three protesters reported killed, including two students in Sulawesi island.
Insecurity continued in Rakhine state with ongoing clashes between military and ethnic Rakhine insurgents, while alliance of ethnic armed groups in north east announced pause in fighting. Violence continued across several townships in Rakhine State as Arakan Army and security forces clashed; unidentified assailants 1 Sept stabbed off-duty police officer to death in Ponnagyun township; decapitated and mutilated bodies of two villagers found in Myebon township 10 Sept, prompting military to declare situation in area “resembles anarchy”. Govt 1 Sept restored internet to five townships in Rakhine and Chin states cut off since June; internet shutdown however continues in four townships. Same day, military announced it would form court martial to try soldiers for “possible weakness in following military instructions” amid ongoing inquiry by Judge Advocate General’s Office into alleged massacre of Rohingya in Gudarpyin village in 2017. In northern Shan State, Brotherhood Alliance – joint force of Arakan Army, Ta’ang National Liberation Army and Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army – announced one-month cessation of hostilities against military 9 Sept, and 20 Sept extended ceasefire until end of year, although reserving right to act in defence. Military’s unilateral ceasefire with ethnic armed groups in Kachin and Shan states ended 21 Sept, with reports of subsequent clashes between army and militants in Mongko and Kutkai townships in Shan State. UN Fact-Finding Mission 17 Sept presented final report on alleged human rights violations by Myanmar military and security forces to Human Rights Council, identifying pattern of ongoing attacks “aimed at erasing the identity and removing” Rohingya from Myanmar, as well as military persecution during operations in Rakhine, Shan and Kachin states; said govt-established Independent Commission of Enquiry not credible. Bangladeshi govt took more hardline approach vis-à-vis Rohingya refugees, including reportedly returning or refusing entry to new Rohingya arrivals caught crossing border (see Bangladesh).
Clashes continued between armed forces and militants, including Abu Sayyaf in Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) in south, and communist rebels in centre. In BARMM’s Sulu province, security operations against Abu Sayyaf 10 Sept resulted in one suspected militant killed. Army 16 Sept reported it had recovered approximately 700 kg of bomb components belonging to Abu Sayyaf in Sulu. Military 21 Sept reported three Abu Sayyaf members surrendered in Basilan province. U.S. State Department 11 Sept added Abu Sayyaf leader Hatib Hadjan Sawadjaan to its global terrorist list, along with suspected militant Almaida Marani Salvin. In centre, encounter between Communist New People’s Army (NPA) rebels and armed forces in Iloilo 20 Sept left one suspected NPA dead, further clashes 25 Sept resulted in no govt casualties. Military 28 Sept killed suspected NPA commander in shoot-out in Bukidnon province. Security forces 17 Sept arrested two NPA during clashes in Negros Occidental; authorities same day arrested high-ranking NPA leader in Laguna province. Islamic State (ISIS)-linked Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) 7 Sept reportedly carried out bomb attack that wounded eight in Sultan Kudarat province in Mindanao; military 23 Sept arrested suspected Swedish militant and two local militants. UN Human Rights Council 19 Sept released report naming Philippines in list of countries linked to growing reprisals against victims of human rights abuses and activists; govt said it “condemns all acts of intimidation and reprisals”.
U.S. conducted freedom of navigation operation in South China Sea (SCS), while tensions continued between China and rival claimants to disputed areas. U.S. Navy destroyer 13 Sept sailed near contested Paracel islands, controlled by China but also claimed by Taiwan and Vietnam; Beijing said it “expelled” vessel, called it “act of trespass”. BBC 3 Sept reported Chinese crane vessel spotted in area claimed by Vietnam as its exclusive economic zone; Chinese oil exploration survey ship 23 Sept departed from Vietnamese-claimed area of disputed Spratly Islands, where it had been spotted since early July. Chinese state media 25 Sept reported Beijing had deployed new deepwater drilling rig in SCS, without giving exact location. Philippines President Duterte 10 Sept said Chinese President Xi late Aug offered majority stake in joint oil and gas exploration venture inside disputed area which Philippines claims is inside its Exclusive Economic Zone, in exchange for setting aside July 2016 ruling by the Hague Permanent Court of Arbitration that China has no legal basis to claim historical rights to area encompassed by “nine-dash line”; Duterte’s spokesperson later clarified that Philippines is not dropping its claim. Philippines military conducted series of drills, including 21 Sept exercise using amphibious assault vehicles near SCS. Chinese and Malaysian foreign ministers early Sept agreed to set up joint dialogue mechanism for disputed SCS. Chinese State Councillor Wang Yi said mechanism will deal with maritime issues and presents “new platform for dialogue and cooperation for both sides”. U.S. and ten countries 2-6 Sept conducted maritime drills as part of first ASEAN-U.S. Maritime Exercise, crossing SCS. U.S. reportedly sailed aircraft carrier near disputed Spratly Islands late Sept, with Chinese warships reported nearby; U.S. said it was “conducting routine operations”, Beijing said U.S attempting “to flex muscles and escalate regional militarization”.
Violence continued in deep south, while constitutional court issued two rulings bolstering PM Prayut Chan-ocha’s new govt. In Khok Pho district in Pattani province, two village defence volunteers killed in ambush involving roadside IED and small-arms fire 16 Sept. Gunmen 19 Sept killed Muslim village chief in Sai Buri district, Pattani province. General Wanlop Rugsanaoh, National Security Council chief, 26 Sept said he will lead Thai peace-dialogue delegation beginning in Oct. Following controversy over PM Prayuth during swearing-in of new govt in July omitting sentence from constitutionally required oath that directs cabinet to uphold the constitution, Constitutional Court 11 Sept declined to accept opposition petition to examine omission, determining it had no authority to consider case. In separate case, court 18 Sept ruled that Prayuth was not considered a “state official” following 2014 coup when he served as head of National Council for Peace Order, which would have made him ineligible to stand as candidate for PM in June 2019. Rulings added to growing perception among some observers of double standards in application of law.
Bosnian Serb entity Republika Srpska (RS)’s creation of new gendarmerie police unit prompted concerns, while state-level govt formation remains stalled. RS govt 24 Sept unveiled new gendarmerie police unit, prompting criticism from Bosniak politicians. During unveiling ceremony, Bosnian Serb member of tripartite state presidency Milorad Dodik said in statement perceived as controversial that establishing reservist police force was best way to “protect and defend” territory. State-level govt formation still in deadlock a year after Oct 2018 elections, despite 5 Sept deadline set in Aug between three main parties. Bosniak Party of Democratic Action congress mid-Sept adopted pledge to reorganise country based on economic regions, prompting criticism from Croat and Serb parties and high representative for Bosnia Valentin Inzko and U.S. embassy.
Newly appointed U.S. envoy for the Western Balkans Matthew Palmer 19 Sept reiterated calls for Kosovo to lift its controversial customs tariff on Serbian imports, and called on Kosovo and Serbia to restart talks after Kosovo’s snap legislative elections scheduled for 6 Oct. During visit to Serbia, Czech President 11 Sept said he supports his country withdrawing its recognition of Kosovo.
Investigative Committee 26 Sept brought charges against former defence minister Vigen Sargsyan and former police chief Alik Sargsyan for abuse of power. Yerevan court 20 Sept denied bail to former President Kocharyan, who was arrested for third time in June for ordering violent crackdown against opposition protesters after 2008 election. Former police chief and witness in case against Kocharyan, Hayk Harutiunian, found dead 24 Sept, preliminary investigation suggested apparent suicide. PM Pashinyan 16 Sept announced dismissal of National Security Service head and police chief; appointed new chief adviser.
Speculation that govt was considering participation in Russian-led military bloc Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) prompted expression of concern from Armenian parliament and officials; Azerbaijani presidential administration 17 Sept denied govt was considering participating in CSTO “in any form, including as an observer”.
Russian and Georgian FMs held first talks since 2008 war, while tensions between Georgia and its breakaway region of South Ossetia continued, and breakaway region Abkhazia saw political dispute over close-run second round of de facto presidential elections. Russian and Georgian FM spoke on sidelines of UN General Assembly in New York 26 Sept, with Swiss mediation; Georgian side reported they discussed problems for people living along separation lines with country’s breakaway regions. Hours earlier, Russian newspaper published interview with FM Lavrov, who said Russia had no intention to start war with Georgia, and favoured possible resumption of direct flights and cancelling visa requirements for Georgian citizens. Talks between Georgian and de facto South Ossetian officials failed to ease tensions over Tbilisi’s erection of police station near separation line, which it said was response to Russian and de facto South Ossetian construction of border fence. Georgia refused to dismantle police station, while de facto South Ossetian officials early Sept installed several observation points nearby, prompting fears over possible fortification of area. Local de facto leadership 9 Sept closed all crossings into Georgia after calls from local opposition to deploy special troops. Co-Chairs of Geneva International Discussions, main forum to resolve conflict over breakaway republics, 15 Sept called for immediate end to closure of border crossings, which they said creates “additional hardship” for locals and risked escalating tensions; Moscow called on both sides to continue talks. In Abkhazia, 8 Sept run-off presidential elections resulted in incumbent Raul Khajimba winning narrow victory (by some 2,000 votes) over Alkhaz Kvitsiniya of opposition Amtsakhara party. De facto supreme court 20 Sept dismissed Amtsakhara’s appeal that local election commission did not follow legal rules for counting votes. Amid small-scale opposition street protests against result, former Abkhaz leader Aleksandr Ankvan 18 Sept proposed Khajimba and Kvitsiniya form coalition govt, however reported conversation between them failed to resolve dispute.
Dialogue between Azerbaijan and Armenia on issues related to settlement of Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) conflict continued despite deadly incident along front lines, while de facto NK authorities held local elections. Armenian and Azerbaijani FMs 23 Sept held meeting at sidelines of UN General Assembly in New York; no immediate results reported. During talks, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group co-chairs informed FMs about their activities, including recent meetings in Paris and Geneva “on the humanitarian and security dimensions of the conflict”; co-chairs plan to follow up talks with regional trip. In positive sign ahead of talks, Armenian FM 6 Sept publicly stated that purpose of negotiations is to “discuss numerous parameters of a potential settlement”, adding “neither side can be guided by a maximalist approach”, while FM and defence minister 3 Sept spoke out in support of communication channel with Baku, saying it had helped mitigate shootings along front lines. In incident some observers feared might affect talks, Armenia reported it had prevented special operation by Azerbaijani military trying to approach Armenian positions in south-eastern direction of Line of Contact 23 Sept, resulting in death of Azerbaijani soldier whose body was left in neutral zone. NK 8 Sept held unusually open and competitive de facto local elections for heads of eight main regional centres and their councils; turnout reported at 65%. Armenian PM Pashinyan praised vote as “free, fair and competitive”; Azerbaijani FM denounced election, while OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs in comments to Azerbaijani media said results do not affect legal status of NK nor outcome of negotiations.
Russia held local elections 8 Sept without incident, following mass protests in Moscow in July-Aug (and cases of police brutality against protesters) after govt blocked more than 30 independent candidacies from ballots. Ruling United Russia party candidates won 25 seats out of 45-seat Moscow city council, down from 40, but retaining slim majority; turnout reported at 21.8%. Opposition leader Aleksei Navalny said results presented “fantastic victory” for “strategic voting” (practice in which voters were encouraged to cast ballots against United Russia). Navalny 12 Sept said authorities staged over 200 raids across country on homes and offices linked to his Anti-Corruption Fund, calling them politically motivated; authorities claimed searches related to money-laundering investigation. Investigative Committee opened criminal proceedings against at least fourteen people in connection to 27 July protest; court 4 Sept sentenced four to at least two years in prison. Actor Pavel Ustinov sentenced to three and half years 16 Sept, but released 20 Sept after widespread calls for leniency. Estimated 25,000 protesters demonstrated against repressions in authorised Moscow rally 29 Sept; no arrests or police violence reported. United Russia largely dominated in polls outside Moscow, with all sixteen pro-Kremlin governors retaining posts, but major losses in Khabarovsk regional parliament (far east) and Irkutsk in eastern Siberia. In North Caucasus region, Federal Security Service 18 Sept shot dead two suspected militants in Kabardino-Balkaria republic during security operation. After arrest of Russian national in Germany for 23 Aug murder of Chechen ex-commander Zelimkhan Khangoshvili, Interfax news agency reported that Russian diplomats met with suspected killer, fuelling suspicions raised by media of connections between suspect and Russian military intelligence.
Moscow and Kyiv made shaky progress advancing long-stuck conflict resolution process: Moscow and Kyiv freed 35 prisoners each in an exchange heralded as a step forward; Ukrainian returnees included filmmaker Oleh Sentsov and sailors captured near Kerch Strait in Nov 2018. Those whom Kyiv freed include journalist Kirill Vyshinsky and Vladimir Tsemakh, a key witness in trial over 2014 downing of flight MH-17 over eastern Ukraine. July ceasefire, hailed as unprecedentedly wide-ranging, frayed as violations roughly doubled over August levels. At least twelve Ukrainian soldiers and fourteen members of armed groups killed; five civilians injured from shelling and small arms fire, two civilians dead at entry-exit points along the Line of Contact, and one killed and two injured by explosives, according to reports from Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) and de facto leaders. Minsk Trilateral Contact Group considered so-called Steinmeier formula, which foresees simultaneous holding of local elections in areas currently controlled by Russia-backed separatists, and granting of special status to these areas. Minsk envoys also discussed plans for trial disengagement of forces along front line. Failure to agree on these issues, however, cast doubt on hopes for new Normandy summit in Oct, while SMM reports showed new military activity in would-be disengagement zones. U.S. govt unblocked $391mn of military aid to Ukraine; President Zelenskyy stated during 25 Sept press conference with President Trump that he had no intent to interfere in U.S. elections after scandal erupted in U.S. Congress over Trump’s allegedly pressuring Ukraine to investigate business dealings of Democratic rival Joe Biden’s son during July phone call, and possibly conditioning aid on said investigation. After transcript of call released 25 Sept showed Zelenskyy assuring Trump that Ukraine’s new Prosecutor General would be “100% my person” and would “look into the company that you mentioned”, European Commission emphasised that financial support to Ukraine was premised on conditions such as independence of the judiciary. U.S. envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker resigned 27 Sept, as did Ukrainian defence council head Oleksandr Daniliuk.
Following meetings over previous days with Greek Cypriot President and Turkish Cypriot leader, UN Secretary-General’s special envoy for Cyprus Jane Holl Lute 6 Sept reported that the two leaders were unable to agree on terms of reference that would form basis of new talks for a resolution of the Cyprus problem. Tensions over hydrocarbon explorations in the East Mediterranean continued with a new Turkish drillship deployed to area and new licences issued for Western energy companies by the Republic of Cyprus.
Attempted attacks on police continued, leading to growing concerns over dissident violence following UK’s planned departure from EU. Mortar bomb found strapped to wall in residential area overlooking police station in Strabane, County Tyrone 7 Sept, with police stating dissident republicans New IRA planned to fire device into police station; media reported incident was seventh attempted murder bid against security forces in Northern Ireland in 2019. Police 9 Sept found IED during security search in Creggan area of Londonderry, blaming device on New IRA; crowd of dozens gathered, some attacking police vehicles with over 40 projectiles, including several petrol bombs; no injuries reported. Head of police 11 Sept asked govt for funding to recruit 800 more officers to deal with “rise” of attacks and “changing types of engineering and capability”.
Intensity of conflict between military and Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in south east rose slightly, air raids and land operations targeting PKK militants and positions in northern Iraq continued, joint Turkey-U.S. patrols got underway in north east Syria, and security forces detained prominent Islamic State (ISIS) militants reportedly planning attacks. Amid ongoing clashes between military and PKK, concentrated in Hakkari, Şırnak and Van provinces, roadside IED attack 12 Sept killed seven in Diyarbakır province’s Kulp district. PKK 20 Sept claimed responsibility for attack, saying the individuals targeted were working as informants for state against PKK; attack triggered wave of small-scale anti-PKK protests across south-eastern towns 16 Sept. Govt continued efforts to criminalise and delegitimise pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party. In north-eastern (NE) Syria, Turkish and U.S. forces began joint military operations to set up “safe zone”, carrying out first ground patrol around Tel Abyad 8 Sept. On various occasions during month, Turkish officials threatened to carry out offensive against Kurdish-led People’s Protection Units (YPG) in NE Syria if U.S. fails to keep promises to create “safe zone”; Turkish military reinforcement along border with NE Syria continued (see Syria). Erdoğan 5 Sept requested more support from EU countries both for Syrian refugees in Turkey and to meet needs within Syria of those displaced from Idlib, threatening to open Turkey’s borders to Europe if EU fails to increase assistance. As crackdown on ISIS operatives continued, including arrest of senior ISIS figure and two others reportedly planning attack in Istanbul, ISIS circulated several threat messages across some Turkish provinces pledging allegiance to al-Baghdadi and insinuating future attacks.
Anti-govt protests broke out in several cities 2-9 Sept and 23 Sept, voicing opposition to increasing Chinese investment and loans, and continued influence in govt of former President Nazarbayev. Protests involving dozens of people broke out in Zhanaozen (south west) 2 Sept and spread to other cities over several days, calling for President Tokayev to cancel planned official trip to China. Coalition of Civil Initiatives rights group in Almaty reported dozens of activists fined or jailed following rallies. Authorities reported around 100 people detained during unsanctioned opposition rallies in capital Nur-Sultan, Almaty and other cities 21 Sept, including a teenage girl according to news reports; nine people jailed for several days, in addition to several people jailed ahead of planned rallies. Rallies reportedly organised by banned opposition party Kazakhstan’s Democratic Choice. Dozens of women rallied in Nur-Sultan 19 Sept calling for govt to meet pledges on benefits for families. In speech to parliament 2 Sept, first since his June election, President Toquayev said future elections should “pave the way for the development of a multiparty system”, and peaceful demonstrations should be allowed in designated place.
Four people reported killed and dozens wounded in shoot-out between Kyrgyz and Tajik border guards 16 Sept, along disputed section of border in Kyrgyzstan’s Leilek district and Tajikistan’s Bobojon Ghafurov district in Ferghana Valley. Both sides blamed each other, citing alleged construction work in disputed area. Dead reportedly included one Kyrgyz border guard and three Tajik border guards. Countries’ PMs met 17 Sept and agreed to take measures to avoid further violence, while officials next day agreed to remove constructions. Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan exchanged land comprising several square km in Ferghana Valley mid-Sept.
Four people reportedly killed and dozens wounded in shootout between Tajik and Kyrgyz border guards 16 Sept, along disputed section of border in Tajikistan’s Bobojon Ghafurov district and Kyrgyzstan’s Leilek district in Ferghana Valley. Both sides blamed each other, citing alleged construction work in disputed area. Tajik govt said Kyrgyzstan deployed up to 300 troops to site, who fired toward Tajik village, prompting Tajik retaliation. Dead reportedly included one Kyrgyz border guard and three Tajik border guards. Countries’ PMs met 17 Sept and agreed to take measures to avoid further violence, while officials next day agreed to remove constructions.
Reports emerged that Turkmen border patrols in Lebap province along country’s border with Afghanistan were regularly being bombarded from Afghanistan’s Jowzjan province, where Afghan troops are fighting Taliban (see Afghanistan).
Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan exchanged land comprising several square km in Ferghana Valley mid-Sept. Military court 27 Sept sentenced Ikhtiyor Abdullayev, who held posts including adviser to late President Karimov, General Prosecutor and head of security services until Feb 2019, to eighteen years’ prison on charges including bribery and extortion, and forming a criminal enterprise; several other former officials also sentenced to prison terms.
Amid political violence ahead of Oct local elections, tensions with Venezuela continued over its alleged support of Colombian guerrillas. Following late-Aug return to arms by three former senior commanders of Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), govt continued to accuse Venezuelan govt of harbouring, assisting and training Colombian guerrilla groups. FM Trujillo 11 Sept said govt has proof Venezuelan President Maduro violated 2001 UN Security Council resolution banning support for terrorist groups at Organization of American States meeting in bid to activate regional defence Rio Treaty, which could lead to stronger regional sanctions, blockade or military offensive; President Duque presented evidence at UN General Assembly 25 Sept. Venezuela accused Colombia of attempting to recruit Venezuelan soldiers to sabotage its air defence systems, reportedly responding with military drills near border since 10 Sept; UN Sec-Gen Guterres 11 Sept asked govts to initiate dialogue to de-escalate tensions. Transitional justice mechanism Special Jurisdiction for Peace 13 Sept officially expelled leading members of new FARC dissent group Jesús Santrich and alias “El Paisa”, will no longer receive protections of 2016 peace agreement. Political violence increased ahead of 27 Oct local elections, including unknown assailants 15 Sept murdering Bernardo Betancourt Orozco, mayoral candidate for Tibú in Catatumbo (north east), seventh candidate killed since campaigning began 27 July; Duque 16 Sept said govt will reinforce candidates’ protection, but National Protection Unit director 18 Sept told Congress he had run out of resources. UN humanitarian agency 12 Sept reported clashes between army and National Liberation Army (ELN) which started 22 Aug had confined 3,816 people in municipalities of Medio San Juan and Istmina, Chocó (west); ELN 12 Sept killed soldier in attack on troops in La Gabarra municipality, Norte de Santander (north east). Clashes between army and the Gaitanista criminal group in Bajo Cauca region, Antioquia (north west), killed four soldiers 3 Sept. Security Council 12 Sept voted unanimously to extend mandate of UN verification mission to oversee implementation of peace accord.
Govt-opposition talks suspended, while relations with Colombia continued to deteriorate. Following govt’s suspension of Norwegian-mediated talks in Barbados in Aug, opposition led by “interim President” Juan Guaidó 15 Sept announced it was pulling out of dialogue, saying “Barbados mechanism is exhausted”. Opposition next day revealed plan proposed to govt which included President Maduro and Guaidó stepping down from posts while a govt council – including opposition, govt and armed forces representatives – presided over free presidential elections; opposition stated lack of govt response prevented return to negotiations. Govt next day announced it had been talking secretly and separately to group of minor opposition parties, including Avanzada Progresista led by former governor and 2018 presidential candidate Henri Falcón, and had reached initial agreement; agreement would see pro-govt MPs return to parliament, new electoral authority formed and release of some political prisoners. Day after 16 Sept public signing of agreement, govt released National Assembly (AN) VP Edgar Zambrano from military prison; pro-govt MPs returned to AN 24 Sept. Guaidó-led opposition dismissed agreement as “pantomime”, accusing Maduro of negotiating in bad faith; AN 17 Sept passed motion ratifying Guaidó as “interim President” until free elections are held. Relations with Colombia deteriorated over alleged Venezuelan support for Colombian guerrillas, while govt accused Colombia of trying to recruit Venezuelan soldiers to sabotage air defence system, reportedly responding with military drills at border since 10 Sept (see Colombia). Govt accused Guaidó of links to Colombian paramilitaries after photos were published of him 12 Sept with “Rastrojos” gang leaders. Organization of American States Permanent Council 11 Sept agreed to activation of regional defence Rio Treaty, with FMs from eighteen signatory countries 23 Sept meeting in New York; resolution focused on capture/extradition/punishment of regime associates involved in terrorism and/or organised crime. International Contact Group met same day. UN Human Rights Council 27 Sept voted to send “international-fact finding mission” to country to “investigate extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances” and other human rights abuses since 2014.
Political tensions continued over end of anti-corruption body and migration agreement with U.S.. UN-backed International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG)’s mandate ended 3 Sept, amid concern among observers over impact on anti-corruption efforts; President-elect Giammattei gave no further details of his planned new anti-corruption body, due to start operations Jan 2020. Congress 24 Sept created commission to investigate possible irregularities in CICIG’s work. Constitutional Court 10 Sept revoked its July ruling that declared Guatemala could not become “Safe Third Country” following July agreement with U.S., which foresees that migrants who file asylum requests in U.S. can be transferred to Guatemala while their cases are being reviewed. Earlier, Giammattei 5 Sept told U.S. Sec State Pompeo during visit to Washington DC that he disagrees with pact, and requested that his cabinet observes talks between outgoing govt of President Morales and U.S.; Giammattei 8 Sept said Morales prevented him from observing talks, and warned that he would not implement agreement if cut out of process. Morales 4 Sept decreed 30-day state of emergency in 22 municipalities in north east after three soldiers died in ambush by drug traffickers near border with Belize. Interior Minister Degenhart 18 Sept reported country now officially cocaine-producing after police and U.S. anti-narcotic specialists found coca plantations and laboratories in east, in areas close to Livingston and El Estor.
Despite progress in electoral reforms, civil unrest continued causing disruption across country. Thousands of anti-govt protesters, summoned by left-wing Libre party, marched toward centre of capital Tegucigalpa on Independence Day 15 Sept; police and protesters clashed; four reportedly injured. Protests took place 3 and 9 Sept against construction of residential complex in La Tigra forest reserve, with police using tear gas to disperse residents blocking four access roads to Tegucigalpa. Electoral reforms progressed; Congress 10 Sept appointed members of newly-created National Electoral Council, Electoral Justice Tribunal and National Registry of Persons to digitalise voter registry. Debate over new penal code continued as Supreme Court 15 Sept declared 70-75 articles of new code should be reviewed. President Hernández 25 Sept signed asylum cooperation deal with U.S., similar to those of El Salvador and Guatemala, allowing U.S. to deport to Honduras migrants who had passed through country on way to U.S..
Debates continued over future anti-corruption body, while govt increased anti-migration efforts. UN Sec-Gen’s spokesperson 2 Sept said govt requested UN support in creating International Commission against Impunity in El Salvador (CICIES). Govt and Organization of American States (OAS) 6 Sept signed letter of intent on creating CICIES within three months; OAS Sec Gen Luis Almagro 24 Sept appointed Guatemalan Ronalth Ochaeta as interim CICIES chief. Civil society and opposition representatives criticised CICIES for apparent govt efforts to bypass parliamentary ratification and over plans for body to work closer with national police than Attorney General (AG)’s office. Govt 2 Sept lifted state of emergency in prison system, which had entailed tough isolation measures for imprisoned gang members in recent months. AG 21 Sept announced 2,311 reports of disappearances 1 Jan-16 Sept, average of nine per day. Following 28 Aug govt-U.S. letter of intent to strengthen cooperation on migration and security, Ministry of Justice and Public Security 12 Sept announced creation of border patrol unit, composed of 800 police and 300 migration officials, to tackle illegal immigration and human trafficking. Govt and U.S. 20 Sept signed asylum cooperation agreement, authorising U.S. to transfer asylum seekers to El Salvador while their cases are being reviewed by U.S. authorities.
Tensions continued amid govt hostility toward domestic opposition and international actors. Repression of political opponents remained high; govt supporters 7 Sept attacked car of head of private sector association in Léon. Group of apparently pro-govt armed motorcyclists 18 Sept followed and harassed a member of political council of opposition platform Blue and White National Unity (UNAB), who had just returned to country following months in exile. Articulation of Social Movements (UNAB member) 10 Sept alleged at least 24 political opponents, 23 of them male, killed extrajudicially Jan-July, predominately in Jinotega department (north). UNAB and Civic Alliance 21 Sept jointly called for anti-govt march in Managua despite police refusal to give permission; mass police deployment impeded it. Amid doubts about army’s position on crisis, head of military General Avilés 3 Sept vowed loyalty to President Ortega and claimed NGOs asked him to carry out coup in 2018, though provided no evidence. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Bachelet 10 Sept presented report to Human Rights Council alleging numerous human rights violations including govt’s suppression of protests, “excessive force” by National Police and “arbitrary arrests”; Nicaraguan representative at council rejected report and denounced lack of impartiality. Despite govt and Organization of American States (OAS) meeting late-Aug to discuss possible resumption of work on electoral reforms, govt 14 Sept denied entry to members of high-level OAS delegation; OAS released statement regretting govt’s decision. Following late Aug army killing of Nicaraguan citizen in unclear circumstances in Costa Rican territory, both govts continued to trade accusations.
Amid widespread public anger over fuel shortages, political tensions increased over tumultuous parliamentary attempts to ratify cabinet and continued opposition calls for President Moïse to resign. Congress 3 Sept approved nomination of PM Michel and his cabinet despite group of opposition deputies vandalising lower house in unsuccessful bid to prevent ratification. Ratification process moved to Senate, which cancelled vote 11 Sept after opposition senators accompanied by dozens of armed militants, led by gang leader Jean Dimens, occupied chamber. Opposition Senator Saurel Jacinthe same day alleged Michel offered several lawmakers thousands of dollars to vote in his favour; Senator Willot Joseph 13 Sept admitted he accepted $100,000 bribe from PM; vote again postponed. Widespread public unrest at fuel shortages continued; demonstrators 2 Sept marched in Port-au-Prince and 17 Sept blocked several roads in capital, demanding President Moïse’s resignation; police 27 Sept reporting four people shot dead in demonstrations 16-25 Sept; mass anti-govt protest held in Port-au-Prince 30 Sept. Senator Féthière 23 Sept shot and injured photojournalist and security guard as he tried to leave parliamentary grounds through protesting crowd. As tensions mounted, Moïse 25 Sept delivered address to the nation at 2am calling for dialogue and unity. Opposition leader André Michel rejected dialogue offer; Moïse cancelled his trip to UN General Assembly but still refused to resign.
Amid continued record homicide levels, govt announced further measures to curb insecurity. Criminal-related conflict remained high as Jalisco Cartel New Generation (CJNG) early Sept attacked border between Michoacán (centre) and Jalisco (west) states following reported falling-out between leaders of CJNG and supposed self-defence groups in area. CJNG also present in Guanajuato (centre), where violence remained high including unidentified attackers 18 Sept injuring state delegate for National Intelligence Centre and killing bodyguard, and next day armed assailant ambushing and killing five state prison agents. Concern over 2014 case of disappearance of Ayotzinapa teaching college students continued after series of suspects acquitted and released, including a leader of Guerreros Unidos crime group 3 Sept and 24 former police, as judges ruled evidence against them insufficient and obtained under torture; govt 19 Sept announced new investigation, said it would target judicial corruption. President López Obrador 9 Sept presented budget with 257bn pesos for social programs to reactive rural economies and provide alternatives to joining gangs, and 204bn pesos for public security including National Guard, controversial main instrument of security plan. López Obrador 15 Sept sent to Congress proposal for amnesty law for low-level, non-violent offences including drug crimes and abortion, while Congress discussed law to legalise marijuana, due to be passed late Oct. Amid regional focus on migration, FM Ebrard 6 Sept said govt had more than halved detentions at U.S. border from 144,266 in May to 63,989 in Aug; U.S. President Trump 11 Sept hailed “incredible progress”.
Tit-for-tat attacks between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza continued and Israel retaliated against Hizbollah for its strike in north. In Gaza, clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinian protesters near fence area 6 Sept left two Palestinians dead. Same day Palestinian militants fired five rockets into Israel, one landed near Sderot, no casualties reported, and Israel struck Hamas targets in Gaza. Palestinian drone 7 Sept damaged military vehicle in Israel, prompting bombing of three Hamas targets. Hamas night of 9-10 Sept reportedly shot down Israeli drone near Rafah in south. Palestinian militants 10 Sept fired two rockets into Israel over Askhelon and Ashdod where Israeli PM Netanyahu was addressing campaign rally, both intercepted. Attacks between Israel and Palestinian militants continued 11 Sept. Israeli forces 25 Sept shot dead Palestinian near fence area during weekly protests. Following alleged Israeli drone strikes on Hizbollah assets in Lebanese capital Beirut late Aug, Hizbollah 1 Sept launched missiles from Lebanon into Israel, hitting military vehicle, causing no casualties. Israel same day fired artillery and conducted airstrikes targeting Hizbollah assets near border, no casualties. Hizbollah 9 Sept claimed it shot down Israeli drone over southern Lebanon. Following unclaimed airstrikes in Syria 8-9 Sept that left eighteen Iranian and Hizbollah combatants dead, Iran-backed militia in Syria 9 Sept fired several rockets toward Israel, which fell short of Israeli territory. Iraqi PM Mahdi 30 Sept said Israel was responsible for attacks in Iraq on Iranian-backed militia. PM Netanyahu 10 Sept pledged that, if re-elected after 17 Sept legislative elections, he would annex Jordan Valley and northern Dead Sea region in West Bank along Jordanian border. Israeli cabinet 15 Sept held meeting in Jordan Valley; Netanyahu same day vowed, if re-elected, to annex Jewish-settled parts of Hebron city in south of West Bank. Legislative elections resulted in stalemate between Netanyahu-led right-wing bloc and Benny Gantz-led centre-left bloc with neither winning enough seats to form govt.
Thousands of teachers 5 Sept demonstrated in capital Amman to demand higher wages and clashed with security forces, who used tear gas to disperse protesters; 50 teachers arrested. Teachers’ syndicate (JTA) 8 Sept launched nationwide strike demanding govt raise teachers’ pay by 50% and accountability for security forces’ conduct during 5 Sept protests, talks between govt and JTA failed to reach resolution.
Tensions between Lebanon and Israel remained high as Hizbollah and Israel exchanged cross-border fire for first time in years. Following alleged Israeli drone strikes on Hizbollah assets in capital Beirut late Aug, Hizbollah 1 Sept launched at least two anti-tank missiles into northern Israel, hitting military vehicle, but causing no casualties. Israel retaliated same day with artillery fire and airstrikes targeting Hizbollah assets near border, causing no casualties. PM Hariri same day called on U.S. and France to intervene. Israel 3 Sept accused Hizbollah of building missile factory in Bekaa Valley in east. Hizbollah 9 Sept claimed it had shot down Israeli drone over Ramiyeh in south near Israeli border; Israel said that drone had fallen down. U.S. 10 Sept issued sanctions against four Hizbollah members; 12 Sept said future sanctions could target Hizbollah’s allies. After deadly shooting in June left govt paralysed for weeks, two members of rival Druze parties 4 Sept exchanged gunfire in Choueifat just south of Beirut, no injuries reported. Protesters 29 Sept demonstrated across Lebanon over worsening economic situation; clashes between security forces and demonstrators reported in Beirut.
Govt forces backed by Russian airstrikes continued to take ground from rebels in Idlib province in north west, while U.S. and Turkish forces conducted first joint patrols in safe zone along Turkish border in north east. Russia failed to respect ceasefire in Idlib which it declared 31 Aug. Notably, Russian airstrikes 10 Sept hit town of Kabaneh killing one civilian. Regime forces 24 Sept advanced into Khan Shekhoun in Idlib; fighting left four regime fighters and two militants dead. Leaders of Russia, Turkey and Iran in Turkish capital Ankara 15 Sept signed joint communiqué saying they would establish constitutional committee in Geneva under UN auspices comprising members from govt, opposition and civil society to draft new constitution. Parties expressed commitment to uphold Sept 2018 Sochi agreement aimed at de-escalating conflict in Idlib. Russia and China 19 Sept vetoed UN Security Council resolution calling for ceasefire in Idlib; Russia vetoed because resolution lacked exemption for military operations against UN-designated terrorist groups. In north east, U.S. and Turkish troops 8 and 24 Sept conducted joint patrols in safe zone. Turkish President Erdoğan continued to threaten Turkish military action in north east if U.S. does not ensure creation of safe zone. At UN General Assembly, govt 28 Sept called for immediate withdrawal of U.S. and Turkish troops; said it had right to carry out countermeasures if demand refused. In east, suspected Israeli airstrikes 9 Sept killed at least eighteen Iranian and pro-Iranian fighters near Iraqi border; in Salihiya, near Deir al-Zour city regime forces 20 Sept fired on protesters calling for removal from area of Iran-backed militias, killing two. Opposition Syrian Democratic Forces 13 Sept closed crossing points between areas under its control and govt-held areas to crack down on smugglers. Govt and Iraq 30 Sept reopened al-Qaim border crossing after several years. U.S. 10 Sept designated Al-Qaeda affiliate Hurras al-Din as terrorist group, offering $5mn reward for information on group’s leaders.
During meeting with U.S. President Trump at White House 16 Sept, Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa agreed to buy U.S. anti-aircraft weapons system.
Alleged Iranian attack on Saudi oil facilities caused tensions to rise sharply between Iran on one side and Saudi Arabia and U.S. on other and significantly raised tensions in region. Iranian delegation met French officials in Paris 2-3 Sept to discuss France’s proposed deal, namely that Europe provides Iran $15bn credit line until end of 2019 enabled by U.S. sanctions waivers in return for Tehran returning to full compliance with nuclear deal and negotiating table to discuss broader agreement. U.S. 4 Sept ruled out sanctions waivers. Following 14 Sept missile and drone strikes on Saudi oil facilities, Yemen’s Huthis claimed they launched attacks but Saudi Arabia and U.S. held Iran responsible, Tehran denied. FM Zarif 19 Sept warned that any strike on Iran would trigger “all-out war”. U.S. 20 Sept said it would deploy military forces and equipment to Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates to deter Iran. E3 (France, Germany and UK) 23 Sept held Iran responsible for attacks. Despite efforts by French President Macron to facilitate face-to-face meeting, Presidents Rouhani and Trump declined to meet during UN General Assembly. Iran 7 and 16 Sept seized two ships in and near Strait of Hormuz which it accused of smuggling fuel. UK 10 Sept accused Iran of selling oil to Syria in breach of EU sanctions. Rouhani 22 Sept launched regional cooperation initiative to enhance Gulf maritime security. Govt made good on threat to further violate nuclear deal if by 6 Sept parties had not mitigated economic impact of U.S. sanctions; 7 Sept said it had started using more advanced centrifuges. Rouhani said Iran would further violate deal if parties did not provide economic relief by 5 Nov. U.S. continued to impose additional sanctions on Iran, including on its central bank. In north west near Iraqi border, clashes between border guards and unidentified gunmen in Marivan 6 Sept left at least two dead.
Govt continued efforts to remain neutral amid U.S.-Iran tensions as unclaimed drone strikes continued to target Iran-backed paramilitaries, and security forces pursued operations against Islamic State (ISIS). Unclaimed drone strike on weapons depot of Iran-backed Popular Mobilisation Units (PMU) in Anbar province 10 Sept killed 21 PMU members. PMU next day said it had downed surveillance drone in Diyala province. Unclaimed drone 22 Sept struck PMU base in Anbar province, no casualties reported. PM Mahdi 30 Sept said Israel was responsible for airstrikes on PMU. Govt 19 Sept said it would not join U.S.-led maritime security coalition for Middle Eastern waterways. PM Mahdi 25 Sept visited Saudi Arabia and held talks with Crown Prince Bin Salman aimed at reducing regional tensions. Iran’s ambassador to Iraq 27 Sept said Tehran would not hesitate to attack U.S. in Iraq if it launched attack on Iran. Three attacks by unidentified gunmen in capital Baghdad 21-22 Sept left seven PMU militants and family members dead. Unidentified assailants 23 Sept launched several rockets at Green Zone in Baghdad, no injuries reported. Fight against ISIS continued. In Salah al-Din, Nineveh and Anbar provinces, clashes between security forces and ISIS 2-25 Sept reportedly left 46 militants and three members of security forces dead. In Karbala province, ISIS claimed 21 Sept bombing of minibus that killed twelve pilgrims. In Erbil, Nineveh and Diyala provinces, U.S.-led coalition and govt airstrikes 8-24 Sept killed twenty militants. In north, Turkey said it “neutralised” several dozen PKK militants 1-30 Sept. Clashes between Turkish forces and PKK in Haftanin region 22 Sept reportedly left seven militants and three soldiers dead. Govt 30 Sept reopened al-Qaim border crossing with Syria after years of closure.
Following suspected Iranian airstrikes on Saudi oil installations 14 Sept and drone sighting same day over capital Kuwait City, parliament 16 Sept urged govt to increase security. Army 18 Sept said it would raise its readiness levels and carry out military exercises. Govt 20 Sept raised security levels at oil facilities and commercial ports.
Govt exchanged harshly worded statements with Saudi Arabia that quashed hope of mediation in intra-Gulf crisis. Saudi Arabia 7 Sept stated it expected Doha to fall into line with its regional policy and that there would be no solution to crisis “unless Qatar responds to the demands of the four countries [imposing blockade on it] and stops supporting terrorism, embracing extremists and stopping its interventions in [their] internal affairs”. Qatar called Saudi statement “sudden and unfounded” and accused Riyadh of maintaining “coercive” approach of “denial and evasion” in dealing with dispute.
Saudi Arabia and U.S. held Iran responsible for 14 Sept aerial attacks on oil facilities in east, which initially nearly halved oil production, causing sharp rise in tensions and raising risk of confrontation between Saudi Arabia and/or U.S. and Iran or its allies in coming weeks. Cross-border attacks between Huthis and Saudi Arabia could intensify in Oct if Huthis’ offer of unilateral suspension of attacks fails to produce mutual de-escalation agreement. Govt said drones and missile debris indicate Iranian-made technology and held Iran responsible, but did not echo U.S. claim that attacks were launched from Iran. Tehran denied responsibility. Govt 16 Sept invited UN experts to view oil facilities and said it would “take the appropriate measures” based on findings; experts began investigation in country 20 Sept. Govt 18 Sept joined U.S.-led initiative to secure Gulf waters called International Maritime Security Construct. Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman 18 Sept met U.S. Sec State Pompeo in Saudi city of Jeddah to discuss response to crisis; Pompeo described attacks as “act of war”. U.S. 20 Sept said it would deploy additional troops and military equipment to Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates (UAE) in response to countries’ requests for assistance with air and missile defence systems. In Jeddah in south, Saudi-backed Yemeni govt and Yemen’s UA