CrisisWatch is our global conflict tracker, a tool designed to help decision-makers prevent deadly violence by keeping them up-to-date with developments in over 70 conflicts and crises, identifying trends and alerting them to risks of escalation and opportunities to advance peace.
Democratic Republic of Congo
Democratic Republic of Congo
In December, deadly clashes punctuated the weeks leading up to general elections in both DR Congo and Bangladesh, and disputes over the results could trigger more bloodshed in January. Nigeria suffered a high rate of insurgent attacks and a rise in violent crime in its northern regions ahead of elections in February-March. In Sudan and Togo, security forces clamped down on anti-government protests, and Burundi further isolated itself from its neighbours. In Nicaragua, the political situation remained tense amid growing government attacks on NGOs and journalists, and in Indonesia, a West Papua pro-independence armed group launched a deadly attack in Papua. In Yemen, a ceasefire agreement offered a glimmer of hope; new UN-led talks in January could lead to wider de-escalation, but if they fail the battle for Hodeida could resume. President Trump’s announcement that the U.S. would withdraw its troops from Syria upset a fragile balance of forces in the north east, and in Libya, tensions rose after ISIS attacked the foreign ministry. Sri Lanka’s President Sirisena reappointed the deposed Prime Minister Wickremesinghe, signalling an end to the constitutional and political crisis that had shaken the country.
In his introduction to this month's edition of CrisisWatch, Crisis Group's conflict tracker, our President Robert Malley sees indicators of escalation in Somalia, Sudan and Syria, and possible signs of conflict mitigation in Afghanistan, Armenia and Yemen.
At long last, DR Congo went to the polls. Voting day itself – delayed for another week till 30 December – was mostly calm. But the preceding weeks saw violence mount, with opposition supporters clashing with security forces or partisans of the ruling coalition. The risk of violence will be high in coming weeks, as losers may dispute results. In particular, the electoral commission’s decision to postpone voting in some areas afflicted by Ebola and ethnic violence until March, after a new president has taken office, disenfranchises 1.25 million potential voters, many opposition supporters. We have warned it’s a dangerous move. The electoral commission should reverse its decision and organise voting in the affected areas after a week or two at most to ensure those votes count.
Resurgent violence in northern Nigeria, among other factors, makes conditions for general elections in February and March particularly combustible. While Boko Haram kept up a high tempo of attacks against civilians and military in the north east, criminal violence accelerated in Zamfara state in the north west, where bandit attacks left at least 97 dead. Burundi marched ahead on its isolationist trajectory, with the national assembly rejecting the African Union’s calls for political restraint and relations deteriorating with both Uganda and Rwanda.
Sudan’s prolonged economic crisis fuelled a new wave of protests, to which security forces responded with force, reportedly leaving dozens dead. The protests and their political fallout could amount to a serious challenge to President Bashir’s rule – which in turn could stir further instability in South Sudan. In Togo, too, security forces clamped down on protests in the run-up to legislative polls, boycotted by the opposition. The death of at least four protesters could make resolving the standoff between the government and opposition even harder.
As we had warned, violence between supporters of rival political parties ahead of and on the day of Bangladesh’s general elections left hundreds injured and dozens killed. The opposition claimed the election commission was biased, and accused security forces of being complicit in attacks on their leaders and supporters – a charge denied by the ruling Awami League. With the opposition now rejecting the ruling coalition’s landslide victory, claiming widespread fraud, we fear more violence.
Fighting spiked in Indonesia, where the West Papua National Liberation Army claimed responsibility for killing at least seventeen state contractor employees working on a major highway construction project in Nduga district, Papua province, on 2 December. More people were killed and hundreds of civilians reportedly fled as the military launched a hunt for the suspects. The attack came a day after police arrested hundreds of people taking part in demonstrations marking the 57th anniversary of West Papua’s declaration of independence.
The political situation remains tense in Nicaragua, where President Ortega’s government displayed increasingly repressive tendencies, targeting human rights NGOs, journalists and members of the opposition. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights concluded the government had installed a “regime of terror”. To prevent more unrest, we have called on outside powers, especially from Latin America, the U.S., EU and Vatican, to press Ortega to implement agreed electoral reforms and ensure due process for arrested protesters.
After multiple false starts, UN-led negotiations between Yemen’s warring parties concluded with a ceasefire in Hodeida governorate, which could open the way to wider de-escalation in January and a negotiated end to the conflict in 2019. But if the talks fail or implementation falters, rival forces could resume the battle for Hodeida port and city with catastrophic humanitarian implications.
U.S. President Trump’s decision to pull his forces from Syria put that conflict firmly on our list of conflicts to watch in 2019. The announcement upset the delicate balance of forces and, further down the line, raises the odds of a bloody conflict involving Turkey, its Syrian allies, Syrian Kurds, and the Assad regime; and potentially gives the Islamic State a new lease on life by fuelling the chaos on which it thrives. Meanwhile, in Libya, Islamic State’s attack on the foreign ministry in Tripoli underscored the hazardous security environment hampering reunification of rival state institutions.
Sri Lanka’s constitutional and political crisis ended as President Sirisena reappointed deposed Prime Minister Wickremesinghe to office, bowing to two Supreme Court rulings blocking his attempt to install former President Rajapaksa as prime minister and call early general elections. While fearing the political blockages that led to the attempted constitutional coup remain in place, observers hailed Wickremesinghe’s re-appointment as a victory for the rule of law and parliamentary democracy.
Suspected jihadist militants continued attacks against security forces and civilians in north and east amid reports of killings of civilians by security forces, and insecurity persisted in west. In Sahel region in north, suspected Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) militants 4 Dec attacked gendarmerie checkpoint on Dori-Seytanga axis, three gendarmes wounded; suspected members of jihadist group Ansarul Islam 10 Dec destroyed school in Firguindi in intimidation campaign against educational facilities. Mostly Fulani local NGO Kisal late Nov reported security forces were suspected of committing serious abuses against civilians in Sahel region, including killing 38 civilians in three villages in Boulgou province mid Nov and allegedly killing seven civilians in Niafo village, Soum province 22 Nov. In Boucle du Mouhoun region in north west, suspected members of jihadist group Macina Liberation Front, member of coalition Group to Support Islam and Muslims (JNIM), killed two policemen near Goïalé 6 Dec and allegedly abducted two councilmen in Kwaremenguel and Gani 3 Dec. Also in Boucle du Mouhoun region, JNIM 27 Dec claimed responsibility for 25 Dec attack near Toeni that killed ten gendarmes. In North region, suspected Ansarul Islam militants 3 Dec abducted councilman in Banh. In East region, suspected ISGS militants 14 Dec attacked police station in Nadiagou and 15 Dec killed municipal councillor in Pepembougou. Govt 31 Dec imposed state of emergency in violence-affected provinces in seven regions: Hauts-Bassins, Boucle du Mouhoun, Cascades, North, Sahel, East and Centre-East. In south west, unidentified assailants 7 Dec attacked credit union in Péni, Hauts-Bassins region, four civilians wounded; 11 Dec attacked police station in Bouroum-Bouroum, South West region, no casualties reported. President Kaboré 17-18 Dec met French President Macron in Paris; Macron agreed to new military framework for security cooperation, reportedly saying he was ready to send more trainers, military advisers and equipment.
Parliament and protesters rejected African Union’s call for restraint, as relations between President Nkurunziza and Ugandan President Museveni – mediator of Burundian crisis – deteriorated and tensions with neighbouring Rwanda continued to rise. Govt pursued legal proceedings relating to assassination of first elected Hutu president, Melchior Ndadaye, in Oct 1993: four retired Tutsi army officers arrested late Nov and attorney general 30 Nov issued international arrest warrants for seventeen people including former President Pierre Buyoya, now African Union (AU) representative in Mali. AU Commission Chairman Moussa Faki 1 Dec called for restraint on all sides. National Assembly 5 Dec rejected Faki’s statement, calling on international organisations to stop interfering in internal affairs. Demonstrators in capital Bujumbura protested against Faki’s remarks and called for arrest of Buyoya and other suspects. Following Nkurunziza’s refusal to attend East African Community (EAC) heads of state summit planned for 30 Nov, Nkurunziza 4 Dec wrote to EAC president and mediator of Burundian crisis, Ugandan President Museveni, criticising final report of facilitator, former Tanzanian President Mkapa, and demanding extraordinary summit to find solution to “open conflict between Burundi and Rwanda”. Museveni replied urging Nkurunziza to discuss with opposition in exile. EAC summit re-scheduled to 27 Dec but again postponed, possibly to margins of Jan AU summit. Govt 21 Dec decided to make Gitega in centre political capital instead of Bujumbura in west. In southern Rwanda, unidentified assailants 15 Dec set fire to three vehicles in Nyamagabe district which borders Burundi, killing at least two civilians; Rwandan army said it pursued attackers into forest bordering Burundi.
Fighting continued in Anglophone regions in west between separatists and military, and among separatists; in Far North, Boko Haram (BH) continued attacks against civilians; and in Adamawa region in centre north, unidentified armed groups continued abductions. Hours after President Biya 30 Nov signed decree creating National Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration Committee to encourage Anglophone and BH militants to surrender, separatists fired gunshots in Buea (Southwest) and Bambui and Bambili (both Northwest) to show their disapproval. Leader of armed group in Ndian (Southwest) 14 Dec promised to hand over weapons to govt and surrender. Separatists 1 Dec abducted traditional ruler of Nso (Northwest). Military 5 Dec killed five people in Meluf-Kumbo (Northwest). Civilian killed in fighting between separatists and military along Buea-Kumba road (Southwest) 7 Dec. Separatists 22 Dec attacked Bangourain, West region in Francophone zone, killing one. Suspected separatists beheaded soldier in Bamenda, capital of Northwest region 28 Dec. Security forces reportedly killed at least six separatists in Binka (Northwest) 28 Dec. Fighting between separatist groups Ambazonia Defence Forces and Southern Cameroon Defence Forces led to five deaths 16 Dec. UN Security Council 13 Dec officially discussed Anglophone conflict for first time; U.S. and UK ambassadors asked for release of Anglophone detainees, immediate talks between separatists and govt and access to Anglophone regions for UN agencies and human rights NGOs. UN renewed offer of mediation. Biya same day ordered release of 289 Anglophone detainees who had committed minor offences. Ten U.S. senators 7 Dec called for political solution to Anglophone conflict and urged U.S. govt to put sanctions on individuals found to have committed gross human rights violations. In Far North, BH continued attacks, intensifying suicide bombings in Mayo-Sava department. Three attacks in Mayo-Sava and one in Logone-et-Chari 6-15 Dec left five civilians dead. In Adamawa, hostage-takers continued abductions: armed men 22 Dec abducted and later killed two men in Maber (Djerem) and 24 Dec abducted traditional ruler of Yokotodou (Vina).
Armed group violence continued at low ebb, two more leaders of armed groups arrested, while France and Russia continued to compete for influence. In centre, ex-Seleka faction Union for Peace in the Central African Republic (UPC) reportedly clashed with anti-balaka community defence group in Ippy 4 Dec, UPC next day denied involvement. In north, following residents’ request, army unit 6 Dec attempted to deploy in Bocaranga controlled by Fulani-dominated Retour, Réclamation et Réhabilitation (3R) armed group; 3R refused soldiers access to town, negotiations failed and troops withdrew. Police 8 Dec arrested ex-Seleka leader Didier Wangaï of UPC in Bambari in centre and transferred him to capital Bangui without disclosing charges. Anti-balaka leader Urbain Sami sentenced to twenty years’ labour 12 Dec on several counts, including complicity in murder. Former anti-balaka leader Patrice-Edouard Ngaïssona arrested in Paris 12 Dec on International Criminal Court arrest warrant for war crimes and crimes against humanity from Sept 2013 to Dec 2014. Two main anti-balaka factions 13 Dec announced withdrawal from disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) process. DDR for some 500 former combatants launched in Paoua in north west 17 Dec. Parliament 13 Dec ratified security pact between govt and Russia that envisages continued Russian training of CAR forces and Russian military assistance in case of foreign military aggression. FM Charles Armel Doubane, who had repeatedly expressed disapproval of growing Russian influence, dismissed 15 Dec. Following one-month extension in Nov, UN Security Council 12 Dec renewed mandate of UN mission (MINUSCA) for one year; resolution recognises Russia’s positive role via army training, but re-affirms primacy of African Union-led mediation effort. Russia and China abstained from vote. French armed forces minister Florence Parly in Bangui 10-11 Dec reaffirmed France’s support and delivered 1,400 weapons promised in Nov.
Fighting continued in Tibesti region in far north, bordering Libya and Niger, as military pursued operations against ethnic Tebu community defence force and rebel groups; ruling party early Dec described initiatives as law-and-order operations against criminals. Opposition MP 10 Dec requested govt answer parliamentary questions on matter, govt has not yet responded. Also in Tibesti region, in Kouri Bougoudi gold-mining zone clashes between Arabs and people from Ouaddaï region in east and others 27-29 Dec reportedly left twenty to 30 people dead. President Déby 5 Dec revoked soldiers’ salary cut, to take effect from 1 Jan and defence minister early Dec visited army positions in east and south east toward borders with Sudan and Central African Republic. Ahead of French President Macron’s visit 22-23 Dec, France 6 Dec signed two financing agreements, including €40mn for civil servants’ salaries in Dec and pension payments. Polish deputy defence minister conducted Poland’s first high-level visit to Chad 12 Dec and signed MoU pledging to contribute equipment to army. In south-west Libya, Chadian armed group 27 Dec attacked camp of forces loyal to Field Marshal Haftar, de facto commander in eastern Libya, near town of Traghen, reportedly killing one.
Crackdown on opposition continued. Court 17 Dec sentenced secretary general of opposition Juwa party, Ahmed el-Barwane, to seven years in prison for ordering attack on soldier during July referendum and sentenced another Juwa party MP, Tocha Johar, to twenty years in prison. Court 15 Dec sentenced four senior opposition figures to life in prison with forced labour and handed down jail terms to several others for allegedly plotting against state.
Likely main rivalry in 2020 presidential election continued to emerge between ruling coalition Rally of Houphouëtists for Democracy and Peace (RHDP) led by President Ouattara and opposition Democratic Party of Côte d’Ivoire (PDCI) led by Henry Konan Bédié. Latter 17 Dec met with assembly speaker and RHDP critic Guillaume Soro. Oil and hydrocarbons minister and last PDCI figure in govt Thierry Tanoh dismissed 10 Dec. After Supreme Court late Nov annulled municipal elections in six communes and regional elections in two regions, new votes took place 16 Dec; incidents of violence were reported in Port-Bouët and Grand-Bassam communes. PDCI and RHDP filed complaints calling for annulment of vote in Grand-Bassam and Port-Bouët respectively. Clashes between RHDP and PDCI supporters erupted in Grand-Bassam 21 Dec over results, at least one person injured. President Ouattara 28 Dec shuffled military leadership, including replacing army chief of staff, head of special forces, superior commander of national gendarmerie and navy chief of staff.
After rise in election-related violence and one-week additional postponement, general elections took place largely peacefully 30 Dec, disrupted in several places by logistical problems; opposition claims of fraud raise risk of violence when results are published in coming weeks. In run-up to vote, violent incidents occurred between opposition supporters and security forces or ruling coalition supporters in Mbuji-Mayi 1 Dec and Tshikapa 9 Dec (both Kasai province), in Kindu (Maniema) 9 Dec, in Lubumbashi (Haut-Katanga) 11 Dec and Kalemie (Tanganyika) 12 Dec, leaving up to eight people dead. Some violence was triggered by govt attempts to block rallies and movement of opposition presidential candidate Martin Fayulu; in other instances ruling coalition supporters were targeted. EU 10 Dec extended sanctions on ruling coalition’s presidential candidate Emmanuel Shadary and others until Dec 2019. Opposition Lamuka coalition 16 Dec reversed position saying it would accept use of voting machine, but insisted that electoral commission only take into account results from manual counting. Fire at electoral commission warehouse in capital Kinshasa 12-13 Dec destroyed much of election material for city, opposed politicians blamed each other. Electoral commission 26 Dec announced election would be delayed till March 2019 in four constituencies (Beni, Beni ville, Butembo ville, all in North Kivu province in east and Yumbi in Mai-Ndombe province in west) citing security problems and Ebola. After days of protests, citizens in Beni and Butembo organised mock elections 30 Dec to demonstrate decision unjustified. Several voting stations opened late 30 Dec due to lack of equipment or voter rolls and some voting machines encountered problems. Four people killed in dispute over alleged fraud in Walungu, South Kivu province in east 30 Dec. Main opposition candidates claimed widespread irregularities and some instances of fraud favouring Shadary. Armed group violence continued in North and South Kivu and Mai-Ndombe province. Most serious incidents included fighting between army and Mai Mai Yakutumba militia in Fizi territory, South Kivu that left four soldiers and fourteen rebels dead; Mai Mai Mazembe militia attacked Mbelu, North Kivu, at least one militant killed; Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) militia 9 Dec attacked Nalu in Beni, North Kivu killing at least ten civilians and 16 Dec attacked army in Beni. In Mai-Ndombe, clashes between Banunu and Batende communities 16-18 Dec left at least 45 dead.
French jihadist suspected of helping brothers who carried out killings at Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris in 2015 arrested in Djibouti 16 Dec.
Govt 26 Dec reportedly restricted Ethiopians’ passage into Eritrea at Zalambessa-Serha and Rama-Kisad Adi-Quala border crossings, opened in Sept, without giving reasons. Unidentified assailant unsuccessfully tried to kill mining minister and former defence minister, General Sebhat Efrem, at his home in capital Asmara 19 Dec; attacker reportedly arrested. President Afwerki 13 Dec visited Somali capital Mogadishu for first time, as part of ongoing tripartite summits between Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia; leaders discussed how to advance bilateral and regional cooperation.
In south, clashes between ethnic Oromo and Somali 13-14 Dec near Moyale on border with Kenya left at least 21 people dead and forced hundreds to flee into Kenya. Another faction of former rebel group Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) returned to Ethiopia from exile 29 Dec. Military court 15 Dec jailed 66 of 200 soldiers who marched on PM Abiy’s palace in Oct for between five and fourteen years, ruling they had broken military ethics. Parliament 25 Dec approved creation of reconciliation commission to counter intercommunal ethnic violence. Eritrea 26 Dec reportedly restricted Ethiopians’ passage into Eritrea at Zalambessa-Serha and Rama-Kisad Adi-Quala border crossings, opened in Sept, without giving reasons.
With President Bongo still recuperating in Morocco following stroke late Oct, hundreds of opposition supporters 12 Dec marched in capital Libreville after political rally for opposition leader and former presidential candidate Jean Ping, who called for “confrontation” with govt; police dispersed protesters and arrested several. Opposition leaders 22 Dec requested medical commission to determine state of health of President Bongo and 31 Dec asked for two-year transition period with transitional president and govt. Constitutional Court 28 Dec confirmed results of Oct legislative elections; ruling party won majority, new govt to be formed in coming weeks.
Tension persisted between govt and opposition over results of municipal elections held in Feb, but violence decreased. Security forces 10 Dec and 13 Dec dispersed opposition protests in capital Conakry demanding better governance and justice for people killed in recent protests. President of opposition party Union of Republican Forces (UFR) Sidya Touré 11 Dec resigned as high representative of President Condé, saying he had not achieved his ends. Security forces 3-4 Dec used tear gas in Conakry to disperse students protesting against teachers’ strike and paralysis of education system. Students demonstrated again 18 Dec in Conakry. Villagers of Massala and Fanafanfakö in Siguiri area 16 Dec clashed over ownership of gold mine, at least eleven injured.
Public prosecutor 6 Dec suspended voter census ahead of 2019 legislative elections after platform of political parties made allegations of fraud; 13 Dec allowed census to continue “under monitoring” after West Africa regional organisation ECOWAS 13 Dec called for elections to be held by end of Jan and for date to be set before organisation’s next summit 22 Dec; govt 17 Dec said census would end 19 Dec; President Vaz 20 Dec announced legislatives elections would take place 10 March. Teachers’ unions 3 Dec launched new fifteen-day strike over unpaid salaries and poor working conditions; 18 Dec refused to sign memorandum negotiated with govt to end crisis.
In north, Samburu and Turkana communities made retaliatory raids on each other 2-3 Dec in Baragoi, Samburu county. In north east, suspected Al-Shabaab member 25 Dec threw hand grenade at police officers manning Border Point 4, Mandera county, injuring four police officers. Chinese FM 29 Dec dismissed reports that China could seize Mombasa port over debt owed by govt.
Electoral commission 27 Dec declared former President Andry Rajoelina winner of 19 Dec presidential run-off vote with 55.66% of vote, beating former President Marc Ravalomanana who garnered 44.34%. Ravalomanana’s team filed complaint with High Constitutional Court asking for cancellation of results, even though he had previously said he would accept results. Some 2,000 Ravalomanana supporters 29 Dec protested in capital Antananarivo, demanding recount.
Intercommunal and jihadist violence continued in centre and Ménaka region in east and govt blocked protests over electoral calendar. In centre, tit-for-tat attacks continued largely by Dogon and Bambara militias, known as Dozo, against Fulani civilians and, less so, by Fulani-dominated jihadist groups against Dogon and Bambara civilians. Army reported one soldier killed in “terrorist” attack near Bankass, Mopti region 5 Dec; Fulani self-defence group said four of its members killed in attack. Arrest of three Dozo accused of murder in Bankass near Burkina Faso border 17 Dec sparked public anger and alleged violence against Fulani. In Ménaka region in east, suspected Fulani combatants affiliated with Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) 12 Dec attacked campsites in Tinabaw, killing 47 Tuareg Daousak. After rumours spread of planned retaliation by Daousak militia, many fled to Niger 16 Dec. After French and Malian authorities late Nov reported killing of Amadou Kouffa, leader of jihadist group Macina Liberation Front, leader of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) Abdelmalek Droukdel 11 Dec indicated Kouffa was alive. Authorities 6 Dec said they had dismantled jihadist cell in Koutiala town in south near border with Burkina Faso. French airstrike night of 19-20 Dec killed at least five suspected jihadists in south east near Niger border. In capital Bamako, governor 4 Dec banned gatherings in several areas. Security forces 8 and 15 Dec repressed opposition protests in Bamako seeking to denounce bad governance and extension of MPs’ mandate until June 2019 due to postponement of legislative election. Over 50 organisations early Dec denounced govt-proposed Law of National Understanding which is envisaged in 2015 peace agreement, arguing that it would allow impunity. Parliament 13 Dec delayed vote on draft law, requesting additional information from govt.
Suspected Islamist militants continued attacks in Cabo Delgado province in far north. Assailants 18 Dec reportedly beheaded two civilians in Chitoyo village and same day killed two in Muidumbe district. Assailants 21 Dec attacked Chicomo village, Macomia District, burning down 103 homes. Local residents 7 Dec captured former soldier suspected of leading insurgent attacks, Mustafa Suale Machinga, and handed him over to authorities in Litingina village, Nangade district. Implementation of peace deal between govt and former armed opposition movement Renamo advanced with 13 Dec appointment of three senior Renamo officials to positions in military, namely as directors of operations, military information and communications.
Suspected jihadist groups continued attacks in south east near border with Nigeria and in west near borders with Mali and Burkina Faso. In south east, suspected members of Boko Haram (BH) 5 Dec killed three Fulani herdsmen near Ngalewa village, Diffa region; presumed members of BH faction Islamic State West Africa Province 14 Dec ambushed civilian convoy between N’Guigmi and Kabelawa, Diffa region, killing state official and two other civilians. In south west, armed assailants 15 Dec kidnapped traditional chief in Torodi area, Tillabery region, and headed toward Burkina Faso border; security forces supported by local population launched operation to rescue him, four assailants reportedly killed, along with one gendarme and one civilian. Traditional chief’s fate remained unclear. Army 17 Dec killed two suspected members of Islamic State in Greater Sahara near Tin Tadangawi, Tillabery region. French force Barkhane and army 29 Dec raided jihadist camp near Tongo Tongo, Tillabery region allegedly killing fifteen militants. UN refugee agency 13 Dec said violence along western borders with Mali and Burkina Faso had displaced 52,000 in 2018. Colonel and two senior officers reportedly arrested 15 Dec in capital Niamey for allegedly plotting coup.
Campaigning stepped up ahead of Feb-March 2019 general elections, as Boko Haram (BH) kept up high rate of attacks in north east and criminal violence rose in north west. Political parties, including President Buhari’s All Progressives Congress (APC) and main challenger Atiku Abubakar’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP), 11-12 Dec committed to campaign peacefully, but political violence continued: gunmen 23 Dec killed local APC leader in Onne, Rivers state; 28 Dec killed councillor in Ado area, Ekiti state; thugs 29 Dec disrupted Buhari supporters’ meeting in Akoko Northeast area, Ondo state, injuring many. In north east, BH continued attacks in Lake Chad area in north of Borno state, and in neighbouring Yobe state to west. In Borno state, six attacks 7-16 Dec on civilians and military positions left at least one soldier dead; BH 26-28 Dec seized six towns in Kukawa area including HQ of Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) and navy and marine police bases; air force 29 Dec bombed insurgents near Baga causing unknown number of casualties. In Yobe state, BH 1 Dec attacked Buni Gari, destroying army’s tank base and killing at least eight soldiers; 29 Dec attacked Buni Gari town again. In north west, bandits stepped up attacks in Zamfara state, prompting several calls for state of emergency. Attacks on at least ten villages across state 10-22 Dec left at least 97 civilians dead. Army 14 Dec said it killed eight bandits in Dumburum forest. Ten troops, five Nigerian and five Nigerien, killed 29 Dec in joint Nigeria-Niger operation against criminal gangs in Doubouroum area, Zamfara state near border with Niger. In Middle Belt, herder-farmer tensions persisted: in six attacks across Benue, Plateau and Kaduna states 15-30 Dec, gunmen killed at least 37 people. In Niger Delta, militant groups threatened to resume violence. New group, War Against Niger Delta Exploitation, 25 Dec threatened to disrupt 2019 elections if federal govt failed to meet demands for region’s development. Coalition of four militant groups 30 Dec announced termination of two-year ceasefire citing govt’s failure to meet Pan Niger Delta Forum’s Nov 2016 demands. Criminal and ethnic violence reported in several states; notably, gunmen 18 Dec killed immediate past Chief of Defence Staff, retired Air Chief Marshal Alex Badeh near capital Abuja.
Army clashed with Congo-based rebels in north west as tensions between govt and neighbouring Burundi continued to mount. Officials reported clashes in Rubavu district in north west bordering DR Congo between army and suspected members of rebel group Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), who crossed into country from DR Congo; army said it repelled suspected rebels 9 Dec, killing four; President Kagame 14 Dec said at least two soldiers and unknown number of rebels killed. Burundian President Nkurunziza 4 Dec wrote to East African Community President and Ugandan President Museveni demanding extraordinary summit to find solution to “open conflict between Burundi and Rwanda”. In south, unidentified assailants 15 Dec set fire to three vehicles in Nyamagabe district which borders Burundi, killing at least two civilians; Rwandan army said it pursued attackers into forest bordering Burundi.
Arrest of former Al-Shabaab leader and candidate in 19 Dec South West State presidential elections sparked deadly clashes between police and his supporters, and parliament speaker tried unsuccessfully to impeach President Farmajo. Somali police reportedly backed by Ethiopian forces in African Union mission (AMISOM) 13 Dec arrested popular former Al-Shabaab leader Mukhtar Robow; AMISOM 15 Dec denied involvement of its Ethiopian troops. Arrest led to clashes between Robow supporters and police in South West state capital, Baidoa 14-15 Dec, at least eleven protesters killed; tensions diminished by end month. Candidate backed by federal govt Abdiaziz Laftagareen won South West state’s presidential elections 19 Dec. Speaker of parliament Mohamed Mursal and opposition MPs 12 Dec introduced motion to impeach President Farmajo, motion dismissed as it failed to garner required 92 MPs’ signatures; fourteen MPs 13 Dec accused Mursal of forging their signatures. PM Khayre brokered agreement between pro-Farmajo camp and Mursal, who withdrew motion 20 Dec. In capital Mogadishu, Al-Shabaab attacked checkpoints near president’s residence Villa Somalia with twin car bombs 21 Dec killing twenty civilians including veteran and renowned journalist Awil Salaad. In Bay region, Al-Shabaab raid on military base 29 Dec triggered heavy fighting with regional troops, fourteen militants and eight soldiers reportedly killed. In middle Juba region, U.S.-backed Jubaland forces 30 Dec reportedly carried out series of operations against Al-Shabaab militants and training camp. U.S. airstrikes on Al-Shabaab strongholds continued; airstrikes in Gandarashe area 15-16 Dec killed 62 militants; airstrikes near Beled Amin South 19 Dec killed eleven militants. Eritrean President Afwerki 13 Dec visited Mogadishu for first time, as part of ongoing tripartite summits between Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia; leaders discussed how to advance bilateral and regional cooperation.
Attacks on international observers mid-month violated Sept peace deal and new clashes between govt forces and rebel groups erupted in south. In violation of peace deal, Revitalised Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan (R-ARCSS), and Agreement on Cessation of Hostilities, international observer team Ceasefire and Transitional Security Arrangements and Verification Mechanism (CTSAMVM) reported attacks and detention of personnel from its Monitoring and Verification Team 18 Dec in govt forces’ Luri Training Centre. In south, clashes broke out 16 Dec in Central Equatoria between govt forces and armed opposition group National Salvation Front (NAS), which did not sign R-ARCSS; first major clashes between NAS and govt forces. Alleged former South Sudan National Movement for Change (SSNMC) members in presumed collaboration with South Sudan National Democratic Alliance (SSNDA) – non-signatory of R-ARCSS – 20 Dec carried out attacks in Yei River state, looting and abducting several civilians; NAS 26 Dec denied responsibility. More than twenty officers of main rebel group Sudan People’s Liberation Army-In Opposition (SPLA-IO), which signed R-ARCSS, 17 Dec flew to Juba to take part in pre-transitional committees and prepare formation of transitional govt. However, underlining delay in implementation of R-ARCSS, UN Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix 18 Dec echoed R-ARCSS Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Committee’s concerns over failure to establish Independent Boundaries Commission and National Pre-Transitional Committee’s failure to reach quorum. U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton 13 Dec announced U.S. would review its aid programs to South Sudan, as leadership “morally bankrupt”.
Amid mounting anger over economic crisis, protests broke out in north east and swiftly spread to 28 cities and towns across country; security forces’ brutal response reportedly left up to 37 people dead. Protests began 19 Dec in town of Atbara in north east and quickly spread. Protesters called for President Bashir (in power since 1989) to step down and in several places set fire to local headquarters of ruling party. Intelligence services ordered internet shutdown and closed down a number of newspapers. Authorities from 22 Dec arrested two dozen opposition leaders, closed schools and universities to prevent students taking part. U.S., UK and Norway 24 Dec expressed concern over govt’s excessive use of force against demonstrators and UN Secretary-General Guterres 28 Dec called on govt to investigate deaths of protesters. Parliament 4 Dec backed constitutional amendment to extend presidential term limits, allowing President Bashir to run again in elections planned for 2020. Armed opposition groups Justice and Equality Movement and Sudan Liberation Movement-Minni Minnawi 10 Dec signed pre-negotiation agreement with govt to resume talks in Jan on basis of Doha Document for Peace in Darfur (DDPD). African Union High-Level Implementation Panel (led by former South Africa President Thabo Mbeki) 9-12 Dec convened in Addis Ababa to start consultation with Sudanese parties on revision of roadmap on adopting new constitution and on national elections scheduled for 2020; consultations suspended as they excluded political opposition groups, including Sudanese Congress Party. Senior security personnel met U.S. counterparts to increase cooperation, discussions included those on potential “five-point plan +1” to improve adherence to human rights. Bashir 16 Dec visited Syria for first time since March 2011. Bashir 18 Dec received Saudi delegation in Khartoum and pledged continued support to Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.
After European Parliament’s 12 Dec resolution against govt’s democratic backsliding and continued crackdown on opposition figures, human rights defenders and gay people, EU late Dec announced freeze of €88mn annual aid to Tanzania. Decision followed World Bank’s suspension in Nov of €265mn loan for girls’ education after govt banned pregnant girls from attending school and from continuing education after they gave birth.
With mediation between govt and opposition coalition stalled, clashes between security forces and opposition protesters in run-up to contested 20 Dec legislative elections left at least four people dead. Following govt ban on opposition protests, protesters clashed with security forces in several places, with many opposition supporters injured by gunshot wounds in capital Lomé and northern city of Sokodé; at least four people killed in protest-related violence 8-13 Dec, including twelve-year-old boy. Govt 12 Dec confirmed 20 Dec election date. Coalition of fourteen opposition parties boycotted vote citing irregularities and called for overhaul of electoral commission. President Gnassingbé’s party won most seats, according to provisional results released 31 Dec. Repeated opposition protests since Sept 2017 have called for Gnassingbé to resign, while mediation by West African regional bloc ECOWAS, launched April 2018, to facilitate dialogue between govt and opposition has been continuously delayed due to disagreement between parties.
Interparty dialogue summit held 12 Dec produced no tangible results, with opposition parties boycotting event and President Museveni dismissing calls for talks about political transition. Popular musician-turned-opposition MP Robert Kyagulanyi, known as Bobi Wine, 15 Dec evaded arrest when police entered hotel where he was staying; police 26 Dec prevented one of his concerts taking place.
President Mnangagwa 18 Dec released report by commission of inquiry into 1 Aug post-election violence that left six people dead: report held opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) Alliance responsible for inflammatory rhetoric which, it claims, led to protests and riots, and found police and military responsible for six deaths and injury of 35 protestors through excessive use of force. Report concluded Mnangagwa lawfully ordered deployment of troops who failed to submit to police authority. Mnangagwa 17 Dec promoted to full general military officer who commanded unit that responded to riots that day.
As momentum grew in U.S. negotiations with Taliban, intense hostilities on all sides continued despite winter conditions. U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad 2 Dec started third trip to region, including meetings in Abu Dhabi 17-18 Dec with delegations from United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Afghanistan and separately with Taliban. Taliban reiterated refusal to meet Afghan govt delegation and demand for withdrawal of U.S. forces; U.S. requested a ceasefire. Khalilzad said discussions were “productive”, UAE announced another round of talks to “complete the Afghanistan reconciliation process”. Reports 20 Dec that U.S. President Trump ordered military to start withdrawing roughly 7,000 troops from Afghanistan in coming months in abrupt policy shift were contradicted by White House 28 Dec, saying no drawdown planned. Iranian security official visiting Kabul 26 Dec said Iran has been holding talks with Taliban on security issues in Afghanistan, with further talks taking place 30 Dec. Major Taliban attacks and govt offensives continued including in Farah province where Taliban overran police outpost outside provincial capital and seized Shib-e Kuh district; Ghazni; and Helmand, where powerful Taliban commander and Helmand province shadow governor Abdul Manan was killed in airstrike in Nawzad district 1 Dec. Taliban claimed responsibility for 11 Dec suicide bomb hitting govt convoy outside Kabul, killing at least four govt personnel and eight civilians; also continued to increase pressure on major highways. Militants stormed govt offices in Kabul 24 Dec, killing at least 43; Taliban denied responsibility. Month saw increase in U.S.-led airstrikes and night raids, contributing to high level of civilian fatalities. Afghan army reported it had killed Islamic State-Khorasan Province (IS-KP) spokesman Sultan Aziz Azam in drone strike in Nangarhar 26 Dec. Political factions continued to contest preliminary results of Oct parliamentary elections; Independent Election Commission (IEC)’s ongoing announcement of results prompted demonstrations and complaints to Independent Electoral Complaints Commission, which 5 Dec decided to invalidate all Kabul votes due to technical problems and fraud allegations. IEC 30 Dec announced presidential election to be delayed three months until 20 July “to better prepare for the vote”.
Violent clashes between supporters of rival parties across country resulted in hundreds injured and some 30 people reported killed in run-up to and on day of vote 30 Dec, with fears that flawed polls could provoke more violence in coming weeks; election also marred by govt clampdown on media, and opposition claims of Election Commission (EC) bias and complicity of security agencies in attacks on their leaders and supporters. EC 8 Dec rejected Bangladesh National Party (BNP) leader and former PM Khaleda Zia’s appeal to stand in parliamentary polls. BNP-led opposition Jatiya Oikya Front (United National Front, UNF) 3 Dec alleged EC bias, citing rejection of 205 of its 900 nominees (EC denied); and 9 Dec alleged almost 2,000 supporters had been arrested on fictitious charges since Nov, accusing police of working on behalf of ruling Awami League (AL). AL 10 Dec accused BNP of attempting to subvert polls with help of Pakistan’s national intelligence agency. Govt 10 Dec arrested news website editor for “publishing anti-state, false and fabricated news” and blocked 58 websites; EU and several Western countries called on govt to ensure democratic and participatory election process. NGO Human Rights Watch 13 Dec reported opposition members and supporters “have been arrested, killed, or even disappeared”. Hundreds reported injured in pre-election violence, including day after campaigning began 10 Dec in several locations including in Sirajganj district (north-central) and cities of Netrokana (north) and Chattogram (south east), afterward spreading to other districts. Senior BNP party leader 17 Dec claimed two activists murdered 16 Dec in Dhaka and Chittagong. Ten people reportedly killed 24 Dec, troops deployed in 46 of 64 districts, navy given security responsibilities in remaining areas amid escalating violence; another two killed in clashes in Chittagong district 26 Dec. At least seventeen civilians and police reported killed in violence on polling day. PM Sheikh Hasina’s ruling coalition won 288 of 300 seats; opposition rejected results citing reports of widespread fraud, calling vote “farcical”, AL rejected allegations.
New York Times 16 Dec reported mounting evidence from satellite images, accounts from region and previously unreported official documents suggest system of forced labour from internment camps in Xinjiang, with growing number of detainees being sent to new factories built inside or near camps. Foreign ministry 17 Dec accused foreign media of making “many untrue reports” about “training centres”. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet 5 Dec reported she had requested direct access to Xinjiang region to verify “worrying reports” of re-education camps holding Uighurs and other Muslim minorities. German Commissioner for Human Rights and Organisation of Islamic Cooperation also expressed concern during month about reports of treatment of Uighurs; China repeated warnings for other countries not to interfere in its domestic issues. Responding to Indonesian govt expression of concern about alleged human rights abuses against Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang, Chinese embassy 20 Dec reiterated that China guaranteed religious freedom of all citizens, and that camps are to counter terrorism and religious extremism and provide vocational training.
Japanese govt 18 Dec approved revised National Defence Program Guidelines referencing concerns over China’s growing military capacity, and recognising “importance of strategic competition” with neighbour as it “challenge[s] the regional order”. Paving way for plans to remodel its helicopter carriers to carry aircraft, guidelines also emphasised improving cyber, space and electronic warfare capabilities. Five-year procurement plan also approved same day outlining $225bn defence spending to include an additional 105 F-35 fighter jets. Both China and South Korea urged Japan to keep to its pacifist constitution in separate statements made same day, while China’s foreign ministry stated being “strongly dissatisfied” with representations of China made in new guidelines. Tokyo 3 Dec protested Chinese drilling activities sighted mid-Nov in contested waters of East China Sea (ECS). Japanese fighter jets intercepted Chinese electronic warfare and surveillance planes flying through Tsushima Strait (connecting ECS and Sea of Japan) 26 Nov and near Okinawa 14 Dec; 27 Dec reportedly intercepted Chinese navy surveillance plane crossing ECS. Tokyo 25 Dec lodged official complaint accusing Chinese fishing boat of fleeing its territorial waters with Japanese inspectors on board in early Nov; China denied boat was fishing in Japanese waters.
Suspected Maoist rebel killed 12 Dec in encounter with security forces in Bijapur district, Chhattisgarh state. Police reported suspected Maoists killed one person in Bihar state’s Aurangabad district 29 Dec.
With expiration of six-month governor’s rule in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) 19 Dec, Indian president same day Dec signed proclamation paving way for imposition of president’s rule, as recommended by J&K Governor Satya Pal Malik 17 Dec in wake of Nov dissolution of state assembly. Presidential rule can be imposed for two six-monthly terms if state elections are not held; governor’s rule had been imposed in June after collapse of People’s Democratic Party (PDP)-led coalition govt. Violence continued, including 9 Dec deaths of two teenage alleged militants – one of them fourteen, believed to be youngest militant killed in three decades of conflict – sparking major anti-India protests in northern town Hajin. Security forces 10 Dec killed three suspected militants on outskirts of J&K capital Srinagar. Security forces 15 Dec shot dead seven civilians protesting military operation same day in Pulwama district (south) in which three militants and one soldier killed; in response, demonstrations and shut-down strikes held 15-17 Dec in Srinagar and elsewhere in valley on call of Joint Resistance Leadership composed of separatist Kashmiri factions. In clashes in Pulwama district, military reported at least four militants killed in encounter 29 Dec, prompting local protesters to attack security forces. Indian defence spokesman said firing by Pakistani troops along Line of Control (LoC) 26 Dec killed one civilian in J&K’s Rajouri district; Pakistani officials reported firing by Indian troops 31 Dec killed one woman and injured nine civilians (Indian military denied).
Fighting spiked day after crackdown on rallies marking anniversary of West Papuan independence with 2 Dec killing of nineteen state contractor employees working on major highway construction project in Nduga district, Papua province; West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB) armed group claimed responsibility, saying it regarded guards as members of military. Military launched hunt for suspects and mission to retrieve bodies; 3 Dec reported that militants using military grade weapons as well as spears and arrows attacked military post, killing one soldier and injuring two. At least four civilians reported killed in crossfire during subsequent fighting, in addition to unspecified number of soldiers and TPNPB fighters; hundreds of civilians reported to have fled to mountains. TPNPB video said group would continue armed resistance until it achieves self-determination; Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal, and Security Affairs General Wiranto dismissed idea of entering talks with group govt called “criminals”. TPNPB also called for govt to allow foreign journalists and international aid organisations to access area. Amid concern over suffering of civilians who had fled fighting, Papuan Governor Lukas Enembe 20 Dec called on President Jokowi to withdraw troops, and said local authorities would establish task force to investigate killings. Govt denied report in Australian newspaper late Dec that military had used chemical weapon white phosphorus in operation. Earlier in month, over 500 people reportedly arrested as thousands of people joined rallies in urban areas in Papua and West Papua as well as other parts of Indonesia 1 Dec marking 57th anniversary of West Papuan declaration of independence from Dutch rule; over a dozen protesters reported injured in Surabaya on Java island after clashing with nationalist paramilitary forces. UN Human Rights Office spokesperson said violence by armed groups was “unacceptable”, also that it was “troubled by the crackdown over peaceful demonstrations and increasing reports of excessive use of force by security forces, harassment, arbitrary arrests and detentions in Papua”.
Uncertainty continued on future of denuclearisation talks. U.S. President Trump 1 Dec said he hoped to hold second denuclearisation summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Jan or Feb 2019; U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton said another summit necessary as North Koreans “have not lived up to the commitments so far” on dismantling nuclear weapons program as agreed at June 2018 summit in Singapore. U.S. 10 Dec announced new sanctions on three senior officials over alleged serious human rights abuses and issued further condemnation of North Korea’s abuses, “among the worst in the world”; Pyongyang 16 Dec warned sanctions could derail improved relations and block path to denuclearisation “forever”. Further, North Korean state media 20 Dec said denuclearisation of Korean peninsula includes “completely eliminating the U.S. nuclear threat to Korea”, in further indication of lack of agreement between negotiating sides over what denuclearisation would involve. Arriving in South Korea 19 Dec for visit aimed at getting denuclearisation negotiations back on track, U.S. Special Representative Stephen Biegun said U.S. plans to review its 2017 ban on U.S. citizens travelling to DPRK and other restrictions to help expedite humanitarian aid delivery to North Korea. U.S. and South Korea 21 Dec agreed ground-breaking ceremony for inter-Korean road and rail reconnection at Panmun Station near Kaesong to go ahead 26 Dec. In another confidence-building step, North and South Korean soldiers witnessed by media 12 Dec crossed border to conduct mutual inspections to verify dismantling of 22 guard posts in Demilitarised Zone (DMZ); South Korean President Moon called move “new milestone”. South Korean defence ministry 20 Dec in policy briefing said ongoing joint military exercises with U.S. should reduce in scale in 2019; govt’s defence acquisition agency 7 Dec said it plans to purchase dozens of U.S.-built ship-to-air missiles worth $300mn in ongoing effort to boost air defences against North Korea. North Korea 14 Dec expressed anger at South Korean military budget increase.
Tensions rose in northern Rakhine state, while ethnic conflict continued despite military’s unilateral ceasefire in Shan and Kachin states. In Rakhine state, discovery of bullet-ridden body of a policeman missing since being ambushed in Maungdaw township, and killing of two Buddhist men, prompted launch of military “clearance operations”; perpetrators unknown. Fears continued among Rohingya refugees in camps Bangladesh following Dhaka’s abortive attempt to repatriate almost 500 refugee families back to Rakhine state, compounded by fears over possible change in Bangladesh policy following its elections 30 Dec; Rohingya continued attempts to make dangerous boat trip across Bay of Bengal from camps in Bangladesh and from Rakhine state. International pressure on govt continued: U.S. House of Representatives 13 Dec passed resolution declaring military campaign against Rohingya a genocide, adding to growing momentum in EU and U.S. for new round of sanctions. EU 10 Dec decided to move ahead with more targeted sanctions on seven military and border guard officers; bloc scheduled to decide in Jan whether to formally begin process for revoking Myanmar’s trade preferences, amid ongoing concern over impact on hundreds of thousands of workers in garment industry. U.S. decided late-Nov to move ahead with sanctions against Myanmar related to trafficking in persons, requiring U.S. representatives to vote against any new support to govt by international financial institutions and placing significant restrictions on U.S. aid. Conflict between ethnic armed groups in Shan state continued amid fears it will further deteriorate in coming months, including between competing Shan factions. In surprise move, military 21 Dec announced four-month unilateral ceasefire against ethnic armed groups in Shan and Kachin states. Rakhine state not included in ceasefire, and month saw continuation of series of clashes there and in adjacent southern Chin state between Myanmar military and Arakan Army; military 6 Dec acknowledged several officers had been killed.
Tensions within ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) and between the party and its critics continued to escalate, while main opposition party Nepali Congress (NC) remained preoccupied with internal factionalism and unable to credibly pressure govt. Following several delays, NCP 15 Dec commenced first internal standing committee meeting since July to review govt performance thus far and address divisions within party; at meeting senior leader Narayan Kaji Shrestha issued sharp rebuke of govt – led by NCP’s PM KP Oli – for being interested solely in profiteering and blamed “crony capitalists” within leadership for enabling corruption; Shrestha also termed party’s leaders weak for marginalising critics. NC continued to be hamstrung by internal differences; NC’s long-awaited general convention 15-22 Dec highlighted divisions between party’s factions and ended with outcome document heavily criticising Oli-led govt. Oli 5 Dec issued warning to intellectuals criticising his govt; comments perceived as threatening by several civil society leaders. Concerns about mandate of two transitional justice mechanisms on truth and reconciliation and enforced disappearances grew, with their terms ending Feb 2019; govt yet to decide on extending term despite only fraction of total cases being investigated and amid calls for mechanisms to be restructured.
Govt appeared to launch crackdown on Sunni Barelvi hardline Labaik Ya Rasool Allah and its political front Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP), but seemed unwilling to pursue criminal charges, instead filing scores of corruption charges against opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz parliamentarians, and continuing clampdown on dissent and media freedoms. Govt 1 Dec reported 3,164 TLP activists under preventative custody and claimed two TLP leaders had been detained on treason and terror charges though no formal charges pressed. Amid growing concern over repression of religious and other freedoms, authorities 2 Dec barred two parliamentarians and former leaders of Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM, leading Pashtun rights group) from leaving country and detained them for three days. Police 8 Dec filed cases against two journalists covering PTM rally in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Dera Ismail Khan. EU, Australia, Canada, Japan, Norway and Switzerland 13 Dec stated concern about shrinking space for civil society, criticising closing down of eighteen international NGOs. U.S. Sec State Mike Pompeo 11 Dec announced U.S. late Nov had added Pakistan to list of “Countries of Particular Concern” for violations of religious freedom. U.S.-Pakistan relations appeared to improve around Afghanistan; President Trump 3 Dec wrote to PM Khan seeking “full support” for U.S.-led Afghan reconciliation process, reportedly suggested countries “explore opportunities to work together and renew partnership”; Khan 14 Dec confirmed Pakistan would facilitate talks between U.S. and Taliban, which took place 17 Dec. In ongoing militant violence, in Balochistan province (south west) Frontier Corps paramilitary officer was killed 5 Dec in landmine explosion, reportedly planted by militants, and six officers and four attackers were killed 14 Dec during attack in Kech district near Iranian border; Pakistan lodged protest with Iran; attack came two days after countries had signed MoU to improve border security (see Iran). Former leader of Muttahida Qaumi Movement Ali Raza Abidi died after being shot by unknown assailants in Karachi 25 Dec. Authorities banned former President Zardari alongside 171 others from leaving country following allegations of money laundering.
Month saw intense clashes between military and communist New People’s Army (NPA) amid announcement of new counter-insurgency task force, while govt extended martial law in Mindanao and preparations continued for plebiscite to implement 2014 Bangsamoro peace agreement. Congress 12 Dec approved by 235-28 extension of martial law in Mindanao for third time until end-2019. President Duterte appointed newly-retired army chief of staff Carlito Galvez Jr as new presidential peace adviser, fuelling concerns over possible militarisation of approach to peace. Duterte 4 Dec signed Executive Order creating National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict by addressing root causes including delivery of basic services and social development in affected areas; also includes “mechanism for localised peace engagements or negotiations”. Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founder José María Sison said move intended to “terminate and prevent the resumption of peace talks at the appropriate national level”. Govt rejected CPP’s unilateral temporary ceasefire around holidays. Fighting between military and NPA included suspected NPA attacks on security forces in Bicol region and Capiz, one civilian killed; NPA raid in Sibagat, Agusan del Sur, 19 Dec, kidnapping twelve soldiers; clash in Compostela Valley 27 Dec wounding eleven soldiers. Congressman Rodel Batocabe shot dead 22 Dec in eastern Albay province along with police escort, amid concerns over possible violence around 2019 elections; NPA denied involvement. Clashes continued with Abu Sayyaf, including near Sulu’s Patikul 7 and 13 Dec killing two soldiers and several suspected militants; Duterte 17 Dec activated new 11th Infantry Division in Jolo, Sulu, to combat Abu Sayyaf. Clashes also continued with Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, including reported attack on army camp in Ampatuan, Maguindanao province 4 Dec. Bombing at mall in Cotabato City 31 Dec killed two, wounded 34. Electoral commission 7 Dec opened campaign period for plebiscite on Bangsamoro Organic Law to take place on 21 Jan in ARMM, Cotabato City and Isabela City, and on 6 Feb in Lanao del Norte, North Cotabato and local govt units that petitioned to take part.
U.S. allies continued efforts to balance China’s Pacific influence, and South East Asian countries made further efforts to stake their claims. Chinese state-run news agency Xinhua late Nov confirmed rumours China is building its third aircraft carrier. Despite rising tensions between China and U.S. in recent months, statements following G-20 summit 1 Dec made no mention of South China Sea (SCS) disputes; meeting between U.S. and Chinese presidents at summit resulted in 90-day reprieve on U.S.-China trade frictions for continuing talks. Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative 10 Dec identified new Chinese construction on Bombay Reef in disputed Paracel Islands as likely part of a wider communication and surveillance system. Indonesia inaugurated military base on its Natuna Islands 18 Dec, Exclusive Economic Zone of which juts into waters claimed by China under its “nine-dash line”. U.S. Senate 19 Dec approved House amendments to 2018 Asia Reassurance Initiative Act, serving as policy framework for U.S. Indo-Pacific strategy and reaffirming regional security commitments. Philippines Defence Minister Delfin Lorenzana 20 Dec told press conference: “If we see Chinese actions that are not consistent with our national interest, we are going to protest China”, and: “We will still continue with our activities” in West Philippine Sea, where “we will patrol regularly … [and] continue strengthening our islands”; also said Philippines would upgrade troop housing on Pag-asa Island in disputed Spratly archipelago. Lorenzana also said defence ministry is seeking to review provisions of 1951 mutual defence treaty between Philippines and U.S. to expand its coverage to nine islands claimed by Manila in SCS, and strengthen bilateral alliance; said issue was raised in meeting between U.S. and Philippines officials in Nov. Australia, New Zealand, Japan and U.S. continued to step up engagement with Pacific nations in what are widely seen as efforts to balance Chinese influence, while European Parliament 12 Dec adopted resolution emphasising “critical importance” of Indo-Pacific security to EU interests, calling for peaceful resolution of disputes and refraining from unilateral attempts to change status quo. Senior U.S. defence official 28 Dec called on allies to boost military presence in SCS.
Constitutional and political crisis ended as President Sirisena reappointed deposed PM Ranil Wickremesinghe to office 16 Dec, following Supreme Court rulings blocking Sirisena’s attempt to install former President Mahinda Rajapaksa as PM and call early general elections, in developments hailed as significant victory for rule of law and parliamentary democracy. Court of Appeal 3 Dec issued interim order blocking Rajapaksa and his ministers from holding office, following petition by 122 parliamentarians who had passed two no confidence motions against Rajapaksa in Nov (which Sirisena had refused to recognise). Wickremesinghe won 12 Dec confidence vote in parliament with 117-0 majority, after Rajapaksa supporters boycotted parliamentary session following 29 Nov vote to deny PM’s office funding. Supreme Court 13 Dec unanimously ruled Sirisena did not have power to dissolve parliament before it had completed its four-and-a-half year term, thus voiding Sirisena’s 9 Nov dissolution and call for snap elections. Supreme Court 14 Dec refused to overturn Court of Appeal’s 3 Dec interim order. Bowing to Supreme Court’s two rulings, Rajapaksa 15 Dec “resigned” disputed position as PM; week-long dispute between Sirisena and Wickremesinghe over ministerial portfolios delayed finalisation of new Wickremesinghe-led United National Front govt. At Wickremesinghe’s 16 Dec swearing-in as PM, Sirisena repeated attacks on Wickremesinghe’s honesty and suitability for role, while Rajapaksa in 15 Dec “resignation speech” vowed to “bring the forces opposed to the country down to their knees” and singled out Tamil National Alliance for criticism, cementing fears among observers that political blockages that led to attempted constitutional coup remain in place. Economic fallout of political turmoil and uncertainty continued, including decline in value of currency, suspension of several key foreign loans and grants; ratings agencies 4 Dec downgraded country’s credit. Buddhist-Muslim tensions rose following 26 Dec vandalism of several Buddha statues in Mawanella area; nine Muslim youth arrested in subsequent days.
Defence ministry 3 Dec confirmed Chinese naval vessels had stepped up patrols in western part of Taiwan Strait in 2018, responding to report by Taipei-based China Times 2 Dec that “irregular” patrols have become “routine”. Defence ministry reported several Chinese military aircraft and vessels passed near island’s southern coast 18 Dec. European Parliament 12 Dec adopted resolution reiterating support for “Taiwan’s meaningful participation in international organisations”. U.S. Senate 19 Dec approved House amendments to 2018 Asia Reassurance Initiative Act, which includes support for regular U.S. arms sales to Taiwan and enhanced bilateral economic, political and security relations. Taiwan signed new agreements to boost economic cooperation with Philippines 29 Nov, Japan 30 Nov and India 18 Dec.
At meeting of ruling junta National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), National Legislative Assembly, cabinet, Constitution Drafting Committee and Election Commission 7 Dec with representatives from dozens of political parties to discuss upcoming general election, PM Prayuth affirmed vote will take place 24 Feb; two largest parties, Democrats and Pheu Thai, refused to participate on grounds that NCPO should not be involved in election procedures. NCPO 11 Dec partially lifted ban on political activities, allowing political parties to publicise their platforms. Opposition parties continued to question NCPO-appointed Electoral Commission’s impartiality and denounce flurry of govt cash handouts to important political constituencies and alleged govt intervention in redrawing of electoral boundaries seen as attempt to influence vote, denied by Prayuth. Amid ongoing insurgent violence in Deep South, roadside bomb killed one police officer and wounded five in Bacho, Narathiwat 24 Dec. Two bombs exploded on Samila Beach, Songkhla, 26 Dec, damaging two sculptures popular with tourists; also in Songkhla, two bombs damaged power poles while authorities disarmed four more explosive devices. Roadside bomb wounded four civilians in Si Sakhon district, Narathiwat 28 Dec. Insurgents attacked security outpost in Rangae district, causing no injuries, and authorities recovered six small bombs in Chanae and Tak Bai districts. On 29 Dec, three rangers wounded in ambush in Si Sakhon; assistant village headman killed in Mayo, Pattani; and four bombs exploded in Cho Airong, Rangae, Reusoh, and Si Sakhon districts, Narathiwat province, causing property damage.
Snap parliamentary elections held 9 Dec resulted in PM Pashinyan’s My Step alliance receiving more than 70% of votes (88 out of 132 seats). Former ruling Republican party and Dashnaktsutyun party did not pass 5% threshold to enter parliament. Prosperous Armenia party won 26 seats and Bright Armenia eighteen seats. International Election Observation Mission reported elections “were held with respect for fundamental freedoms and enjoyed broad public trust” and with just minor problems; some local observers pointed to inaccuracies in voter lists affecting turnout numbers. Meeting with Russian President Putin in Russia 27 Dec, Pashinyan said Armenia “committed to further integration” with Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union, of which Armenia’s rotating presidency begins 1 Jan. Russia 31 Dec announced 10% increase in natural gas price for Armenia.
Grassroot protests over past two months by around 100 relatives demanding compensation for soldiers who were killed or disappeared in Nagorno-Karabakh war in 1990s saw unusual show of support in social media and from some civil society groups criticising govt; one protestor arrested 11 Dec.
North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) foreign ministers 5 Dec agreed to activate Bosnia’s Membership Action Plan – initially offered in 2010 but delayed due to unmet conditions – and invited govt to submit its first Annual National Program of reforms needed to bring it in line with NATO standards, despite ongoing opposition from Serb member of tripartite presidency Milorad Dodik to joining NATO. Central Election Commission 18 Dec adopted controversial decision to fix election law, enabling establishment of new govt in country’s Federation entity and adoption of budget, although Bosniak political parties said they would appeal against it at Constitutional Court. In Republika Srpska (RS) entity, months-long protests against RS govt, prompted by unsolved death of young man in March and increasingly decrying alleged police interference in case, corruption and weak rule of law, gained in momentum, with thousands rallying peacefully in capital Banja Luka 30 Dec demanding resignation of RS interior minister.
Prospects for resumption of talks on reunification of island still considered dim despite parties continuing to discuss “new paths forward” around different modes of governance: Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades expressing support for “loose federation”, Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akıncı for “federal” solution, and Ankara for “confederation” or “two-states within the EU” solution. UN special envoy Jane Holl Lute, visited the island 16-18 Dec to discuss terms of reference for way forward with Anastasiades and Akıncı. Tensions over hydrocarbon explorations continued.
At swearing-in ceremony of newly-elected President Salome Zourabichvili in Telavi 16 Dec, thousands reportedly attempted to join rally called by defeated opposition candidate Grigol Vashadze but were prevented as police blocked some roads; in ensuing clashes eight police officers and several protestors reportedly injured, one former opposition MP arrested 17 Dec for attack on police vehicle. During 46th round of Geneva International Discussions (GID, main negotiation forum for Georgian conflicts since 2008) 11-12 Dec participants agreed to resume Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism (IPRM, aimed at defusing tensions) in South Ossetian conflict zone after three-month break, with first meeting held 18 Dec, discussing recent detentions along boundary line and other security-related issues. UN, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), EU co-chairs urged participants of GID to resume IPRM meetings in Abkhazia conflict zone.