CrisisWatch is our global conflict tracker, a tool designed to help decision-makers prevent deadly violence by keeping them up-to-date with developments in over 70 conflicts and crises, identifying trends and alerting them to risks of escalation and opportunities to advance peace.
Democratic Republic of Congo
Our monthly conflict tracker warns of six conflict risks in April.
CrisisWatch also highlights deteriorations in 18 countries or conflict situations in March.
Aside from the scores of conflict situations we usually assess, we tracked notable developments in: Indonesia, Mauritania, Northern Ireland and Senegal.
Our CrisisWatch Digests for Ethiopia, Lebanon and Somalia offer a monthly one-page snapshot of conflict-related country trends in a clear, accessible format, using a map of the region to pinpoint developments:
Surge in jihadist violence recorded in north and east after period of relative calm since Jan coup; international partners reacted cautiously to military junta’s three-year transitional plan. In Sahel region (north), presumed Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) militants launched raids on gold mining sites, killing at least 14 civilians in Seno province’s Seytenga department 10 March and another ten in Oudalan province’s Gorom-Gorom department 12 March; suspected jihadists 14 March killed three civilians and four volunteers fighting alongside security forces in Arbinda town, and air force 20-22 March reportedly killed 53 jihadists near Djibo town, both Soum province. In Centre-North region, presumed jihadists 6 March killed eight people in Sanmatenga province; al-Qaeda-affiliated Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM) militants 13 March launched complex attacks in Namentenga province, reportedly killing 15 people including 13 gendarmes. In North region, local media 17 March reported security forces had killed approximately 40 jihadists in Loroum province 15-16 March. High levels of violence persisted in East region: army airstrikes in Kompienga and Tapoa provinces 3 March killed unknown number of JNIM militants; JNIM 20 March killed 13 soldiers in Gourma province’s Natiaboani area. In neighbouring Centre-East region, presumed JNIM militants 20 March launched complex ambush against military in Koulpelogo province, killing at least 11 soldiers. In Boucle du Mouhoun region (west), army 3 and 8 March conducted airstrikes on suspected jihadists after repelling sophisticated attack on Toeni military outpost (Sourou province) 28 Feb. Military junta leader Lt Col Damiba 1 March signed new transition charter allowing military to stay in power for three years; Damiba 2 March renewed oath of office as president under terms of new transitional charter. Damiba 5 March appointed new interim govt, with university lecturer Albert Ouedraogo sworn in as PM 7 March. In reaction to three-year transition plan, regional body Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) cancelled 3 March visit of regional leaders to capital Ouagadougou; 25 March threatened “economic and financial sanctions” should authorities fail to finalise “acceptable transition timetable” by 25 April.
Suspected killings at hands of intelligence officers continued across country, insecurity persisted at border with DR Congo’s (DRC) South Kivu, and rapprochement with Rwanda forged ahead. Low-level violence continued to be reported. Notably, unknown assailant 6 March killed woman with machete in Karuzi province, unknown attackers same day stabbed to death man in Makamba province. Locals of Cibitoke province 11 March found three chained bodies, two men and one woman; reliable local sources alleged intelligence officers may have killed all three victims and dumped their bodies in locality; discoveries of corpses increased in frequency in Cibitoke province, with locals indicating that more than eight corpses were found in last five months. Locals 1 March also discovered two bodies in capital Bujumbura and another one in Kirundo province 2 March. Authorities reportedly continued to send soldiers to DRC’s South Kivu to fight Burundian rebels of Résistance pour un Etat de Droit (RED-Tabara); delegation of six governors from Burundian provinces bordering DRC 9 March met with South Kivu counterparts in Uvira territory, South Kivu province, to discuss common interests and ongoing insecurity in region, presence of Burundian soldiers on Congolese soil however not directly discussed. Meanwhile, Rwanda 7 March opened its border to Burundi; Burundian borders however remain closed as authorities insisted that Rwanda hand over those responsible for 2015 coup attempt first. President Ndayishimiye 15 March welcomed Rwandan delegation headed by defence minister, suggesting possible face-to-face meeting between Burundian and Rwandan presidents might take place soon.
Violence in Anglophone region continued, Ambazonian interim government elected new leader, and low-level jihadist attacks persisted in north east. Violent attacks continued in Anglophone areas. Notably, separatists 1 March killed nurse in regional capital Bamenda, North West region (NW); Ambazonia Defence Forces (ADF) 2 March launched mine explosion in Ekondo Titi town, Ndian division, South West region (SW), killing two officials and five others. In Menchum division (NW), pro-govt militias 9 March killed two in Esu locality and wounded two in Weh village; in response, villagers burned mosque and authorities subsequently deployed special forces to control riots in area. Separatists 29 March killed three Fulani herdsmen around Ndu locality (NW), prompting other herdsmen, alleged to be pro-govt militia members, to attack civilian homes, reportedly killing five. Soldiers 9 March raided Din village in Noni subdivision, Bui Division (NW), reportedly killing two. Residents accused soldiers of killing three in Bamenda on 20 March; soldiers also reportedly killed three in Bambui township near Bamenda 31 March. Médecins Sans Frontières 29 March confirmed leaving SW region, citing govt harassment. Teachers’ strike which started mid-Feb prompted strong local reactions. Notably, students 7 March protested in Douala and Ebowola cities; President Biya 9 March acknowledged teachers’ grievances and announced measures to speed up salary payment. Secondary school teachers 25 March called off strike as govt started resolving grievances. Meanwhile, Anglophone political movement saw leadership changes: Interim Government of Ambazonia separatist group 5 March elected Iya Marianta Njomia as new leader. Separatists also intensified efforts to coordinate objectives; delegates of six groups 11-13 March met in Germany to discuss refugees, internal displacement and human rights violations. Elsewhere, opposition political parties MRC and UDC, led by Maurice Kamto and Tomaino Ndam Njoya respectively, provided relief support to dozens of Bamouns chased from Memv’ele dam site, South region, in early March following tensions with Ntoumou ethnic group. In Far North region, Boko Haram 10,12 March attacked Rapid Intervention Battalion camp in Amchide and Limani towns, leaving no casualties. Jihadists 8 March killed Cameroonian soldier serving with Multinational Joint Task Force in Wulgo locality, Borno state, Nigeria.
National dialogue held despite opposition’s boycott, pro-Russia protesters gathered during month following Ukraine war, and low-level violence persisted, notably in west and north. President Touadéra 15 March announced long-awaited national dialogue would take place 21-27 March, however said armed groups would not participate; in response, opposition 20 March declined invitation, citing armed group’s exclusion and failure to include electoral transparency in agenda. Dialogue 27 March ended, producing 600 recommendations, notably proposing end of embargo on firearms, without clear implementation calendar. National electoral agency mid-month announced municipal elections planned for Sept 2022 would be delayed due to lack of funds. Central African Republic (CAR) and 16 other African countries 2 march abstained from UN General Assembly vote condemning Russian invasion of Ukraine. CAR population showed support for Russia throughout month; notably, pro-Russia protesters 5 March gathered in capital Bangui and videos emerged during month of CAR soldiers announcing will to fight in Ukraine. Ukraine war also raised fears Russian paramilitary Wagner Group might reduce its presence in CAR; there was however no indication they had done so by end of month. Farmer-herder tensions 9 March led to clash in Koré village (Ouham-Pendé prefecture, west), leaving one dead and another wounded. Low-level violence between govt forces and rebels persisted during month: notably, govt forces 18 March clashed with Coalition of Patriots for Change (CPC) in Bouca town (Ouham-Fafa prefecture, north) and 22 March with 3R rebel group in Nzakoundou village (Ouham-Pendé, west), leaving at least two soldiers dead and ten people wounded. Wagner forces early to mid-month reportedly attacked civilians, including 11 March killing dozens in Gondile village (Vakaga prefecture, east) and 12 March killing over 15 in Markounda village (Ouham prefecture, centre). Following 27 Feb arrest on CAR-Chad border, CPC rebel group leader and former Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration Minister Maxime Mokom transferred 14 March to International Criminal Court on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during 2013-2014 civil war.
Pre-dialogue with armed groups got off to difficult start, President Mahamat Déby sought to reinforce links with Rwanda, and judges went on countrywide strike. Ahead of national inclusive dialogue planned in May, long-delayed pre-dialogue between Transitional Military Council (CMT) and armed groups 13 March kicked off in Qatari capital Doha. Rebel group Front pour l’Alternance et la Concorde au Tchad (FACT) representatives same day walked out, demanding Qatar mediate talks and accusing CMT of including large number of armed groups (52 in total) in negotiations to dilute groups’ demands. Qatar immediately suspended negotiations, demanding armed groups select a number of representatives for talks. Committee charged with preparing pre-dialogue and headed by former President Goukkouni Weddeye 9 March dismissed, sparking further suspicion among armed groups in run-up to talks. After groups 22 March split up into three factions, pre-dialogue following day resumed with Qatar mediating. Civil society group Casac, close to CMT, 6 March held demonstration in support of transition and French presence. In Mao city (Kanem region, west), incident toward policeman, which then put judge at risk, prompted strike across judiciary: after gendarmerie and military 10 March beat up and injured policeman, prompting victim’s family 14 March to assault judge in retaliation, judges across country 17-20 March went on strike, demanding increased security for judiciary; judges 22 March prolonged strike indefinitely. Military 27 March molested two other judges in Kelo city in south, sparking strong reactions from magistrate’s unions. Fulani pastoralists and Massa farmers 13 March clashed in Moulkou prefecture (Mako-Kebbi Est region, south west), leaving three dead. Meanwhile, Déby 18 March met Rwandan President Kagame in Rwanda’s capital Kigali, signed general cooperation agreement.
Land dispute turned violent in north, and national political dialogue involving authorities, political opposition and civil society concluded. Fighting 3 March erupted between residents of Niéllé and Diawala towns in Savanes district (north), killing seven people and wounding 22 others; violence reportedly erupted due to ownership dispute over sand quarry believed to be rich in gold deposits. Authorities around 5 March closed site. Unidentified armed group 4 March ambushed Defence and Security Forces patrol on Bondoukou-Bouna axis in Bounkani region (Zanzan district in north east), leaving one gendarme dead. Meanwhile, PM Patrick Achi 4 March closed fifth and final phase of National Political Dialogue. Govt, 21 political parties and 26 civil society organisations recommended establishing financial compensation scheme for victims of 2020 electoral crisis and reforming Independent Electoral Commission; delegates also discussed but could not reach agreement on number of appeasement measures, notably halting legal proceedings launched against dozens of opposition leaders for alleged involvement in late-2020 electoral violence; authorising former PM Guillaume Soro and former Youth Minister Charles Blé Goudé to return home; and granting amnesty to Blé Goudé and former President Gbagbo.
ADF rebels expanded further into Ituri province, leaving scores dead, while thousands fled to Uganda following clashes between army and M23 militia. Violence in east spread despite ongoing state of siege and presence of Ugandan army. Notably, Cooperative for the Development of Congo (CODECO) 8 March killed 18 civilians seeking refuge in Kilo-Mission catholic parish, Djugu territory in Ituri province; also continued to detain members of Tshisekedi’s Task Force who were kidnapped in Feb. Meanwhile, Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) and local Mai-Mai militiamen 9 March clashed in Irumu territory, leaving five people killed; ADF 13-14 March killed at least 52 civilians in four villages in Irumu, and 15 March killed seven civilians in Otomabere village, also in Irumu. In North Kivu province, ADF killed at least 20 civilians in Kikura village, 3km from Ugandan army’s base in Beni area; two ADF groups 12 March killed more than 30 people in Beni, 27 of them in Mambumembume village. A Ugandan military commander 6 March admitted that ADF had spread out into western Ituri, far from Ugandan border. Congolese army 28 March said M23 rebels attacked its positions in east, accusing Rwanda of supporting militia; Rwanda immediately denied accusations. About 6,000 civilians fled to neighbouring Uganda following clashes. Army claimed M23 downed UN helicopter 29 March, killing eight. Meanwhile, electoral preparations kicked off. Notably, President of Independent National Electoral Commission Denis Kadima 3 March published roadmap for upcoming presidential and legislative elections planned for Dec 2023; also scheduled municipal and local elections (which would make it first such elections in DR Congo’s history) in late 2023. Parliament 15 March reconvened, prioritising debate on electoral laws and reforms, including potential two rounds in presidential elections and new law on nationality (which would exclude presidential candidates without Congolese parents such as Moïse Katumbi, one of lead contenders). President Tshisekedi 17 March declared commitment to holding elections on time. François Beya, Tshisekedi’s former special adviser on security, continued to be held at National Intelligence Agency’s premises; local group “Free François Beya” 11 March submitted memorandum to National Commission for Human Rights calling for his trial or release.
Authorities voted against UN resolutions condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, making Eritrea sole country in Africa to do so. Eritrea 2 March joined Russia, Belarus, North Korea and Syria in voting against UN General Assembly resolution condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, said it was acting in opposition to “illegal” and “unilateral” imposition of sanctions on Russia; 24 March voted against other UN resolution demanding protection of civilians in Ukraine.
Federal govt declared humanitarian truce to allow aid into Tigray region; violence remained rampant in several other regions. In northern Tigray region, Ethiopian air force 4 March conducted two drone attacks near Bahre-Negash resort and airport in Shire city, North Western Zone; death toll unknown. Federal govt 24 March declared “indefinite humanitarian truce effective immediately”, saying it hoped to help facilitate free flow of humanitarian aid into Tigray; Tigray govt next day pledged to respect ceasefire if aid was speedily delivered. In neighbouring Afar region, Tigray forces and Afar regional special forces and militias throughout month continued to clash in Kilbati Rasu (Zone 2). Skirmishes also reported in Amhara region between Tigray forces on one hand, and Amhara regional special forces, Fano militias and Amhara ethnic militias on the other, in Kobo (North Wello Zone) and Sekota (Wag Hamra Zone) districts along Amhara-Tigray border. Also in Amhara region, Fano militiamen around 7-10 March clashed with Amhara regional special forces in East Gojam Zone; four regional police officers killed in Mota town. In Oromia region, fighting between security forces and Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) further expanded and intensified in West, North and East Shewa zones. Both sides reportedly targeted civilians: notably, OLA 8 March attacked and reportedly killed seven civilians in Illu Galan district in West Shewa Zone; violence continued next day in and around Ejaji town. Further complicating conflict in Oromia, suspected Fano militia 5-7 March shot dead unknown number of ethnic Karayyu pastoralists in Fentale district of East Shewa Zone. In same area, unidentified assailants 31 March killed 26 people in ambush on Oromia govt-backed militia vehicle. In Benishangul-Gumuz region, unidentified gunmen 2 March ambushed civilian convoy and its military escort in Metekel Zone; 20 soldiers, three civilians and 30 assailants killed; regional security forces and militia next day reportedly rounded up suspects and summarily killed 11, most of them ethnic Tigrayans. Gambela regional govt 12 March said clashes between South Sudanese military and rebels in border areas had in recent days killed at least one and displaced over 9,000 residents of Lare and Jikawo districts, Nuer Zone.
Tensions over management and duration of post-coup transition persisted as civil society and political opposition threatened protests against ruling military junta. Prominent civil society coalition National Front for the Defence of the Constitution 1 March asserted authenticity of document circulated late-Feb on social media detailing President Doumbouya’s alleged plan for four-year transition; also called for protests to “oppose with determination any idea of a long transition”. Coalition of 58 political formations, including main opposition parties Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea (UFDG) and Union of Republican Forces (UFR), 9 March threatened protests over Doumbouya’s “unilateral” management style and urged regional bloc Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to appoint special envoy to arbitrate political process; demanded transparency over composition of junta – whose members transitional charter bans from competing in forthcoming elections; and stressed “socio-political stakeholders in concert with the junta” (but not legislative body National Transitional Council as Doumbouya argues) should set transition’s duration. UFDG leader Cellou Dalein Diallo 5 March said authorities’ move in Feb to confiscate his and UFR leader Sidya Touré’s residences in capital Conakry as part of corruption cases reflected “desire to harm and humiliate political leaders”. Authorities 22 March launched National Conference bringing together some political parties, youth groups, women’s organisations, traditional leaders and civil society organisations to discuss “new institutional framework”; opposition coalition including Diallo and Touré’s parties however boycotted talks, citing lack of consultation on conference’s agenda. During summit in Ghana, ECOWAS 25 March said it will impose “immediate economic and financial sanctions” on Guinea should authorities fail to propose “acceptable transition timetable” by 25 April.
Al-Shabaab attacks continued near Somalia border, intercommunal violence persisted in several areas; preparations for Aug general elections moved forward despite tensions. In coastal Lamu county, military around 9 and 20 March killed at least three suspected Al-Shabaab militants in Boni forest, and Al-Shabaab 11 March killed at least five people in attack on construction site in Majengo area. Explosive device 13 March also targeted construction workers in Banisa area, Mandera county (north east), injuring two. Intercommunal violence linked to cattle raiding, land and pasture access but also local political competition left several dead across country. Notably, in Isiolo county, clashes between members of Degodia community from Wajir county and members of Borana community from Isiolo county early March reportedly killed at least five in Degogicha area. In Rift Valley, suspected Pokot militia 5 March reportedly killed at least four people in attacks on several villages in Baringo county; cattle rustlers 20 March reportedly killed two and injured seven in attack in Koitilial village in Elgeyo-Marakwet county. As part of sustained effort to counter hate speech ahead of 9 Aug general elections, National Cohesion and Integration Commission 11 March summoned presidential hopeful Raila Odinga for using divisive language at campaign rally in Wajir county earlier in month. Political parties’ nomination of candidates for legislative and governorship elections sparked tensions. Notably, brawl 7 March broke out between ruling Jubilee Party members in Nakuru county, and clashes next day erupted between supporters of two candidates seeking Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement ticket for governorship elections in Mombasa county. Supreme Court 31 March blocked constitutional changes proposed by President Kenyatta, declaring process unconstitutional; initiative would have strengthened executive powers in move opponents said sought to cement Kenyatta’s ability to shape country’s political future ahead of elections.
Violent clashes opposed jihadists and 2015 peace agreement signatory groups in north east, reportedly leaving hundreds dead; military suffered deadliest jihadist attack in months. In north east near border with Niger, fighting resumed between Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) and 2015 peace agreement signatory groups – Movement for the Salvation of Azawad, and Tuareg Imghad and Allied Self-Defence Group – in Tamalat, Inchinane and Anderamboukane (Ménaka region) and Talataye (Gao region) areas; violence throughout month reportedly killed hundreds including civilians. In Mopti region (centre), suspected jihadist group 4 March launched deadliest attack on military in months, killing at least 27 soldiers at army base in Mondoro town near Burkina Faso’s border; army said troops killed 70 militants in response. UN mission (MINUSMA) convoy 7 March detonated explosive device north of Mopti city; two peacekeepers killed. Alleged ISGS militants 21 March launched twin attacks on military in Tessit (Gao region) and Boni (Mopti region) towns; army reported 16 soldiers and 13 assailants killed. Meanwhile, authorities faced new allegations of extrajudicial killings. Residents of Ségou region (centre) 3 March discovered at least 35 bodies, including some with holes in their heads, near Diabaly town; UN mission 4 March launched investigation into killings; army next day denied allegations of involvement. NGO Human Rights Watch 15 March alleged govt forces had killed at least 71 civilians in central and south-western Mali since Dec, condemned “new wave of executions of civilians” and urged independent inquiries. UN expert on Mali 29 March also raised concerns at UN Human Rights Council about “serious violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law” attributed to Malian forces. In unprecedented clampdown on foreign media, govt 17 March suspended broadcasts by French news outlets RFI and France24, accusing them of relaying false allegations of army exactions. West Africa regional bloc ECOWAS’s envoy for Mali, former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, 18-20 March travelled to capital Bamako to discuss return to constitutional order with transition authorities; Interim President Goïta reportedly proposed 24-month timetable; ECOWAS 25 March upheld sanctions on Mali and asked transition authorities to stage elections within 12-16 months.
Islamist militants continued to carry out attacks on several fronts in northern Cabo Delgado province, notably engaging in one of most significant clashes with security forces in recent months. Militants 15-17 March engaged in fierce fighting with security forces on Matemo island, Ibo district, reportedly leaving at least 17 dead on both sides; Islamic State (ISIS) social media channels later published images of several beheaded soldiers. Militants early March consolidated their presence around Litingina town in Nangade district, sparking fears that Nangade town itself may be vulnerable to attack. Notably, insurgents 3 March attacked Unidade village, killing unspecified number of people, and hours later moved to Litingina, with one source reporting three civilians killed and insurgents occupying town; next day reportedly beheaded three people in Chibau village, and 5 March raided Malamba village, killing up to seven people. In response, forces of Southern African Development Community, military and local militia 7 March launched ground assault with aerial support on insurgents’ base in Machava village, reportedly killing over 30. Militants 11 March however attacked Namuembe village, and 18 March beheaded two people in Litingina before clashing with police. In neighbouring Mueda district, suspected Islamist militants 20 and 24 March killed three people including two women in two villages. Violence in Macomia district showed no sign of abating: insurgents launched repeated assaults on military garrison in Nova Zambezia village, killing at least one soldier overnight 6-7 March, and five people including female militia fighter and one soldier 8 March; ISIS claimed both attacks; further fighting reported 24 March on northern edge of Macomia town. Amid food shortages, insurgents week of 21-27 March seemingly released around 200 hostages across Macomia, Muidumbe and Mocímboa da Praia districts. Reports of abuses continued to erode trust in govt forces: police or military officers 4 March reportedly shot dead young man in Macomia district. As part of major cabinet reshuffle, President Nyusi 3 March sacked PM Carlos Agostinho do Rosário; move allegedly aims to stem political damage caused by ongoing trial of 19 senior officials in $2bn corruption scandal ahead of ruling Frelimo party conference in Sept.
Jihadist groups stepped up attacks in Tillabery and Diffa regions, leaving over 50 dead; relocation of French Barkhane and European Takuba forces from Mali to Niger remained divisive. In Tillabery region (south west), explosive devices likely planted by al-Qaeda-affiliated Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM) around 3-4 March killed five soldiers in Torodi department. Suspected jihadists 16 March attacked civilian transport vehicles in Tera department, killing 21 people including at least two police officers; 24 March ambushed army convoy in Kolmane area, also Téra department, killing six soldiers. Jihadists also ramped up attacks in Diffa region (south east). Govt forces 2 March clashed with suspected Boko Haram Bakura faction militants in Gueskerou commune (Diffa department), number of casualties unknown. Bakura combatants 7 March attacked six villages in Diffa department, killing at least 20 people and abducting unknown number of women. President Bazoum defended decision to open dialogue with jihadists: after announcing late Feb he had sent emissaries to “nine terrorist leaders” and released several militants from prison in effort to “search for peace”, Bazoum 10 March told Qatar-based news channel Al Jazeera that dialogue with JNIM militants could produce positive outcome, insisted military force is necessary part of any solution. Ruling coalition 5 March issued statement supporting Bazoum’s decision to accept redeployment of French Barkhane and European Takuba forces to Niger. In letter to French President Macron, opposition MP Omar Hamidou 7 March opposed relocation, said French and European forces had “lost all credibility” in Nov 2021 when three protesters were killed in clashes with Barkhane forces in Tillabery’s Tera department.
Surge in armed group violence left hundreds dead in North West and adjoining Niger state, disrupting air and train services to Kaduna city. In Kebbi state, armed groups 6-8 March killed 63 vigilantes and eight soldiers in Sakaba area; 8 March ambushed Kebbi Deputy Governor Samaila Yombe’s convoy in Wasagu-Danko area, killing 19 security forces. In Kaduna state, gunmen 15-20 March killed 42 people and kidnapped over 80 in Birnin Gwari, Kachia and Kaura areas; 24-29 March killed about 90 people, abducted others in Giwa area. Abuja-Kaduna train services and some airlines’ flights to Kaduna indefinitely suspended following two incidents: armed groups 26 March killed one guard at Kaduna airport before being repelled, leaving 12 assailants killed; 28 March attacked Abuja-Kaduna train, killed at least eight people and abducted unconfirmed number. In Zamfara state, gunmen 20 March killed at least 24 people in Bukkuyum area. In Niger state, armed groups 9-28 March attacked villages in Munya and Paikoro areas, killing unknown number and abducting about 65 including Catholic priest; ambush 28 March killed six soldiers in Suleja area; at least 23 persons 30 March drowned while fleeing attack in Munya area. Military 24 Feb-10 March reportedly killed 90 gunmen across Katsina, Kebbi and Zamfara states; 16 March killed another 100 in Niger’s Bangi town. Meanwhile in Borno state (North East), military 3-9 March killed scores of jihadists in encounters and airstrikes in Damboa area. Clashes between Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) and Boko Haram in Dikwa and Mobbar areas 5 and 8 March reportedly left about 40 insurgents killed. In South East, attacks widely blamed on separatist group Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB)’s armed wing, Eastern Security Network (ESN), 15 March killed four in Ntezi town, Ebonyi state, and 19 March killed two police in Imo state’s Owerri West area. Gunmen 19 March raided home of prominent Igbo figure George Obiozor in Imo’s Oru East area. Troops 29 March overran IPOB/ESN camp in Ihiala area, Anambra state. Herder-farmer violence killed 26 in Donga area, Taraba state, 7 March; 12 in Benue state’s Guma area 8-9 March; and six in Guri area, Jigawa state, 18 March.
Military launched operation against Casamance separatists in country’s south. Authorities 13 March launched military operation against separatist group Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance in southern Casamance region, with stated aim of dismantling group’s bases and preserving integrity of national territory. Gambian authorities 22 March said over 6,000 people had fled their homes since operation started, most of whom were displaced inside Gambia after Senegalese bullets landed on Gambian villages bordering Casamance. Dakar 23 March announced military operation had destroyed eight rebel bases across Casamance so far; also reported several rebels and one soldier killed.
Al-Shabaab launched deadliest attack to date on election venues leaving almost 50 killed, while Lower House elections inched forward. Al-Shabaab 23 March launched twin suicide attacks near election venue in Hirshabelle state’s Beledweyne city, killing at least 48 including current MP Amina Mohamed Abdi. Al-Shabaab same day raided Mogadishu’s Halane airport compound, breaching airport perimeter for first time since 2014 and killing at least six, including five foreign nationals. Al-Shabaab militants 7 and 15 March also shot dead two electoral delegates in Lower Shabelle region (South West state) and capital Mogadishu respectively. Mortar shelling between Al-Shabaab militants and African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) soldiers on outskirts of Janaale town in Lower Shabelle 8 March left at least five civilians dead. Meanwhile, South West and Galmudug states concluded Lower House elections by 15 March deadline. Puntland state later in month also concluded elections after state President Said Abdullahi Deni 4 March agreed to reinstate Gen Mohamud Abdullahi as head of Puntland Security Force, allowing selection of all 16 seats in Bosasso city next day. Twenty-six seats remained unfulfilled in Jubaland and Hirshabelle states by month’s end. Power struggle between Hirshabelle President Ali Guudlawe and VP Yusuf Dabageed complicated selection of seats in Beledweyne city. Amid wider dispute between Jubaland and federal govts over Gedo region, Garbaharey city’s 16 seats remained problematic: in response to Jubaland administration seeking to shift voting location to Ceel Waaq city in Gedo, federally-appointed governor of Gedo Ahmed Buulle Gareed 16 March said all of Jubaland’s 43 seats should be moved to Garbaharey, implying non-recognition of seats already filled in Kismayo city. Meanwhile, federal election body 15 March set 14 April for swearing-in of elected MPs, but South West and Galmudug states immediately said National Consultative Council (comprising federal and state leaders) should set date instead. U.S. 16 March expanded number of Somalis subject to visa restrictions for “undermining the democratic process”. UN Security Council 31 March endorsed African Union (AU)’s new transitional mission in Somalia, replacing AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), authorised it to take action against al-Qaeda and Islamic State groups.
Controversy around sequencing of political parties’ selection and presidential election resurfaced, and President Bihi visited U.S. as part of foreign policy offensive. Contradictory public remarks from President Bihi and opposition early March signalled persisting disagreement over timetable for registration of political parties and presidential elections. Bihi around 7 March said registration for new political parties will open in June, followed by presidential election in Nov. In following days, Waddani and UCID opposition parties accused Bihi of seeking to use political party registration process as a means of postponing presidential election and “move away from democracy”. Meanwhile, Bihi 13 March embarked on first visit to U.S., met in following days with State Dept, National Security Council and Congress representatives. U.S. Bureau of African Affairs 14 March welcomed opportunity to discuss “strengthening U.S. engagement with Somaliland within the framework of our single Somalia policy”. Harassment against journalists and curtailment of free speech persisted. Suspected intelligence officers 18 March reportedly fired at vehicle of two journalists in capital Hargeisa.
Fighting between main signatories of 2018 peace deal threatened govt’s unity, herder-farmer violence increased across various states, and deadly clashes peaked in disputed Abyei area. In Upper Nile state, fighting 19-20 March erupted in Maiwut county between President Kiir’s South Sudan People’s Defence Forces (SSPDF) and VP Riek Machar’s Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army-In Opposition (SPLM/A-IO); violence 24 March spread to Longechuk county. SPLM/A-IO 22 March pulled out from peace monitoring mechanism, citing recurrent SSPDF attacks against its bases in Upper Nile and Unity states. Troika countries (U.S., U.K. and Norway) supporting peace deal next day expressed concern and called on govt to salvage 2018 peace agreement. SSPDF 24 March said SPLM/A-IO “officially at war” with SSPDF. Machar 26 March rejected Kiir’s directive issued previous day on unification of command structure of regular forces. Machar 28 March said SSPDF forces previous night surrounded his house in capital Juba, said move “weakens trust and confidence building”; Kiir immediately downplayed military deployment to Machar’s house, saying it was regular security routine. Violence continued in Eastern Equatoria state between herders from Jonglei state and local farming communities: Bor Dinka cattle keepers 2 March raided Abara village (Magwi county), killing at least five and displacing hundreds of residents, in apparent retaliatory attack for 27 Feb clashes in same county which left at least 20 Bor Dinka pastoralists killed. In neighbouring Central Equatoria state, suspected Dinka herders around 13 March killed 19 people in Lokiliri Payam, Juba county. In Jonglei state, clashes between suspected Murle cattle raiders and local cattle keepers 7 March left at least 13 people killed in Duk county. In Unity state, cross-border violence between South Sudanese cattle herders and Sudanese nomadic pastoralists 6 March killed seven people and injured 11 others in Payang-gai cattle camp, Rubkona county. In disputed Abyei Administrative Area along border with Sudan, suspected Misseriya militiamen from Sudan and suspected Dinka militiamen from Twic county (Warrap state) 5-6 March killed at least 47 people, including many Ngok Dinka. UN Security Council 15 March extended peacekeeping mission in South Sudan for one year until 15 March 2023.
Amid worsening economic crisis, authorities continued crackdown on anti-coup voices and opposition; intercommunal violence killed dozens in Darfur and deadly clashes peaked in disputed Abyei area. Security forces 10 March shot dead two people including 11-year-old boy during anti-coup protests in capital Khartoum and neighbouring Omdurman city. Thousands 17 March protested soaring prices and poor living conditions in Khartoum and across country, prompting clashes with police which left 187 reportedly injured; U.S. Treasury 21 March imposed sanctions on Central Reserve Police unit for using excessive force on protesters. Commission investigating June 2019 killing of over 100 protesters by security forces forced to suspend operations after security forces 7 March raided and seized its offices. Amid series of arrests since Feb of Empowerment Removal Committee (ERC) officials tasked with dismantling remnants of former President al-Bashir’s regime, authorities 8 March arrested prominent politician and ERC member Babiker Faisal, reportedly on breach of trust charges. Amid deteriorating economic situation, Central Bank 7 March floated country’s currency in effort to stabilise Sudanese pound’s exchange rate; currency next day devalued by 19%. UN mission to Sudan (UNITAMS) and African Union 10 March announced joint initiative with regional trade bloc Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) to help safeguard democratic transition. In briefing to UN Security Council, UN Envoy Volker Perthes 28 March warned Sudan is heading for “economic and security collapse” unless political deadlock is addressed; UN agencies 23 March said number of Sudanese facing acute hunger likely to double to 18mn by Sept due to economic crisis, conflict and poor harvests. Violence in Darfur and along border with South Sudan killed dozens. Notably, in Jebel Moon mountains, West Darfur state, clashes between Arab nomads and farmers from Misseriya Jebel tribe 5-7 March killed at least 16; renewed tribal violence 10 March killed at least 19 people in same region. Local authorities 31 March said fresh fighting between Fallata and Rizeigat tribes 29-30 March killed 45 people in villages outside South Darfur state capital Nyala. Violence 5-6 March flared in disputed Abyei area between Sudan and South Sudan, leaving at least 47 people dead (see South Sudan).
In step toward reconciliation, authorities engaged in dialogue with newly released opposition leader Freeman Mbowe. Authorities 4 March released chairman of main opposition party Chadema, Freeman Mbowe, and three others from prison after prosecutors dropped terrorism-related charges levelled against them following arrest in July 2021; Mbowe hours later met with President Suluhu Hassan, both pledged to build trust. Chadema Deputy Chairman Tundu Lissu 12 March announced intention to return to Tanzania from self-imposed exile in Belgium, saying he was “positive” Suluhu Hassan would give him security assurances. Significant differences however persisted between govt and Chadema, notably over Chadema’s demand for constitutional reform: Mbowe 18 March announced Chadema would boycott cross-party national dialogue initiative scheduled for 30-31 March as agenda failed to include talks on new constitution; president’s office around 22 March said issue of new constitution would be addressed after 2025 general elections. PM Kassim Majaliwa 24 March reaffirmed commitment to anti-terrorism efforts in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province during East Africa regional security conference in Jordan.
Crackdown on critics of President Museveni continued and rumours circulated about Army Commander Muhoozi Kainerugaba’s potential presidential ambitions. Police 10 March arrested nine journalists for “offensive communication”; authorities later released seven of them and 16 March charged two journalists, including author and activist Norman Tumuhimbise, with cyberstalking Museveni. Court 23 March issued arrest warrant for exiled novelist Kakwenza Rukirabashaija, who had previously been charged with “offensive communication”. Commander of army’s land forces, Museveni’s son Lt Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba, 8 March announced his retirement from army on Twitter sparking speculation he was preparing to succeed Museveni as president; Kainerugaba later that day denied resigning, while army 10 March confirmed he had not applied for retirement. Kainerugaba 14 March travelled to Rwandan capital Kigali for second round of talks with Rwandan President Kagame over restoration of bilateral ties following full reopening 7 March of Uganda-Rwanda border. Kainerugaba 17 March travelled to Egypt to meet Egyptian President al-Sisi for talks on strengthening military relations. Brig Gen Joseph Balikudembe 3 March gave update on disarmament operation in Karamoja sub-district launched in July 2021, said security forces had killed 251 suspected cattle rustlers, arrested over 1,600 people and recovered 160 guns; Balikudembe also alleged 500 illegally owned guns remain in hands of ethnic Karimojong herders. Military officials 23 March announced alleged Turkana cattle rustlers from Kenya had killed three govt employees and two military personnel 21 March in Moroto district in Karamoja region. Ugandan operations in DR Congo (DRC) continued, reportedly scattering armed group Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) into smaller groups as rebels continued to attack civilians on Congolese soil (see DR Congo). Ugandan forces reportedly deployed additional units along DRC border after M23 rebels 27 March reportedly attacked military positions in DRC; according to military, clashes prompted at least 10,000 Congolese to flee to Uganda as of 29 March. Lawmakers 10 March demanded govt take action against spike in commodity prices attributed to relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions and Russian invasion of Ukraine. Following death of Parliament Speaker Jacob Oulanyah 20 March, parliament 25 March elected Deputy Speaker Annet Anita Among as new speaker.
Following tense electoral campaign, main opposition party emerged as major winner in legislative and municipal by-elections. Nelson Chamisa’s newly established Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) won 19 National Assembly seats in 26 March by-elections to fill 28 vacant seats following recalls, deaths and dismissals over last two years; ruling ZANU-PF party won remainder, including two seats previously controlled by opposition, and retains two-thirds majority in parliament. CCC also claimed winning 61% of seats in local govt by-elections. Voter turnout low at 35%. Run-up to elections marred by tensions and violence. Police repeatedly blocked CCC rallies, notably in Marondera city 12 March. CCC next day said Zimbabwe Electoral Commission and police biased in favour of ZANU-PF party, noting ruling party rallies have gone unhindered. Police 17 March allegedly assaulted CCC supporter Muleya Mwananyanda in Harare Central District; NGO Amnesty International next day denounced “brutal and vicious assault”, raised alarm about “partisan policing and torture”. Masvingo High Court 19 March authorised CCC to hold major rally in Masvingo city next day, after CCC filed urgent chamber application seeking reprieve over police ban on rally; brawls erupted between party youths during rally.
Taliban expanded security operations against National Resistance Front (NRF) and reversed pledge on girls’ education, while rising global food prices aggravated humanitarian crisis. Taliban continued to appoint loyalists, including appointments 4 March in defence sector and judiciary and 13 March in civilian and technical positions. Following 25 Feb Taliban large-scale search operations in north, specifically in Kabul, Kapisa, Parwan and Panjshir, in attempt to forestall spring offensive by NRF, Taliban early March expanded operations to Logar and Laghman provinces (east), Baghlan province (north), and Herat and Badghis provinces (west); rumours rose of imminent large-scale operations in Nangarhar province (east). Risk of Islamic State Khorasan (ISIS-K) and NRF resuming operations in warmer weather remained. Meanwhile, Taliban continued restrictions on civil dissent and media freedom. Tolo News 18 March reported authorities had ordered all networks to stop broadcasting foreign drama series; Taliban’s intelligence branch same day briefly arrested senior Tolo News figures. NGO Afghan Journalist Safety Committee 19 March stated that authorities had arrested eleven journalists and media workers within past two days. In first sign of willingness to hold elections, authorities 9 March held municipal poll in one district of capital Kabul. Meanwhile, Taliban introduced economic policies to address unfolding humanitarian crisis; Kabul municipality 6 March imposed price caps on essential commodities and Ministry of Finance 12 March announced tax, arrears and penalty waivers for small taxpayers. Ministry of Education 17 March announced that all schools, including girls’ secondary schools, would open on 23 March; in last-minute reversal, Taliban 23 March decided to close secondary schools to girls, prompting chaotic scenes and widespread international condemnation as female secondary school students took to streets to demand their right to education. On humanitarian front, World Bank 1 March announced plan to use $1bn from Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund to address urgent needs in education, health, agricultural and communal livelihood sectors; humanitarian crisis could however further worsen in coming months as donor states consider how to respond to Taliban’s decision on girls’ secondary schools and rising global food prices affect 23mn people on brink of famine.
Protests against rising prices prompted clashes across country, violence within ruling party persisted, and deadly violence continued in Chittagong Hill Tracts. Opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) supporters and others 2-13 March rallied against rising commodity prices, prompting clashes with Awami League (AL) ruling party’s activists; reports revealed dozens of protesters injured across country, including in Patuakhali, Narayanganj and Lalmonirhat districts and in Chattogram city. BNP supporters 9 March clashed with police and AL supporters, leaving around 50 people injured. AL’s student organisation 21 March also accused of attacking Left Democratic Alliance’s protest against price increases in Chattogram city. Dhaka court 2 March ordered arrest of BNP joint sec gen, for charges filed in late 2012 under “Special Powers Act” and “Explosive Substances Act”. Controversial International Crimes Tribunal 24 March sentenced former Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh legislator to death for 1971 war crimes. Fighting within ruling party persisted, leaving 15 injured during 1 March post-poll violence in Golpalganj district, and ten injured in 9 March clashes between party factions in Bogura district. Violence between rival militant groups in Chittagong Hill Tracts also continued. Unknown attackers 5 March killed former activist of Parbatya Chattogram Jana Sanghati Samiti (PCJSS) political faction in Chittagong Hill Tracts’ Bandarban district; locals 6 March found four bodies near Bandarban’s Sangu river, reportedly shot dead during clashes between rival armed groups previous day. Militant group United People’s Democratic Front accused PCJSS of killing one of their members on 15 March in Bandarban’s Sadar sub-district. Gunfight between rival militant groups 22 March killed three near Rangamati-Bandarband border Meanwhile, paramilitary Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) 11, 19 March respectively arrested suspected Ansar al-Islam member in capital Dhaka and ten alleged Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) militants in Khulna city. At U.S.-Bangladesh “Partnership Dialogue”, govt 20 March urged withdrawal of sanctions on RAB; U.S. rejected request. Earlier in month, police 6 March detained suspected head of Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army-linked Ulema Council Moulvi Zakaria for allegedly ordering Sept killing of Rohingya leader Mohib Ullah. Fire 8 March erupted in Cox’s Bazar’s Kutupalong refugee camp, killing child and burning around 300 homes.
U.S. and Japan held military exercise, Chinese maritime incursions continued around disputed Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands, and Russian military activity increased around disputed Kuril Islands. Japanese and U.S. troops 13-25 March held amphibious exercise practicing for enemy invasion of remote Japanese island. As of 28 March, 91 Chinese vessels had entered waters surrounding disputed Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands during month; notably, four Chinese coast guard vessels 16 March passed through territorial sea of islands. Russia 10 March conducted military exercises on two Kuril Islands, controlled by Russia and claimed by Japan; six Russian vessels 14 March reportedly transited Soya Strait. One Russian vessel 14 March transited Tsugaru Strait and four Russian tank-landing ships 15-16 March reportedly transited strait toward Sea of Japan; Japanese Defence Ministry 17 March said vessels were possibly carrying equipment to Ukraine. In response to sanctions imposed by Japan for its invasion of Ukraine, Russia 21 March announced its withdrawal from dialogue to establish joint economic activities in Southern Kurils as well as peace treaty talks. Meanwhile, Chinese FM Wang Yi 7 March advised Japan to avoid “serious disruption” in bilateral relations, pointing to “major sensitive issues such as history and Taiwan”, and urged countries to be “partners, not threats”. After former Japanese PM Shinzo Abe late Feb urged Japanese govt to discuss possibility of nuclear sharing with U.S. (hosting U.S. nuclear weapons), citing potential threats from “neighbour that has no qualms about using armed force”, PM Fumio Kishida 7 March called idea “unacceptable”; senior lawmakers in ruling Democratic Party, however, continued discussions on idea, including shared decision-making in event of crisis.
Ruling party won majority of constituencies in five state elections, Maoist violence continued, while military held new round of talks on disputed border with China. Ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) retained power in four of five state assembly elections – specifically Uttar Pradesh, Goa, Manipur and Uttarakhan states – according to 10 March results. In Punjab, where BJP won only two out of 117 constituencies, relative newcomer Aam Aadmi Party (Common Man’s Party) claimed victory. Elections were seen as bellwether for national elections scheduled for 2024. Maoist-related violence continued. Notably, in Chhattisgarh state (centre), bomb blasts 14 March killed one security personnel and injured two more in Narayanpur district; Maoists 19 March allegedly killed pastor on suspicion of being police informer in Bastar area. Director general of Central Reserve Police Force 17 March cautioned that “we don’t have roads” connecting police camps that are growing in quantity in areas of Maoist activity. Amid ongoing war in Ukraine following Russia’s invasion (see Ukraine), Foreign Ministry 2 March held briefing for opposition parliamentarians on situation; opposition attendees reportedly praised govt’s efforts and endorsed India’s abstention at UN votes. Relations between govt and China remained strained over disputed boundary known as Line of Actual Control (LAC). Asked whether China might step up aggression along disputed border following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, FM S. Jaishankar 2 March reportedly responded “India is no Ukraine.” Officials 11 March held 15th round China-India Corps Commander Level Meeting at Chushul-Moldo border meeting point on Indian side in Ladakh region, with no breakthrough during talks; India had sought to resolve friction points of Patrolling Point 15 at Hot Springs and areas of Demchok and Depsang plains. Chinese FM Wang Yi 24 March arrived in capital New Delhi in first visit by high-ranking Chinese govt official since Galwan border clash in May 2020.
Inadvertent Indian missile strike sparked tensions between Delhi and Islamabad; militant attacks persisted in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K). Indian air force 9 March fired accidental missile into Punjab province’s Mian Channu district, damaging civilian property. Pakistan’s military next day condemned “flagrant violation”. India’s Defence Ministry 11 March admitted “technical malfunction led to accidental firing of a missile”. Pakistan’s National Security Adviser Moeed Yusuf 11 March demanded closer investigation, India’s Defence Minister Rajnath Singh 15 March said review “is being conducted in the wake of this incident”. Organisation of Islamic Cooperation foreign minister’s meeting 22-23 March in Islamabad invited detained Chairman of separatist All Parties Hurriyat Conference in Kashmir Mirwaiz Umar Farooq to attend. Indian Foreign Ministry 17 March criticised invitation, Pakistan’s foreign office 18 March rejected India’s “baseless” objection, said India could not claim J&K was its “internal matter”. Meanwhile, concerns about security situation in J&K came to fore as opposition parties 14 March demanded answers from Indian govt about budgetary allocations for J&K; one parliamentarian noted “73 per cent allocation of the budget has been earmarked for law and order. It shows that the situation has not improved”. Amid rising militancy, India’s Home Affairs Ministry 2 March announced revival of Village Defence Groups; Kashmir valley-based parties 3 March criticised decision, former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti 3 March tweeted “J&K is far from any semblance of normalcy”. Counter-insurgency operations and militant attacks persisted, including return to earlier trend of targeting village-level elected representatives. Notably militants 2-11 March killed three heads of village, two in Kulgam district’s Adoora village, one in regional capital Srinagar. Other violence continued: militants 6 march killed two civilians in Srinagar; 8 March reportedly launched bomb blast, which killed one in Jammu region’s Udhampur town; 12 March killed security forces personnel in Shopian district; 20 March killed Kashmiri man in Budgam district and street vendor in Pulwama district. Meanwhile, security forces 10 March killed two alleged Laskhar-e-Tayyaba militants in Pulwama, same day killed alleged Pakistani in Srinagar; 11 March killed four militants in security operations in Pulwama, Kupwara, Ganderbal districts, and 16 March killed three militants in Srinagar.
Separatist violence peaked in Papua, with over a dozen killed, Rohingya refugees landed in Aceh, and counter- terrorism operations continued. Separatists launched several deadly attacks in Papua province during month. Notably, in one of deadliest attacks in Papua in recent years, separatists 4 March killed eight technicians working on telecommunications tower in Puncak district; 3 March launched attack on military post in Dambet village, also in Puncak, injuring one soldier. In statement sent to Associated Press 4 March, separatists claimed both attacks, said they had warned civilians to leave area. Armed insurgents 26 March also attacked military post in Nduga regency, killing two marines and injuring at least six; commander of separatist armed group West Papua National Liberation Army in Nduga, Egianus Kogeya, next day claimed responsibility. Separatists also claimed killing soldier and his wife in Elelim village in Yalimo district 31 March. Separately, security forces 30 March killed separatist leader, Toni Tabuni, who was reportedly resisting arrest in Nabire district. Demonstrators protesting against planned administrative reforms 15 March clashed with police in Yahukimo district, Papua province, which left two dead. Army 1 March said it was investigating 22 Feb death of 12-year old boy reportedly at hands of soldiers in Sinak district, Papua province; Amnesty International 4 March called for independent investigation, echoing demands from human rights advocates since late Feb. Govt 2 March dismissed call from UN experts for “urgent humanitarian access to the [Papua] region…and independent investigations into abuses against the indigenous peoples”. In Central Java, counter-terrorism police 9 March killed doctor, allegedly connected to banned Jemaah Islamiyah militant group, who reportedly resisted arrest in Sukoharjo district, Central Java. Police said boat carrying over 100 Rohingya refugees from Bangladeshi camps arrived in Aceh, westernmost province, on 6 March.
North Korea tested components of military reconnaissance satellite and decisively ended self-imposed ban on long-range missile testing, raising prospect of provocative space launch in April. March saw pivot toward North Korean activities aligned with country’s ambition to launch military-reconnaissance satellite. Following similar test late Feb, North Korea 5 March launched components of satellite to operational altitudes. Leader Kim Jong-un 10 March visited National Aerospace Development Administration and next day Sohae Satellite Launch Centre, signalling focus on provocative space launch that may take place on or around 15 April – 110th birth anniversary of state founder Kim Il-sung. Experts debated whether Pyongyang is focussed on satellite deployment or, as U.S. 10 March asserted, developing “new Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) system” that launches have utilised; Washington 12 March announced fresh sanctions in response to tests. Pyongyang then moved to undisguised ICBM launches; state 16 March launched missile that exploded shortly after take-off near Sunan international airport; South Korean military 20 March said North Korea same day fired short-range multiple rocket launcher. Pyongyang 24 March successfully launched older type of ICBM, which decisively ended self-imposed moratorium in place since April 2018. Meanwhile, James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies 7 March published report suggesting “very early signs of activity” at North Korea’s sole nuclear test site in Punggye-ri (north east), which was ostensibly “destroyed” in 2018 as part of diplomatic process with U.S. and South Korea. South Korean military intelligence 27 March claimed that restoration work at Punggye-ri has been accelerated, raising possibility of nuclear test sooner than anticipated. In South Korea, former prosecutor and conservative candidate Yoon Suk-yeol 9 March won general election. In early moves likely perceived negatively in Pyongyang, President-elect Yoon’s transition team altered name of “foreign, security and unification” by omitting “unification”, signalling reduced focus on inter-Korean engagement and reflecting scepticism within now-ruling party toward utility of Ministry of Unification. Yoon 20 March decided to move presidential office to vicinity of Ministry of National Defence in Yongsan district, capital Seoul.
Clashes escalated between regime and resistance forces as well as ethnic armed groups, while U.S. declared anti-Rohingya violence as genocide. Tatmadaw and aligned paramilitary forces from pro-military Pyusawhti networks stepped up counter-insurgency operations during month in central Dry Zone encompassing townships in Sagaing, Mandalay and Magway regions, burning hundreds of homes and killing dozens of civilians. Notably, military and paramilitary forces 1 March raided three villages in Gangaw township, Magway region, torching 275 homes and killing 11 people, including five People’s Defence Force (PDF) fighters; 8 March raided village in Khin-U township, Sagaing region, reportedly killing 11 PDF fighters and three civilians. Resistance forces responded with attacks on pro-military villages: in Sagaing region, PDF 6 March attacked two villages allegedly harbouring regime forces in Taze township, claiming over 30 military and paramilitary casualties; 9 March attacked military camped in village in Chaung-U township, reportedly killing five soldiers. In northern Shan state, military 1-2 March clashed with ethnic Kokang Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), ending two-week lull in fighting since death of MNDAA founder Peng Jiasheng on 16 Feb. Chinland Defence Force 7 March attacked regime convoy in southern southern Chin state. In far northern parts of Kachin state, regime forces 1 March launched airstrikes on Kachin Independence Army. In Kayah state, regime forces 13 March captured key stronghold of Karenni Nationalities Defence Force in Demoso township, following fighting that reportedly inflicted heavy casualties on junta forces. In Kayin State, Karen National Union and PDF 7 March clashed with junta forces around Lay Kay Kaw village, Myawaddy township. Meanwhile, junta 5, 8 March cancelled citizenship of leading opposition figures and National Unity Govt (NUG) members. Worsening electric power shortages and rising commodity prices due to Russian invasion of Ukraine prompted factories to suspend operations, resulted in reduced bus routes and higher transportation fees for trucking companies. Internationally, NUG-aligned UN representative 2 March voted in favour of General Assembly resolution condemning Russian invasion of Ukraine, in contrast to regime’s late Feb comments in support of Russia. U.S. 21 March announced formal determination of genocide for violence committed by military against Rohingya minority.
Ruling parties opted to continue alliance into upcoming local elections in bid to undermine prospects of opposition Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist). Nepali Congress 29 March decided to contest local polls in May jointly with three other parties comprising ruling alliance, despite calls by some senior Nepali Congress leaders to compete independently; PM Sher Bahadur Deuba described decision as necessitated by current political balance of power and amid concerns of resurgence of opposition Unified Marxist Leninist party, which won 45% of seats during last local elections in 2017. Geopolitical engagement intensified following parliament’s Feb ratification of U.S. Millennium Challenge Corporation grant; Chinese FM Wang Yi 25-27 March visited capital Kathmandu and signed several agreements boosting economic, technical cooperation and infrastructure development. At UN, govt 2 and 24 March voted in favour of two U.S.-led General Assembly resolutions condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Islamic State and Baloch militants launched attacks which killed dozens, while PM Khan saw most serious challenge to his premiership, raising risk of worsening political instability. In worrying signs of resurgent home-grown militancy, Islamic State Khorasan 4 March claimed responsibility for suicide attack on Shia mosque in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province’s capital Peshawar, killing 63 and wounding 200, marking most serious sectarian attack in city’s history. Local police 9 March identified suicide bomber as Afghan refugee, claimed to have killed three involved in attack; another alleged accomplice killed 24 March. Two soldiers killed in militant attack 21 March in Bajaur district; four soldiers killed overnight 23-24 March in North Waziristan district in cross-border attack claimed by Pakistani Taliban. Targeted militant attacks on police stations continued in KP; notably, militants 19 March killed police officer in Lakki Marwat district. In Balochistan province, Baloch militants continued to launch attacks on security personnel; notably, militants 2 March killed three including senior police officer in bomb blast in capital Quetta; suicide bomber 9 March killed six security personnel; bomb blast 15 March killed four paramilitary personnel in Sibi district, where another soldier killed in 26 March security operation. Global terrorist financing watchdog, Financial Action Task Force, 4 March kept Pakistan on grey list. PM Khan faced risk of ouster after nine-party opposition alliance spearheaded by Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam 8 March submitted no-confidence motion amid perception that ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) no longer had military’s backing; Khan same day said “army stands with me”, while military 10 March responded “army has nothing to do with politics”. Amid govt efforts to curb party dissidents from supporting no-confidence vote and counter opposition with raids and arrests, National Assembly speaker (from ruling party) 25 March postponed debate. No-trust motion submitted in National Assembly on 28 March; legislature adjourned till 31 March, with vote due no later than 4 April. Khan, resorting to anti-U.S. rhetoric, 27 March claimed he had proof of opposition-backed “foreign conspiracy” to oust him; comments risk harming relations with West, already strained over govt’s refusal to condemn Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Violence persisted at slightly elevated levels in south, while lethal clashes continued between military and communist rebels. In Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao in south, month saw uptick in both clashes between militants and authorities as well as clan violence linked to electoral disputes. In Lanao del Sur province, military 1 March launched airstrike and engaged in firefight against alleged Islamic State (ISIS)-affiliated Maute Group militants, displacing 1,000 civilians and killing seven militants; Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) claimed some fighters belonged to them, while govt 3 March denied targeting MILF; incident comes amid stable but stalled peace process. In Sulu province, govt forces arrested wife of known ISIS-linked Abu Sayyaf Group sub-leader Mundi Sawadjaan. Clan-related violence also continued. Notably, in Maguindanao province, two families 10 March clashed in Matanog town, killing two and injuring three, while several shootings 17 March killed three in Datu Odin Sinsuat town, possibly linked to electoral disputes or clan-related issues. Militant surrenders continued through month. Notably, one Maute Group sub-leader 16 March surrendered to govt in Lanao del Sur. Govt figures 18 March showed 39 combatants from Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and its ISIS-inspired splinter groups surrendered in Maguindanao province. In Basilan province, one Abu Sayyaf fighter 20 March surrendered in Al-Barka town. Meanwhile, clashes between armed forces and communist New People’s Army persisted; violence in Mindanao Island in south, Visayas Islands in centre and Luzon Island in north killed at least eight combatants and civilians, and injured six. In Marawi city, some 250 internally displaced families 3 March received permanent housing units in Barangay Gadongan through govt-led Task Force Bangon Marawi (TFBM). Ahead of elections in May, presidential campaign entered high gear, with Ferdinand Marcos Jr. leading polls.
China conducted military drills in South China Sea (SCS), while Philippines protested Beijing’s “incursion” in Sulu Sea and dangerous manoeuvres around disputed islands. China conducted naval drills 4-15 March in SCS approximately halfway between China’s Sanya city, Hainan province, and Vietnam’s Hue city, Thua Thien Hue province, with roughly half of area within Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone; Hanoi 7 March beseeched China to “respect Vietnam’s EEZ” and stop “any act that complicates the situation”. Vietnamese journalist 6 March reported that Chinese air force Y-8 maritime patrol aircraft 1 March crashed into SCS during drills off Hainan; Taiwan’s Defence Ministry 10 March confirmed crash. China 23 March conducted aerial exercises over SCS with over ten recently upgraded J-11B fighter jets. Chinese FM Wang Yi 7 March said Code of Conduct on SCS could be concluded but urged South East Asia regional body ASEAN to resist “non-regional countries” that “meddle” in area and “do not want the South China Sea to be calm”. Philippines’ Foreign Ministry 12 March summoned China’s ambassador to explain “illegal incursion” by Chinese navy reconnaissance ship in Sulu Sea 29 Jan-1 Feb. Manila 27 March announced that Chinese Coast Guard ships had four times manoeuvred dangerously close to Philippine Coast Guard ships in vicinity of Scarborough Shoal, including incident 2 March when China Coast Guard ship drew within 20m of Philippine vessel. U.S. Admiral John C. Aquilino of Indo-Pacific Command 20 March decried Chinese militarisation of Mischief Reef, Subi Reef and Fiery Cross in SCS. China 22 March said it had “a right … in line with international law” to develop islands “on its own territory”. U.S. and Philippine armed forces 28 March started annual Balikatan joint exercise, due to end 8 April.
Economic crisis worsened and triggered unprecedented outburst of public anger in capital Colombo, placing govt under increasingly severe pressure. On economic front, month witnessed thousands in long queues to purchase dwindling supplies of petrol, food, medicine and other essential imported products; govt 23 March deployed soldiers to oversee distribution at fuel stations. School postponed exams and newspapers suspended print editions for lack of paper. Daily power cuts grew more frequent and as long as 10 hours due to inability to purchase oil needed for electricity plants. Govt 9 March removed dollar-peg of rupee that had depleted hard currency reserves, leading rupee to fall from 200 to nearly 300 against one U.S. dollar, adding to already rampant inflation. Govt same day limited imports in bid to save hard currency. In long-awaited U-turn, cabinet 14 March formally approved “discussions” with International Monetary Fund (IMF) to address currency and debt crises; IMF delegation 14-15 March met President Rajapaksa and senior officials and agreed meeting next month; financial support unlikely to materialise before further economic and political damage. Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa 17 March secured $1bn credit line from India, reportedly in exchange for agreeing to Indian-led energy projects in north and east and maritime security arrangements that have drawn criticism from opposition parties. Economic strains led to protests. Main opposition Sama Jana Balawegaya party 15 March held large protest outside president’s office in capital Colombo. Daily street protests against political class in middle class and upscale sections of capital Colombo grew larger. In unprecedented show of defiance, hundreds of protesters 31 March gathered outside president’s residence demanding his resignation; rally was largely peaceful until police used teargas and water cannons to clear protests; over 50 arrested, some reportedly beaten and tortured. Meanwhile, at 49th session of Human Rights Council, UN High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet 4 March bluntly criticised govt, noting “surveillance, harassment and intimidation of civil society”, “deepening” “militarisation of civilian government functions”, and “unwillingness to pursue accountability”; India beseeched govt to “fulfil its commitments … to protecting the interest of Tamils”, while Catholic Archbishop of Colombo 7 March called 2019 Easter Bombings “part of a grand political plot”.
Taiwan raised concern over Chinese threats in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, while Beijing expanded its defence budget and continued military activity in region. War in Ukraine following Russia’s invasion drew attention to potential Chinese invasion of Taiwan. Chinese FM Wang Yi 7 March said Ukraine and Taiwan “are not comparable at all”, asserting Taiwan is not sovereign state. Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen 12 March said war in Ukraine proved Taiwanese defence depends on “the unity of our people”, following 2 March extension of reservist training period. China’s Taiwan Affairs Office 16 March argued U.S. unwillingness to commit troops to Ukraine is evidence Taiwan’s ruling party should not “rely on the United States to seek independence”. China 5 March announced planned defence budget increase of 7.1% to $230bn and same day reiterated commitment to “solving the Taiwan issue in the new era.” Chinese aircraft flew into Taiwan’s air defence identification zone throughout month, totalling 48 planes as of 27 March. Chinese aircraft carrier Shandong 18 March sailed through Taiwan Strait, tailed by USS Ralph Johnson. Taiwan remained point of contention between U.S. and China. Following 14 March meeting between U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Politburo official Yang Jiechi, Beijing said it was “gravely concerned about and firmly opposes” current U.S. approach to Taiwan. In call with U.S. President Biden, Chinese President Xi 18 March reiterated discontent over administration’s “mishandling of the Taiwan question”, noting some in U.S. are sending Taiwan “very dangerous” signals. Several U.S. former officials, including former Sec State Mike Pompeo, 1-2 March met President Tsai in Taiwan; Pompeo 4 March said U.S. should offer diplomatic recognition to Taiwan; China same day described proposal as “lunatic remarks”.
Govt sought unity among coalition parties amid continued speculation over early election before year’s end, while IED attacks persisted in deep south. PM Prayuth Chan-ocha, deputy PM Prawit Wongsuwan and Interior Minister Anupong Paochinda 8 March summoned major coalition party leaders for meeting, stressing need for unity and pledging to finish term. Prawit 14 March hosted leaders of smaller coalition parties, reportedly saying there would be no cabinet reshuffle but election could be called after country hosts regional economic forum APEC summit in Nov. In response to questions from reporters on possible early election, Prayuth 15 March said: “It’s up to me”. Govt’s muted response to Ukraine crisis prompted Swedish Ambassador Jon Åström Gröndahl in 1 March tweet to urge govt to drop neutral language and condemn Russian aggression. Thai delegation to UN next day voted in favour of UN General Assembly resolution demanding end to Russian invasion. Student groups and foreigners in capital Bangkok staged regular protests in front of Russian embassy through mid-March. In deep south, roadside IED 10 March exploded alongside armoured patrol vehicle near school in Bannang Sata town, Yala province, wounding four rangers and two volunteers. In Pattani province, IED 16 March wounded four rangers in Mayo district. Gunmen 20 March shot and killed Muslim man at tea shop in Yarang district. IED 26 March wounded four rangers in Si Sakhon district, Narathiwat. Some 35 cloth banners with messages of “Free Patani” and “Patani is not Siam” 13 March appeared attached to helium balloons in three southernmost provinces (Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat) and four districts in Songkhla province, coinciding with 62nd anniversary of founding of Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN), main militant separatist group. Plenary session of dialogue between Thai govt and BRN scheduled for 31 Mar-2 Apr in Kuala Lumpur.
Govt and Turkey expressed commitment to ongoing normalisation talks, while govt reiterated demands for resumption of talks with Azerbaijan on Nagorno-Karabakh (NK). On margins of Antalya Diplomatic Forum in Turkey, FM Ararat Mirzoyan 12 March met Turkish FM Mevlut Cavusoglu in first visit by senior official to Turkey in over decade; pair exchanged messages of support for ongoing talks between special envoys and reaffirmed commitment to process without preconditions. New Armenian President Vahagn Khachaturyan 13 March took office, underscoring need for unity to build new country in times of transforming “global security systems”. Govt 14 March publicised its vision for resumption of negotiations with Azerbaijan on NK: Yerevan demanded mediation of Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group co-chairs and respect to right for self-determination. In significant escalation, Azerbaijani troops 24-25 March took over small Armenian settlement located inside NK (see Nagorno-Karabakh).
Govt reiterated demands for resumption of talks with Armenia on peace deal and signed transport accord with Iran. Govt 14 March publicised five-point plan for resumption of negotiations with Armenia over peace deal: Baku outlined conditions, including mutual recognition of each other’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, non-use of force and legally binding obligation not to make territorial claims to each other, and delimitation and demarcation of border with establishment of diplomatic relations and unblocking of transportation routes. In significant escalation, Azerbaijani troops 24-25 March took over small Armenian settlement located inside Nagorno-Karabakh (see Nagorno-Karabakh). Govt and Russia 6 March mutually suspended all flights, as Azal Airlines cited insurance risks “connected to the sanctions”; Russian airline Aeroflot 15 March announced resumption of flights for 21 March, and Azal 17 March resumed flights to Russia. Azerbaijan and Iran 11 March signed memorandum of understanding that established plans for new links between southern regions of Azerbaijan (regained by Baku in 2020 war) and its Nakhchivan exclave, including railroad, highway, bridges and energy supply lines.
Govt faced international pressure for its role in supporting Russia’s war in Ukraine, while authorities continued crackdown on dissent at home. U.S. Special Envoy for Belarus Julie Fisher 1 March alleged govt’s 27 Feb referendum – which introduced constitutional changes to permit President Lukashenko to remain in power until 2035 and abolish country’s “nuclear-free zone” status – “unmistakably” linked to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, pointing at possibility of Moscow stationing nuclear weapons in country. EU 2 March imposed sanctions on high-level military officials and trade for Minsk’s “role in the Russian military aggression of Ukraine”. Meanwhile, UN Human Rights Office 9 March published report alleging “widespread and systemic” breach of fundamental human rights of “tens of thousands” in continued crackdown since Aug 2020; in following debate at UN Rights Council, U.S. 17 March accused Belarus of “enabling” Ukraine war. Authorities continued crackdown on independent media. Notably, court 4 March sentenced Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s (RFE/RL) Belarus correspondent Aleh Hruzdzilovich to 18 months in prison; RFE/RL same day condemned sentencing of “innocent journalist”. Authorities 24 March detained Zmitser Dashkevich, former leader of Belarusian opposition movement Malady Front (Youth Front), over “activities that violate social order”.
Turkish Cypriot leadership cast Greek Cypriot proposals on confidence-building measures as insincere. After new Greek Cypriot FM Ioannis Kasoulides late Feb announced govt would actively pursue progress on confidence-building measures with Turkish Cypriot side (such as opening Ercan airport to international flights and handing over Varosha/Maraş area to UN administration), Turkish Cypriot leadership 7 March said offer was “nothing but old proposals that have been repeatedly negotiated and exhausted” that were “aimed at perpetuating the status quo and reinforcing the claim of the Greek Cypriot side that it is the sole sovereign of the island”. Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, in response to which Republic of Cyprus 28 Feb closed its airspace to Russia, Russia’s ambassador to Cyprus 1 March noted that Russian tourists could now go to Turkey “to spend their money”. Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar 11 March said “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” (“TRNC”) airspace was open to Russia, and its doors were open to tourists from there. War in Ukraine also appeared to accelerate discussions around how Eastern Mediterranean hydrocarbon resources can reduce western Europe’s energy dependence on Russia, but, for now, prospects look dim (see Turkey).
Georgians mobilised in support of Ukraine, as govt’s cautious stance on war provoked public anger and strained relations with President Zourabichvili. Since outbreak of war in Ukraine in late Feb, almost all segments of society vocalised support for and solidarity with Ukraine, including by collecting humanitarian aid, donating blood, raising funds for Ukrainian troops and providing essential services to refugees. Dozens of former military figures, including former defence minister, reportedly joined Ukrainian troops in defending country. Authorities 7 March reported arrival in country of over 30,000 Russians amid exodus following unprecedented Western sanctions; however, less than half stayed in country possibly due to discrimination and pressure from citizens and businesses. All banks introduced restrictions on transactions with Russia despite govt’s late Feb refusal to join Western sanctions. Govt’s refusal to criticise Russia for Ukraine’s invasion continued to fuel public anger. Statements from ruling Georgian Dream party, including that govt would not join Western sanctions, revived speculation about party’s pro-Russian stance; anti-govt protests, some numbering tens of thousands in front of parliament in capital Tbilisi, which started in late Feb continued throughout March. Govt’s stance also fuelled tensions between ruling party and President Zourabichvili. During 4 March address to parliament, Zourabichvili confirmed recent trips to Europe to meet French and EU presidents, noted it was first time ever she was so bluntly rebuffed by senior leadership in request for support; in response, leaders of Georgian Dream threatened to launch investigation on grounds that president is obliged to act in coordination with govt. FM David Zalkaliani 28 March announced start of European Commission’s consideration of Georgia’s EU membership bid. Meanwhile, International Criminal Court 10 March released arrest warrants for three high-level former de facto South Ossetian officials for crimes during 2008 war. De facto Abkhazia entity 12, 26 March held election for de facto parliament.
Govt sought to advance NATO membership bid in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, while dispute over Serb participation in Serbia’s April polls continued. Amid war in Ukraine following Russia’s Feb invasion, President Osmani 17 March reportedly asked U.S. President Biden to “advance” NATO membership bid, underscoring “we are exposed to persistent efforts by Russia to undermine Kosovo and destabilise the entire Western Balkans”. Govt 2 March opened “security fund” for donations by citizens and diaspora to security forces. PM Kurti 23 March warned of “danger” from Serbia, arguing Serbia might “imitate Russia”. Govt 23 March approved all “sanctions imposed by the European Union on Russia and Belarus”. Polish authorities 9 March reportedly stopped two Kosovars heading to Ukraine to join resistance forces; Kosovo’s Head of Special Prosecution Blerim Isufaj same day told media “the law prohibits participation” in foreign conflicts. Meanwhile, govt during month reportedly rejected proposal to permit Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe to organise polling stations for Serbian elections on its territory, reversing its policy; PM Kurti 21 March insisted on need for formal “agreement” on issue with Serbia. In response, Serbian President Vučić 22 March announced sanctions and France, Germany, Italy, UK and U.S. 23 March criticised govt, saying policy “is not in line with our values and principles and will undermine their European aspirations”. Judicial review body 24 March suspended presiding judge of Mitrovica court after she appeared at meeting with Vučić; Chairman of Serb opposition party Srpska List Goran Rakic next day called on Kosovo Serbs to boycott Kosovo institutions until judge is reappointed, as several hundreds of protesters reportedly rallied in northern Mitrovica city.
Clashes on border with Tajikistan killed one. Local officials 10 March held discussions with counterparts from Tajikistan following gunfire exchange between border guards previous day along disputed part of border between Kyrgyzstan’s Batken district and Tajikistan’s Sughd region that killed one person and wounded another; Kyrgyz authorities claimed clashes erupted after Tajik border guards entered disputed area. Hundreds of pro-Russia demonstrators 19 March gathered in southern city Osh; Deputy PM Edil Baysalov 20 March said govt should be “neutral” on Ukraine crisis, saying: “We cannot say that one side is right and the other is wrong”. FM Ruslan Kazakbayev 23 March vocalised commitment to principles of “territorial integrity of states and peaceful settlement of conflicts”, while President Japarov 24 March said “our country is divided into two camps” on issue. Amid Western sanctions on Russia and devaluation of currency, Deputy Minister of Economy and Commerce Eldar Alisherov 23 March vowed to keep prices low, noting rise in food prices and petrol, oil and lubricants. Around 100 protesters 26 March gathered in capital Bishkek to demand suspension of Russia state media outlets. Authorities 4 March detained head of NEXT television channel after it broadcast allegations of deal between govt and Russia to deploy troops to support Russian military operations in Ukraine; Bishkek court 5 March ruled head of channel will be detained until 3 May at earliest.
Hostilities escalated in Nagorno Karabakh (NK) conflict zone, raising prospect of further clashes in April. Incidents mid-March rose in Armenian-populated areas of NK. Specifically, sides reported near-daily incidents close to mountainous eastern Agdam region (retaken by Azerbaijan following 2020 war) and road in south that connects Azerbaijan to Shusha town and runs near Armenian settlements. Notably, in first use of heavy weapons since 2020 war, mine shell 10 March injured resident in Armenian village Khramort and 120mm mine shell next day landed in Armenian village Khnapat, damaging local school; Azerbaijan 11 March denied attacks and blamed local Armenian forces for provoking tensions. In significant escalation, Azerbaijani troops 24-25 March took over small Armenian settlement Farukh located inside NK close to Khramort and Khnapat and next to strategic mountainous height called Karaglukh, which overlooks Agdam region and big parts of Armenian-populated NK; at least three Armenian soldiers reported dead and 14 injured, including in Azerbaijani attacks by Bayraktarks TB2 drones. U.S., France and Russian peacekeepers 26 March called on Baku to withdraw troops. Russian peacekeepers 27 March said Azerbaijan removed its troops from Farukh settlement; Azerbaijani Defence Ministry same day denied “changes in positions”. Previously, in sign viewed by Yerevan as increasing assertiveness along front lines, Azerbaijan during month continued use of loudspeakers to warn ethnic Armenians against conducting agricultural work and broadcast call to prayer in areas around Agdam region and in southern parts of Armenian-populated areas of NK. Gas pipeline from Armenia to NK 8 March stopped supply due to damage, leaving NK without heating for over one week; Azerbaijan 19, 27 March made repairs, announced that gas supply would be restored. In sign that prospects for talks remain dim, Armenia and Azerbaijan 14 March publicised their visions for resumption of negotiations, reiterating previous mutually exclusive positions: Baku demanded Armenian support to Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity and Yerevan insisted on respect of right for self-determination. With support from Russian peacekeepers, de facto NK authorities 7 March dispatched humanitarian cargo to separatist entities in Ukraine recognised by Russia.
Hoax bomb threat against Irish FM raised prospect of Loyalist groups escalating campaign against Northern Ireland Protocol. Paramilitary Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) 25 March reportedly coerced driver to transport hoax bomb to car park of Houben Centre in capital Belfast, where Irish FM Simon Conveney was attending peacebuilding event; security alert halted Conveney’s speech and evacuated him from location. Loyalists indicated in media reports that incident marked start of renewed campaign against Northern Ireland Protocol – post-Brexit arrangements for UK-EU trade that created regulatory border in Irish Sea. Protesters 25 March rallied in Ballymoney town demanding UK govt overturn protocol. Ulster Unionist Party leader Doug Beattie 27 March criticised anti-protocol rallies for “raising tensions” and acknowledged “media reports quoting UVF sources that they intend to escalate their terrorist activities in the coming weeks”.
Authorities deepened crackdown on dissent amid widespread but largely small-scale protests against invasion of Ukraine. Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on 24 Feb (see Ukraine), authorities detained at least 15,107 people at anti-war protests held in more than 150 cities nationwide, while opening 60 criminal cases. Small-scale protests took place every weekend during month: notably, authorities 6 March detained 4,640 people in 65 cities and 13 March detained 866 people in 37 cities. Govt 4 March passed laws criminalising opposition to war, for instance punishing spreading false information about Russian military with up to 15 years’ imprisonment. Govt 4 March blocked Facebook and 14 March Instagram; NGO Roskomvoboda 22 March estimated govt had blocked 769 websites and links since 24 Feb. Authorities also piled pressure on last remnants of legal opposition, including 5 March seizing office equipment of opposition party Yabloko and independent newspaper Pskovskaya Guberniya. In Bashkiria region, Federal Security Service (FSB) 25 March detained communist member of regional parliament and four left-wing activists accused of plotting violent change of constitutional order. In sign of govt efforts to mobilise support for war, President Putin 16 March warned that Western countries “will try to bet on [...] national traitors” and urged “natural and necessary self-purification of society”. On anniversary of 2014 Crimea annexation, authorities 18 March organised rallies and concerts, with largest rally in capital Moscow attended by 200,000 people. Western states continued sanctions. EU 9 March extended third package of sanctions and 15 March introduced fourth package of sanctions; notably, EU imposed ban on imports of iron and steel products from Russia. U.S. 8 March announced ban on supplies of oil, gas and coal from Russia, and UK same day announced that it would abandon purchase of oil and gas from Russia until end of 2022. Separately, court 22 March sentenced opposition leader Alexey Navalny, imprisoned since Jan 2021, to nine additional years in prison and to pay fine of 1.2mn rubles; U.S. and EU same day condemned “politically motivated” ruling.
Clashes on border with Kyrgyzstan killed one, while U.S. expressed concern over internet blackout in country’s eastern region. Local officials 10 March held discussions with counterparts from Kyrgyzstan following gunfire exchange previous day along disputed part of border between Kyrgyzstan’s Batken district and Tajikistan’s Sughd region that killed one person and wounded another; Kyrgyz authorities claimed clashes erupted after Tajik border guards entered disputed area. U.S. embassy 16 March called on govt “to restore full Internet access” to residents of Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region in east, which has reportedly had its internet access cut since protests in Nov 2021; embassy said lack of internet “impacts the ability of residents to access information, run businesses, and exercise freedom of expression”. Authorities 7 March announced lifting of COVID-19 restrictions imposed in 2020, citing “normalization of the epidemiological situation”. FM Sirojiddin Muhriddin and U.S. Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights Uzra Zeya 22 March discussed bilateral cooperation issues and situation in Afghanistan.
Military operations continued against Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in south east and northern Iraq, albeit at reduced intensity, while Ankara engaged with Greece, Israel and Armenia. Military operations against PKK remained concentrated primarily in northern Iraq, with occasional clashes in Turkey’s south east and at Turkey-Syria border. Numerous airstrikes in northern Iraq and some ground operations in Turkey targeting PKK positions persisted, but at lesser intensity than in previous months likely due to harsh winter conditions in area’s mountainous terrain where conflict remains concentrated. Ground operations in Turkey’s south east during month took place in rural areas of Diyarbakır, Mardin, Hakkari and Hatay provinces. Turkish forces continued targeting senior PKK figures, including via use of armed drones. Turkish military 8 and 10 March targeted “PKK/Kurdish group People’s Defence Units (YPG)” positions at Turkey-Syria border. Security forces continued operations against Islamic State (ISIS) cells/operatives; police detained more than 100 individuals (including Turkish citizens and other nationals) with alleged links to ISIS across country. Relations between authorities and Greek govt improved, in large part catalysed by war in Ukraine. Greek PM Mitsotakis 13 March met with President Erdoğan in Istanbul city, where two leaders agreed on keeping communication channels open and improving bilateral relations; following meeting, Turkish presidency noted “Turkey and Greece have a special responsibility in the European security architecture, which is changing with Russia’s attack on Ukraine”. Defence Minister Hulusi Akar and Greek counterpart 16 March emphasised importance of maintaining dialogue; sides are expected to meet for fourth round of talks on military confidence-building measures in Ankara next month. Ankara remained invested in efforts to normalise ties with Israel and Armenia. In first visit by Israel’s head of state to country since 2007, President Isaac Herzog 9 March met Erdoğan, who described visit as “opportunity to revive the energy cooperation that began before”, signalling potential alternative pipeline or other collaboration that may carry Eastern Mediterranean gas to Europe. Armenian FM Mirzoyan 10 March attended Antalya Diplomacy Forum where he expressed willingness “to establish diplomatic relations and open borders with Turkey”.
In Europe’s biggest conflict in decades, Russian forces faced stiff resistance despite destructive tactics; risk of further escalation loomed. Russian forces 2 March claimed control of Kherson, major port city on Dnipro estuary, but suffered Ukrainian counter-attacks on city’s airport since 15 March. After Russian forces 28 Feb encircled Donbas port city of Mariupol, it became focal point of fighting, sparking devastating destruction and major humanitarian crisis; some 170,000 people remained besieged in city as of late March. Russia’s southern advance started to stall from late Feb north of Dnipro River around Mykolaiv city, gateway to Odessa, Ukraine’s largest coastal city; fall of Odessa would cut off Ukraine from Black Sea. In north, Russian army during month maintained control of thinly populated stretch of land between capital Kyiv’s north-western suburbs and Belarusian border. Russian attempts to enter Sumy, Kharkiv, Chernihiv and Kyiv cities met forceful resistance; Russia resorted to heavy artillery in densely populated areas, causing hundreds of casualties. Danger of encirclement of Kyiv, Kharkiv, Chernihiv and Sumy as well as Mykolaiv and Odessa in south remains; encirclement could cut off millions from basic needs. UN estimated fighting had left over 1,104 killed or injured, with over 10mn displaced by late March, including 6.4mn internally; as displaced reached country’s west, strains on infrastructure and tension with local population rose as newcomers compete for work and housing. President Zelenskyy during month addressed legislative branches of several Western states, including UK, Germany and France, with calls for more military aid and no-fly zone; U.S. 15 March ruled out latter, citing risk of direct engagement between Russia and NATO. In move underscoring such risk, Moscow 12 March declared shipments of western military aid to Ukraine as legitimate military targets. Meanwhile, Moscow and Kyiv engaged in talks. Notably, sides 29 March met in Turkish city Istanbul where Kyiv re-emphasised neutrality requires security guarantees from UN Security Council member states and offered to delay decision about Crimea’s status by 15 years following complete ceasefire; Moscow after talks announced reduced operations around Kyiv and Chernihiv in north, which Kyiv called either act of deception or sign of Russia’s inability to maintain operations.
Western sanctions on Russia following invasion of Ukraine affected remittances, as govt sought to strike neutral approach. Central Bank chief 17 March reported remittances from Russia “shrank significantly” in first half of March, compared with same period of 2021; last year, majority of remittances were sent from Russia. FM Abdulaziz Komilov 17 March said: “We do not recognize the Luhansk and Donetsk republics” and called on Ukraine and Russia to resolve conflict “by diplomatic means”. Foreign Ministry 18 March hosted meeting on Ukraine attended by EU and member states, UK, Japan and U.S.; govt reportedly expressed desire for neutral approach and diplomatic resolution to conflict. President Mirziyoyev and Russian President Putin 21 March held telephone conversion to discuss bilateral cooperation as well as Ukraine crisis. NGO Cotton Campaign 10 March announced end to campaign to boycott Uzbek cotton and textiles, citing progress in ending forced labour during crop harvesting last year.
Presidential primary and legislative elections saw strong results for party of left-wing presidential candidate Gustavo Petro; rural violence, notably targeting activists, persisted. Legislative and presidential primary elections 13 March took place without major security incidents; National Liberation Army (ELN) largely upheld 10-15 March ceasefire it had announced 4 March. Polls elevated former Bogotá Mayor Gustavo Petro, presidential hopeful for left-leaning Historical Pact coalition with 4.5 mn votes in primary elections, as strong contender for May presidential polls; during primary, Federico Gutiérrez gained 2.1 mn votes, making him chosen candidate for right-wing Team for Colombia coalition, while 723,000 voters chose Sergio Fajardo as candidate for Center Hope coalition. In Senate, final tally, which was confirmed in late March, allocated Historical Pact 20 seats and Liberal and Conservative Parties 15 seats each. EU electoral mission 15 March reported evidence of vote-buying and candidate intimidation in run-up to polls, particularly in case of 16 newly created congressional seats for victims, where a number of traditional parties were accused by civil society observers of providing illegal financing to capture seats. Organization of American States 20 March called on electoral authorities to investigate alleged fraud. According to civil society group Indepaz, nine massacres (murder of three or more persons) took place across country 1-28 March, killing 36 in total; Indepaz 29 March said at least 15 social leaders killed during March, including indigenous leader José Miller Correa, who was found dead outside of Popayán town, Cauca department. Meanwhile, several other violent incidents reported during month. Notably, Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) dissidents 26 March attacked police station in capital Bogotá using explosives, killing two children and injuring 39 persons. Army 28 March killed 11 members of FARC dissident faction Segunda Marquetalia during clash in Puerto Leguizamo municipality (Putumayo province); according to rights groups, four civilians were among those killed, including Quechua Governor Pablo Panduro.