The President's Take
On the first working day of every month, Crisis Group refreshes CrisisWatch, our early-warning tool providing regular updates on the most significant conflicts around the world. It’s one of our most popular features because it is an inestimable resource for all who care about conflict and want to know both the dangers that lurk and the opportunities that arise. Beginning this month, I will add a brief commentary of my own.
This time, I am highlighting two conflict situations: the Korean peninsula, where the potential for a catastrophe of untold proportions comes hand-in-hand with a rare chance for de-escalation; and Israel-Palestine, where a conflict that remains dormant until it inevitably flares up was made more dangerous by the U.S. president’s pronouncements.
As to the former: North and South Korea have agreed to resume contacts in the context of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics; Pyongyang put some of its more provocative actions on the back burner; and Washington postponed its military exercises. These steps should be built upon to avoid an outcome as absurd as it would be tragic: having the U.S. risk a nuclear war in order to avoid one.
As to the latter: for some time now, one of President Abbas’s chief functions has been to maintain as many illusions as possible amid widespread Palestinian disillusionment – with the peace process, the U.S., non-violence, and the two-state solution. Through his actions and words, President Trump has been systematically stripping away even the pretense of an illusion. The danger is that he reap what he has sowed.
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August saw Rohingya militants launch deadly attacks on security forces in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, setting the crisis on a more dangerous path. There is still no end in sight to Yemen’s war as deadly airstrikes increased. In the Central African Republic’s north and east, deadly clashes between armed groups worsened and aid workers came under attack. Both Spain and Burkina Faso faced terror attacks, while North Korea’s launch of a missile over northern Japan prompted international condemnation. Venezuela’s political situation grew increasingly grave as the government dissolved the elected parliament. Political tensions rose in Cameroon’s Anglophone regions and in Guatemala, where the president attempted to expel the head of the UN-backed anti-corruption organisation.
CameroonCentral African RepublicBurkina FasoKorean PeninsulaMyanmarSpainVenezuelaGuatemalaYemen
In Myanmar’s northern Rakhine state, militants from Harakah al-Yaqin/Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army launched coordinated attacks on 30 police posts and an army base on 25 August, leaving some 80 militants and twelve members of the security forces dead. In response, the military conducted “clearance operations”, and evacuated some 4,000 non-Muslim civilians from the area. Up to 38,000 Rohingyas have since attempted to flee to Bangladesh, but Bangladesh says it cannot accept them. As we have explained, this incident represents a “very serious conflict escalation”. The military’s response must be proportionate to avert spiralling violence, including distinguishing between militants and Rohingya civilians, protecting all civilians caught up in or fleeing the fighting, and providing unfettered access to affected areas for humanitarian agencies and media.
In Yemen, tensions between military partners erupted amid deadly airstrikes on civilians. Against Huthi wishes, former President Saleh on 24 August staged a show of strength – a large rally in the capital Sanaa, ostensibly to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the General People’s Congress party (GPC). Saudi Arabia-led coalition airstrikes increased, including around Sanaa immediately prior to and after the GPC rally, leaving dozens dead. Huthis claimed to have intensified attacks on Saudi territory, while fighting continued in the south and along the Saudi border.
In the Central African Republic (CAR), violence worsened in the north and east between anti-balaka militants and the ex-Seleka faction, the Union for Peace in the Central African Republic, leaving over a hundred dead. Armed groups also continued to target humanitarian workers, causing aid agencies to suspend their operations. UN aid chief Stephen O’Brien warned the UN Security Council on 7 August that the situation displayed “warning signs of genocide”, and called for additional troops for the peacekeeping mission in CAR.
Deadly attacks and incidents left two dozen dead in Burkina Faso. Two suspected Islamist militants opened fire in a café in the capital Ouagadougou on 13 August, killing nineteen; and a military vehicle hit an IED on 17 August in Inata in the north, killing three soldiers. August also saw the death of leading political figure Salif Diallo, President of the National Assembly and head of the ruling party, which could prove destabilising for the regime in coming months and years. In north-eastern Spain, sixteen people were killed and over 130 wounded in two terrorist attacks on 17 August, both claimed by the Islamic State (ISIS).
North Korea’s launch of an intermediate-range ballistic missile over northern Japan on 29 August triggered warning sirens in the area and prompted international condemnation. As Crisis Group argues, the launch, coming at a time of escalating tensions and rhetoric between Pyongyang and the U.S. presidency, was carefully calibrated to spur anger and gain attention but avoid incurring a military response.
Political tensions rose again in Cameroon’s Anglophone areas as civil society activists called for additional strike days and no re-opening of schools for the new academic year in September. Some violence ensued, leading authorities to arrest dozens, including journalists and activists. On 30 August, President Biya ordered the release of some jailed Anglophone leaders. With a year to go before the next general elections, authorities must urgently address the dissatisfaction and anger of a fifth of the population, including through better distribution of financial resources and measures in the areas of education, justice and culture.
Venezuela’s newly-installed Constituent Assembly announced that it was taking over the functions of the opposition-led, democratically elected parliament, formally stripping it of all its powers. Crisis Group continues to argue that Venezuela’s increasingly grave crisis can only be resolved through a negotiated restoration of democracy. Guatemala’s fight against political corruption and impunity hung in the balance after President Morales ordered Iván Velásquez, the head of the UN-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), to leave the country. On 29 August the Constitutional Court overturned Morales’ expulsion order, which had prompted protests in the capital and the resignation of several cabinet ministers. As Crisis Group explains, the attack on Velásquez threatens an institution that has sought to reform the constitution and bolster the justice system’s independence.
Unidentified assailants threw grenades in two bars in capital Bujumbura’s Buyenzi district 17 Aug killing at least three people. Talks held between representatives of regime (including security forces) and opposition coalition CNARED (National Council for the Respect of the Arusha Agreement, Restoration of the Rule of Law) 31 July-2 Aug in Helsinki under auspices of Finnish NGO Crisis Management Initiative; results undisclosed. UN Security Council 2 Aug expressed concern over humanitarian and political situation, urged govt to cease and reject violence; govt 5 Aug refuted allegations of abuses. Some 15,000 Burundian refugees in Nduta camp in Tanzania early Aug protested in front of UN refugee agency office over delays in repatriation; Tanzania, Burundi and UN refugee agency 31 Aug held talks on repatriation of refugees.
Anglophone crisis worsened during month with violence and tensions ahead of reopening of schools. Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium, main group protesting govt’s marginalisation of English-speakers, 6 Aug called on inhabitants of two predominantly English-speaking regions, North West and South West, to increase days on strike from one to three a week from mid-Aug until early Oct and opposed reopening of schools for new academic year in Sept. Supporters of school closures set fire to school in Bamenda, North West region night of 12 Aug. President Biya 30 Aug ordered release of Anglophone leaders in jail since Jan, in move to avoid second disrupted school year. Authorities arrested individuals carrying explosives in Mbengwi, North West region 2-3 Aug. Govt delegations sent overseas to rally support on Anglophone crisis met fierce protests organised by Cameroonian diaspora in Belgium, South Africa, Canada and UK; protesters in South Africa vandalised Cameroonian embassy and in Canada replaced embassy’s Cameroonian flag with flag of Ambazonia (self-proclaimed Anglophone republic). Govt arrested seven Anglophone journalists in Bamenda and a dozen Anglophone activists during month and deployed 1,300 additional gendarmes in Anglophone regions. Boko Haram (BH) upped attacks in Far North killing at least 39 civilians and three soldiers. Attacks included three suicide bombings in Ouro-Kessoum near Amchide, and Waza 5 Aug, killing eight civilians; BH militants 9 Aug kidnapped two people in Madakar, Mayo-Moskota area. Inhabitants of Glo village 16 Aug pursued BH militants into Nigeria, killing three; BH 17 Aug killed three soldiers on Wambaché-Homéka road; next day killed civilian and abducted six children in Moskota. Two suicide bombings in Amchidé and Cherivé 22-23 Aug killed seven civilians. Militants 24 Aug killed at least fifteen civilians and kidnapped eight in Gakara village near Kolofata; late month killed eight civilians in Gartchono, Zamga and Magala Kabir and attacked Assighassia village. Some 400 villagers between Madina and Boulo fought BH in Nigeria 27 Aug. Vigilantes 8 Aug arrested man carrying bombs in Kolofata and teenage female would-be bomber in Zeleved.
Violence between armed groups and against civilians and aid workers worsened, especially in east and north. In eastern province of Mbomou, anti-balaka militants pursued offensive against Ali Darassa’s ex-Seleka faction Union for Peace in the Central African Republic (UPC): attacked UPC-controlled Gambo 4-10 Aug in fighting which reportedly left 50 dead; took control of Ouango 9 Aug; clashes in Bema 10 Aug reportedly left at least twenty dead. In Bria, Haute-Kotto province in east, anti-balaka clashed with UPC 5 Aug, and with ex-Seleka faction Popular Front for the Central African Renaissance (FPRC) 19-20 Aug, leaving at least thirteen dead. In Ouham province in north, ex-Seleka and anti-balaka militias clashed in Batangafo 29 July-1 Aug, 24 people reportedly killed. Armed groups continued to target humanitarian workers causing aid agencies to suspend operations; unidentified assailants killed six Red Cross volunteers in attack on health centre in Gambo 3 Aug. UN aid Chief Stephen O’Brien 7 Aug said situation displayed “warning signs of genocide”, arguing some military groups “have the intention to ethnically cleanse”. Humanitarian coordinator for CAR Najat Rochdi 17 Aug launched revised humanitarian response plan seeking $497mn to respond to crisis.
Security forces 5 Aug prevented some twenty opposition leaders from visiting Laoukein Médard, imprisoned 2016 presidential candidate and former mayor of second largest city Moundou, arrested mid-July; following altercation, security forces arrested Mahamat Adoum, president of opposition National Republican Party, released him next day. Govt 23 Aug accused Qatar of trying to destabilise Chad via Libya, gave Qatari diplomats ten days to leave country; in return, Qatar 24 August asked Chadians diplomats to leave Doha. President Déby late Aug attended summit in Paris with leaders of France, Germany, Niger, Spain, Italy, Libya and EU foreign policy chief Mogherini to discuss migrations issues; signed joint statement agreeing on global approach to deal with migration and asylum.
Opposition trying to maintain pressure on President Kabila to hold elections by year-end, while insecurity persisted in east, centre and south. Main opposition coalition Rassemblement 2 Aug pressed electoral commission (CENI) to publish election calendar, and reiterated need to respect 31 Dec 2016 agreement to hold elections by end of 2017. CENI 28 Aug agreed to publish electoral calendar once meeting with govt and committee overseeing implementation of 31 Dec agreement (CNSA) takes place; CNSA 30 Aug said meeting should take place in Kinshasa under CNSA auspices. Rassemblement called for two-day general strike 8-9 Aug; strong participation on first day, weaker on second. In gubernatorial elections 26 Aug presidential majority won in Haut-Katanga and Haut-Lomami provinces, independents in S Ubangi and Kwilu. Second round took place 29 Aug in Tshuapa, Tshopo and S Kivu: presidential majority won in Tshuapa and S Kivu, independent in Tshopo. Sindika Dokolo, Congolese businessman and son-in-law of Angolan President dos Santos, 10 Aug launched new movement “Les Congolais Debout” (Congolese Stand Up) to mobilise support for elections by end of 2017. Security remained volatile in Kinshasa, N Kivu, Tanganyika and Kasais: members of politico-religious group Bundu Dia Kongo (BDK) staged armed anti-govt actions in Kinshasa 7 Aug and reportedly attacked Makala central prison; clashes with police in several areas of Kinshasa left at least 27 protesters and policemen dead, police arrested 31 militiamen. In N Kivu, clashes between army and Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) militia near Beni 14 Aug left two soldiers dead; Mai Mai militiamen 9 Aug killed two police officers in Kitshanga; two Mai Mai factions clashed in Walikale 10 Aug, killing one militiaman. In south, intercommunity fighting continued; 55 killed in fighting in Kalemie, Tanganyika province 4 Aug. UN Human Rights commissioner 4 Aug published report documenting 251 extrajudicial killings in Kasai provinces from mid-March to mid-June, including by govt forces in collaboration with local militias; govt said report was not credible.
Parliament 4 Aug lifted state of emergency imposed in Oct 2016 after year of protests for increased political freedoms in capital Addis Ababa, and Amhara and Oromia regions. In Oromia, opposition group Oromo Federalist Congress 23 Aug called for five-day strike, reportedly to demand release of political prisoners and commemorate protesters killed in 2016 protests; unclaimed bombing in Jimma, Oromia region in south west 24 Aug injured thirteen.
National and local elections unfolded peacefully 8 Aug; President Kenyatta re-elected with 54.27% of vote against leading opposition candidate Raila Odinga’s 44.7% and ruling Jubilee party won 25 of 47 county governorships (opposition NASA coalition won eighteen) and secured majority of seats in national assembly and senate. International observers broadly endorsed elections, but Odinga 9 Aug rejected results, said electoral commission’s (IEBC) server had been hacked to manipulate results in Kenyatta’s favour; IEBC next day said it had thwarted attempted hack. Following release of provisional results, protesters in opposition strongholds in Nairobi and Kisumu in west clashed with police, leaving at least seventeen civilians dead. Odinga’s NASA coalition 18 Aug filed petition with Supreme Court to challenge results; ruling scheduled for 1 Sept. Al-Shabaab continued attacks on security forces and civilians in north east and at coast. In north east, in Mandera county militants attacked police post in Lafey 2 Aug killing one police, and roadside bombing attributed to Al-Shabaab killed two soldiers in Damasa area 28 Aug; suspected militants killed five police in ambush on Bodhai-Ijara road near Alijize, Garissa county 15 Aug. In coastal Lamu county, suspected militants attacked passenger bus on Mombasa-Kipini road near Witu, killing three 2 Aug; and militants attacked Christians in Maleli and beheaded at least three 18 Aug. Police 19 Aug in Bamburi, Mombasa county killed prominent Al-Shabaab militant Hussein Said Omar reportedly in charge of logistics for militants operating in Boni forest stronghold on Somali border.
Following months of talks with govt, former Al-Shabaab deputy leader Mukhtar Robow, who quit group in 2013, surrendered to govt forces with dozens of fighters in Hudur, Bakool region in south west 13 Aug; fighting between Robow’s forces and Al-Shabaab had left at least nineteen dead near Abal, Bakool region 9 Aug. Robow 15 Aug condemned Al-Shabaab and called on members to defect. Al-Shabaab continued campaign of urban terrorism and rural insurgency in Somalia and Kenya (see Kenya). In capital Mogadishu, militants claimed suicide bombing that killed one soldier 11 Aug; same day killed Galgadud region governor. In south-centre, Al-Shabaab 19 Aug claimed attack against AU peacekeeping mission (AMISOM) outpost near Bulo-Burte in Hiraan region (casualties unknown). In south, following withdrawal of AMISOM troops from Leego in Bay region 120km north west of Mogadishu 4 Aug, Al-Shabaab seized town same day, reportedly cutting road access from Mogadishu to Bay and Bakool regions. Al-Shabaab militants early Aug reportedly killed Kenyan AMISOM soldier they took hostage during Jan 2016 attack on AMISOM base near El Adde in south west. U.S. airstrikes on Al-Shabaab near Banadir region in south east 10 Aug and on Jilib 370km south west of Mogadishu 16-17 Aug killed at least eight militants. U.S.-backed security forces killed ten civilians in operation against suspected militants near Bariire in Lower Shabelle 25 Aug. Suspected jihadists in Bosaso, Bari region, Puntland state in north east killed region’s former deputy governor 7 Aug and deputy police commander 9 Aug. Hiir-Shabelle state parliament 14 Aug passed vote of no confidence in State President Ali Abdullahi Osoble amid accusations of constitutional violations and incompetence; latter rejected vote and MPs supporting him same day passed vote of no confidence in parliament speaker, legality of second vote questioned because not held in parliament. Amid Gulf diplomatic crisis, Puntland state 16 Aug urged federal govt to reconsider neutral position and side with Saudi Arabia-led bloc. UN Security Council 30 Aug renewed AMISOM mandate until 31 May 2018 with view to downsize mission.
Unidentified assailants 17 Aug attacked polling station distributing voter ID cards in Las Anod, Sool region, killed two police.
In response to U.S. postponement of decision on lifting sanctions on Sudan in July, Sudan provided limited military support and freedom of movement to S Sudanese rebels to launch offensives from Sudan into former Unity and Upper Nile states in S Sudan. Breaking unilateral ceasefire, govt forces captured from rebels Pagak in north east (former HQ of rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-In Opposition (SPLA-IO)) 7 Aug to secure border area for development program with Ethiopia; skirmishing continued in surrounding areas. In Yei River state in south, offensive by SPLA-IO rebels loyal to former first VP Riek Machar on govt forces 26 Aug left nineteen dead near Kaya, including American journalist. President Kiir 10 Aug rejected new peace talks with rebel groups citing Aug 2015 peace agreement and National Dialogue (ND). Govt 11 Aug said it had released 30 political prisoners as part of ND. Phased deployment of UN-authorised Regional Protection Force (RPF) troops, agreed in Aug 2016, began in Juba early Aug; force to comprise 4,000 additional peacekeepers to support 13,000 strong UN mission (UNMISS). Disputes over deployment led govt to block UN flights for several days and standoffs between govt and RPF.
Leadership dispute within rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) continued to fuel fighting in Blue Nile state between supporters of Chairman Malik Aggar (mostly ethnic Ingessana) and rival Abdelaziz al-Hilu (mostly ethnic Uduk); clash 13 Aug reportedly left several dozen fighters and one humanitarian worker dead. Al-Hilu 1 Aug declared six-month unilateral ceasefire in conflict with govt. SPLM-N delegation including interim leader Abdel Aziz Al-Hilu held meetings with African Union High Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP) in Addis Ababa 28 Aug to update AU mediators on situation in SPLM-N controlled areas. VP-led campaign to collect illegally owned arms and vehicles in Darfur and Kordofan regions launched in July continued; in North Darfur state, leader of Awakening Revolutionary Council (ARC) militia Musa Hilal early Aug said group would not hand over weapons. S Sudanese refugees rioted, burnt administrative area and plundered warehouses in Khor El Waral camp in White Nile state in east 1 Aug, no casualties reported. Prominent human rights activist Mudawi Ibrahim Adam, imprisoned since Nov 2016, given presidential pardon 29 Aug.
Ruling MPLA party won reduced majority (down from 72% of vote to 61%) in 23 Aug general election amid opposition parties’ accusations of vote-rigging: main opposition group UNITA 25 Aug rejected provisional result, claiming it did not match its own count; smaller opposition group CASA-CE also rejected result as “impossible”. UN mid-Aug began relocating 33,000 Congolese refugees from reception centres to new settlement 100km from Congolese border (see also DRC).
President Nyusi and Afonso Dhlakama, leader of armed opposition group Renamo, met in Gorongosa mountain district 6 Aug to discuss peace process, first meeting since 2015; Renamo said decentralisation laws must be put before parliament by Dec, ahead of 2018 local elections. Dhlakama said in interview published 31 Aug that he will sign peace deal with govt by early-Nov to end dispute over 2014 elections.
President Zuma 8 Aug narrowly survived his ninth no confidence vote in parliament (198 to 177 votes in first secret ballot) amid rising public anger over allegations of corruption and state capture, and major splits within ruling African National Congress (ANC) party; over 30 ANC MPs voted for his removal. Vote preceded by large-scale anti-Zuma protests across country. Zuma faces further pressure including impeachment case at constitutional court early Sept and appeal case mid-Sept on whether to reinstate 783 fraud and corruption charges against him.
Opposition leader Saviour Chishimba arrested 3 Aug for defaming President Lungu after criticising imposition of emergency rule in July; released without charge 10 Aug. Main opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema released from prison 16 Aug having been arrested in April for treason and plotting to overthrow govt; Hichilema denies both charges.
Opposition parties including Movement for Democratic Change-Tsvangirai (MDC-T) 5 Aug launched new coalition ahead of 2018 general election; unidentified youth, reportedly MDC-T activists opposed to election alliance, attacked several senior MDC-T figures same day in Bulawayo. VP Emmerson Mnangagwa, potential successor to President Mugabe, fell ill at Mugabe youth rally in Gwanda in south west and airlifted to South Africa 13 Aug, prompting speculation he was poisoned. First Lady Grace Mugabe same day allegedly assaulted South African model at Johannesburg hotel: South African police initially prevented Mugabe from leaving country, but govt 18 Aug granted her diplomatic immunity and repatriated her to Harare 20 Aug. Army general 4 Aug threatened violence if President Mugabe not re-elected in 2018.
In first terrorist attack in capital Ouagadougou since Jan 2016, two suspected Islamist militants 13 Aug opened fire in café, killing nineteen before being killed by security forces; no group claimed responsibility. Insecurity continued in Soum province, Sahel region in north: military vehicle 17 Aug hit IED in Inata, 25km from Djibo, three soldiers killed; gunmen 18 Aug fired shots in air in artisanal gold mining site and burned down two bars in Tiembolo, 2km west of Inata. Govt 3 Aug announced three-year emergency program for Sahel region, with budget of FCFA455bn ($819mn), to build infrastructure and alleviate poverty. Unidentified gunmen 31 Aug attacked gendarmerie station in Djibasso, Kossi province near border with Mali, reportedly killing customs officer. National assembly speaker and president of ruling party Movement of People for Progress Salif Diallo died of natural causes in Paris 19 Aug.
Gunmen in military uniform 4 Aug attacked Adzopé police station, 100km north of Abidjan, and stole weapons. Five prisoners 6 Aug escaped from jail in Gagnoa in west and twenty prisoners 8 Aug escaped from Abidjan courthouse. Police 14 Aug repelled attack by unidentified gunmen against security force positions and financial institutions in Dabou, 45km west of Abidjan, arrested a dozen people including military officer. Weekly Jeune Afrique 14 Aug reported existence of recording of assembly speaker and former rebel leader Guillaume Soro’s head of protocol telling army mutineers during mutinies in 2017 to take weapons from his house. Supporters of Soro, whose role, if any, in recent army mutinies is unclear, 10 Aug created political movement New Forces Club (AFN) to reinforce Soro’s July appeal for pardon and post-war reconciliation. In deal signed 17 Aug, govt acceded to five of six demands by civil servants’ unions, including payment of salary arrears estimated at FCFA250bn ($450mn), and unions promised not to strike for five years.
Leader of main opposition party Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea, Cellou Dalein Diallo, 2 Aug led thousands of opposition supporters in demonstrations in capital Conakry to demand local elections, not held since 2005 and supposed to take place in Feb according to Oct 2016 agreement; govt said one died and three injured in motorbike accidents during protest.
Separatist rebel alliance Coalition of Azawad Movements (CMA) late July defeated Self-Defence Group of Imrad Tuareg and Allies (GATIA), member of pro-national unity Platform coalition, in clashes near Kidal in north leaving several dozen combatants dead, and entered Ménaka town in east to maintain order alongside national and international security forces. Suspected Islamist militants 14 Aug launched two apparently coordinated attacks on UN peacekeeping mission (MINUSMA) in northern city of Timbuktu – killing six civilians and gendarme – and in central town of Douentza, killing soldier and UN peacekeeper. Community-based armed groups continued to develop; new Songhay Ganda group announced its formation 15 Aug in Gao region. CMA delegation in Bamako mid-Aug discussed with govt and other stakeholders implementation of June 2015 peace agreement, including formation of joint patrols and return of state administration to Kidal, and highlighted need to ensure proposed revised constitution fosters principle of self-administration by local residents. Elders’ group known as “founding families” 12 Aug called on President Keita to suspend proposed revision of constitution, which includes strengthening of presidential powers. After weeks of protests, Keita 18 Aug said revision would be pushed back and promised to organise new and more inclusive consultations.
Army 18 Aug allegedly killed 39 Boko Haram (BH) militants near Barwa, Diffa region in south east. International Office for Migration 9 Aug said 1,000 West African migrants abandoned by smugglers in north rescued since April.
Following recent rise in Boko Haram (BH) attacks in north east, military stepped up counter-insurgency. Military killed thirteen insurgents, lost two soldiers 5 Aug in Borno and Adamawa states. In Borno state, troops and vigilantes killed six insurgents in Dikwa Local Govt Area (LGA) 7 Aug; air force bombed insurgents in Sambisa forest 8 Aug killing several; military killed ten insurgents in Maza village, Marte LGA 15 Aug; and army 29 Aug reported five top BH commanders among scores killed in ground and air bombardment in Sambisa forest. BH continued attacks. In Borno state, militants 5 Aug killed at least 31 fishermen in Lake Chad island villages; militants 12 Aug killed at least four in Amarwa village, Konduga LGA; three female suicide bombers 15 Aug killed about 30 people near displaced persons’ camp in Mandarari, Konduga LGA; militants 22 Aug killed six people including village chief in Kijimatari, Guzamala LGA; militants 24 Aug killed at least fifteen in four villages in Nganzai LGA; same day killed twelve in two villages in Guzamala LGA; ambush 24 Aug killed five, including four members of vigilante group at Meleri village, Konduga LGA. In Madagali LGA, Adamawa state, BH 1 Aug killed seven in Mildo village and 14 Aug killed unknown number in two villages. UNICEF 21 Aug reported BH used 83 children, including 55 girls, as suicide bombers Jan-July 2017, four times higher than 2016 figure. In Niger Delta, region’s leaders’ group Pan-Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) met with Acting President Osinbajo 3 Aug, lauded federal govt’s plans for region; and presidential adviser on Niger Delta 8 Aug said govt planned to engage 10,000 local youths to protect oil pipelines; but coalition of Delta militants 10 Aug said it would resume bombing major oil and gas installations end of Sept, and 26 Aug denounced PANDEF as region’s negotiator with govt. Unidentified gunmen 28 Aug ambushed and killed four soldiers and a civilian in Ekeremor LGA, Bayelsa state. Northern youth leaders 24 Aug withdrew 1 Oct quit notice to Igbos in north. Attack on church in Ozubulu, Anambra state in south east 6 Aug, reportedly linked to war between drug gangs, killed at least twelve. President Buhari 19 Aug returned after three months of medical treatment in UK.
Japan 1 Aug said it had lodged diplomatic protest with Beijing calling for halt to China’s deployment of drilling rigs in gas fields near median line between their exclusive economic zones (EEZs) in East China Sea; same day urged China to resume negotiations on joint development of area. Tokyo argues boundary has not been finally determined; China, which reportedly has sixteen structures in area and rejects Japan’s concept of median line, retorted that areas are indisputably under its jurisdiction. Japan’s Air Self-Defence Force 15 Aug held joint drill with U.S. Air Force bombers near disputed islands. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi 7 Aug met with his newly-appointed Japanese counterpart Taro Kono on sidelines of foreign ministers’ meetings in Manila. Wang said confrontation between the two nations harms interests of both as well as regional peace and stability, urged Japan to play more constructive role; Kono said Japan likewise wants to resume dialogue and improve relations. Japan’s defence ministry 8 Aug released annual white paper taking harder line on North Korea’s missile development program and concerns about China’s maritime military activities; China called latter statements groundless.
North Korea’s launch of intermediate range ballistic missile over northern Japan 29 Aug, triggering warning sirens in region, prompted condemnatory UN Security Council (UNSC) statement and added to tensions over country’s nuclear program; Pyongyang said more ballistic missile launches to come. Earlier in month, U.S. responded to North Korea’s two July intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) tests by test-launching ICBM from its west coast 2 Aug. President Trump 8 Aug warned that provocative DPRK actions would be met with “fire and fury the likes of which the world has never seen”; Pyongyang responded announcing plans to test-launch missiles into area close to U.S. territory Guam if U.S. continued with its threatening stance, including participation in annual joint military exercise in South Korea. Exercise went ahead as planned 21-31 Aug, prompting North Korea to repeat its Guam warning; Russia 23 Aug flew nuclear-capable bombers around Korean peninsula. UNSC strengthened sanctions against North Korea 5 Aug, unanimously adopting Resolution 2371 banning country’s principal exports (coal, iron, iron ore, lead, lead ore, seafood). Chinese Foreign Minister Wang 7 Aug told his North Korean counterpart UN sanctions are “necessary, but not the end-goal”, China wants North Korea to return to negotiating table. North Korea fired several short-range projectiles into sea off east coast 26 Aug; U.S. Sec State Tillerson 22 Aug voiced openness to possible dialogue, 27 Aug said U.S. would continue working with allies to bring Pyongyang to negotiating table. U.S. military chief 15 Aug held unprecedented discussions on contingency plans with Chinese military command responsible for north-eastern region bordering North Korea. South Korean President Moon in 15 Aug speech reiterated that “military action on the Korean Peninsula can only be decided by South Korea”, which “will block war by whatever means necessary”; 17 Aug said he would consider sending special envoy to Pyongyang for talks if Pyongyang freezes its nuclear and missile tests.
President Tsai 9 Aug said she seeks new way to end deadlock in cross-strait ties since she took office May 2016; called on Beijing to work with her to establish “new model of cross-strait interactions” and said Taiwan “remains committed to maintaining the status quo”. Taipei 15 Aug said it had placed military on high alert after three days of Chinese air force drills that sometimes entered Taiwan’s air defence identification zone; Chinese defence ministry 31 Aug said air force exercises were “routine”.
U.S. President Trump 21 Aug announced new U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, to include additional 4,000 troops to bolster current U.S. force for indefinite timeframe, greater focus on counter-terrorism operations; President Ghani welcomed new U.S. strategy, saying it will increase NATO’s ability to “train, advice and assist” Afghan military. U.S. Sec State Tillerson 22 Aug said U.S. will not demand protection of women’s rights as part of peace deal between govt and Taliban. Strategy announcement also threatened to pressure Pakistan if it continued to provide safe haven to “agents of chaos, violence and terror”, prompting Islamabad to express concern; and called for increased Indian economic assistance to Kabul. Washington 30 Aug acknowledged presence of 11,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, rather than previously-disclosed figure of 8,400. Pakistan and Afghanistan army chiefs 27 Aug agreed to create joint cooperative security mechanism to fight terrorism through intelligence-sharing and border management. Taliban continued to launch attacks on govt-held territories, including in Helmand, Ghor and Faryab provinces during month; reportedly now controls/dominates some 48 out of 398 districts, largest area since 2001. Unclaimed suicide attack on Shia mosque in Herat 1 August killed 29 people and wounded over 60; Taliban denied role. Taliban claimed responsibility for 2 Aug car bomb targeting convoy of foreign forces in Daman area of Kandahar that killed two U.S. soldiers. Taliban and Islamic State (ISIS) reportedly joined forces in attack on Mirza Olang village in northern Sar-e-Pul province 3-6 Aug which left nearly 50 civilians and fighters dead; ISIS 15 Aug claimed responsibility for attack but Taliban denied involvement, called ISIS “hostile force”. ISIS 25 Aug stormed Shia mosque in Kabul killing at least twenty and injuring scores. Security forces 15-17 Aug briefly detained Balkh Provincial Council member Asif Mohmand at Mazar-e-Sharif airport on charges including forgery of govt documents and corruption; two killed in clashes between security forces and Mohmand’s supporters. Attorney general denied issuing arrest warrant and 16 Aug sent team to investigate after Mohmand accused Balkh Governor Atta Mohammad Noor of ordering arrest and subjecting him to violence; Mohmand 28 Aug called on President Ghani to intervene in investigation to ensure fair outcome.
Supreme Court 1 Aug released full verdict of its 3 July decision declaring 16th constitutional amendment, which empowered parliament to impeach Supreme Court judges, unconstitutional. Ruling included observations on range of issues including parliamentary functioning, necessity of checks and balances on executive, and independence of Election Commission. Top ministers and leaders from ruling Awami League (AL) immediately criticised verdict and chief justice. 16 Aug meeting between Hasina, two top ministers and President Hamid triggered speculation that govt might be considering major confrontation with judiciary; govt has yet to file for review. Separately, judiciary pressed govt to develop judges’ code of conduct. Controversy continued over Section 57 of Information and Communication Technology Act, which media have accused AL members of using to harass journalists; PM Hasina has defended it as necessary to prosecute those who try to defame country. Journalist sued 1 Aug under Section 57 for online story criticising state minister; police inspector general 2 Aug issued memo requiring police stations to seek approval from police HQ before filing charges under Section 57. Law enforcement agencies continued raids on suspected militant hideouts across country. Suspected militant 15 Aug detonated suicide bomb inside Dhaka hotel close to procession commemorating 1975 killing of Bangladesh’s founder and Hasina’s father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Nearly 20,000 Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar crossed border into Bangladesh late month fleeing violence (see Myanmar). Severe flooding during month estimated to have affected 8.6 million people, over 3.5 million homes damaged/destroyed, 140 people killed.
In ongoing clashes between Maoist insurgents and security forces, two suspected Maoists killed in Sukma district, Chhattisgarh 13 Aug; two members of security forces injured in IED blast in Sukma 15 Aug; two police killed in clash in Rajnandgaon, Chhattisgarh 6 Aug.
Eight Indian police killed in clash with militants who stormed their camp in Pulwama, southern Kashmir 26 Aug; three militants also reported killed; Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad claimed responsibility in reportedly worst attack on security facility since Sept 2016 Uri attack. India reported it believes 79 militants crossed Line of Control (LoC) into Indian Kashmir in July; military reported it killed five militants trying to enter 7 Aug, police reported two soldiers and three militants killed in clash in south 12-13 Aug. Firing across LoC continued including 26 Aug incident in which Indian force said it killed three Pakistani rangers; Pakistani police 28 Aug reported three civilians killed by Indian troops firing across LoC in Haveli district; in 21 July exchange, local officials reported child killed and three family members injured in Pakistan-administered Azad Jammu and Kashmir’s (AJK) Jhelum Valley, and Pakistan military claimed it killed three Indian soldiers in retaliation. Following 3 Aug meeting at Chakothi-Uri crossing, Indian and Pakistani officials agreed to resume cross-LoC trade 8 Aug; trade finally resumed 17 Aug. Tensions in India-administered Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) and clashes between demonstrators and security forces continued. Security forces 1 Aug killed top Lashkar-e-Tayyaba commander in Pulwama district, triggering protests and prompting authorities to suspend internet and train services. At least one protestor killed and dozens injured as police responded with force. J&K capital Srinagar and most parts of valley virtually shut down 3 Aug as both factions of separatist Hurriyat Conference and Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front called for protests against alleged targeting of civilians by security forces. U.S. state and treasury departments 16 Aug formally sanctioned Kashmiri militant group Hizb-ul Mujahidin, barring U.S. citizens and residents from dealing with group and freezing assets under U.S. jurisdiction. Pakistan said action unjustified; protests took place next day in AJK capital Muzaffarabad in west.
Plainclothes security forces 22 Aug occupied parliament to block no-confidence vote against speaker and reportedly assaulted opposition MPs; follows late July military lock down of parliament building also to prevent vote to remove speaker. Court 25 Aug sentenced opposition leader Qasim Ibrahim, convicted of bribing MPs to oust speaker; opposition groups denounced conviction as politically motivated.
In major setback for Madhesi parties and their agenda, constitutional amendment bill first tabled in April failed to pass in parliament 21 Aug after getting only 347 of 395 votes needed for adoption; opposition Communist Party of Nepal (UML) – second largest in parliament – voted against bill. Govt 30 Aug announced holding of provincial elections on 26 Nov and federal elections 7 Dec; Election Commission had cited logistical challenges in advising against govt’s previous decision to hold both polls on 26 Nov. Main Madhesi party – the Rastriya Janata Party-Nepal – 24 Aug announced it would participate in final round of local polls on 28 Sept and in provincial and federal elections following internal pressure on party leaders after unsuccessful boycotts of first two phases of local elections. PM Sher Bahadur Deuba committed to amending constitution to increase popular buy-in despite failed amendment bill in meeting with Indian PM Modi during 23-27 Aug visit to India; several parties including UML and CPN (Maoist-Center) criticised Deuba for internationalising a domestic issue already resolved by parliament. Several districts including most in southern Tarai plains experienced severe flooding second week of Aug; over 150 dead and over 20,000 families displaced.
In ongoing militant attacks, explosion in Lahore (east) 7 Aug killed at least one person, wounded around 50. Military 9 Aug reported four soldiers including major killed by suicide bomber during raid on militant hideout in Timergara in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province’s Upper Dir district (north); Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility. 11 Aug roadside bombing in Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA)’s Bajaur agency killed at least two people. In Balochistan (west), 12 Aug suicide bombing in Quetta killed at least fifteen including eight soldiers; 14 Aug roadside bombing killed six paramilitary Frontier Corps (FC) soldiers in Harnai district; another FC soldier shot dead in Panjgur district same day. Govt expressed concern over U.S. President Trump’s announcement of new Afghanistan strategy in which he accused Pakistan of providing safe haven to “agents of chaos, violence and terror”, and accused U.S. of using Pakistan as scapegoat and failing to eliminate militant sanctuaries in Afghanistan. Former petroleum Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi elected PM 1 Aug following Supreme Court’s 28 July disqualification of PM Nawaz Sharif; Sharif 7 Aug indicated Abbasi to continue in role until 2018 general elections. Sharif 15 Aug filed three appeals with Supreme Court challenging verdict. National Accountability Bureau 17 Aug summoned Sharif and his sons, who refused to appear until Supreme Court passed judgement on their review petitions. Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) (PML-N) and sections of legal community and press criticised Supreme Court for targeting Sharif and family while courts have yet to take up cases of others, including sitting judges, identified in Panama Papers. Members of Jamaat-ud-Dawa (formerly Lashkar-e-Tayyba, responsible for Nov 2008 Mumbai attacks) announced formation of political party, Milli Muslim League, to contest elections, including by-election to replace Sharif in National Assembly. Special court 31 Aug acquitted five men of conspiracy to murder former PM Benazir Bhutto in 2007, citing lack of evidence; court also declared former President Musharraf a fugitive.
Tensions re-emerged within unity govt as Foreign Minister Ravi Karunanayake, close ally of PM Wickremesinghe and senior United National Party (UNP) leader, resigned 10 Aug in wake of corruption charges during his tenure as finance minister, following intense pressure from President Sirisena and PM. Some UNP parliamentarians reportedly expressed resentment over resignation, seen more broadly as positive step in governance reform agenda. Tilak Marapana, former attorney general also implicated in corruption scandal in 2015, appointed new foreign minister; in first press statement he affirmed there will be no foreign judges in any post-conflict accountability mechanism; also said country had significant time to implement commitments to UN Human Rights Council on transitional justice. Sirisena 23 Aug removed controversial Justice Minister Wijedasa Rajapaksa, Buddhist nationalist and perceived sympathiser of previous govt, citing his public criticism of deal selling stake in Hambantota deep sea port to China. MoU between UNP and Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) expired 21 Aug, with understanding that both parties will work together though no attempt at renewal. Govt 28 Aug tabled 20th amendment to constitution which enables postponement of local elections with aim of conducting all polls same day in 2018; local councils, civil society and opposition challenging amendment which they see as usurping local powers and delaying elections. Protests continued in north by families of disappeared, including women’s representatives, calling for govt to release list of people in detention and those who surrendered to military at end of civil war in 2009; protests now ongoing for six months, with no substantive action by govt. Govt early Aug released list of people held under PTA.
Police 15 Aug arrested five suspected Islamist militants including one woman, reportedly members of Jemaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD), in Bandung (West Java); militants were allegedly planning bomb attacks on Jakarta presidential palace and Police Mobile Brigade (Brimob) HQ. Police 22 Aug named radical cleric Aman Abdurrahman key suspect in Jan 2016 suicide bombing and gun attack in Jakarta; said Abdurrahman is main Indonesian translator for Islamic State (ISIS) propaganda and the leader of ISIS-linked Jemaah Anshorut Daulah network. Govt unblocked messaging app Telegram after agreeing on special communication line for govt and Telegram to act on terror-related activities on app.
Counter Terrorism Division 23 Aug reported apparent decline in Islamic State (ISIS) recruitment in Malaysia following April death of Muhammad Wanndy Mohamed Jedi. Authorities reportedly arrested hundreds, mostly undocumented migrants, in search for ISIS militants during major security sweeps around capital Kuala Lumpur ahead of Southeast Asia Games late Aug. Govt 8 Aug protested Turkey’s deportation of suspected ISIS-linked militants to Malaysia without informing it.
Serious escalation in northern Rakhine state as militant group Harakah al-Yaqin/Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) launched coordinated attacks on 30 police posts and army base 25 Aug; some 80 militants and twelve members of security forces killed; military subsequently conducted “clearance operations”. Govt evacuated some 4,000 non-Muslim civilians from area; some 27,500 Rohingya attempting to flee to Bangladesh, but Bangladesh said it cannot accept them. Indications that ARSA has attacked non-Muslim villages and killed several residents represents serious new development. Tensions had been on rise ahead of attack with several incidents suggesting increased ARSA activity, deployment of additional Myanmar troops and tensions between villagers and security forces. Govt’s Maungdaw Investigation Commission 6 Aug issued final report strongly criticising UN human rights chief’s Feb report that found “very likely commission of crimes against humanity” by military during its late 2016 operations targeting ARSA; said it found no evidence of significant human rights violations by security forces. Aung San Suu Kyi (ASSK) 9 Aug convened special security meeting on Rakhine state, after which Rakhine state govt announced increased security measures, greater restrictions on foreign NGOs in northern Rakhine; military announced deployment of some 500 troops to northern Rakhine; and govt announced extension and expansion of curfew. Large demonstrations against UN and foreign NGOs took place across Rakhine state 13 Aug; ASSK’s office 28 Aug statement that aid workers were helping terrorists prompted UN to evacuate non-essential staff from area for their security; govt claim condemned by rights groups. Kofi Annan’s Advisory Commission on Rakhine state submitted final report 23 Aug with recommendations to address legitimate grievances of Rakhine and prevent violence; govt welcomed report. With ethnic peace process apparently stalled, govt and United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) peace negotiators met for sixth time 10 Aug; no clear progress toward agreements that would convince UNFC member armed groups to sign Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement. UNFC leader later reported trust “at zero”. Fresh clashes broke out between govt forces and Kachin Independence Organisation in Mogaung township, Kachin state 10-11 Aug, displacing over 1,000.
Battle in Lanao del Sur region’s Marawi City between govt troops and Islamic State (ISIS)-linked militants continued into fourth month. Govt tallied displaced from Marawi and surrounding provinces at 600,000; govt efforts continue to prepare for rebuilding city once fighting has ended. Military 28 Aug intercepted ten armed men who tried to enter Marawi, killing five; govt preparing for final push as military cornered remaining Maute fighters including Abu Sayyaf-Basilan leader Isnilon Hapilon; Madie Maute reportedly killed while trying to escape. Mayors in Lanao del Sur 12 Aug signed manifesto declaring war against Maute group, prompting concerns over potential clashes between Maute clans and other Maranao families. Security forces on high alert after death of Maute patriarch Cayamora Maute 27 Aug in govt custody; military continue operations in Basilan against Hapilon’s followers. Fighting broke out between MILF and faction of Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) aligned with ISIS early Aug in part of Maguindanao province: at least 25 people killed including five MILF. President Duterte 30 Aug announced possible meeting with Indonesian president and Malaysian PM on international terrorism. Office of the president 14 Aug forwarded Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) to House of Representatives and Senate, however BBL has no sponsors and was not included in the initial list of 28 priority bills approved by govt. Former president and district representative Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo 3 Aug filed alternative Bangsamoro enabling law, “Basic Act for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region” (BABAR), containing elements previously condemned by Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) due to proposed Bangsamoro region less autonomous than current arrangement; MILF described BABAR as “disgusting in all aspects”. Duterte 2 Aug maintained his decision to cancel peace talks with Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), National Democratic Front (NDF) and New People’s Army (NPA); govt official 3 Aug said signed formal notice of termination of peace talks with communists is forthcoming.
ASEAN states and China adopted framework for code of conduct in South China Sea at regional forum in Manila 5-6 Aug. Framework will set course of negotiations on details; amid continuing disagreements, communiqué did not say if code will be legally binding. Australia, Japan and U.S. 7 Aug issued statement urging ASEAN and China to establish code that is “legally binding, meaningful, effective, and consistent with international law” and refrain from land reclamation and militarisation. Vietnam took firmer line against China at forum, advocating for legally binding code and stronger ASEAN statement; Chinese Foreign Minister Wang subsequently cancelled meeting with Vietnamese counterpart. Wang told ASEAN meeting his country had ceased reclamation activities; Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative 9 Aug said statement not accurate. U.S. and Vietnamese defence ministers 9 Aug agreed U.S. aircraft carrier would visit Vietnam in 2018, first such visit since Vietnam War. Vietnam 23 Aug called for greater unity among South East Asian nations. Philippine defence minister 14 Aug told lawmakers China had agreed to maintain status quo, won’t occupy more features or build on Scarborough Shoal. Philippine lawmaker 15 Aug released images showing Chinese coast guard, naval, and civilian vessels near disputed Thitu (Pag-Asa) Island; allegations independently verified by Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative. President Duterte 21 Aug downplayed allegations, saying China’s presence does not constitute invasion. Manila 1 Aug announced govt in negotiations with Beijing to obtain $2.72bn funding for flagship infrastructure projects. U.S. navy destroyer 10 Aug challenged China’s claims around disputed Mischief Reef with freedom of navigation operation (FONOP), sailing within six nautical miles of Chinese-controlled feature in Spratly archipelago also claimed by Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam. Chinese frigate reportedly warned U.S. destroyer to turn around ten times. China criticised planned deployment by UK of two new aircraft carriers to conduct FONOPs in South China Sea.
Former PM Yingluck Shinawatra fled country before Supreme Court due to deliver verdict in her trial for dereliction of duty for failing to stem corruption in her govt’s rice-subsidy scheme 25 Aug. Amid concerns verdict could stir moribund anti-junta movement, military and police set up checkpoints on roads from Red-Shirt strongholds in north/north east to Bangkok. Thai-speaking armed men 29 July reportedly abducted anti-govt activist and prominent Red Shirt leader Wuthipong Kochathamakun in Laotian capital Vientiane, where he fled in March following allegations he was organising armed resistance to junta; govt denied any knowledge of incident. Crackdown on opposition in media continued, including for social media posts on politics. Defence Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan 9 Aug told reporters junta’s ban on political activity would remain in effect. National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission 10 Aug levied another 30-day ban on pro-Thaksin cable television channel Peace TV. Law student and pro-democracy activist 15 Aug plead guilty to lèse-majesté after sharing BBC Thai article about King Rama X on Facebook; attorney general 16 Aug indicted eight people on lèse majesté charges, accused of burning portraits of late and current kings in May. Amid ongoing militant violence in Deep South, two village volunteers killed and four injured 1 Aug by IED in Mai Kaen district, Pattani. Militants 16 Aug stole six trucks in Songkhla and rigged them with IEDs; three trucks abandoned, one IED injured four soldiers in Pattani, one caused only property damage, and security forces killed driver of another truck. Two hostages shot in incident, one fatally.
Following July elections marred by violence and irregularities, Peter O’Neill reappointed for second term as PM 2 Aug, day after supreme court threw out application to have his election declared void. O’Neill promised to conduct review of electoral process. Govt bolstered security in two highlands provinces affected by continuing violence during month; as of 22 Aug at least 21 people reported killed in election-related violence.
Process of constituting parliament following 11 June snap elections blocked after PAN coalition, which won most seats in election (39 out of 120), repeatedly boycotted parliamentary session intended to appoint new speaker. EU officials and Western ambassadors urged swift end to political deadlock to allow for reform process to proceed; UN mission chief warned country missing out on financial aid and investment. Vetevendosje and Democratic League of Kosovo parties in talks on possible coalition agreement late month. Foreign Minister Enver Hoxhaj rejected proposal by his Serbian counterpart to modify boundaries between Kosovo’s ethnic Serb and Albanian enclaves and give Serbs autonomy, in return for Serbia giving up claim to Kosovo. Kosovo and Serbian presidents met in Brussels 31 Aug to discuss continuation of normalisation dialogue; EU foreign policy chief Mogherini said they had agreed on final steps to implement EU-facilitated deal on integrating courts in Serb-dominated northern Kosovo justice system by 17 Oct.
Macedonia and Bulgaria 1 Aug signed friendship treaty including trade and transport commitments, Bulgaria to support Macedonia’s bid to join NATO and EU. Opposition VMRO DPMNE continued efforts to stall work of parliament and launch no-confidence motions against govt ministers, prompting concerns over parliament’s ability to advance reform agenda. Parliament 16 Aug dismissed controversial public prosecutor Marko Zvrlevski. Serbia 20 Aug withdrew its diplomatic staff following allegations of “offensive intelligence activities” against Serbia; leaders later agreed on dialogue to improve relations. Macedonian and Greek foreign ministers met in Skopje 31 Aug, discussed ways to revive talks on their longstanding dispute on use of name Macedonia.
Armenian and Russian presidents 23 Aug met in Sochi to discuss political, military and economic cooperation; Nagorno-Karabakh settlement process raised but not reportedly part of main agenda. PM 21 Aug said govt “very determined” to sign Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement (CEPA) with EU during summit in Nov; president 28 Aug confirmed agreement scheduled to be signed in autumn.
Country’s last remaining independent media outlet Turan 11 Aug reported govt had launched politically-motivated investigation into it for alleged tax evasion, froze its bank account and later in month detained its director. U.S. and others expressed concern over investigation.
Visiting Tbilisi 1 Aug, U.S. VP Pence pledged U.S. support for Georgia’s “sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders”, promised U.S. will support Georgia’s NATO ambitions, “strongly condemns Russia’s occupation”. Russian President Putin, visiting breakaway republic Abkhazia on 8 Aug anniversary of start of Russia-Georgia 2008 war, said “We have a very special relationship with Abkhazia: we provide a reliable guarantee of security and independence of Abkhazia”, which he said would continue in future. Russia’s deputy interior minister 17 Aug visited Abkhazia for more detailed talks about planned joint police centre. Two Russian tourists killed and scores injured in explosion of major weapons depot in Abkhazia 2 Aug, further damaging region’s tourism industry. South Ossetia de facto prosecutor launched investigation into ethnic Georgian civil activist Tamara Mearakishvili, detaining her mid-Aug and accusing her of “defaming” local member of ruling political party. Case broadly seen as attempt by local authorities to silence critical voices; Mearakishvili reportedly kidnapped in June and spent night at local KGB office.
Reportedly calmest month since April 2016 escalation saw decrease in regular exchange of fire, and both sides issuing fewer propaganda reports and statements. Shootings mainly by snipers; two Armenian soldiers reported killed 14 Aug and 27 Aug. Meanwhile, increase in activity reported on usually uneventful Armenian-Azerbaijani state border; one Armenian soldier reported wounded 1 Aug. Some observers fear NK tensions could re-escalate following scheduled meeting of Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers in second half of Sept on margins of UNGA. U.S. interim co-chair of Minsk Group Richard Hoagland at press conference in Washington DC 23 Aug discussed main elements of NK talks, confirming that return of territories outside former NK autonomous oblast was essential part of peace process, and that all sides agreed with this – something Armenia hesitated to confirm in public. Hoagland also said status of remaining NK territory should be defined in future public vote; Armenian side should keep wide corridor from NK to Armenia; and Azeri IDPs should gain right to return to their homes. Azerbaijani side confirmed elements and again called for resumed “substantial talks”; Armenian side said not all elements were reported correctly, but without specifying what was incorrect. U.S. 28 Aug announced new Minsk Group co-chair Andrew Schofer. In 29 July interview with country’s main TV talk-show, de-facto NK defence minister said his army ready to move forward and take control of new Azerbaijani-populated lands along LoC. De facto foreign ministers of NK and Georgian breakaway region Abkhazia 28 Aug signed Agreement on Cooperation in Stepanakert – first ever “official” document by two breakaway entities.
In Dagestan, authorities 14 Aug reported security services killed Khadzhimurad Gadzhiyev, leader of Khunzakh criminal group, during counter-terrorism operation in Orota village in west previous day. Gadzhiyev accused of killing Muslim cleric in 2014 and of extorting money from businesses in Dagestan. Three people killed by IED in Khasavyurt district 17 Aug; three police reported killed in two separate clashes in Khasavyurt and Kaspiisk 28 Aug, latter claimed by Islamic State (ISIS); officers killed in Khasavyurt were reportedly from Ukraine. In Makhachkala, police 11 Aug briefly detained fifteen worshipers at Salafi mosque. In Ingushetia, policeman killed in attack in Nazran district 13 Aug; security forces reportedly shot dead several suspected militants during operation in Malgobek region 23 Aug. NGO Memorial 1 Aug reported security forces detained two men in Nazran late July and tortured them. ISIS claimed 19 Aug attack in Siberian city Surgut in which young man reportedly of North Caucasus origin, stabbed seven people on busy street before being shot dead by police; two others from Dagestan reportedly charged with abetting terrorism, among several detained in connection with attack over following days. Yaroslav Sunyugin, head of Stavropol HQ for opposition politician Alexei Navalny, resigned 11 Aug citing security threats. Novaya Gazeta 18 Aug reported Kremlin decided to ban display of repentance planned by Chechen authorities for 162 residents of Krasnaya Turbina settlement outside Grozny who sent letter to prosecutor general 16 Aug complaining about procedural violations in trial of two local men suspected of involvement in Dec 2016 Grozny attacks. Signatories to letter were reportedly being rounded up by police to state orchestrated public mass act of repentance. Chechen legislator Mukhmad Azhakov, member of Russian Communist Party, shot dead by unknown gunmen on road to Grozny 25 Aug; Chechen head Ramzan Kadyrov said not a terrorist/militant attack or political killing.
Ahead of large-scale joint Belarus-Russia military exercises set to take place in Belarus 14-20 Sept, NATO chief called for transparency citing 2011 “Vienna Document” agreement mandating inspections for large-scale exercises. U.S. early Aug accused Moscow of lack of transparency regarding exercises.
Relations with Russia further strained as govt 2 Aug declared Russian deputy PM Dmitry Rogozin persona non grata, accused him of making defamatory comments about Moldovan officials on Russian television; Moscow criticised ban as “provocative and unsubstantiated”. Moldovan President Dodon, who supports closer relations with Moscow, 5 Aug met with Rogozin in Tehran where both were attending presidential inauguration. Russian ambassador to UN criticised report that Moldova has requested UN to discuss withdrawal of foreign troops from separatist Transnistria during Sept UNGA; Dodon also criticised request.
OSCE Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) reported ceasefire violations increased from average 100/day in late July to 330/day mid-Aug, thereafter decreasing slightly. SMM reported GRAD multiple launch rocket system likely fired by separatist forces 1-2 Aug; Ukrainian army 7 Aug reported its positions had been shelled by multiple rocket launch systems. At least nine Ukrainian army personnel reported killed and 77 injured 24 July-20 Aug; during same period, twenty Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) fighters reported killed and twelve wounded, and DNR military command claimed Ukrainian army firing twice as many shells mid-Aug compared with late July; five civilians also reported killed. Monitors report separatist forces continued to deny them access to areas of observation. During 22 Aug Normandy format phone call between Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany, sides agreed ceasefire beginning 25 Aug for start of new school year, but both sides reported violations almost immediately. Newly-appointed U.S. Special Representative Kurt Volker met with Putin aide Vladislav Surkov 21 Aug to discuss progress of Minsk agreements. Surkov reported both sides “proposed fresh ideas and innovative approaches” for implementation; he also stated that “political elements” of Minsk – requirement that Kyiv grant special status to currently occupied territories and hold elections there – should be implemented more quickly. Citing anonymous sources, U.S. Sec Defense Mattis visited Kyiv 24 Aug, said U.S. “won’t accept” Russian annexation of Crimea, is “actively reviewing” possibility of supplying lethal defensive weapons to govt. Moscow and separatists criticised Mattis’ remarks, saying U.S. supply of lethal weapons would be threatening for separatists and escalate conflict. U.S. media 4-5 Aug reported defence officials considering weapons package worth some $50mn including shoulder-launched anti-tank missiles. In Kyiv, director of National Anti-Corruption Bureau (NABU) in interview published 19 Aug said Ukrainian courts conducting “total sabotage” of the Bureau’s efforts, failing to proceed with high-level cases.
During annual commemorative events for killing of eighteen Turkish Cypriots in 1964, Greek foreign ministry 8 Aug issued statement criticising Turkish portrayal of three-day bombing campaign that killed over 50 Greek Cypriots including nineteen civilians; Turkish foreign ministry responded with statement asserting Greeks and Greek Cypriots attempting to cover their guilt after having “for many years … resorted to every possible means of propagating fear and instigating violence with the aim of expelling” Turkish Cypriots from Cyprus “through ethnic cleansing”. UN 14 Aug announced Espen Barthe Eide resigned from position of Special Envoy for Cyprus. Greek Cypriot govt 27 Aug said it will continue oil and gas exploration activities despite Ankara’s “provocative tactics”.
Sixteen people killed and over 130 wounded in terrorist attacks claimed by Islamic State (ISIS) in north east 17 Aug. Fourteen killed by van driving through crowded tourist area of Barcelona; one person stabbed by fleeing attacker who seized his car; one person killed hours later when several attackers drove car through pedestrians in Cambrils, further south. Eight members of terror cell believed to be behind attack killed by police or when their bomb-making equipment blew up 16 Aug; cell believed to have been planning much larger attack.
Clashes between Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and security forces in south east continued at low intensity, with at least 38 confirmed casualties during month, mostly PKK militants and six civilians; security force fatalities concentrated in rural areas of Batman, Hakkari and Şırnak, PKK fatalities mostly reported in Tunceli, Diyarbakır and Siirt provinces. Military operations including destruction of PKK shelters and ammunition storages; military 11 Aug reported it had seized two Swedish-made AT-4 missiles in Şırnak’s Uludere district. PKK continued attacks on civilians and state representatives. Crackdown on Kurdish movement and alleged sympathisers continued, including prosecution on loosely-defined terrorism charges. Police 2 Aug arrested French journalist Loup Jean René Bureau in Şırnak’s Uludere district for alleged links to Kurdish People’s Protection Unit (YPG); Czech officials same day said court had jailed two Czech nationals claiming to be humanitarian workers for YPG membership. Pro-Kurdish Democratic People’s Party (HDP) 1 Aug launched “justice watch” demonstrations in Istanbul’s Kadikoy district, to continue across country ahead of one year anniversary of HDP deputies’ arrest 4 Nov. On Syrian front, relations with U.S. remained tense over opposing positions on Sunni rebel groups and U.S. backing of YPG’s Raqqa offensive. Military 5 Aug announced stronger presence along southern border against possible YPG threats; media 8 Aug reported construction of “security wall” in apparent bid to curb illegal crossings from Iran. Ruling body of Iraq’s Kurdish region Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) 12 Aug said it will go ahead with 25 Sept independence referendum despite opposition from Turkey, U.S., Iran and others. Crackdown against suspected Islamic State (ISIS) militants ongoing: police 10 Aug detained Russian citizen accused of ISIS membership; suspected ISIS militant 13 Aug stabbed dead police officer trying to detain him in Istanbul, suspect killed. Tensions between refugees and host communities remain high; Pew survey 1 Aug reported 64% of Turkish citizen respondents cited refugee issue as major threat. Amid ongoing tensions with Berlin, German Chancellor Merkel 16 Aug said no expansion of EU-Turkey customs union in sight.
Speaker of parliament and member of ruling Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan (SDPK) Chynybai Tursunbekov 31 July withdrew his candidacy for 15 Oct presidential election; official SDPK candidate PM Sooronbai Jeenbekov 21 Aug announced his resignation to run for presidency; parliament 25 Aug approved appointment of former president’s chief of staff Sapar Iskov as PM. Leaders of three southern-based opposition parties (Butun Kyrgyzstan, Ata-Jurt Mekenchil, Onuguu-Progress) 6 Aug announced single political association formation; move raises concerns among observers that presidential campaign may inflame country’s north-south divide. Bishkek court 16 Aug handed eight year prison sentence to opposition Ata-Meken party leader Omurbek Tekebayev and former Emergency Situations Minister Duishonkul Chotonov for bribe-taking; Supreme Court 31 Aug upheld Central Election Commission’s rejection of Tekebayev’s presidential candidacy despite 39,000 signatures collected by his supporters. Birinchi Mai district court in Bishkek 22 Aug shut down TV channel Sentyabr for extremist content broadcast after it aired interview with chief of police allegedly insulting now former PM Jeenbekov.
Two audio messages surfaced 23 July and 3 Aug refuting death of former Colonel Gulmurod Khalimov, Tajik police commander who defected to Islamic State (ISIS) in 2015 and reportedly killed in Mosul, Iraq in April. Radio Ozodi 31 July also reported receiving two photographs of Khalimov.
Removal of all containers holding Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) weapons from cantonments finalised 15 Aug; of 949 arms caches reported by FARC, 873 have been located, of which 510 extracted by 15 Aug. Goal for FARC and govt is to continue destroying caches after 1 Sept, official end of first UN mission. Following official end of ceasefire 15 Aug, cantonments formally changed into “Territorial Reincorporation Zones”; FARC male and female members to remain to begin reintegration process. Armed forces will send some 500 troops to each area where FARC remain to guarantee security, but ex-fighters will have freedom of movement. UN mission attacked during search of weapons cache in Cauca 6 Aug, injuring one policeman; govt blamed National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla group, ELN denied accusation. FARC introduced its new political party at conference in Bogotá late Aug. FARC dissident activity continued in Guaviare, where first front dissidents 18 Aug attacked counter-narcotics police, injuring six; seventh front dissidents 14 Aug attacked police in San José del Guaviare, also injuring six policemen. Elsewhere, govt forces attacked dissidents, capturing dissident group leader alias Hugo in Tumaco 7 Aug, and his successor alias Alber 12 Aug, as well as killing Miller, third-in-command of first front, 25 Aug. As third cycle of peace talks between govt and ELN continued, ELN attacks against military forces appeared to have declined, although selective killings of civilians continue in Arauca. Human rights ombudsman’s office 8 Aug publicly asked ELN to stop kidnappings and killings. Authorities 9-14 Aug seized various properties belonging to Clan del Golfo neo-paramilitary group, worth over $130mn. Govt continued struggle to get congressional approval of political reform partly based on recommendations of Special Electoral Mission, created by peace agreement, as well as laws related to rural development and transitional justice. Another high-level corruption scandal rocked country 15 Aug, with at least three former Supreme Court presidents under investigation for receiving bribes. Govt reported increased influx of Venezuelans fleeing poverty, hunger and disease amid worsening crisis (see Venezuela).
National Assembly (AN) 18 Aug refused to subordinate itself to newly-installed Constituent Assembly (ANC), which decreed that it had consequently assumed all powers of AN, effectively dissolving legislature. Govt 16 Aug installed ANC’s so-called Truth Commission, tasked inter alia with investigating opposition leaders for alleged participation in anti-govt violence. ANC member Diosdado Cabello said any opposition candidate for elected office would first have to obtain “good conduct” certificate from ANC; ANC 30 Aug voted to try opposition leaders for treason. ANC 5 Aug moved to dismiss attorney general Luisa Ortega Díaz and replace her with govt loyalist Tarek W. Saab. Intelligence service 16 Aug raided Ortega’s home and authorities issued warrant for arrest of her husband; couple fled to Colombia, Ortega later said she had evidence Maduro and other govt leaders involved in corruption. Opposition split over whether to participate in delayed Dec 2017 elections for state governor: over 30 opposition politicians announced candidacy; Vente Venezuela party leader María Corina Machado withdrew from opposition Democratic Unity alliance (MUD) over issue, saying to participate was to legitimise dictatorship. Electoral authority 12 Aug brought forward election date to Oct. Armed group led by former soldiers 6 Aug briefly took over barracks in major military base in Valencia, west of Caracas: three people killed. Attack coincided with social media publication of video showing former National Guard officer Juan Carlos Caguaripano with armed soldiers announcing rebellion against Maduro’s “murderous tyranny”; Caguaripano and another leader captured by police 11 Aug, intelligence chief said eighteen people in custody. Seventeen regional foreign ministers and representatives discussed crisis 8 Aug in Lima, Peru: twelve later signed declaration condemning “breakdown of the democratic order”, said they would not recognise ANC actions. U.S. did not take part; President Trump 11 Aug told reporters he did not rule out “military option” to restore democracy; Lima group and many regional govts rejected idea. U.S. 25 Aug introduced new sanctions restricting access for Venezuelan govt and state oil company to U.S. debt markets; said no plans to take military action “in near future”.
Country’s fight against impunity and corruption hung in balance as President Morales 27 Aug declared Colombian national Iván Velásquez, head of International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), persona non grata and ordered him to leave country, accusing him of exceeding his mandate. Decision prompted protests in capital, resignation of some cabinet members, and expressions of concern from UN and Western ambassadors. Constitutional Court placed immediate stay on decision, and 29 Aug ruled expulsion order invalid. Morales had travelled to New York 25 Aug and complained to UNSG Guterres about Velásquez amid ongoing probe into suspected corruption by his brother and son; CICIG 25 Aug said Morales should be investigated over alleged illicit funding during his election campaign and requested Congress lift his immunity from prosecution. Outcry after heavily armed group 16 Aug attacked largest public hospital in Guatemala City to free Anderson Cabrera, convicted member of Mara Salvatrucha street-gang serving multiple sentences for homicide; eight killed including child and two doctors, Cabrera and three perpetrators escaped. Following visit to Guatemala, Inter-American Commission for Human Rights 4 Aug reported positive signs of progress, but much to be done to overcome structural factors that produced armed conflict and generate full respect for human rights.
Security ministry 3 Aug reported continuing homicide drop of 23% in first months of 2017. Authorities 30 July captured former Tegucigalpa police commander wanted on money laundering charges, and on 11 Aug Honduras Barrio 18 leader “Bóxer Hiuber”. Organization of American States-backed Mission Against Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH) and civil society group National Anti-Corruption Council 14 Aug denounced lower penalties for some corruption-related charges in new penal code that National Congress seeks to approve.
Spike in gang-related violence continued to target police officers, killing 22 as of 29 Aug. 30 homicides reported 12-13 Aug, mostly in west. Justice Minister Mauricio Landaverde 14 Aug said gangs pressuring govt to return to dialogue; previously ascribed rise in homicides to gang infighting. Trial against eighteen people involved in 2012-2014 gang truce ended 29 August with acquittal for all; former Barrio 18 gang member testified that both ruling FMLN and main opposition party ARENA gave three major gangs $250,000 in exchange for votes during 2014 elections; parties denied or ignored accusations. U.S. 15 Aug ended part of immigration program created for Central American minors.
Ahead of Oct departure of UN Stabilisation Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), Haiti and Dominican Republic (DR) late July combined efforts to tackle border security: MINUSTAH Police Commissioner announced mission’s reconstruction and technical assistance team will remain in Haiti until 2019 and support Haiti/DR efforts to share intelligence and strengthen links to stabilise border, while DR army deployed another 900 soldiers to back up 300 troops previously sent to frontier. DR continued expulsion of undocumented Haitian immigrants, with 6,776 officially deported in July, up 48% from previous month.
Clashes between factions of criminal organisations and security forces reported in states of Tamaulipas (north east), Michoacán (south west), Chihuahua (north west) and in Mexico City during month. Amid ongoing clashes between factions of Gulf Cartel in Reynosa, Tamaulipas, state police office attacked by grenades 11 Aug; authorities reported road blocks and shootouts 15 Aug; state police attacked close to Ciudad Madera, Chihuahua, 16 Aug. Attorney general’s office 3 Aug announced investigation into 3 Aug shootout in Mexico City’s Tepito neighbourhood in which one person was killed and six wounded; comes amid concern over increasing crime and insecurity in capital during first half of 2017. Authorities found new mass graves including one containing 300 human remains in Tijuana, Baja California state (west) 16 Aug; small mass graves also found in Acapulco (Guerrero), Valparaiso (Zacatecas) and Pantanal (Nayarit). Media 1 Aug reported murder of journalist Luciano Rivera Delgado in Tijuana; murder of Cándido Ríos Vázquez 22 August in Veracruz fuelled outrage; Article 19 NGO published report documenting 276 attacks against journalists during first half of 2017. Think-tank Ethos Laboratorio de Políticas Públicas 11 Aug published report arguing that 60% increase in security budget 2008-2015 had failed to reduce homicide rates or judicial impunity, 99% of crimes still going unpunished. President of National Commission for Human Rights 17 Aug asked president for plan to return Army and Navy to normal activities and leave public security to civilian police. U.S. Treasury Department 9 Aug designated 21 Mexican citizens and 43 companies part of money laundering operations of drug trafficking organisation led by Raúl Flores Hernández, ordered freezing of their assets in U.S.; list includes Rafael Márquez, captain of national football team.
Israel and Palestinian Authority (PA) reportedly resumed security coordination early Aug after PA 21 July said it was suspending coordination in protest against Israel’s installation of metal detectors at entrances to Jerusalem’s Holy Esplanade, removed late July. Israel early Aug arrested dozens of Palestinians, mostly from Jerusalem, suspected of involvement in July protests over control of access to Holy Esplanade. King Abdullah of Jordan 7 Aug visited Ramallah to discuss tensions over Holy Esplanade with PA President Abbas (his first trip to Ramallah in five years), amid ongoing diplomatic tensions with Israel after Israeli guard 23 July shot two Jordanians at Israel’s embassy in Amman. Jordan 9 Aug reportedly told Israel it would not allow Israeli ambassador to return until embassy guard was investigated and tried (see Jordan). Egypt opened Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Gaza 14-18 Aug allowing 2,500 Gazans to perform Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. Hamas security forces 17 Aug detained two Palestinians attempting to enter Egypt from Gaza, one of whom, reportedly affiliated to Islamic State (ISIS), detonated explosives vest, killing himself and Hamas guard; attack allegedly aimed at Egyptian security forces. Israeli border police in West Bank 19 Aug shot dead Palestinian teenager who tried to attack them with knife. Abbas 1 Aug and PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah 14 Aug met Hamas delegations to discuss possible reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah, potentially involving PA resuming control of Gaza. PA 9 Aug arrested five journalists, mostly working for pro-Hamas outlets, for “leaking sensitive information to hostile authorities”, released them 14 Aug; Hamas later released Fatah-affiliated journalist. After rocket fired from Gaza landed in southern Israel 8 Aug, Israeli planes same day struck two Hamas targets in Gaza.
Govt 14 Aug barred Israeli ambassador’s return until Israeli embassy guard who killed two Jordanians at Israel’s embassy in Amman 23 July had been investigated and tried (see Israel/Palestine).
Army 19 Aug launched offensive against Islamic State (ISIS) militants in control of pocket straddling Syrian-Lebanese border. Syrian army and Hizbollah same day said they had begun joint operation against same ISIS group from Syrian side of border. Lebanese army said its operation not in coordination with Syria or Hizbollah. ISIS 27 Aug agreed ceasefire with army, and same day agreed separate ceasefire with Hizbollah and Syrian army; ISIS fighters and their families 28 Aug began withdrawal from border region to eastern Syria, however U.S. airstrikes in Syria 30 Aug blocked convoy before it reached ISIS-held territory (see Syria). Following ceasefire deal late July between Lebanese army, Hizbollah and Salafi-jihadist group Fath al-Sham, transfer of some 9,000 people, including Fath al-Sham militants and Syrian refugees, from Jroud Arsal in north east to Syria’s Idlib province completed early Aug; Hizbollah and Fath al-Sham also exchanged prisoners. Under similar deal some 300 fighters from smaller local faction Saraya Ahl al-Sham and their families 14 Aug began withdrawal from pocket near Syrian border reportedly to Syria. UN and rights groups voiced concerns that repatriations of refugees were not consensual nor met international legal standards. Army 7 Aug shelled ISIS positions in Syria after group reportedly fired seven rockets from Syria into Lebanon near al-Qaa in north east, causing no casualties. Clashes between Palestinian security forces and Islamist militants in Aïn el-Helweh Palestinian refugee camp in south 17-23 Aug killed at least five.
Fighting continued early Aug between regime forces and rebels in rebel-held Damascus suburb Eastern Ghouta despite 22 July ceasefire deal. Russia 18 Aug brokered ceasefire between regime and Islamist rebel group Failaq al-Rahman of Free Syrian Army (FSA) coalition in Jobar district, eastern Damascus, and nearby Ain Tarma town; next day regime bombed areas covered by ceasefire. In west, fighting in Hama province between govt and multiple rebel factions and Islamic State (ISIS) escalated. Govt and rebels agreed in Cairo to establish “de-escalation zone” north of govt-held Homs to take effect 3 Aug; monitors reported repeated ceasefire violations by both sides. Army in coordination with Hizbollah 19 Aug launched offensive in Qalamun region, western Rif Dimashq province against ISIS militants controlling territory straddling Syria-Lebanon border; Lebanese army same day launched offensive in Lebanon against same group. Army and Hizbollah 27 Aug agreed ceasefire with ISIS, under which ISIS fighters to be transferred to east; U.S. airstrikes 30 Aug blocked convoy transferring fighters before it reached ISIS-held territory. Following ceasefire deal late July between Lebanese army, Hizbollah and Salafi-jihadist group Fath al-Sham, transfer of some 9,000 people, including Fath al-Sham militants and Syrian refugees, from Jroud Arsal in north east Lebanon to Syria’s Idlib province completed early Aug; Hizbollah and Fath al-Sham also exchanged prisoners. Under similar deal some 300 fighters from smaller local faction Saraya Ahl al-Sham and their families 14 Aug began withdrawal from area in Lebanon near border to Syria. In north east, Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and allies in Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) coalition continued slow progress in retaking Raqqa from ISIS. U.S.-led coalition’s bombing in city continued to cause civilian casualties; UN 24 Aug called for pause to allow civilians to escape. Army and allied militias 5 Aug completed capture from ISIS of al-Sukhna in north west of Homs province, last major town held by ISIS in province, and mid-Aug continued advance eastwards toward ISIS-held territory in Deir el-Zour province. Talks between Turkey, Iran and Russia in Kazakhstan, scheduled for late Aug, postponed until mid-Sept.
U.S. President Trump 2 Aug signed bill placing new sanctions on Revolutionary Guards and individuals believed to be facilitating govt’s development of ballistic missiles, prompting Iran’s strong opposition: President Rouhani said U.S. had breached 2015 nuclear agreement and warned govt could restart its nuclear program “within hours” if U.S. imposes more sanctions. Parliament 13 Aug voted to increase Revolutionary Guards’ military budget by $260mn, and allocated another $260mn to advance ballistic missiles program. Rouhani inaugurated for second term as president 5 Aug; parliament 20 Aug approved new all-male ministerial cabinet. Iranian drone 8 Aug approached within 40 metres of U.S. jet preparing to land on U.S. aircraft carrier patrolling in Persian Gulf, forcing evasive action; U.S. officials called encounter “unsafe and unprofessional”. Qatar 23 Aug announced plan to return ambassador to Tehran in attempt to strengthen bilateral relations.
Security forces 20 Aug launched offensive to recapture Tal Afar in north west from Islamic State (ISIS); Shia Popular Mobilisation Units (PMU) and Kurdish peshmerga also took part. U.S.-led coalition carried out dozens of airstrikes on Tal Afar ahead of offensive. Prime Minister Abadi 31 Aug declared Tal Afar and Nineveh province “liberated”, though clashes reported in al-Ayadiya, 11km north west of Tal Afar, after declaration. Two U.S. soldiers killed and five wounded east of Tal Afar 13 Aug in explosion that ISIS claimed it caused with rocket attack; Pentagon next day said U.S. artillery’s “mishap” caused deaths, denying ISIS involvement. Five suicide bombers 16 Aug killed seven security personnel in Baiji, 175km south east of Tal Afar; attack unclaimed. Car bomb claimed by ISIS killed twelve people 28 Aug in market in eastern Baghdad. U.S. Sec State Tillerson 10 Aug asked Kurdistan Regional Govt (KRG) to postpone independence referendum pencilled for 25 Sept, due to fears vote will increase tensions with Baghdad and distract from fight against ISIS; Turkish foreign minister 16 Aug warned independence vote could precipitate civil war. U.S. Sec Defence reiterated request to delay vote in meeting with KRG President Barzani in Erbil 22 Aug; senior Kurdish security official and KRG president’s son Masrour Barzani afterwards said vote would proceed as planned. President Barzani said in interview published 30 Aug Kurdistan could postpone referendum if Baghdad and international community guarantee to recognise result. Main border crossing with Jordan at Tureibil reopened 30 Aug.
Amid ongoing Gulf diplomatic crisis, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman 17 Aug reopened air routes to Qatar and land border, closed since 5 June, to allow Qatari pilgrims to travel to Mecca for annual Hajj pilgrimage, and said he would send private jets to transport pilgrims at his own expense. Saudi state carrier 20 Aug claimed Qatar ignored its requests to land in Doha to collect pilgrims; Qatar denied allegation. Govt 24 Aug restored ambassador to Iran. Govt told Chadian diplomats to leave country after Chad accused Qatar of trying to destabilise country and told its diplomats to leave (see Chad).
Amid ongoing Gulf diplomatic crisis, King Salman 17 Aug reopened air routes to Qatar and land border, closed since 5 June, to allow Qatari pilgrims to travel to Mecca for annual Hajj pilgrimage, and said he would send private jets to transport pilgrims at his own expense. Saudi state carrier 20 Aug claimed Qatar ignored its requests to land in Doha to collect pilgrims; Qatar denied allegation. Fighting intensified in predominantly Shia town of Awamiya in Qatif region of Eastern province, where authorities have been trying since May to flush out Shia fighters; nine civilians reportedly killed 1-5 Aug.
Significant escalation of tensions in capital Sanaa between supporters of Huthis and former President Saleh, alongside increase in Saudi Arabia-led coalition airstrikes. Saleh 24 Aug staged large rally in Sanaa to celebrate 35th anniversary of creation of General People’s Congress party (GPC); Huthi leadership previous day called for state of emergency, said political mass gatherings should be made on battlefront, not in public squares. Immediately prior to and after GPC rally, coalition airstrikes hit several military and non-military targets around Sanaa. Airstrikes hit Huthi security checkpoint in Arhab and hotel in same district 23 Aug; UN human rights office reported 33 civilians killed in latter. Saudi coalition airstrike hit residential area of Sanaa 24 Aug, killing sixteen civilians including seven children; coalition expressed regret, calling it “technical mistake”. Senior GPC official and three Huthi fighters killed in clashes at Huthi-controlled checkpoint in Sanaa 25 Aug; Saleh 31 Aug called for arrest of Huthi gunmen responsible for killing his aide. Fighting continued in Taiz governorate in south and along Saudi border. In Taiz, Huthi/Saleh rebels continued to vie with United Arab Emirates (UAE) forces and Yemeni allies for control of Khaled bin Waleed military base and surrounding areas. Huthis said they launched attacks on two UAE military vessels in Mokha port using remote-controlled explosives-laden boats 12 and 16 Aug, claiming first ship hit “with precision”; UAE said it thwarted both attacks. Huthis claimed to have intensified attacks on Saudi territory, including on Najran city and in Asir and Jizan regions. Saudi-led coalition retaliated with airstrikes, including in Hajjah and Saada governorates; coalition 7 Aug claimed to have killed over 70 Huthi fighters in Hajjah 3-4 Aug. Huthis 4 Aug said Saudi airstrikes killed at least twelve civilians in Saada governorate; Saudi-led coalition denied reports. Yemeni forces 3 Aug began campaign to drive al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) militants out of Shebwa governorate in south-centre; Yemeni forces 4 Aug claimed victory but locals say AQAP fighters evacuated ahead of military operation.
PM Tebboune who vowed to fight corruption dismissed 15 Aug after three months in office following public dispute with businessman and head of Business Leaders Forum Ali Haddad, close ally of President Bouteflika’s brother Said. President’s Chief of Staff and head of Rally for National Democracy Ahmed Ouyahia appointed PM same day. Bouteflika 17 Aug appointed new trade, housing, and industry and mines ministers. Military 13 Aug said it had found significant weapons cache in Bordj Badji Mokhtar on Malian border in south. Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb claimed IED explosion in Batna in north east 1 Aug that killed two soldiers. Unidentified militant 31 Aug detonated suicide belt in front of police station in Tiaret, 300km west of Algiers, killing at least two policemen.
President Sisi 7 Aug signed law creating National Electoral Commission to oversee presidential elections scheduled for May 2018; some pro-Sisi MPs 9 Aug revived calls to postpone elections due to political and security situation, extend Sisi’s current four-year term by two years and remove term limit restricting him to one re-election. Security forces clashed with suspected Islamist militants in Luxor in south 7 Aug, one civilian and one police officer killed. Three suspected Islamist militants and policeman killed in police raid in Abu Tisht, Qena governorate in south 8 Aug. Islamist militants and security forces continued to clash in Sinai. Islamic State (ISIS) claimed attack that killed four police in N Sinai 9 Aug. Gunmen killed two police in two separate attacks in al-Arish city, N Sinai 15 Aug. Military raid 16 Aug on trucks carrying alleged Islamist militants in N Sinai killed two. Army 19 Aug said they had arrested three alleged Islamist militants in counter-terrorism operations in Sinai. Army vehicle 20 Aug hit roadside bomb and came under fire in Rafah, N Sinai on border with Gaza, one soldier killed. Suspected ISIS sniper same day killed policeman in al-Arish city. Army 25 Aug killed six suspected Islamist militants in N Sinai near border with Gaza. U.S. 22 Aug denied Egypt $96mn in aid and delayed $195mn in military funding citing concerns over human rights record and govt’s relationship with North Korea; govt said cuts may have “negative consequences for the realisation of common U.S.-Egyptian interests”. Govt committee 21 Aug seized funds of multiple businesses, including English-language daily newspaper and Radioshack franchise, alleging ties to banned Muslim Brotherhood, as well as assets of family of prominent pro-Brotherhood Qatar-based preacher Youssef al-Qaradawy.
International Criminal Court (ICC) 15 Aug issued arrest warrant for war crimes for controversial Libyan National Army (LNA) commander Mahmoud Warfalli, loyal to eastern-based strongman Gen Haftar. LNA early Aug intensified military campaign and cut supplies to wrest control of Derna city in east from coalition of Islamist militants known as Derna Mujahideen Shura Council (DMSC). At least eleven people – nine soldiers and two civilians – beheaded 23 Aug in attack on checkpoint controlled by Haftar forces in Al-Jufra region south of Sirte; LNA accused Islamic State (ISIS) but no group claimed responsibility. Suicide bomber drove car into LNA checkpoint near town of Nufliya, 130km east of Sirte 31 Aug, killing four members of security forces; ISIS claimed responsibility. Tripoli-based UN-backed Presidency Council 7 Aug condemned LNA siege on Derna for worsening humanitarian situation there. Members of armed group affiliated to govt of PM Serraj 13 Aug kidnapped former PM Ali Zeidan in Tripoli, released him 22 Aug. For first time in months in July number of migrants crossing from Libya to Europe decreased – down to 11,000, 50% less than in July 2016. Militia in Reyaina, north west of Tripoli, late Aug closed pipeline valve, blocking transit of crude oil from oil fields in south west and Hamada region to Zawiya terminal; state-owned National Oil Corporation (NOC) subsequently declared force majeure at several oil fields and export sites. Uncertainty continued to surround constitution drafting process after court in al-Bayda in east 17 Aug annulled July’s vote by Constitution Drafting Assembly in favour of draft constitution.
In 5 Aug referendum 85% of voters agreed to abolish parliament’s upper house (Senate) and alter national flag; turnout was 53.73% following boycott by opposition.
King pardoned 415 prisoners 19 Aug, including thirteen convicted in terrorism cases, but no-one who took part in protests to demand jobs, denounce corruption and repression in al-Hoceima in Rif region in north since Oct 2016.
National Guard 8 Aug in Kasserine region in centre near Algerian border killed two suspected Islamist militants including senior commander, reportedly Mourad Chaieb, Algerian national and leader of Okba Bin Nafaa, jihadist group aligned with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Govt 15 Aug said security forces foiled Islamic State (ISIS) plot to seize territory in south, arrested five suspected members of 22-strong cell. Development and international cooperation minister Fadhel Abdelkefi, also interim finance minister, 18 Aug resigned ahead of judicial hearing for his alleged involvement in illegal transactions scheduled for 4 Sept.
UN Secretary-General Guterres 16 Aug appointed former German President Horst Köhler as personal envoy for Western Sahara, replacing U.S. diplomat Christopher Ross.