The President's Take
On the first working day of every month, Crisis Group refreshes CrisisWatch, our early-warning tool providing regular updates on the most significant conflicts around the world. It’s one of our most popular features because it is an inestimable resource for all who care about conflict and want to know both the dangers that lurk and the opportunities that arise. Beginning this month, I will add a brief commentary of my own.
This time, I am highlighting two conflict situations: the Korean peninsula, where the potential for a catastrophe of untold proportions comes hand-in-hand with a rare chance for de-escalation; and Israel-Palestine, where a conflict that remains dormant until it inevitably flares up was made more dangerous by the U.S. president’s pronouncements.
As to the former: North and South Korea have agreed to resume contacts in the context of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics; Pyongyang put some of its more provocative actions on the back burner; and Washington postponed its military exercises. These steps should be built upon to avoid an outcome as absurd as it would be tragic: having the U.S. risk a nuclear war in order to avoid one.
As to the latter: for some time now, one of President Abbas’s chief functions has been to maintain as many illusions as possible amid widespread Palestinian disillusionment – with the peace process, the U.S., non-violence, and the two-state solution. Through his actions and words, President Trump has been systematically stripping away even the pretense of an illusion. The danger is that he reap what he has sowed.
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Syria’s conflict intensified further, and could take another violent turn as the offensive on Raqqa, the stronghold of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), becomes imminent. In Egypt, ISIS stepped up attacks, particularly against Coptic Christians, and May could see both jihadists and security forces increasingly resort to violence. In South Asia, the Taliban claimed deadly attacks against the military and civilians throughout Afghanistan, killing at least 140 soldiers in reportedly the deadliest Taliban attack on armed forces since 2001, while violence escalated in Kashmir. In Venezuela and Macedonia political tensions continued to mount, while in Paraguay, popular anger sparked by a move to lift a one-term limit on the presidency was defused after President Cartes announced he would no longer seek re-election.
In Syria, an escalation in violence by Syrian and outside actors eroded prospects for a political settlement and, with an offensive on ISIS’s stronghold Raqqa imminent, fighting in May could be worse still. The U.S., among others, held President Assad’s regime responsible for a chemical weapons attack on a rebel-held town on 4 April that killed at least 80. Three days later the U.S. launched a missile strike on the air base from which it believes the attack was launched, straining its relations with Russia, Assad’s backer, whose support for the peace process is critical. In late April, Turkey bombed Kurdish fighters of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) in north-east Syria, and the U.S.-backed YPG edged closer to an assault on the city of Raqqa. As Crisis Group has warned, while the Kurdish fighters are an important U.S. ally in the fight against ISIS, Washington should take steps to mitigate the damage this partnership may cause to its relationship with Ankara and prepare to overcome local governance challenges after ISIS is dislodged from Raqqa.
In Egypt, ISIS ramped up attacks particularly against Coptic Christians, prompting the government to declare a state of emergency and fighting between security forces and jihadists intensified in the Sinai Peninsula. On 9 April, two separate suicide attacks at Coptic churches killed 48 people. Following firefights and airstrikes on ISIS positions in Sinai, another suicide bombing on 25 April in North Sinai killed at least 40. This worrying escalation could lead to further attacks on churches in May and the risk that the government, under the state of emergency, employs yet more heavy-handed tactics to suppress dissent. As Crisis Group explained, addressing the country’s polarised politics and resurgent authoritarianism is critical to defusing the jihadist threat and reforming sclerotic state institutions.
In South Asia, the Taliban claimed a number of attacks against the military and civilians throughout Afghanistan, and on 21 April infiltrated an army base in Mazar-e-Sharif city in Balkh province, killing at least 140 soldiers. As we have warned, preventing the loss of more territory to insurgents, particularly during the Taliban’s new spring offensive, is an urgent priority which will require, among other steps, robust international assistance and addressing widening internal disagreements and political partisanship that permeate all levels of the security apparatus. Elsewhere in the region, tensions worsened between Indian security forces and Kashmiri separatists and protesters around a by-election in Srinagar, Indian-administered Kashmir’s capital. On 9 April, the day of the by-election, Indian security forces opened fire on protesters throwing stones and attacking polling stations, killing seven. Overall, eight people were killed and over 200 injured in election-day clashes. Meanwhile, in India’s Chhattisgarh state, Maoists ambushed a Central Reserve Police Force patrol on 21 April killing at least 25, reportedly the worst attack on security forces since 2010.
Macedonia’s political standoff turned violent in late April as protesters opposed to the formation of a new Social Democrat (SDSM)-led coalition government stormed parliament and attacked MPs after they elected a new ethnic Albanian speaker. Over 100 were injured, including SDSM leader Zoran Zaev as well as other politicians, journalists and police. In a new Commentary on the Western Balkans, Crisis Group has warned that the new majority coalition must be allowed to take office and govern, or Macedonia risks ethnic conflict.
Almost 30 people were killed in Venezuela as security forces and government supporters cracked down on protestors in the capital and elsewhere demanding elections and the dismissal of Supreme Court justices behind a March ruling to assume the National Assembly’s legislative powers. As growing opposition to the government drew hundreds of thousands of protesters onto the streets, the government deployed the National Guard and police to disperse them with tear gas, water-cannon and plastic bullets, often fired at close range. On 1 May, President Maduro announced the government would appoint a new body to rewrite the constitution, drawing further opposition ire. Meanwhile, in a positive move, Paraguay’s President Cartes announced he would no longer seek re-election in 2018, defusing tensions in the wake of violent protests in late March against a move to lift a one-term limit on the presidency.
Govt 4 April suspended opposition party Movement for Solidarity and Democracy for six months on grounds that it was violating constitution and forming rebel group. Govt 11 April rejected Feb request by mediator of inter-Burundian dialogue, former Tanzanian President Mkapa, that it grant provisional amnesty to alleged plotters of May 2015 coup so they can take part in talks. Students at Ecole normale supérieure du Burundi 19 April ended strike protesting against govt’s decision to replace scholarships with loans; other students ended strike 25 April.
Boko Haram (BH) continued attacks in Far North and Anglophone minority in North West and South West regions maintained calls for dialogue with govt to resolve standoff, despite some technical concessions by govt. Two girls, estimated aged sixteen to eighteen, under BH orders detonated explosives strapped to them 3 April at Mora, Mayo Sava department, killing only themselves. Military 4 April repelled BH attack on Gouzda-Vreket post, Mayo Moskota area. In Mayo Sava department, suicide bombing 8 April killed bomber and three others at Kolofata; BH same day attacked Ganai killing six and Sandawadjiri killing one; suicide bombing at Kolofata 19 April killed bomber and four others including a gendarme; and BH same day attacked Mbereche killing one person and kidnapping three girls. IED 24 April hit military vehicle in Homeka, Mayo Sava department killing at least three soldiers. BH fought vigilante community defence group in Achigachia, Mayo Tsanaga department killing five members 26 April; suicide bombing in Tchakarmari, Mayo Sava department 28 April killed only bomber; security forces same day fought BH in Ndaba, Mayo Sava department, several BH and one civilian killed. About 100 BH members including men, women and children surrendered during month in several villages in Mayo Moskota and Kolofata areas. Govt end March detailed measures it would take to address claims of marginalisation by minority Anglophones in NW and SW regions, including to promote use of Common Law and increase Anglophones in judicial system. Govt 20 April restored internet in NW and SW regions after three-month cut. General strike eased in SW, remained strong in NW.
Violence involving ex-Seleka rebel factions, anti-balaka and Fulani militias continued, in particular in north, centre and east. In NW, ex-Seleka faction Central African Patriotic Movement (MPC) and Revolution and Justice (RJ) militia 4 April captured Ngaoundaye; UN mission (MINUSCA) next day forced them out; MPC 10 April denied involvement. Return, Reclamation and Rehabilitation (3R) Fulani-protection militia reportedly committed abuses against civilians in NW and Cameroon from early April. In centre, ex-Seleka factions Popular Front for the Central African Renaissance (FPRC) and Union for Peace in the Central African Republic (UPC) continued to clash and FPRC and anti-balaka reportedly clashed with Fulani herders near Bria in east. U.S. 12 April imposed financial sanctions on ex-Seleka faction leader Abdoulaye Hissène and anti-balaka leader Maxime Mokom. World Bank 13 April approved $30mn and MINUSCA and govt $15mn funding for Disarmament, Demobilisation, Reinsertion and Repatriation (DDRR) program. DDRR stakeholders including govt, representatives of fourteen armed groups and international partners met 20-21 April in Bangui; armed groups agreed with govt and MINUSCA on pilot project to reintegrate ex-combatants into civilian life or army but FPRC imposed several conditions, including participation in govt. Uganda 12 April said it had begun withdrawing troops who have since 2009 been pursuing rebel group Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in east, planned to complete withdrawal by end May; U.S. 26 April began to withdraw its troops supporting mission. CAR Defence Minister Joseph Yakété 4 April said army would replace Ugandan and U.S. troops in Obo in SE, and deploy in Am Dafhok at border with Sudan under border security agreement with Sudan and Chad, and in Boali, near Bangui.
Violent incidents spiked early month, especially in N’Djamena area. Dispute among soldiers left three dead in Farcha, western suburb of capital 1 April. Police same day found three civilians shot dead in Gaoui, 10km NE of N’Djamena. Four assailants 2 April killed senior official of national water utility in N’Djamena. In Massaguet, about 90km NE of capital, assailants 11 April intercepted convoy moving prisoners from N’Djamena to Koro Toro in north, killing two guards and ten prisoners; security forces arrested army personnel allegedly involved. Police arrested civil society leaders Nadjo Kaina 6 April, Bertrand Sollo 15 April and activist Dingamnayel Nelly Versinis 12 April without giving reasons or place of detention. EU commissioner for international development 10 April pledged €100mn to govt, signed two additional financial agreements together worth €43.3mn.
President Kabila 7 April named as new PM Bruno Tshibala, former member of leading opposition party Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) but expelled in March for dissenting over party leadership. Main opposition coalition Rassemblement led by Felix Tshisekedi same day said Kabila violated Dec 2016 agreement by not appointing candidate selected by opposition. Rassemblement refused to take part in presidency-managed talks, 3 April staged countrywide strike and called for protest 10 April. Protest, banned by govt, attracted small numbers of people. EU, France, Belgium, U.S. and Catholic Church (CENCO) criticised Kabila’s failure to adhere to Dec 2016 agreement; govt 14 April suspended military cooperation with Belgium. African Union 15 April said it was ready to work with new govt but asked for more inclusiveness. Kamuina Nsapu insurgency continued in Kasai Central province in centre. Militia 8 April attacked Bakwa Tshibumba village, near provincial capital Mbuji Mayi, kidnapping five people and burning 50 houses; militia 12 April captured from army Kamako border post on DRC-Angola border; over 9,000 people fled fighting into Angola 1-21 April, bringing total number of refugees from Kasai Central to over 11,000. As demanded by Kamuina Nsapu family, govt 16 April handed over body of former chief killed Aug 2016. UN 19 April confirmed existence of at least seventeen additional mass graves in Kasai Central, bringing to 40 number of mass graves documented by UN in Kasai Central and Oriental since Aug 2016. In S Kivu in east, Mai Mai Blaise militia 1 April attacked Kalonge village, near provincial capital Bukavu; two militiamen killed. Four people killed 4 April in clashes between Hutu and Nande communities in Kishishe village, N Kivu. Mai Mai Nyatura and Rwandan Hutu rebel group Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) 8 April attacked Rutshuru and Masisi towns, N Kivu. Fighting erupted 26 April between Mai Mai Nyatura militia and FDLR splinter group National Council for Renewal and Democracy (CNRD) for control of Bweru village, N Kivu, 29 people killed including at least eleven militants. In Munigi refugee camp near Goma, N Kivu, 100 S Sudanese rebels refusing repatriation 18 April took hostage sixteen UN staff, released them same day.
Govt 3 April criticised U.S. decision 30 March to place sanctions on navy following UN report of “arms-related cooperation” between Eritrea and North Korea.
Presidents of Oromia and Somali regions 19 April agreed to resolve dispute over status of some 400 districts along common border, driver of low-level conflict since 2005. FM Gebeyehu and Egyptian president met in Cairo 19 April and recommitted to resolve issues over use of Nile water and Grand Renaissance Dam, agreed officials would meet every two months.
Party primaries ahead of Aug general elections marred by small-scale violent protests, clashes between candidates’ supporters and logistical issues mid-April in many areas especially in west and north, forcing several parties including ruling Jubilee Party to postpone voting to late April. Opposition coalition National Super Alliance 27 April announced Raila Odinga, leader of Orange Democratic Movement, its presidential candidate. Ethnic conflict and raids by armed herders in north declined slightly: cattle rustling reported on border between Isiolo and Meru counties during month; Gabra and Borana communities 7-12 April clashed in Marsabit county, seven people killed; suspected Pokot gunmen 23 April shot and wounded ranch owner and renowned conservationist in Laikipia county.
Al-Shabaab continued attacks against military and govt officials in capital Mogadishu and rural areas. In Mogadishu, suicide bombing 9 April killed at least seventeen people but failed to kill new army chief Gen Mohamed Jimale; suicide bombing 10 April killed at least nine soldiers at army academy; suspected Al-Shabaab 7 April fired mortars on homes killing three and near International Airport 16 April killing at least two, security forces same day reportedly killed two perpetrators. In Mogadishu, unclaimed car bomb 5 April killed at least seven. Elsewhere, Al-Shabaab 3 April took control of El Bur town, Galmudug region, following retreat of African Union mission (AMISOM) troops. Al-Shabaab 4 April kidnapped four World Health Organisation aid workers in Gedo region in south. Alleged Al-Shabaab landmine 6 April killed at least nineteen minibus passengers near Golweyn village, Lower Shabelle region. Al-Shabaab claimed 16 April attack on World Food Programme convoy and suspected Al-Shabaab militants attacked Emirates Red Crescent aid convoy 20 April, no casualties reported. Kenyan AMISOM troops 21 April destroyed Al-Shabaab camp in Badhadhe district, Lower Juba region, reportedly killing 52 militants. Roadside bomb 23 April hit army vehicle in Puntland, killing at least six soldiers. President Farmajo 6 April told army to prepare for new offensive against Al-Shabaab and offered 60-day amnesty to militants. Maritime hijacking continued. Pirates 3 April seized Indian cargo ship off Puntland coast, took crew ashore 11 April, said they would exchange crew for pirates detained in India; security forces 12 April rescued hostages near Hoboyo town. Pirates 8 April boarded cargo ship in Gulf of Aden, fled before Chinese navy boarded ship next day.
Despite attempts at reconciliation by Sool region governor 2 April, Dhulbahante sub-clans, Baharsame and Qayaad, clashed 9 April, ten killed. Mobilisation of militiamen by both sub-clans prompted traditional leaders and interior ministry to negotiate ceasefire.
Following rebel attacks around Wau in west, govt forces launched campaign against rebels SW of Wau early April. In ambush, rebels 9 April killed two senior Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) officers. Ethnic Dinka retaliated, attacking civilians from ethnic groups they associate with rebels in Wau town, killing at least sixteen. Rebels briefly overran Raja town, Lol state capital in west 14 April. Govt forces and rebels clashed early April around Pajok in south and Waat and Tonga regions in east. Govt forces late April moved into rebel-held areas around Kodok in NE, following failed negotiations with rebels and offensive by Aguelek and Sudan People’s Liberation Army-In Opposition (SPLA-IO) rebels in Jan. President Kiir, responding to calls from churches, civil society and donors, late April appointed more diverse range of leaders to national dialogue steering committee, including former political detainees, Kenyan General Sumbeiywo and Kenyan religious leaders as advisers. UN mission (UNMISS) 29 April said Regional Protection Force had started to arrive in Juba and deployment would continue in coming months.
Rebel group Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) Sec Gen Yassir Arman 22 April said that process to review U.S. partial sanctions repeal should be delayed by six months to allow more time to assess progress on key issues. SPLM-N 24 April said it agreed with African Union mediator Thabo Mbeki to postpone next round of peace talks to July to allow time for it to resolve issues resulting from resignation of its Deputy Chairman Abdelaziz Al-Hilu in March. Armed forces chief 17 April attended U.S. Africa Command meeting at its HQ in Germany.
Army 12 April said it had begun withdrawing troops from Central African Republic where since 2009 it has been conducting operations against rebel group Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), planned to complete withdrawal by end May. U.S. 26 April began withdrawing its forces supporting mission.
Govt 24 April said it would hold general elections 23 Aug. UN Refugee Agency 21 April said fighting in DRC between govt forces and Kamuina Nsapu militia has forced over 11,000 people to cross border into Angola, arriving mainly in Dundo, capital of Lunda Norte Province.
As closed-door peace talks continued between armed opposition Renamo and govt, Renamo leader Afonso Dhlakama 19 April said he was ready to declare indefinite ceasefire if govt maintains its side of deal.
Leader of main opposition United Party for National Development (UPND) Hakainde Hichilema arrested for treason 11 April, having allegedly obstructed motorcade of President Lungu. Govt ban on protests led to confrontations between security forces and protestors early April; protestor shot dead 2 April in Lusaka.
Ruling party Zanu-PF 9 April won landslide victory in by-election in Mwenezi East constituency of Masvingo, opposition boycotted vote and accused Zanu-PF of electoral abuses including voter intimidation. Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of opposition Movement for Democratic Change-Tsvangirai (MDC-T), 19 April signed MoU with opposition National People’s Party leader and former VP Joice Mujuru, and 20 April with MDC leader Welshman Ncube in steps toward building opposition coalition to contest 2018 elections.
French, Burkinabè and Malian troops 27 March-10 April carried out joint Operation Panga in Fhero forest on border between Sahel region in north and Mali to eliminate jihadists especially Malam Ibrahim Dicko’s faction; French forces mid-April said operation killed two jihadists, captured eight and transferred about ten suspects to Burkinabè authorities; one French soldier killed 5 April. French forces 29-30 April killed or captured over twenty suspected militants near Burkina Faso-Mali border. In 28 March-6 April trial of former presidential guards accused of carrying out Jan 2016 attack against Yimdi arms depot, two sergeants sentenced to seventeen years’ prison and thirteen others to ten years. President Kaboré 27 April appointed six new high-ranking military officials, including army chief of staff and land army chief of staff.
Parliamentary groups formed at National Assembly 5 April; main parties in ruling coalition, Rally of Republicans (RDR) and Democratic Party of Côte d’Ivoire (PDCI), failed to form single parliamentary group despite stated intention to merge. Six ex-military officers, supporters of former President Gbagbo, sentenced to six to twenty years’ prison 13 April for roles in murder of four foreigners abducted from Novotel hotel in Abidjan in April 2011.
In legislative elections 6 April, President Barrow’s United Democratic Party (UDP) won 31 of 53 available seats in National Assembly. Former ruling party Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC) won five. Following APRC victory in Sibanor, Foni Bintang-Karenai district, APRC and UDP supporters clashed 6 April.
President Condé 7 April refused to enact electoral code, amended by National Assembly Feb to align it with Oct 2016 agreement between govt and opposition; Condé sent it back to assembly with further amendments. Opposition led by Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea (UFDG) 15 April threatened to call for new strikes and break away from Oct 2016 agreement on mayoral and community elections if govt failed to organise local elections before July 2017; 20 April said it would appeal to UN, African Union and International Organisation of La Francophonie to demand agreement be implemented. Govt 21 April denied opposition accusations that it had banned UFDG rally in N’zérékoré same day.
President Vaz 24 April accused military of plotting coup against him. ECOWAS regional bloc 25 April said it would impose sanctions on those impeding progress if Oct 2016 Conakry agreement between ruling coalition and opposition not implemented within one month, same day announced it would begin withdrawing its 500-strong peacekeeping mission (ECOMIB) 28 April, but late month postponed withdrawal until early May.
Conference of National Understanding intended to foster reconciliation 27 March-2 April in Bamako highlighted need to open talks with jihadists including Ansar Dine’s leader Iyad Ag Ghaly and Macina Liberation Front’s leader Amadou Kouffa. French and German FMs 7 April in Bamako opposed negotiating with “terrorists”. Implementation of June 2015 peace agreement continued to generate tensions: rebel Coalition of Azawad Movements (CMA) splinter Congress for Justice in Azawad (CJA) continued to obstruct establishment of interim authorities in Timbuktu and Taoudeni regions. Govt forces (FAMA), pro-national unity Self-Defence Group of Imrad Tuareg and Allies (GATIA) and CMA splinter Movement for the Salvation of Azawad (MSA) 12 April launched joint patrols in Ménaka city and surroundings, claiming they constituted joint operational mechanism foreseen in agreement, but CMA forces absent. Violence and banditry persisted in north and centre. Drug traffickers repeatedly clashed in Kidal and Ménaka regions: rival groups 15-17 April attacked at least three convoys; groups clashed in Ménaka region 20 April. Officer of rebel group National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) killed in Kidal city 5 April. Unidentified gunmen 7 April attacked Platform coalition of armed groups that favour national unity in Anéfis, killing three; Platform accused pro-CMA Ifoghas Tuaregs. Unidentified gunmen attacked Gargando village, Timbuktu region 8 April killing five CJA combatants and local official; CJA accused al-Qaeda. Jihadists 18 April attacked FAMA in Tagharouste, Timbuktu region, killing at least four, French forces killed about ten jihadists fleeing scene; jihadist coalition Group to Defend Islam and Muslims allegedly claimed responsibility. French, Malian and Burkinabè forces carried out joint Operation Panga on Mali-Burkina Faso border 27 March-10 April to eliminate jihadists, especially Malam Ibrahim Dicko’s faction (see Burkina Faso). President Keita appointed Defence Minister Abdoulaye Idrissa Maiga as PM 8 April. Maiga formed new govt 11 April, including eleven new ministers. Govt 16 April negotiated agreement with striking health workers, but many teachers continued strike.
After lull in Boko Haram (BH) attacks in Diffa region in SE since end-2016, BH 29 March ambushed Nigerien-Chadian military in Boulatoungour, three BH and one soldier killed; BH 9 April attacked army position in Gueskerou, govt said security forces killed at least 57 militants including “emir”. Ethnic tensions threatened to rise again in Agadez region in north: Ibrahim Ag Alambo, arms smuggler and relative of leader of former Tuareg rebel group Nigerien Movement for Justice (MNJ), 6 April announced creation of militia to protect Tuareg from bandits. In response, alleged Toubou representative said move would prompt creation of Toubou self-defence group. Dissident journalist Baba Alpha and civil society activist Maikoul Zodi, accused of fraud in separate cases, arrested 3 and 5 April respectively; Amnesty International said arrests “arbitrary”. Students 10 April protested in several cities against studying conditions; one killed in Niamey in clashes with security forces; students 17 April declared open-ended strike. After deal struck 21 April, classes resumed 26 April.
Security forces continued operations against Boko Haram (BH) in Borno state (NE) but insurgents hit more civilian and military targets. Army and Multinational Joint Task Force 10 April killed at least 57 BH in Arege area. Intelligence services 12 April said they had thwarted BH plot to attack UK and U.S. embassies in Abuja, arresting six suspects 25-26 March. Troops and vigilantes 15-17 April overran BH camps between Kawuri and Kayamla villages, arresting commander. Army 17 April killed 21 BH around Jarawa area, and six around Dissa and Patawe villages. Air force 28 April destroyed BH artillery piece in Sambisa forest. BH 8 April ambushed travellers along Maiduguri-Damboa road, killing about fifteen. Islamic State (ISIS)-affiliated BH faction led by al-Barnawi intensified raids in NE of Borno state near Lake Chad, killing civilians accused of aiding military. BH 17 April killed five soldiers at Sabon Garin Kimba village; 24 April killed at least eight in two suicide attacks in Mammanti and Mainari villages; 26 April killed vigilante in suicide attacks near Maiduguri; 27 April rammed van into military convoy at Manguzum village, killing five soldiers and wounding 40. In Niger Delta, no attacks on oil installations but previously unknown group, Niger Delta Revolutionary Crusaders, threatened hostilities, and criminal violence continued. Gunmen 9 April kidnapped two Turkish nationals in Eket, Akwa Ibom state and demanded ransom; police rescued abductees 19 April, arrested five suspected kidnappers. Gunmen 9 April kidnapped senior local official in Calabar, Cross River state, demanded N100mn ($323,000) ransom. Pirates 12 April killed two soldiers in southern Ijaw local govt area (LGA), Bayelsa state. Incidents of deadly communal and criminal violence reported in Lagos, Niger, Yobe, Rivers and Kaduna states notably: gunmen 15 April killed twelve in Aso community in Jema’a LGA, Kaduna state; two gangs, Dey Gbam and Icelanders, 30 April clashed in Omudioga, Rivers state, killing five. President Buhari 19 April suspended secretary to federal govt Babachir Lawal and director general of external intelligence agency (NIA) Ambassador Ayo Oke both over allegations of corruption.
Japanese Ministry of Defence 13 April reported its air force had scrambled jets against foreign aircraft approaching its airspace a record 1,168 times April 2016-March 2017, 295 more than the previous year; 70% of incidents were in response to Chinese military jets in East China Sea (ECS). Foreign and defence ministers of Japan and Australia met 20 April, agreed to “powerfully promote” trilateral defence cooperation involving U.S.. Japanese govt late March announced plan to populate disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in ECS and designate them inhabited border territories, important in defining size of its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ); plan includes building civic facilities, purchasing land, improving ports and preventing foreign vessels from illegally visiting; will similarly designate further 143 remote islands around its archipelago. Taiwan 2 April stated it has right to conduct oceanographic research within EEZ that both it and Japan claim.
Tensions mounted between North Korea (DPRK) and U.S. amid concerns DPRK could conduct sixth nuclear test at any time; U.S. rhetoric sharpened late month while China made repeated calls for restraint. U.S. President Trump and Chinese President Xi discussed DPRK during their first bilateral summit 6-7 April. Pyongyang launched possibly unsuccessful missile tests 5, 16 and 29 April; South Korea (ROK) 6 April tested ballistic missile with 800km range. U.S. 9 April announced U.S. carrier strike group Carl Vinson had been sent near Korean peninsula, prompting concern in Pyongyang; announcement later revealed to be false. DPRK 15 April revealed new missile mock-ups in parade marking 105th anniversary of birth of Kim Il-sung; 25 April held large-scale artillery drills near Wonsan. U.S. and ROK conducted military manoeuvres NE of Seoul the following day. U.S. and ROK reported Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) will soon be operational. Satellite imagery of Punggye-re nuclear test site posted 21 April appeared to show ability to conduct sixth nuclear test “at any time”. In 27 April interview Trump warned “major, major conflict” with DPRK is possible, said he was seeking diplomatic solution. U.S. Sec State Tillerson 27 April said U.S. open to negotiating with DPRK; addressing special session of UNSC 28 April called for tougher sanctions, said “all options for responding to future provocations must remain on the table”. China said willing to work with U.S. on finding lasting peaceful resolution to tensions on peninsula. Trump’s 27 April remarks that he wants Seoul to pay for THAAD system and wants to renegotiate “horrible” trade agreement caused anger in ROK, where cooperation with U.S. is subject of debate ahead of 9 May presidential election. Reports emerged late April of possible fuel shortages in DPRK including Pyongyang.
Media 12 April reported Taiwan’s navy issued tender for locally-built amphibious ship, $207 million landing platform dock; part of indigenous shipbuilding plan announced in 2016 including new submarines and destroyers within military expansion and modernisation strategy. In sign of warming Taiwan-Japan ties, foreign ministry 19 April said govt will rename its representative office in Japan to Association of Taiwan-Japan Relations; follows similar move by Japan in Jan, after which China said it was “extremely dissatisfied”. U.S. President Trump 27 April said he would not repeat Dec 2016 phone call with Taiwanese President Tsai without first consulting with Chinese President Xi.
Taliban claimed attacks against military and civilians throughout country, including 21 April attack in Mazar-e-Sharif city, Balkh province, in which gunmen in military uniforms infiltrated army base killing at least 140 soldiers in deadliest Taliban attack on armed forces since 2001; defence minister and army chief of staff resigned following incident. Taliban 28 April announced start of spring offensive “Operation Mansouri”. Taliban also carried out 1 April suicide car bombing killing regional army commander and two soldiers in Khost province; govt blamed Taliban for 15 April roadside bomb that killed at least eleven civilians in Helmand province; in Zabul province, Taliban 18 April killed Shenkay district police chief. In Baghlan province, NATO and govt forces in joint operation 18 April killed fifteen Taliban militants, including shadow provincial governor. Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K) claimed 12 April suicide bombing that killed at least five civilians near president’s administration office in Kabul. Operations against IS-K in Achin district, Nangarhar province saw one U.S. soldier killed 8 April, two killed 26 April. U.S. military dropped 22,000-pound bomb, most powerful conventional explosive in its arsenal, on IS-K position in Achin district 13 April, killing at least 94 suspected militants and prompting criticism from some Afghan politicians. Govt 26 April reported IS-K attacked Taliban in N Jowzjan province taking control of two districts, 76 Taliban and fifteen IS-K fighters killed. U.S. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster visiting Kabul 16 April reiterated U.S. commitment to Afghanistan, urged Pakistan to pursue terrorists “less selectively” than in past. Russia 14 April hosted conference on resolving Afghanistan conflict with diplomats from Afghanistan, China, India, Iran, Pakistan and five Central Asian states; U.S. declined invitation saying unilateral initiative not constructive, Taliban also rejected process. Govt 5 April called on Pakistan to stop constructing border fence along disputed stretch of Afghanistan-Pakistan border; 7 April told UNSC fence is illegal. Amid ongoing tensions in unity govt, President Ghani 16 April dismissed special advisor for reforms and good governance Ahmad Zia Masoud, allegedly for incompetence; Masoud warned dismissal could lead to political instability.
Leading rights campaigners 10 April urged govt to develop binding and comprehensive workplan to implement recommendations of UN Human Rights Council (HRC), which published report 28 March on Bangladesh’s compliance with International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) expressed concern inter alia at reported extrajudicial killings by security forces and enforced disappearances, excessive use of force by state actors, lack of investigations and accountability of perpetrators. Other concerns included restrictions on free speech, including arrest of at least 35 journalists, bloggers, and human rights defenders in 2016 under Information and Communications Technology Act, and “undue limitations” on ability of rights defenders and NGOs to operate, through 2016 Foreign Donations (Voluntary Activities) Regulation Bill. Three suspected militants found dead 1 April inside alleged hideout in Sylhet division, Moulvibazar district, ending two-day standoff with security forces; four suspected militants blew themselves up in Shibganj in NW 27 April, ending standoff with police; believed to be members of Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen. Govt 14 April issued circular recognising top certificates awarded by privately run madrasas as equivalent to master’s degree in Islamic studies or Arabic, following meeting between PM Hasina and madrasa administrators/clerics led by chief of radical Islamist coalition Hefazat-e-Islam. Dhaka court 16 April acquitted Tahmid Hasib Khan of involvement in July 2016 Dhaka café attack. International Crimes Tribunal 19 April sentenced two men to death for committing atrocities during 1971 liberation war.
25 Central Reserve Police Force personnel killed and several injured in ambush by several hundred Maoists in Sukma district in Chhattisgarh’s Bastar region 24 April, reportedly worst attack on security forces in state since 2010; ten Maoists also reported killed. Troops had been providing security to road construction workers. Two villagers reported killed by Maoists in Odisha’s Malgangiri district 1 April.
Tensions worsened between Indian security forces and protesters around by-elections in Srinagar 9 April, with nine killed in clashes during month. Protesters 9 April stormed polling stations and threw stones at security forces in Budgam district; eight civilians dead and over 200 injured after security forces opened fire on protesters, prompting calls for further protests. Voter turnout reportedly 7%, lowest in 27 years, 70 polling stations forced to shut down. Polling repeated in 38 polling stations 13 April; reported 2% turnout lowest in Jammu and Kashmir’s history. Authorities postponed polling in Anantnag, scheduled 12 April, to 25 May due to security concerns. Security forces 15 April killed seventeen-year old boy as youths threw stones at convoy in Batamaloo, Srinagar; clashed with students in Pulwama town same day, injuring at least 50. Indian soldiers 13 April reportedly tied civilian to a military vehicle as they patrolled in Budgam district before releasing him; police filed criminal complaint against army; army chief vowed action against perpetrators, but said “relentless operations” against Kashmiri separatists and protesters would continue. Clashes across Line of Control (LoC) continued. In Kupwara district, security forces 10 April killed four suspected militants during gunfight after they attempted to cross LoC into Keran sector from Pakistan-administered Kashmir; killed two Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT) militants in anti-militancy operation in Hayatapora village, Budgam district. At least three Indian soldiers and two militants killed as suspected Jaish-e-Mohammad militants attacked military camp near LoC in Panzgam village, Kupwara district, 27 April. Pakistani military 10 April sentenced Indian naval officer arrested March 2016 to death on charges of espionage and sabotage. India filed formal protest to Pakistani high commissioner claiming defendant not a spy, declaring execution would be considered “premeditated murder”.
Despite some forward momentum toward local elections due to start in May, impeachment motion filed against Supreme Court Chief Justice Sushila Karki 30 April by Nepali Congress (NC) and CPN (Maoist Centre) MPs created fresh uncertainty regarding polls and future of ruling coalition. Following motion, which claims Karki interfered in govt’s appointment of police chief, senior NC leader and Deputy PM Bimalendra Nidhi resigned in protest; ruling coalition partner Rastriya Prajatantra Party also regarded as likely to withdraw support from govt. Prospect of holding polls in May had previously improved with 22 April agreement between govt and dissenting Madhesi parties to hold elections in two phases and to address most Madhesi demands through constitutional amendments increasing electoral constituencies in Tarai plains and creating federal commission to resolve issue of provincial boundaries; initial election phase to be held 14 May in three of seven provinces and second phase – under new NC-led govt following handover of power – to be conducted 14 June in remaining four provinces which include key Tarai constituencies. Six of seven dissenting Madhesi parties unified to form Rastriya Janata Party 21 April and, following agreement with govt, cancelled month-long protests planned to disrupt elections. However, postponement until 4 May of parliamentary discussions on govt’s new 11 April constitution amendment proposal – which mandates forming a commission to recommend provincial boundary revisions within three months – created further doubts about election timing; opposition UML party strongly opposed new proposal; parties have until 2 May to announce candidates. Three ex-army officers convicted 16 April of 2004 killing of fifteen-year old girl detained for supposed links to rebels. Supreme Court 30 April sentenced several former senior police officials including three former chiefs to prison for misuse of state funds.
Pakistani Taliban (TTP) suicide bomber targeting army census team 5 April killed four soldiers and two civilians in Lahore. TTP faction Jamaat-ul-Ahrar 25 April planted roadside bomb that killed at least ten people near Parachinar, Kurram Agency in Federally Administered Tribal Areas; said targets were Shia community and census workers. In Lahore, counter-terrorism operation 8 April left ten suspected TTP and Jamaat-ul-Ahrar militants dead, allegedly including perpetrators of 13 Feb deadly Lahore blast. Military 17 April announced prominent Jamaat-ul-Ahrar leader Ehsanullah Ehsan surrendered to security forces. Two members of Ahmadiyya religious community, considered non-Muslim under constitution and previously target of violent attacks in Punjab, killed in Lahore during month. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, student mob 13 April killed fellow student they accused of posting blasphemous comments online; police charged at least twenty suspects. In Karachi, paramilitary rangers 1 April detained two university professors ahead of press conference where professors had planned to appeal for release of third professor, Dr Hassan Zafar Arif, arrested Oct 2016 for links to banned Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM); judge 7 April released Dr Zafar Arif on bail. Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) accused Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan of instigating abductions of three associates of PPP co-chair Asif Zardari who disappeared 4-9 April. Military 17 April announced army began construction of 2,500km border fence along disputed stretch of Pakistan-Afghanistan border, said aimed at containing movement of terrorists. Supreme Court 20 April ruled evidence insufficient to remove PM Sharif from office in Panama Papers offshore holdings case; called for further investigations under its supervision into family’s offshore holdings.
Public discontent with national unity govt rising amid serious drought and administrative inefficiencies. Collapse of large garbage dump in Colombo suburb on New Year’s day 14 April, killing over 30 and destroying over 100 houses, prompted widespread criticism of govt for ignoring warnings. Hopes for constitutional reform remained dim: reports emerged 11 April saying Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) informed Constitutional Assembly steering committee that it opposed any changes to constitution requiring referendum, suggesting President Sirisena has made little progress in persuading SLFP ministers to support new constitution. Protests on land and disappearances continued in Tamil majority north, with military agreeing to further modest land releases. Army 7 April returned 29 acres to owners in Valikamam, Jaffna; officials reportedly claimed another 5,250 acres still held by military in Jaffna alone. At 24 April meeting with govt ministers and Tamil politicians, Navy agreed initial release of 40 acres surrounding Catholic church in Mullikulam; 600 additional acres of agricultural land expected to be released in coming months. European Parliament 27 April defeated resolution to block Sri Lanka regaining EU GSP+ tariff benefits, virtually guaranteeing GSP+ renewal on 15 May. Following mid-April visit to Sri Lanka of EU MPs and letter from delegation to PM outlining steps still needed to meet human rights requirements before 15 May deadline, cabinet 25 April approved framework for Counter Terrorism Act, designed to replace Prevention of Terrorism Act, and amendment to Criminal Procedure Code. Human rights advocates criticised draft laws for broad definition of terrorism and range of clauses liable to abuse, and for being shared with EU but not with local population.
In ethnically and religiously charged second round of Jakarta gubernatorial election 19 April, incumbent Chinese-descent Christian Basuki Tjahaka Purnama “Ahok” lost to his main challenger Anies Baswedan, former education minister under President Widodo, with unofficial count giving him 42% of vote to Baswedan’s 58%; official results to be released early May. Purnama’s trial on blasphemy charges resumed 20 April, with prosecutors recommending probation. Police said they killed six suspected militants in E Java 8 April, day after arrest of three suspected members of Jemaah Anshorut Daulah, group which has pledged allegiance to Islamic State (ISIS). State news agency 12 April reported National Agency for Countering Terrorism (BNPT) and Financial Transactions Analysis and Reporting Center (PPATK) signed memorandum of agreement to combat money laundering and terrorism financing.
Some 16,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) reported to have returned to their home villages in Maungdaw, northern Rakhine, following end of military operations; around 4,000 IDPs remain, some 74,000 still seeking refuge in Bangladesh. Amid ongoing investigations into alleged abuses by military against Rohingya Muslims, Aung San Suu Kyi 5 April told BBC ethnic cleansing “too strong an expression to use for what is happening”. UN Refugee Agency 25 April criticised govt plan to resettle Rohingya in “camp-like” villages, which it said could create further tensions. Ethnic peace process remained mired in difficulty ahead of next “Panglong-21” Peace Conference set to take place 24 May. Suu Kyi 28 March visited Kachin state capital Myitkyina and nearby IDP camps, urged Kachin Independence Organisation to sign Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA); visit viewed unfavourably by many Kachin. Suu Kyi State Counsellor Office issued press release 30 March coinciding with one-year anniversary of her govt, announcing that five small United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) armed group members would sign NCA; groups next day said they had not yet decided to sign. No groups involved in serious fighting in NE appear likely to sign, and summit of seven armed groups convened by Wa 15-19 April rejected NCA as basis for peace, established new joint negotiating team. Although clashes eased over Myanmar’s New Year in April, renewed fighting seen as likely. Suu Kyi noted 30 March progress on legislative reform and health care, promised new focus on job creation, transport and electricity. U.S. Navy vessel made goodwill visit to Yangon 21-25 March, first official stop by U.S. Navy for decades. President Htin Kyaw paid state visit to China 6-11 April; two sides agreed terms for shipment of oil through pipeline from Kyaukpyu port on Indian Ocean to China. Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy won only nine of nineteen seats in 1 April by-election, although many seats were in ethnic or conflict-affected areas where party is not strong.
Military 11 April launched operation against around a dozen militants in central resort island Bohol, suspected of planning to kidnap tourists and launch attack on ASEAN summit; five suspected militants including leading Abu Sayyaf figure Muamar Askali reported killed, plus three soldiers and a policeman. Militants reportedly suspected of belonging to at least three groups that had pledged allegiance to Islamic State (ISIS), including Abu Sayyaf. President Duterte 19 April offered reward for capture of escaped militants, threatened to invade Abu Sayyaf stronghold in Jolo island, Sulu. Military 23 April reported it had killed three Abu Sayyaf militants in Bohol, still pursuing two or three. Over ten Abu Sayyaf reported killed and 32 soldiers wounded in attempt to free Vietnamese hostages in Talipao town 2 April. Abu Sayyaf beheaded fisherman and soldier in Sulu province during month. Military 22-25 April killed 36 suspected ISIS-linked rebels, including from Maute group and Indonesian group Jemaah Islamiyah, in Lanao del Sur, reported capture of main base; reportedly killed leading Abu Sayyaf militant and kidnapper in Sulu 28 April. Duterte 2 April announced peace talks with Moro National Liberation Front under Nur Misuari may start in May; Misuari’s six-month temporary liberty granted by court ended 27 April. Peace negotiations between govt and Communist Party of the Philippines/New People’s Army/National Democratic Front, which collapsed in Feb, resumed in Netherlands 2 April despite absence of bilateral ceasefire; 5 April agreed on temporary joint ceasefire and to release prisoners. Duterte 3 April threatened “full power of the state” if conditions set out in March are not respected and talks fail. Mohainmen Abo (brother of senior Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) figure and chair of Bangsamoro Transition Commission Ghadzali Jaafar) killed 11 April during police raid in Barangay Linangcob. Police claimed Abo was resisting arrest and firing at police officers; Jaafar denied, said police had not respected coordination mechanism contained in 1997 ceasefire agreement. MILF 17 April urged govt to investigate alleged unilateral police operations against rebels. Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters suspected of several bombs in Sultan Kudarat and North Cotabato, including in Tacurong City 17 April injuring at least eight.
During visit to military base on Palawan Island 6 April, Philippines President Duterte ordered military to occupy islands and reefs that Manila claims in disputed Spratly Islands’ Kalayaan group; also called for repairing runway on disputed Thitu Island. Following expression of concern from Beijing, Philippines defence minister 8 April said Duterte’s comments applied only to nine features in SCS that Philippines already controls, not calling for construction of military structures. Duterte 12 April said that on China’s request he would not visit Thitu as previously stated. Duterte 15 April reportedly said Philippines must “act fast” in occupying uninhabited islands in chain before it loses them to other claimants. Philippine FM 4 April reported ASEAN and China have made progress since Jan on framework for Code of Conduct (COC) in SCS, which would serve as a basis of negotiations on COC; final draft could be approved ahead of Aug meeting of ASEAN FMs. Philippines-hosted ASEAN Summit 26-29 April discussed draft framework. Chairman’s statement released 30 April made no reference to July 2016 Hague arbitration ruling, militarisation or land reclamation in area, referred to need to show “full respect for legal and diplomatic processes” in resolving disputes and noted “improving cooperation between ASEAN and China”. Followed reports of disagreement between member states over whether to include such a reference, reported Chinese lobbying of Philippines officials to leave it out, and scepticism in some quarters over China’s sincerity in suggesting it will commit to code; China has not agreed on making code legally binding. Ahead of summit, Indonesian President Widodo said rival SCS claimants should cooperate on issues such as research and fishing. Vietnam condemned 29-31 March live-fire drills by Taiwan’s military at Taiping Island/Itu Aba, disputed feature in Spratly Islands, calling them serious violation of its sovereignty and threat to maritime security. China reportedly deployed J-11 fighter jets to Paracel Islands late March. China 26 April launched its first domestically-built aircraft carrier, to enter active service circa 2020, meaning it will have two.
King Vajiralongkorn 6 April signed draft constitution, important step toward general election; Constitution Drafting Commission now has until 2 Dec to complete ten organic laws, four governing parties and elections. Changes to draft constitution requested by king were revealed following promulgation: in most significant, Article 5 revised to return to past formula giving king – rather than Constitutional Court and committee of state-agency chiefs – authority to resolve political disputes not covered elsewhere in constitution; other changes give king complete control over appointment of regent during his absence and rescind requirement for parliamentary counter-signature to royal orders. Marked uptick in insurgent attacks in deep south from late March, including 3 April attack on police station in Krong Pinang district, Yala, wounding at least nine police; over twenty bomb attacks across three southernmost provinces and SE Songkhla on night of 6-7 April targeting electricity poles, causing power cuts but no casualties; thirteen attacks across Narathiwat, Pattani and Songkhla provinces 19 April, wounding eight people; ambush in Narathiwat 27 April killing five rangers and wounding one. Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) 10 April issued statement reiterating points from Oct 2015 statement, setting out conditions for participation in dialogue with Bangkok: called for “participation of third parties (international community) as witnesses and observers”, credible and impartial mediator and process “designed clearly by the negotiating parties and agreed upon before the start of negotiation”; govt dismissed statement.
President Thaci 4 April announced he was attempting to ensure support from all Kosovo’s communities for constitutional changes to broaden powers and responsibilities of Kosovo Security Force, rather than attempting to bypass them as previously planned. Thaci 20 April urged parliament to ratify controversial agreement on border demarcation with Montenegro, precondition for EU visa liberalisation. French court 27 April refused to grant Serbian request for extradition of former Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj; ruling prompted protest from Serbia, where he is wanted on war crimes charges.
Political standoff turned violent late month as protesters opposed to new opposition Social Democrat (SDSM)-led coalition govt stormed parliament after new ethnic Albanian speaker was voted in, injuring scores. Visiting Skopje 3 April, European Council President Tusk 3 April urged President Ivanov to award mandate to form govt to SDSM leader Zoran Zaev, urged country to “avoid anything that could further fuel ethnic tensions”; Ivanov said his position unchanged. VMRO DPMNE MPs (who won 51 of 120 parliament seats in Dec 2016 election) continued to filibuster parliament to block effort to elect new speaker and establish new opposition-led coalition govt, continued to call for fresh elections; street protests by VMRO DPMNE supporters against new govt continued. 67 MPs (out of 120 seats) voted 27 April to elect new parliament speaker, ethnic Albanian Talat Xhaferi; VMRO DPMNE called election “coup attempt”. Violence broke out as protesters stormed parliament and attacked MPs; over 100 people reportedly injured including Zaev and three MPs from majority parties and several journalists. EU, NATO and U.S. condemned violence and called for dialogue. Provisional interior minister Agim Nuhiu accused police of failing to do their job, tendered his resignation citing his failure to eliminate political influence in police.
Ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) won 48.15% of vote in 2 April parliamentary elections, gaining 58 of 105 seats in parliament. Opposition claimed “large-scale and systematic violations of the electoral process”, international observers said vote “tainted by credible information about vote-buying, and pressure on civil servants and employees of private companies”. Constitutional Court 28 April declined appeal by opposition “Armenian National Congress-National Party of Armenia” to annual election results. HHK engaged in talks with Armenian Revolutionary Federation/Dashnaktsutyun, which came in fourth with 6.58% of vote, about political coalition. New govt will be in place during one-year transitional period, overseeing move from semi-presidential to parliamentary republic. Former Chief of Staff Yuri Khachaturov named new Sec Gen of Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) 14 April. Defence minister 20 April announced two new programs to promote education among military recruits; programs are part of state “Army-Nation” policy launched November 2016.
Defence minister visited Saudi Arabia 4-5 April and Iran 16 April to discuss military cooperation. Opposition National Council 8 April held rare street protest against corruption in Baku, some 2,000 reportedly attended with no incidents; protest was sanctioned by govt.
Breakaway republic South Ossetia (SO) 9 April elected new de facto President Anatoliy Bibilov, who campaigned for closer links with Russia, with 54.8% of vote; incumbent Leonid Tibilov, supported by Moscow, gained only 33.7%. In parallel vote 80% agreed to add “State of Alania” to previous official name “Republic of South Ossetia”. Local observers and activists said elections were first providing free choice to people since Russia’s recognition of SO in 2008, including with opposition rallies and televised debates. Tbilisi, U.S. and EU said vote illegitimate; Kremlin envoy attended Bibilov’s inauguration 21 April. Bibilov 12 April said he would promote local citizens to main govt offices, currently occupied by Russians. Russian FM Lavrov 18-19 April visited breakaway republic Abkhazia to open new “embassy” and meet with de facto president. Lavrov said his country favoured opening of trade routes with Georgia through Abkhazia; Abkhaz de facto leadership reiterated readiness to promote transit, providing Georgia recognises Abkhaz authority in issue. Tbilisi called Lavrov’s visit violation of Georgian sovereignty, expressed deep disappointment in light of two countries’ regular talks, moves to reestablish cooperation. Parliament constitution commission 22 April finalised its work on constitution project. Proposed amendments, which provoked protest from opposition, President Margvelashvili and civil society, include president being elected by delegates rather than by direct vote, and shift to proportional electoral system.
Month saw relative stability in conflict zone with occasional exchange of fire, mainly at NE and south of Line of Contact (LoC). Three Armenian soldiers reported killed 20, 25 and 28 April. Azerbaijan conducted military exercises close to LoC 16-21 April; Armenia complained of lack of advance notice. Mediators continued attempts to bring sides together for political talks. During 27 March press-conference, U.S. interim Minsk Group co-chair Richard Hoagland revealed plan to organise meeting of foreign ministers (FMs) in Moscow or elsewhere, followed by talks at presidential level. FMs’ meeting 28 April finished with agreement to continue dialogue but no date set for high-level talks. Leaders on both sides spoke about readiness to engage in war on anniversary of April 2016 escalation.
Novaya Gazeta newspaper 1 April broke story on organised detentions, torture and killings of gay men by authorities in Chechnya in recent weeks, producing international outcry. At least three gay men reported killed in round-up and up to 200 suffered abuse, torture and illegal detention; dozens still being held in illegal detention facilities throughout republic. Republic President Kadyrov’s press secretary called report “absolute lie”, claiming gay people “do not exist in the republic”, if there were any “their family would handle the issue themselves by sending them to a place from where no one comes back”. Kadyrov complained to Putin about “media provocation”; during 19 April meeting, Putin reportedly called on Kadyrov to stop persecution. Novaya Gazeta appealed to authorities for protection and investigation into death threats it received over reports. Chechen authorities 25 March sent demolition equipment accompanied by armed police to Davydenko village, Achkhoy-Martan district, aimed at destroying houses after locals reportedly refused to pay authorities bribes; officials claimed buildings illegally constructed. Police reportedly beat villagers and fired into air; one woman suffered gunshot wound. Around twenty people detained, charges filed against three for attempts on policeman’s life. Chechen state TV 29 March broadcast meeting between Chechen parliament speaker and outspoken protester who was forced to rescind criticisms and apologise. Conflict-related violence in NC continued, including death of Makhachkala group leader Ilyas Khalilov and two other suspected fighters at police/Special Forces checkpoint 11 April; two police shot dead in Malgobek, Ingushetia 8 April. Russian investigators identified ethnic Uzbek Kyrgyz national as suicide bomber who killed fourteen and injured 60 in attack on St. Petersburg metro 3 April (see Kyrgyzstan).
State media 11 April reported twenty people charged with organising illegal armed group amid protests over controversial tax on unemployed. Opposition leader Mikalay Statkevich reportedly arrested ahead of planned anti-govt protests 1 May. President Lukashenka and Russian President Putin meeting in St. Petersburg 3 April agreed on resolution of energy dispute, roadmap for cooperation.
President Dodon 3 April signed memorandum of cooperation with Eurasian Economic Union, prompting criticism from PM Filip who said it aimed to undermine relations with EU. Senior EU official 19 April said bloc expects Moldova to “fully comply with its obligations” under its association and trade agreements with EU.
New ceasefire between Kyiv and Russian-backed separatists went into effect 1 April resulting in reduced fighting; over a dozen Ukrainian soldiers reported killed during month including two killed in clashes with separatists near Avdiivka 21 April; separatists reported two fighters killed during previous week. OSCE launched investigation after one of its monitors, a U.S. national, was killed and two wounded when their car drove over landmine in separatist-controlled Luhansk region 23 April; Kyiv and Russian-backed separatists blamed each other. Ukraine 25 April cut electricity supply to separatist-controlled parts of Luhansk region citing non-payment; Russia said move politically motivated and violated Minsk peace accord, said it would help provide electricity. President Poroshenko 18 April held phone call with German, French and Russian leaders; sides confirmed commitment to implementation of Minsk agreements, urged intensification of efforts to liberate prisoners. International Criminal Court 19 April refused request by Ukraine as part of its case against Russia to impose provisional measures to stop Russia funding and equipping separatists; issued provisional ruling calling for stop to racial discrimination against Crimean Tatars and ethnic Ukrainians in Crimea. Kyiv called court’s ruling and recognition of its jurisdiction “very promising”. PM Hroysman 11 April reiterated govt’s commitment to reforms; central bank Governor Valeria Hontareva resigned previous day citing political pressure. IMF 3 April approved disbursement of $1bn loan tranche to Ukraine, previously postponed due to trade embargo on separatist-controlled areas, citing signs of economic improvement. EU parliament and EU ambassadors gave approval for EU visa liberalisation, expected to enter into force in June. Kyiv court 7 April convicted twelve former members of Tornado battalion of committing crimes against civilians in Luhansk region in early 2015.
Greek Cypriot President Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Akıncı 2 April discussed resuming talks after two-month hiatus; 11 April resumed negotiations and agreed to enter new phase of talks with four meetings starting 20 April. UN Special Envoy Eide 10 April reiterated UN mandate was only to facilitate Cypriot-owned process; in 13 April interview said UN had helped develop compromise proposal on security guarantees after consultations with Cypriot leaders, EU and guarantor powers Greece, Turkey and UK. Greek Cypriot parliament 7 April reversed most controversial provision of Feb “Enosis law” that made annual celebration in schools of 1950 referendum which approved union with Greece compulsory; Anastasiades denied Turkish Cypriot protest triggered decision. Akıncı 11 April warned extraction of hydrocarbons in Cyprus’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) scheduled for summer by Greek-Cypriot side could derail talks if Cyprus settlement not reached beforehand; Anastasiades said he would not negotiate “sovereignty of the Republic”. Ankara 19 April said it would conduct “seismic surveys” in Cyprus’s EEZ from 30 April-30 June in continued row over gas fields.
Constitutional referendum 16 April saw 51.4% of electorate approve changes that will centralise executive power in hands of president following general elections scheduled for Nov 2019. Three largest cities and most of SE voted against changes; result prompted widespread criticism among opponents and internationally over govt’s possible authoritarian direction. Allegations of electoral misconduct and evidence including video of irregularities sparked opposition criticism and protests against fraud; Supreme Election Board 19 April and Council of State 25 April rejected request by main opposition parties to annul results. Main opposition party 26 April announced decision to take bid to European Court of Human Rights. OSCE 17 April criticised “uneven playing field” in campaign and lack of transparency; Erdoğan denounced report as “politically motivated”. Govt 18 April extended state of emergency, imposed following July 2016 coup attempt, for additional three months; continued crackdown on state-christened FETÖ/PDY it blames for coup attempt, detaining over 1,000 alleged members late April. Security forces continued operations against Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) insurgency in SE; several members of security forces killed in attacks and clashes during month, including six soldiers reportedly killed in separate operations against PKK in Şırnak 21-23 April. Suspected PKK rocket attack against ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) referendum campaign bus killed one village guard in Van’s Muradiye district 15 April. PKK senior leadership Cemil Bayık 9 April warned “war” would intensify if “Yes” campaign won referendum, adding to concerns that fighting may worsen in coming months. Govt continued crackdown on Kurdish Democratic People’s Party (HDP) representatives, arresting regional representative Fahrettin Kiraz and MP Burcu Çelik Özkan on terror charges mid-April. Two HDP MPs, Meral Danış Beştaş and Nursel Aydoğan, were released 21 April. EU-Turkey relations deteriorated further in run-up to referendum; Ankara 14 April said it would suspend EU-Turkey refugee deal if not granted visa-free travel. Parliamentary Assembly of Council of Europe 25 April voted to reopen monitoring procedures in Turkey. Turkish military conducted airstrikes against Kurdish People’s Protection Unit (YPG)/PKK targets in N Syria and N Iraq 25 April, retaliated against YPG after latter launched rocket attacks on SE Hatay and Şanlıurfa provinces from areas it controls across border in Syria 25-27 April (see Syria and Iraq).
Trial in abstentia of opposition leader Mukhtar Ablyazov on charges of embezzlement began 3 April in Almaty; France released Ablyazov 9 Dec 2016, cancelled his extradition to Russia citing political motivation behind request.
Bishkek court 17 April handed lengthy prison sentences to three opposition politicians and shorter sentence for a fourth after finding them guilty of plotting to seize power by force in March 2016. Russian investigators identified 22-year-old ethnic Uzbek from Osh Akbarjon Djalilov as suicide bomber who killed fourteen and injured 60 in attack on St. Petersburg metro 3 April; Djalilov became naturalised Russian citizen in 2011; Russian security services 17 April arrested another Kyrgyz national, Abror Azimov, who they said may have supervised Djalilov, in addition to several other suspects of Central Asian origin.
Media mid-April reported former Colonel Gulmurod Khalimov, Tajik police commander who defected to Islamic State (ISIS) in 2015 and was reportedly their “minister of war”, killed in Mosul, Iraq; authorities early April arrested Khalimov’s eighteen-year-old son. Flights between Tashkent and Dushanbe resumed 11 April after 25-year gap. Tajik border guard reported Uzbek border guards 15 April illegally crossed border and shot Tajik man; Uzbek authorities claimed self-defence, saying Uzbek border guards were attacked by three Tajik shepherds. President Rahmon 25 April met with visiting U.S. Central Command commander, discussed military cooperation. Media reported ten top Anticorruption Agency investigators and officials arrested late month, suspected of corruption and fraud.
Swedish authorities arrested 39-year-old Uzbek man Rakhmat Akilov, originally from Samarkand and living in Sweden since 2014, over 7 April truck attack in Stockholm in which four were killed and fifteen injured; Akilov, whose request for political asylum was rejected in 2016, confessed to attack and expressed support for Islamic State (ISIS). Uzbek authorities opened separate criminal case against Akilov in Feb on extremism charges; FM Abdulaziz Kamilov 14 April said govt had warned Sweden of Akilov’s activities. Akilov’s brother reportedly detained in Uzbekistan 23 April. President Mirziyoyev signed commercial and investment contracts worth $15.8bn during meetings with Russian President Putin in Moscow 4-5 April; presidents also promised to cooperate closely on security issues.
FARC-govt peace process implementation continued on different fronts. FARC 4 April handed over list of all fighters in cantonments, totalling 6,804 full-time guerrilla fighters and 1,541 urban militia guerrilla fighters, though other list(s) with all militia fighters still pending. President Santos 5 April signed decree creating Truth Commission and Search Unit for Victims of Forced Disappearance. Select committee met in Bogotá 18-20 April to begin identifying judges for Special Jurisdiction for Peace and outline process for selecting Truth Commission. FARC dissident groups continue to expand on local/sub-regional level, mainly in south and east. In Guaviare, First Front (FF) 8 April attacked military vehicle, killing one soldier and wounding three; FF also continued activities in Caquetá, despite March demobilisation of group’s leader there, alias Mojoso. FF March and April distributed communiqué naming other commanders who have joined dissident groups, called on FARC fighters to join as well. Violence by ELN guerrilla group and Gaitan Self-Defence Forces (AGC) continued at high levels in Chocó. Govt human rights ombudsman reported at least eight people kidnapped in Chocó by AGC 8-16 April, National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla group abducted two in same period. In NE Catatumbo region, eight ELN fighters killed in military operation 2 April; two soldiers died in ELN attack in Arauca 28 March. ELN on Twitter justified its use of kidnapping, saying it “has the right” to continue to finance its activities, International Humanitarian Law does not prohibit “kidnapping”; late April freed two hostages in Chocó. Govt and ELN 6 April announced limited progress in peace talks, said they will work on humanitarian demining agreement in next round of talks starting 3 May.
Almost thirty people killed during month as security forces cracked down on growing anti-govt protests in capital and elsewhere, amid continuing deterioration in living conditions. Supreme Court (TSJ) 1 April reversed its 29 March decision to assume legislative power of National Assembly following condemnation from neighbouring countries and declaration by attorney general Luisa Ortega Díaz, former govt loyalist, that constitutional rule had been interrupted; Ortega’s stance marked unprecedented crack in regime unity. Despite measure’s reversal, nineteen Organization of American States (OAS) members voted 3 April for resolution declaring TSJ’s actions violation of constitutional order and urging Venezuela to restore democracy and separation of powers, and committing OAS to continue monitoring situation and seeking diplomatic solution. Comptroller general 9 April banned key opposition leader, Miranda state Governor and former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, from holding office for fifteen years. Opposition Democratic Unity alliance (MUD) began series of mass rallies in capital and elsewhere, demanding dismissal of TSJ justices and holding of elections; some spontaneous protests also broke out, including 12 April in San Félix, Bolívar state, where crowd hurled objects at Maduro as he took part in commemorative act in street. Govt continued to react to demonstrations with force, using National Guard and police to disperse them with tear gas, water-cannon and plastic bullets, often fired at close range; also deployed were armed civilian para-police groups (colectivos) on motorcycles. MUD 19 April staged “mother of all marches”, calling hundreds of thousands onto streets of Caracas and provincial cities; 28 people reportedly killed in protests by end-month, reportedly mostly at hands of police and govt supporters, hundreds detained. Among the dead, at least eleven people reported killed 20 April in looting in Caracas as govt grip on poor barrios appeared to weaken. Maduro 23 April called for talks with opposition to resume; however, MUD declined to meet with international facilitator Leonel Fernández after he met with Maduro 24 April. OAS Permanent Council 26 April agreed to convene extraordinary meeting of foreign ministers to discuss Venezuela; in response, Venezuela announced moves to withdraw from OAS. Govt paid out almost $3bn to service foreign debt during month as imports continued to shrink, must pay around $800m more in May.
High-level captures in fight against corruption continued, including 31 March arrest of former congressmen Manuel Barquín and Jaime Martínez Lohayza; 20% of current congressional deputies under investigation, charged or captured. U.S. Congress Foreign Affairs Committee 29 March unanimously approved bipartisan resolution in support of fight against corruption in Central America.
Juan Jiménez Mayor, head of Mission Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH), 25 March announced that investigations may include any relevant corruption cases from 2006, meaning former presidents Manuel Zelaya and Porfirio Lobo could face further charges. MACCIH pushing Congress to pass “Efficient Collaboration Law”, intended to facilitate prosecution of high-level politicians by offering privileges and protection to suspects who collaborate with investigations into organised crime. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) Honduras office 22 March published report urging govt to demilitarise internal security and strengthen transparency and civilian oversight.
Police 4 April arrested José Adán Salazar Umaña, aka “Chepe Diablo”, alleged leader of Texis Cartel, country’s most important drug trafficking and money laundering organisation. Police conducted raids on over 50 properties and companies owned by Umaña and associates, allegedly used to evade taxes and launder money; attorney general’s office claimed group laundered over $215 million over past twelve years.
UNSC 13 April adopted new resolution on transformation of UN presence in Haiti, approving extension of MINUSTAH for final six months and gradual withdrawal of 2,370 military personnel; also approved creation of new peacekeeping mission in Haiti (MINUSJUSTH) for initial period of six months starting 16 Oct 2017; functions to focus on strengthening rule of law and police force. Haiti’s Permanent Representative to UN Denis Regis voiced support for resolution, however some critics argue role of new mission unclear. Last 250 Uruguayan peacekeepers left Haiti 15 April. Trial began in U.S. 24 April of Senator of Grand’Anse Guy Philippe, who finally pleaded guilty to money laundering charge.
Amid ongoing violence, officials 23 April reported at least 35 people killed in gang-related violence in single weekend, including twelve in Sinaloa state, nine in gun battle in Michoacán state. In Guerrero, authorities registered 21 murders 8 and 9 April alone, while Democratic Revolution Party leader Demetrio Saldivar was killed by unknown persons in Chilpancingo 19 April. Authorities recorded 2,020 murders in March, highest monthly figure since peak year 2011. In Morelos state, attorney general’s office stated they had found 57 human remains in Jojutla mass grave 4 April. National Commission on Human Rights in 6 April report revealed local attorney offices officially recognised 855 mass graves and disinterred remains of 1,548 corpses 2007-2016; also reported official number of disappeared persons has reached 30,000. Human Rights NGOs 4 April reported that since 2009 at least 310,000 people have been forcibly displaced because of violence. Legislative period ended 30 April without conclusive discussion on Internal Security Law due to criticisms over lack of check and balances for armed forces in their proposed public security responsibilities; followed further incident of alleged involvement of armed forces in extrajudicial killings of two U.S. tourists in Tamaulipas 4 April; Navy denied allegations it was involved in killings. Violence against Central American immigrants, women, journalists and human rights/indigenous defenders continued. Six immigrants from Honduras kidnapped, tortured and mutilated in Veracruz 3 April. Norte newspaper from Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, 5 April announced it was closing, citing impossible working conditions for independent journalists as result of criminal violence. Journalist Max Rodríguez Palacios, from La Paz, Baja California, killed 14 April. Former Veracruz Governor Javier Duarte, wanted on corruption and organised crime charges, arrested in Guatemala 15 April; former Tamaulipas Governor Tomás Yarrington, wanted on corruption and organised crime charges in Mexico and U.S., arrested in Italy 9 April.
Following 31 March violent protests against proposed bill amending constitution to lift one-term limit on presidency, President Cartes 2 April called for dialogue to reduce tensions, however opposition said it would not attend unless amendment is withdrawn; Cartes 17 April announced he would no longer seek re-election in 2018, defusing tensions. Chamber of Deputies 26 April rejected bill.
Some 700 Palestinian prisoners in Israel began open-ended hunger strike on commemoration day for prisoners in Israel, 17 April, to demand changes in prison policies; strike led by Fatah and in particular Marwan Barghouti, but prisoners from other factions took part; crowds same day demonstrated in West Bank in solidarity with detainees. By end month number of strikers had risen to about 1,000. Israel refused to negotiate with prisoners. Only functioning power plant in Gaza exhausted fuel causing severe reduction in electricity supply mid-April. Hamas refused to pay Palestinian Authority (PA) tax on fuel from PA; PA 27 April told Israel it would no longer pay for electricity that Israel supplies to Gaza. Following Hamas’s creation of administrative committee to govern Gaza in March, President Abbas cut March compensation to PA employees in Gaza by 30-70%, citing fall in aid, prompting thousands to protest in Gaza. PA 24 April called on Hamas to hand over Gaza as precondition for reconciliation; Hamas 25 April said it was ready to dissolve administrative committee once PA assumes governance role in Gaza. After lull of almost a year in “lone wolf” attacks in Jerusalem, stabbings resumed: Palestinian woman stabbed and wounded Israeli soldier at checkpoint 24 April. Israel 10 April closed border with Egypt to Israeli tourists citing intelligence that Islamic State (ISIS) would target attacks on Israelis in Sinai. Unclaimed rocket fired from Sinai into southern Israel 10 April, no casualties.
Clashes in Aïn el-Helweh Palestinian refugee camp in south erupted again 7 April when jihadist group led by Bilal Badr tried to prevent Palestinian joint security force deploying across camp and into Badr’s stronghold al-Tiri neighbourhood and launched counteroffensive against Fatah militants; at least ten killed, most militants; ceasefire reached 12 April as Badr relocated to different area of camp under protection of jihadist group Fatah al-Islam. President Aoun 12 April, day before parliament intended to extend its mandate for another year for third time, suspended parliamentary session for one month to allow time for MPs to reach agreement on electoral reform.
Chemical weapon attack on rebel-held town prompted U.S. strike on regime air base and fighting spiked between Turkey and Kurdish forces; with offensive on Islamic State (ISIS)-stronghold Raqqa imminent, May could see worse violence. Chemical weapon attack on rebel-held Khan Sheikhoun, Idlib province in NW 4 April killed over 80 people; Western countries including U.S., UK, France and Germany held regime responsible, President Assad denied accusations, Russia denied regime responsible. In response, U.S. 7 April launched missile strike on regime’s Shayrat air base from which it believes 4 April attack was launched. Regime or Russian warplanes dropped incendiary bombs over towns of Saraqeb in Idlib and al-Latamenah in Hama 8-9 April and reportedly hit two medical centres in Idlib 27 April. Regime forces and allies took back territory from rebels near Hama city in west throughout April, captured Soran 16 April and Halfaya 23 April. Alleged U.S.-led coalition airstrikes reportedly killed at least 30 civilians in Deir al-Zour province in east 17 April. ISIS reportedly launched two suicide attacks on rebels near Tanf, near Iraq border 9 April. Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said new phase in campaign against ISIS, launched 13 April, would clear areas north of ISIS stronghold Raqqa and pave way for attack on city; SDF 27 April advanced into old city of ISIS-held Tabqa 40km west of Raqqa, 18 April said they had been setting up civilian council to govern Raqqa after ISIS pushed out. Evacuation of rebels and civilians from regime-besieged towns of Zabadani and Madaya near Damascus to rebel-held NW began mid-April in exchange for evacuation of civilians and pro-regime fighters from two rebel-besieged Shia villages in Idlib, Foua and Kafraya, to Aleppo. Bombing of evacuees from Foua and Kafraya 15 April reportedly killed 126 people; evacuation completed 21 April. Turkish airstrikes 25-27 April hit Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in NE and other Kurdish forces in Sinjar region, Iraq, killing at least twenty. YPG 26 April attacked four Turkish army posts along border (see Turkey). Israeli airstrikes 27 April hit arms depot near Damascus airport operated by Hizbollah, allegedly targeting arms sent from Iran. Fighting between Jaish al-Islam and Failaq al-Rahman rebels broke out in besieged rebel-held Eastern Ghouta suburb of Damascus 27 April, at least 95 fighters and civilians killed; during fighting regime and allied forces attacked rebel-held Qaboun district, NW of Eastern Ghouta.
Following votes in lower and upper houses of parliament in Feb and March, King Khalifa 3 April approved constitutional amendment that would allow govt to try civilians in military courts. Court of Cassation same day overturned nine-year sentence for opposition al-Wefaq movement leader Sheikh Ali Salman, restored original four-year sentence for inciting unrest and sectarianism.
Of 1,636 registered candidates for 19 May presidential election, Guardian Council 20 April approved six; most prominent contenders are President Rouhani, head of religious shrine Ebrahim Raisi and mayor of Tehran Mohammad Ghalibaf. Campaigning began 24 April. Nine border guards killed 26 April near Mirjaveh in east in clashes with Balochi insurgent group Army of Justice, which reportedly escaped into Pakistan. U.S. administration 19 April reported to Congress that Iran was in full compliance with its obligations under 2015 nuclear agreement, noting Iran’s “sponsorship of terrorism” and that it was reviewing extension of sanctions relief. U.S. senator 4 April said new sanctions bill, Countering Iran’s Destabilizing Activities Act of 2017, introduced in Senate 23 March with bipartisan support, delayed due to concern over Iran’s May presidential election. U.S. Treasury 13 April said it was placing sanctions on Tehran Prisons Organization and its former leader Sohrab Soleimani over human rights abuses and EU 11 April extended sanctions on Iran for one year for “serious human rights violations”. State media 4 April reported U.S. aircraft maker Boeing had signed tentative deal with Iran’s Aseman Airlines for at least 30 jets.
U.S.-backed govt forces and allied militias made small advances against Islamic State (ISIS) in western part of Mosul in north; govt forces 18 April said they had retaken twelve of Mosul’s twenty districts, 20 April declared al-Thawra and Nasr neighbourhoods “liberated”, army chief of staff 30 April said he expected to completely dislodge ISIS from Mosul in May. Govt-allied Shia Popular Mobilisation Units (PMUs) 27 April captured Hatra province in north, blocking ISIS’s routes between Iraq and Syria. ISIS launched several suicide attacks targeting police in north, 4-5 April killed at least 31 people including fourteen police in Tikrit 170km north of Baghdad, 23 April killed three police in Hamam al-Alil 30km south of Mosul. Tensions between Baghdad and Erbil-based Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) rose early April: governor of Kirkuk city (not in Kurdistan Region, KRI) late March ordered Kurdish flags to be raised on government buildings in city alongside Iraqi flags; Baghdad parliament 1 April condemned decision. Kurdish-dominated Kirkuk Provincial Council 4 April said that Baghdad should commit to organising referendum, in accordance with constitution, on whether Kirkuk province should be part of KRI; Turkmen and Arab councillors reportedly boycotted vote. Main Kurdish parties Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) 6 April agreed that Iraqi Kurdistan should hold referendum on its self-determination before end of 2017; PM Abadi and ruling Shiite coalition condemned decision. Turkey 25 April apologised after it “mistakenly” killed five KRG peshmerga fighters in strikes on Sinjar in NW, said it killed fourteen members of Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in north 29 April, six around Sinat-Haftan and eight around Adiyaman (see Turkey).
Following warnings from international community of likely humanitarian impact of its intervention, Saudi-led coalition held off offensive on rebel-held port city of Hodeida but fighting continued along Red Sea coast and border with Saudi Arabia. Saudi-led coalition 12 April said its priority was securing road from Mokha port eastward to Taiz city; fighting raged in area, over 40 fighters and civilians killed in 24 hours 9-10 April. PM 26 April said govt had proposed that UN administer Hodeida port to ensure no arms smuggled through; UN rejected appeal. Saudi security forces 25 April destroyed remote-controlled explosives-laden boat 1.5 nautical miles from Saudi Aramco fuel terminal off Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea coast, govt blamed Huthi rebels for attack. Drone strike allegedly launched by U.S. 23 April in al-Saeed area of Shabwa province reportedly killed four suspected al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) militants and three civilians. U.S. drone attack 30 April reportedly killed five suspected AQAP members east of Sanaa in Marib province. UN envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed 26 April said he hoped to begin new round of talks before Ramadan begins end May.
Parties 9 April began campaigning for 4 May parliamentary elections. Two minor opposition parties Jil Jadid and Talaiyet el Houria said they would boycott, but leading opposition coalition National Coordination for Democratic Liberties and Transition said it would compete. Govt 15 April said Facebook user who mocked campaign posters arrested for trying to “undermine the legislative process”. French PM in Algiers 5 April signed ten bilateral agreements with govt. EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini 8 April visited Algiers for second time in two years to intensify dialogue, including on Libya, Mali, Sahel and Western Sahara. Army 4 April arrested four people in Jijel city (NE) for suspected terrorist links. Military 14 April killed three armed drug traffickers near Mauritanian border (SW).
Islamic State (ISIS) stepped up attacks, particularly against Coptic Christians, and May could see further attacks on churches and heightened insecurity as govt implements state of emergency. Suicide bombers 9 April detonated explosives in church in Tanta, Gharbeya governorate some 100km north of Cairo and outside church in Alexandria, killing 48 people; ISIS claimed responsibility without specifying which branch. Police same day dismantled two explosive devices at mosque in Tanta. President Sisi immediately sacked Gharbeya governorate security chief and declared three-month state of emergency. Govt 11 April said security forces killed seven alleged ISIS sympathisers suspected of planning attacks against Coptic Christians in Assiut and Sohag provinces in south, and against police and courts. ISIS militants 18 April attacked security forces around St. Catherine’s monastery in S Sinai, killing police officer; military responded with airstrikes in N Sinai, killing two suspected militants. Army 20 April said airstrikes killed nineteen ISIS militants in N Sinai, including three leaders. ISIS militant 25 April killed at least 40 army-allied tribesmen in suicide attack in al-Barth village in N Sinai; tribesmen subsequently reportedly burned alive suspected ISIS militant. Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated TV channel 20 April broadcast video allegedly showing extrajudicial killings by military in Sinai Peninsula. Sisi in Washington DC 3-7 April met U.S. President Trump, cabinet and lawmakers; discussions focused on Sinai security, economy, foreign aid and terrorism. Cairo court 30 April sentenced Muslim Brotherhood leader and radical preacher Wagdy Ghoneim to death in absentia, with two others in detention, for allegedly setting up terror group after 2013 overthrow of former President Morsi; five others sentenced to life, including two in absentia.
In south, forces loyal to eastern-based strongman General Haftar continued to clash with forces led by factions from Misrata in west, nominally loyal to UN-backed Presidency Council (PC). Forces aligned with Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) early April tried to seize Tamenhint air base on outskirts of Sabha town from Misratan-led militias. Unclaimed airstrike on prison in Sabha 25 April reportedly killed two guards and three prisoners. Crude oil production and exports fell again due to closures of oil and gas pipelines in west, causing value of Libyan dinar to fall and prices of consumer goods to rise. International Criminal Court 24 April unsealed arrest warrant issued in 2013 for former head of Internal Security Agency Al-Tuhamy Mohamed Khaled for crimes against humanity and war crimes during crackdown on anti-govt protests in 2011. In eastern Tobruk-based parliament House of Representatives (HoR) some 30 MPs including those supportive of current Central Bank governor 25 April reportedly blocked vote to replace him. Representatives of southern tribes 2 April in Rome discussed stabilisation of south and possible border control. Rival presidents of HoR and State Council (advisory body loyal to PC and formed under Libyan Political Agreement) 21 April met in Rome. After offshore gun battle coastguard 27 April seized Congolese and Ukrainian-flagged tankers and detained crews for allegedly smuggling oil.
Govt 20 April said referendum on constitutional amendments that would replace parliament’s upper house with regional councils will take place 15 July.
Govt 12 April said security forces had dismantled seven-member cell linked to Islamic State (ISIS) in Fez and Moulay Yacoub in north. King Mohammed VI 5 April named six-party coalition govt led by PM Saad-Eddine El Othmani from Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD); PJD lost key ministries including justice, despite winning Oct parliamentary elections.
Govt 3 April said local elections would take place 17 Dec; protests same day flared across country, especially in marginalised regions such as Tataouine governorate in south, expressing multiple grievances including to demand job creation and development. Security forces mid-April noted rise in jihadists crossing from Libya into Tunisia in SE and reinforcement of groups linked to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and Islamic State (ISIS) in Chaambi, Semmama, Salloum and Mghilla mountains on border with Algeria in west. Security forces 30 April launched operation against alleged terrorist group linked to AQIM in Sidi Bouzid (centre); one suspected militant blew himself up, another killed and three arrested.
Armed independence movement Polisario Front mid-April approved proposal of UNSG Guterres to appoint former German President Horst Köhler as his Personal Envoy for Western Sahara following March resignation of Christopher Ross. Guterres 10 April called on Morocco and Polisario Front to restart peace talks, UNSC 28 April adopted resolution renewing mandate of MINURSO peacekeeping mission until 30 April 2018 and calling on Morocco and Polisario Front to restart peace talks. UN same day welcomed withdrawal of Polisario Front elements from Guerguerat area near Mauritanian border.