CrisisWatch is our global conflict tracker, an early warning tool designed to help prevent deadly violence. It keeps decision-makers up-to-date with developments in over 70 conflicts and crises every month, identifying trends and alerting them to risks of escalation and opportunities to advance peace. In addition, CrisisWatch monitors over 50 situations (“standby monitoring”) to offer timely information if developments indicate a drift toward violence or instability. Entries dating back to 2003 provide easily searchable conflict histories.
January saw violence rise in Afghanistan, likely to continue in February as conflict parties compete to gain the upper hand ahead of spring offensives. Clashes look set to escalate in north-west Syria, with the regime ramping up its push against rebels and Turkey launching an assault on Kurdish-held Afrin. In Yemen, southern separatists fought government forces, their erstwhile allies, to take control of Aden city in the south. In West Africa, both Mali and Niger experienced a rise in jihadist violence, in Nigeria deadly attacks between herders and farmers spiralled, and Equatorial Guinea said it had thwarted an attempted coup. In the Horn of Africa, Somaliland troops clashed with neighbouring Puntland’s forces and both sides looked to be preparing for more hostilities. In Colombia, peace talks between the government and the National Liberation Army were suspended following a spate of guerrilla attacks. The Venezuelan government’s announcement of early elections sparked a crisis of confidence in talks with the opposition. Meanwhile, peace talks between North and South Korea provide an opportunity for de-escalation, however the threat of war on the peninsula is higher now than at any time in recent history.
Our President Robert Malley introduces his monthly column accompanying the conflict tracker CrisisWatch for January/February 2018.
With peace talks stalled, Afghanistan experienced a rise in deadly attacks by all armed actors, at a tempo and intensity that could persist as conflict parties try to gain the upper hand ahead of spring offensives. The Afghan National Security Forces claimed to have killed about 2,000 Taliban and Islamic State-Khorasan Province (IS-KP) fighters since late December, while attacks by the Taliban and the IS-KP have left scores dead. In one incident in Kabul claimed by the Taliban, a bomb in an ambulance killed more than 100. Recognising that Afghanistan risks facing escalating violence in 2018, Crisis Group has stressed that diplomatic channels should be preserved and a political settlement pursued.
In Syria’s north west, Turkey’s air and land offensive against Kurdish “People’s Protection Units” (YPG) in Afrin, and regime advances against rebels in Hama and Idlib provinces, marked a severe escalation and paved the way for worse fighting in February. As we warned, Turkey’s offensive among a hostile population and in difficult territory could easily become a prolonged fight against a gritty insurgency, further strain its alliance with the YPG’s main backer, the U.S., and provoke Kurdish attacks at home. A deal would serve both sides better. In Yemen’s port city of Aden, southern separatists – nominally allied with the government in its fight against Huthi rebels – routed government forces from much of the city; dozens died in the fighting.
Suspected jihadist gunmen and suicide bombers in Mali upped deadly attacks against the military and French Barkhane forces, especially in Ménaka region in the east. In neighbouring Niger, Boko Haram militants increased attacks against the army in the south east, killing at least ten soldiers. To confront these rural insurgencies in the Sahel, in tandem with military efforts, authorities and foreign partners should promote local mediation and peacebuilding initiatives and, where possible, try to engage militant leaders. Nigeria’s expanding conflict between herding and farming communities spiralled in January with at least 200 killed across five states. Also in West Africa, Equatorial Guinea said it had foiled a coup attempt; 39 mercenaries were arrested in southern Cameroon.
Tensions between Somaliland and Puntland state in Somalia turned violent when on 8 January Somaliland troops seized the town of Tukaraq in the disputed Sool region, pushing out Puntland forces. With fighters exchanging fire on 28 January and both sides reportedly mobilising more manpower, February could see further hostilities.
In Colombia, amid a climate of mistrust at the negotiating table and a general atmosphere of public scepticism and apathy, peace talks between the government and the National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla group were suspended on 29 January following a spate of guerrilla attacks. In Venezuela, the government’s announcement that it will hold early elections “before 30 April”, in defiance of ongoing talks with the opposition, sparked a crisis of confidence in the talks, greatly reducing the prospects of a viable agreement to resolve the political standoff.
In Kosovo, the murder of moderate Serb politician Oliver Ivanovic in Mitrovica on 16 January triggered shock and condemnation within Kosovo and by the U.S., EU and others in the international community, who called for all sides to remain calm, exercise restraint and avoid dangerous rhetoric.
North and South Korea conducted multiple rounds of peace talks in January and agreed to conduct several joint activities in the coming months. This came after Seoul responded positively to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s offer of immediate and unconditional talks with South Korea in his annual New Year’s address. As Crisis Group reports state, the thaw in relations offers an opportunity to dial down tensions and reduce the immediate risk of conflict through some form of de-escalatory deal between the U.S. and North Korea. Nevertheless, the threat of catastrophic war on the peninsula is higher now than at any time in recent history, and escalation could quickly resume after the Olympics.
Jihadist coalition Group to Support Islam and Muslims (JNIM) 6 Jan claimed 31 Dec ambush on gendarmerie patrol at Kombory, Boucle du Mouhoun region in north on Mali border, one gendarme killed. Unidentified assailants 5 Jan attacked Kelbo gendarmerie post, Soum province, Sahel region, one attacker killed. Authorities late Dec arrested former Security Minister Auguste Denise Barry and several members of his think-tank; accused Barry of planning protests alongside civil society organisations. Authorities arrested more people 8 Jan, including three civilians allegedly involved in “destabilisation” attempt.
23 civil society organisations early Jan launched “Teshwa Ute’’ (stop) campaign against referendum set for May on constitutional changes that would allow President Nkurunziza to run in presidential elections until 2034; Forum for Strengthening Civil Society 16 Jan reported that authorities had arrested 60 people opposed to constitutional change in Jan. Opposition groups in exile and in Burundi agreed in Kenyan capital Nairobi 27-28 Jan to work together against constitutional referendum. Opposition MPs and unions continued to protest against forced contributions toward 2020 elections. Guerrilla group National Forces of Liberation fighting against govt from bases along Burundi-DR Congo border 5 Jan suffered internal coup; Major General Felix Ntahonkiriye announced he was new chief of armed movement and Oscar Havyarimana became president of political branch. UN Human Rights Council 18 Jan said govt’s violations of human rights since Nkurunziza’s July 2015 re-election included torture, forced disappearances, sexual violence and extrajudicial killings. Almost 7,000 Congolese fled from South Kivu to Burundi late Jan due to fighting between army and Mai Mai militants.
Anglophone separatists maintained attacks and clashed with security forces in Southwest and Northwest regions, and Boko Haram (BH) kept up deadly attacks in Far North with rise in monthly death toll. Separatists killed two military officers in Southwest 14 Jan and another next day in Northwest. Anglophone armed separatist group Tigers of Ambazonia 14-18 Jan raided schools in Buea, Kumba and Limbe, and launched attacks in Mbonge, Kombone, Kwa Kwa, Nake and Bole, all Southwest region, clashing with security forces; several separatists and military killed. In retaliation, security forces killed civilians and burnt homes in Southwest and in Kumbo, Northwest, forcing thousands to flee. Nigerian aid official late Jan said Nigeria was hosting at least 43,000 Anglophone Cameroonians; Nigerian National Commission for Refugees reported 30,000, while UN Refugee Agency had registered by 24 Jan 11,651 Cameroonians seeking asylum in Nigeria. Unidentified men 18 Jan killed forest guard in Ikiliwindi, Southwest. Separatist groups, including Tigers and Ambazonia Defense Forces, clashed with army several more times, in Mbengwi and Mulang both Northwest and Ekombe and Ekok both Southwest 20-26 Jan, several separatists and at least one soldier killed. Some 80 soldiers crossed into Cross River state, Nigeria 30 Jan searching for separatists. Nigeria 5 Jan arrested ten separatist leaders in Nigerian capital, Abuja; in response Anglophone activists protested at Nigerian embassies in U.S., South Africa, UK and Belgium 10-19 Jan. 47 separatists, including president of Interim Govt of Ambazonia, extradited from Nigeria to Cameroon 26 Jan. Marking rise in monthly death toll, BH killed at least 27 people in Far North, including four people in suicide bombings in Amchide 11-16 Jan, with other attacks in Kolofata, Mayo Moskota, Mayo Tsanaga and Waza areas. Two Cameroonian soldiers killed 4 Jan while taking part in Nigerian army’s Operation Deep Punch 2 in Sambisa forest, Nigeria. Equatorial Guinea govt 3 Jan said it had thwarted attempted coup late Dec; some 39 mercenaries from Chad, Central African Republic and Sudan reportedly arrested in southern Cameroon near Equatorial Guinea border 27 Dec.
High levels of violence involving armed groups continued, especially in north west. Clashes between armed groups National Movement for the Liberation of the Central African Republic (MNLC) and Revolution and Justice (RJ) intensified in Ouham Pende province in north west; UN mission (MINUSCA) late Jan deployed Cameroonian troops and Bangladeshi Special Forces to create zone free of armed groups 10km around Paoua, Ouham Pende province, govt troops deployed in support 25 Jan. President Touadéra visited Paoua 19 Jan. Govt and MINUSCA 18 Jan rejected nomination by ex-Seleka faction Popular Front for the Central African Renaissance (FPRC) of some members to join police and gendarmerie in Bria in centre. Court 22 Jan condemned former anti-balaka leader known as General Andilo to life in prison, first conviction since crisis began in 2013. UN investigation team 24 Jan submitted report to UN Secretary-General pointing out MINUSCA’s shortfalls in civil-military planning, training and understanding of protection of civilians. Having obtained from UN Security Council exception to arms embargo in Dec, Russia delivered weapons to equip EU-trained army soldiers 26 Jan.
Clashes continued early Jan between illegal gold miners and local communities in Tibesti region in far north. Govt launched operation Zero Loss to boost customs revenue collection 10 Jan; to combat dishonest financial practices govt created force comprising 500 members of presidential guard led by President Déby’s son. Strikes continued to protest govt’s austerity measures, including hikes in income tax and prices of fuel, electricity and telephone calls; in response govt 25 Jan cut internet service and deployed security forces in capital N’Djamena. Déby 28 Jan slightly reshuffled govt: Ahmat Mahamat Bachir returned as security minister and Mahamat Moctar Ali became civil service minister. Following meeting of foreign ministers of G5 Sahel countries (Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mauritania) and French defence ministry in Paris 15 Jan, Malian FM announced launch of second G5 Sahel operation. Déby elected chairperson of African Peer Review Mechanism 28 Jan.
Rival factions in military clashed twice in Bouaké in centre. Soldiers in artillery battalion who mutinied in 2017 clashed with members of elite unit, whom former accuse of being sent to spy on them, around military base at Sokoura, north of Bouaké in centre 5 Jan; one soldier reportedly killed. Rival factions clashed again in Bouaké 9 Jan. Govt responded by beefing up security in city.
Following large anti-govt demonstrations on first anniversary of Saint Sylvester agreement 31 Dec, protests against President Kabila’s rule organised in capital Kinshasa and other major cities 21 Jan by Comité Laïc de Coordination, activists affiliated to Catholic Church; repression by security forces reportedly left six people dead. Catholic Archbishop of Kinshasa 2 Jan denounced repression and 12 Jan held mass to commemorate victims. Electoral commission concluded voter registration 31 Jan, said 46mn voters registered, 12% more than expected. Suspected militia fighters 14 Jan killed four soldiers near Kananga airport in Central Kasai province. Kamuina Nsapu militia killed nine civilians in Bata Ishama and Kakenge villages, Kasai province 29-30 Jan. Congolese army 13 Jan launched new operations against armed group Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) in N Kivu in east and reported twenty military personnel killed in ADF attack 19 Jan. Ugandan President Museveni 14 Jan held meeting of East African chiefs of defence forces and representatives of DRC and South Africa to discuss conflict with ADF. Security forces intensified operations against Mai Mai militia in S Kivu causing almost 7,000 people to flee to Burundi and 1,200 to Tanzania late Jan.
Govt 3 Jan said it had thwarted attempted coup 24 Dec; some 39 mercenaries from Chad, Central African Republic and Sudan reportedly arrested in southern Cameroon near border with Equatorial Guinea 27 Dec. Govt accused opposition parties of having links to coup and arrested 135 opponents during Jan. Authorities 30 Dec reportedly arrested ambassador to Chad, President Obiang 23 Jan fired ambassador citing “irregularities committed in the exercise of his functions”.
President Afwerki met Egyptian President Sisi in Cairo 9 Jan to enhance “strategic cooperation”. As tensions rose between Egypt and Sudan (see Sudan), Afwerki 15 Jan dismissed reports that Egyptian troops had deployed to Sawa military base in western Eritrea close to border with Sudan. Sudan 5 Jan said it had sent troops to Kassala region in eastern Sudan near border with Eritrea, and same day closed border.
Security forces 20 Jan opened fire on crowd chanting anti-govt slogans at religious festival in Weldiya, Amhara region; some twelve people reportedly killed, sparking further unrest in which protesters set fire to businesses associated with pro-regime figures. Protests continued in other parts of Amhara and in Oromia region. Security forces 25 Jan allegedly fired on crowd in Kobo, Amhara region, killing seven people. PM Desalegn 3 Jan said govt would close Maekelawi prison camp, allegedly used as torture facility, and reported to have said govt would pardon or annul cases of all jailed political figures; next day Desalegn’s office said he had been misquoted and that only “some” political prisoners would be pardoned. Prosecutor general 15 Jan said charges against 528 people arrested during anti-govt protests had been dropped, including prominent Oromo opposition leader Merera Gudina jailed since Dec 2016; Gudina released 17 Jan with 115 others. Oromia regional state 26 Jan announced pardon of 2,345 prisoners jailed during unrest in 2015 and 2016, of whom 1,568 had been convicted and sentenced. PM Desalegn met Egyptian President Sisi in Cairo 18 Jan on dispute over Nile waters and construction of Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, which Egypt sees as threat to its water supply; talks ended in stalemate as govt rejected Egyptian proposal that World Bank mediate, both sides played down reports of military tension. On sidelines of African Union summit, govt, Egypt and Sudan 29 Jan set one-month deadline for reaching agreement on Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.
Authorities 21 Jan arrested two of former President Jammeh’s generals on their return to Gambia, having fled with Jammeh in Jan 2017; govt did not state charges.
PM Embalo resigned 13 Jan to facilitate dialogue to end political impasse, but President Vaz failed to meet 16 Jan deadline set in Dec by regional bloc Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) for him to conform with Oct 2016 Conakry agreement by naming consensus PM. Former FM Augusto Antonio Artur Da Silva sworn in as new PM 31 Jan.
President Kenyatta 26 Jan announced new cabinet; appointment of ruling party supporters to all key posts closed door to power sharing with opposition, one option touted to end confrontation between Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga. Odinga 30 Jan staged swearing-in ceremony in which he was declared “people’s president”, despite previously dropping plan due to reported govt threats that police would disrupt ceremony and arrest him; ceremony took place largely peacefully, tens of thousands attended and police stayed away. Other opposition leaders Kalonzo Musyoka, Musalia Mudavadi and Moses Wetang’ula did not attend. Govt took off air some television and radio stations intending to cover ceremony and others after they had done so. Interior minister 31 Jan described ceremony as “attempt to subvert or overthrow” govt and threatened arrests, including against journalists. Former VP and senior opposition figure Kalonzo Musyoka 31 Jan claimed unidentified assailants carried out failed “assassination attempt” against him at his home in Nairobi that day. Police 31 Jan arrested opposition MP who administered Odinga’s “swearing-in”. EU observer mission released its final report on electoral process in Brussels 10 Jan, claiming that govt refused to host mission in Nairobi and that govt had requested delay in publication; report concluded that election commission had performed better than in initial Aug poll, but said lack of public trust in institutions affected credibility of process and called for greater accountability; foreign ministry summoned EU ambassador to express displeasure with report. Al-Shabaab increased attacks mostly on security forces and mostly near border with Somalia and at coast: insurgents attacked police patrol in Mandera county in north 2 Jan killing five policemen; 100 militants 14 Jan temporarily took over Ishakani village, East Lamu to preach to inhabitants and warn them not to cooperate with security forces.
Regional bloc Southern African Development Community (SADC) 24 Jan briefed African Union (AU) Peace and Security Council on SADC Preventive Mission in Lesotho (SAPMIL) launched 2 Dec and requested AU and its partners to help meet $1.6mn shortfall in funding for first six months.
George Weah sworn in as president 22 Jan. Ruling Unity Party 14 Jan said it had expelled several members including outgoing President Johnson Sirleaf, whom party leaders accuse of meddling in presidential elections.
Suspected jihadists increased attacks on national and international forces, especially in east and centre. Alleged jihadists attacked Self-Defence Group of Imrad Tuareg and Allies (GATIA), Platform coalition member, in Ménaka region in east 6 Jan, killing four. French Barkhane forces 10 Jan captured several people suspected to have links to jihadists. Suicide bomber in vehicle detonated explosives near Barkhane convoy near Indelimane, Ménaka region 11 Jan injuring three French soldiers; attack claimed by Islamic State branch in Sahel. Civilian vehicle triggered mine near Boni, Mopti region in centre 25 Jan, 26 people killed. Army said it had repelled attack at Youwarou, Mopti region 25 Jan, killing seven attackers. Alleged jihadists attacked military positions in Soumpi, Timbuktu region in north 27 Jan killing fourteen soldiers and in Ménaka, Ménaka region 28 Jan killing at least five soldiers. Govt 11 Jan said it would launch large military operation to secure centre. Delegation of ex-rebel Coalition of Azawad Movements (CMA) early Jan went to Washington and New York to argue their case with UN Security Council members; President Keita 12 Jan said trip was attempt to lead “parallel negotiations” outside framework of Algiers peace agreement. Agreement follow-up committee 17 Jan decided on new timeline for implementation. FMs of Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso in capital Bamako 8 Jan decided to create fund to channel donor funds for counter-terror operations. Following meeting of FMs of G5 Sahel countries (Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mauritania) and French defence ministry in Paris 15 Jan, Malian FM announced launch of second G5 Sahel operation, but kept details secret.
Suspected Islamist militants from group known locally as Al-Shabaab 13 Jan attacked govt building in Palma district, Cabo Delgado province near border with Tanzania in far north, killing five. Unidentified assailants 15 Jan attacked village in Nangade district, Cabo Delgado province, killing two people; locals blamed attack on same group.
Suspected Boko Haram (BH) militants increased attacks in south east and insecurity persisted in west. In south east, suspected BH militants attacked army positions in Toumour, east of Diffa 17 Jan, reportedly killing at least seven soldiers, at least one civilian also killed. BH militants attacked National Guard outpost near Chetimari, about 20km from Diffa, at least two soldiers and several militants reportedly killed. Govt early Jan extended state of emergency for another three months and extended by unspecified period 31 Dec deadline for BH militants to surrender; 26 BH militants reportedly surrendered in Diffa 16 Jan. In west, armed men seen destroying communication posts in several places in Tillabery region mid-Jan; security forces claimed to have prevented assailants destroying communication posts in Banibangou area 17 Jan, killing up to fifteen. Civil society-led protests against 2018 finance law continued 14 Jan in Niamey, Zinder and Dosso.
Violence between herders and farmers escalated and military battled Boko Haram (BH) as group kept up attacks in north east. In spiralling herder-farmer violence, herders attacked farming communities in Logo and Guma areas of Benue state 1-7 Jan killing at least 73 people. Attacks between Fulani and Bachama groups in Lau area, Taraba state killed at least 55 people 6-8 Jan and six more 21 Jan. Suspected herders killed ten people in Birnin Gwari, Kaduna state 12 Jan and at least six people in Logo, Guma and Okpokwu areas of Benue state 16-17 Jan. Several attacks in Taraba state 16-17 Jan killed at least 29 people. Clashes and attacks in Bassa, Bokkos and Riyom areas of Plateau state 22-24 Jan killed at least ten people. Gunmen 30 Jan attacked Kadarko village, Nasarawa state killing seven people. Armed youths 31 Jan killed seven Fulani in Gboko, Benue state. Army 9 Jan said it killed at least 107 BH insurgents in north east of Borno state. In Borno state, BH killed 26 people in attacks in Kaje and near Ngala 8 and 15 Jan. In north of Adamawa state, BH killed twenty people in four attacks 15-26 Jan. Six suicide bombings during Jan mainly in Borno state killed at least 38 people including bombers. BH faction leader Shekau released video 2 Jan and two more 15 Jan insisting on group’s strength and showing female captives. In Niger Delta, militants beheaded soldier at Toru-Ndoro, Bayelsa state 5 Jan; when troops tried to arrest perpetrators 9 Jan, gunfight left four soldiers and several militants dead. Militant group Niger Delta Avengers 17 Jan said it would resume attacks on foreign oil companies. In suspected gang war in Rivers state, gunmen killed at least 21 people in Omoku 1 Jan; killed seven in Emohua 4 Jan and seven in Ajakaja 6 Jan. In Niger state, vigilantes killed ten suspected bandits in Rafi area 6 Jan. Security forces 5 Jan arrested ten Cameroonian Anglophone separatist leaders in Abuja, extradited them to Cameroon 26 Jan (see Cameroon).
Follow-up committee for 23 Dec ceasefire agreement between govt and rebels led by Pasteur Ntumi submitted its recommendations to govt 22 Jan, including arms collection in Pool region in south, return of state authorities and that Ntumi should remain free.
Unidentified gunmen shot dead thirteen people 6 Jan near town of Borofaye in Casamance region in south, where separatists have been waging campaign for independence of Casamance region since early 1980s. Police 25 Jan arrested and charged 24 people for crime, including member of separatist Movement of Democratic Forces for Casamance.
Clashes between govt forces and Al-Shabaab militants continued, increasing in frequency late Jan, including: govt forces attacked alleged Al-Shabaab-run school in Middle Shabelle region 18 Jan reportedly killing four children and teacher; Al-Shabaab attacked base of African Union mission (AMISOM) in Buloburde, Hiraan region 23 Jan, three militants reportedly killed; army and Al-Shabaab militants clashed in Bay region 29 Jan, seven militants and four soldiers reportedly killed. U.S. 1 Jan said it had killed at least seventeen Al-Shabaab militants in airstrikes late Dec. U.S. conducted further airstrikes throughout Jan; U.S. said 18 Jan airstrike killed four militants. Amid tensions between federal govt and Mogadishu Mayor Thabit Abdi Mohamed over latter’s alleged involvement in land-grab deals, district commissioners loyal to Thabit re-elected him as mayor for further two years in unofficial vote 20 Jan; in response President Farmajo 21 Jan replaced Thabit with then Information Minister Abdirahman Omar Osman “Yarisow”. Gunman killed Marine general in Mogadishu 18 Jan; colonel reportedly arrested for shooting.
Somaliland troops 8 Jan forcefully took control of Tukaraq town in Sool region from Puntland forces, region disputed between Somaliland and Puntland, and fighting could escalate in Feb. Somalia President Farmajo visited Puntland capital Garowe 8 Jan. Somaliland and Puntland reportedly assembled more forces in preparation for further potential conflict, prompting Ethiopia to begin mediation. Somaliland and Puntland forces exchanged gunfire in Tukaraq 28 Jan, no casualties reported. Reported clashes between two clans in El Afweyn district, Sanaag region 21 Jan, left some seventeen people dead.
Govt forces and rebels continued to violate 24 Dec Cessation of Hostilities (CoH); ceasefire monitors 15 Jan confirmed violations by govt and forces loyal to former VP Machar in Dec and Jan. U.S. Ambassador to UN Nikki Haley 24 Jan called govt “unfit partner” for peace and suggested arms embargo. UN Secretary-General 27 Jan questioned S Sudanese political elites’ commitment to peace, reaffirmed UN support for any punitive actions by regional bloc Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and pointed out “contradictions” in regional and international approaches. IGAD 27 Jan confirmed its intent to ensure consequences for hindering CoH monitoring processes and for violating ceasefire. AU Chairperson Moussa Faki encouraged implementation of sanctions 28 Jan. President Kiir 7 Jan said former army chief Paul Malong was mobilising troops to fight govt, citing alleged recordings of Malong urging army officials to take up arms against govt; Malong denied authenticity of recordings.
Simmering tensions between Sudan and Egypt, mostly over disputed Halayeb border region and alleged Sudanese hosting of Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood members, escalated after Turkish President Erdoğan visited Khartoum end Dec. During visit, it was reported that Sudan gave Saukin Island on Red Sea coast, site of historic Ottoman Port, to Turkey. This prompted speculation that Turkey intends to build naval base on island, which would further fuel competition for influence on Horn’s Red Sea coast between Saudi Arabia and its allies, including Egypt, and Qatar and its ally Turkey. Following reports that Egypt had deployed troops to Sawa military base in western Eritrea near border with Sudan 4 Jan (which Eritrean President Afwerki denied 15 Jan), Sudan same day recalled its ambassador to Egypt, and 5 Jan said it had deployed troops to Kassala region in east near border with Eritrea and reportedly closed border with Eritrea, but it remained unclear if Sudan took these measures in response to alleged Egyptian troop deployments. In apparent attempt to defuse diplomatic escalation, President Bashir and Egyptian President Sisi met in Addis Ababa on margins of African Union summit 27 Jan and pledged to establish joint ministerial committee to handle bilateral challenges. Govt’s late Dec release of 2018 budget, including cut in flour subsidy that tripled price of bread, triggered nationwide protests early Jan; security forces cracked down on protestors violently across country and arrested around 100 participants, including opposition Sudanese Congress Party leader Omar al-Digar, one protester reported killed.
Amid ongoing anti-govt protests, following meeting between opposition representatives and mediator Guinean President Condé in Conakry 15-16 Jan, Condé said he had proposed govt and opposition meet 23-26 Jan for dialogue and that he would send mission to present opposition demands to President Gnassingbé. Opposition representatives 17 Jan met mediator Ghanaian President Akufo-Addo in Accra.
Parliamentary spokesman 2 Jan said President Museveni had 27 Dec signed bill (passed by parliament 20 Dec) which removes presidential age limit, allowing him to run for sixth term in 2021. After opposition protests in parliament, Constitutional Court 3 Jan said it would review parliamentary speaker’s conduct during debates on bill, including decision to suspend six opposition MPs. Opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) leader Kizza Besigye 11 Jan announced “Tubalemese” campaign, involving formation of alternative “people’s government” and boycott of companies owned by members of ruling National Resistance Movement. Following attack by suspected members of Ugandan armed group Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) in DRC 7 Dec that killed some fourteen Tanzanian peacekeepers and Ugandan military’s strikes on ADF bases late Dec, Museveni 14 Jan convened meeting of East African defence and military intelligence chiefs and representatives from DRC and South Africa to discuss ADF threat.
President Mnangagwa 24 Jan said free and fair elections would be held before July, welcomed observers from EU, UN and Commonwealth and promised to respect result. Under pressure to respond to allegations around 1980s Gukuruhundi massacres, alleged killings of minority Ndebele by security forces, Mnangagwa 5 Jan enacted law to launch National Peace and Reconciliation Commission. About 30 senior police officers forced to retire 18 Jan, Mnangagwa next day overturned decision reinstating all but eleven. Govt 23 Jan ordered senior govt officials to declare assets over $100,000 by 28 Feb as part of anti-corruption drive.
Jan saw increase in hostilities by all sides in disruption of usual winter lull in fighting, with tempo and intensity of violence seen as likely to continue in Feb as parties to conflict make push to gain upper hand ahead of spring offensives; also further major Taliban attacks on civilians in Kabul late Jan. Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) claimed to have killed about 2,000 Taliban and Islamic State-Khorasan Province (IS-KP) fighters since late Dec. Taliban laid siege to provincial capital of Farah (west). At least one U.S. soldier killed in fight against IS-KP 1 Jan and one wounded by insider attack claimed by Taliban 11 Jan in Nangarhar province. Eighteen members of pro-govt local militia killed by Taliban in relatively secure province Balkh (north) 18 Jan. Increased reports of civilian harm from operations by Afghan and U.S. forces, including report of ten civilians killed in Jawzjan province 5 Jan and seven civilians killed in Nangarhar province 11 Jan during operations by U.S. forces and ANSF. Taliban claimed two major attacks in Kabul: raid on Intercontinental Hotel 20-21 Jan in which at least 22 were killed, mostly foreigners; and bomb hidden in ambulance which killed more than 100 27 Jan. IS-KP claimed attack on office of humanitarian NGO Save the Children 24 Jan in which at least three people were killed. Eleven soldiers killed in raid on military academy in Kabul 29 Jan, claimed by IS-KP. U.S. President Trump 29 Jan condemned attacks and ruled out peace talks with Taliban in apparent reversal of previous strategy of pushing them closer to talks; however, Deputy Secretary of State Sullivan 30 Jan said Trump’s remarks did not reflect a policy shift. Ahead of Kabul Process conference scheduled 28 Feb, Govt’s High Peace Council stepped up public events advocating for peace. Standoff continued between central govt and Balkh governor Atta Noor, who continued to defy attempt by President Ghani to fire him; U.S. VP Pence 16 Jan called for peaceful transition of power in Balkh.
Efforts to repatriate Rohingya refugees to Myanmar stalled amid continued concerns from rights groups and UN that refugees would be returned forcibly and without adequate safety guarantees. Rohingya leaders at main Kutupalong refugee camp mid-Jan drew up a list of demands for Myanmar to meet before beginning repatriation process, including citizenship for Rohingyas and military accountability for alleged killings, looting and rape. 23 January Bangladesh police arrested three Rohingya refugees attempting to organise protest against any forced repatriation. First meeting of Bangladesh-Myanmar Joint Working Committee for repatriation 15 Jan reached agreement to repatriate some 655,500 Rohingya refugees “preferably within two years”, starting 23 Jan; amid concerns voiced by rights groups, Bangladesh’s refugee and repatriation commissioner 22 Jan said repatriation process had been postponed, citing lack of preparation and concerns refugees are unwilling to return. Small numbers of Rohingya reportedly continue to enter Bangladesh. Bangladesh National Party (BNP) chief Khaleda Zia 2 Jan said BNP would contest 2019 general election, but reiterated calls previously rejected by govt that poll be held under interim non-partisan administration. North South University teacher Mubashar Hasan, one of most prominent enforced disappearance cases, released 22 Dec after 44 days in captivity, reportedly at hands of security agencies; Hassan’s liberation prompted renewed domestic and international attention on issue. Security forces 12 Jan killed three Islamist suspected militants during raid in Dhaka.
Former leader of now-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), Sam Rainsy, 13 Jan issued statement announcing establishment of Cambodia National Rescue Movement (CNRM), which will organise opposition to govt of PM Hun Sen. Statement called for fair elections and release from prison of Kem Sokha, last leader of CNRP, arrested in Sept 2017. State officials suggested CNRM was tantamount to rebel group; interior ministry 16 Jan said it was founded by “illegal rebels” and warned that those joining group could face legal action. Hun Sen celebrated 33 years in power on 14 Jan; on 16 Jan appointed his son-in-law, Dy Vichea, to post of deputy national police chief.
Amid ongoing crackdown on “extremist” or “politically incorrect” views, Radio Free Asia 22 Jan reported some 120,000 ethnic Uighurs being detained in political re-education camps in Kashgar, Xinjiang, according to anonymous security official.
Four Chinese coast guard ships 7 Jan sailed through waters near disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, prompting warning by Japan’s coast guard. Japan 11 Jan said it had sighted Chinese frigate and submarine near Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands’ territorial waters; lodged formal protest, 15 Jan said China’s actions “unilaterally raises tensions”. U.S. 20 Jan announced its 2018 National Defense Strategy, which characterised China as strategic competitor reinforcing likelihood of continued tensions and potential for unintended clashes, particularly in the South China Sea (SCS) and East China Sea (ECS). Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono 27-28 Jan made first official visit to Beijing since 2016 and met Chinese Premier Li Keqiang; discussions focused on North Korea, ECS dispute, planned trilateral China-Japan-South Korea summit and plans to establish military hotline.
Clashes between security forces and suspected Maoist rebels in Chhattisgarh state included: 5 Jan clash in which security forces killed two suspected Maoist rebels in Bastar district; 15 Jan clash that killed one alleged Maoist; 24 Jan rebel ambush which killed four policemen; and clash in Sukma district 27 Jan in which two suspected Maoists were killed.
Periodic exchanges of fire across international border and Line of Control (LoC) between India and Pakistan occurred throughout month, increasing in frequency mid-to-late Jan after Pakistan 15 Jan accused India of killing four of its soldiers and said it had killed three Indian soldiers in retaliation. Bomb placed by suspected militants 6 Jan killed four policemen in Srinagar. Indian security forces and militants clashed throughout month, including on 15 Jan, when Indian forces said they killed five Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) militants attempting to infiltrate across LoC; during 24 Jan clash, police killed two suspected militants and seventeen-year-old civilian man in Indian-administered Jammu. Security forces 27 Jan fired on anti-India protestors in Shopian district of Indian-administered Kashmir, killing two and triggering further protests. Tensions continued over detained alleged Indian spy Kulbuhshan Jhadav following 25 Dec meeting between Jhadav and his wife and mother in Islamabad, after which Pakistan released video statement by Jhadav reiterating confession that he had been working for Indian intelligence; India said Jhadav’s statement was made under duress, repeated demands for consular access to Jhadav.
Govt 3 Jan launched new cyber security agency as part of efforts against online religious extremism and “fake news” on social media; also added some 600 additional personnel to its counter-terrorism police (Detachment 88) in bid to crack down on Islamic State (ISIS)-inspired groups. FM Retno Marsudi 3 Jan met Philippine President Duterte in Davao, southern Philippines, to discuss maritime security plan and possible joint education program to “spread” Islamic values to counter extremism.
North and South Korea conducted multiple rounds of peace talks and agreed to conduct several joint activities in coming months, promoting route to de-escalation of tensions and reduced risk of conflict amid opportunity presented by North’s participation in Feb Winter Olympics; however observers cite likely purpose of Pyongyang’s outreach to drive wedge into international consensus, ROK-U.S. alliance and South Korean domestic politics, and risk of resumed escalation following Olympics. In annual televised New Year’s address 1 Jan, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un issued offer of immediate and unconditional talks with South Korea. South Korea responded with suggestion of 9 Jan meeting on its side of Military Demarcation Line, at which sides agreed North Korea would participate in Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in South in Feb; also reopened cross-border military-to-military communications line to facilitate logistical discussions. Further talks 15 Jan resulted in agreement that North Korean cultural sector delegation would make two-day inspection trip to South, which took place 21-22 Jan. At 17 Jan talks, Pyongyang and Seoul agreed to march under one flag at Winter Olympics opening ceremony 9 Feb and compete together in several sports. South Korea and U.S. 4 Jan agreed to postpone joint military exercises until after Winter Olympics and Paralympics, which run until 18 March, though U.S. officials responded to inter-Korean talks with mixed messages: U.S. Ambassador to UN Nikki Haley 3 Jan dismissed prospects of dialogue, saying U.S. does not take talks “seriously” unless they make moves toward “ban” on North Korean nuclear weapons; National Security Advisor McMaster warned 5 Jan that purpose of Kim Jong-un’s outreach was to “drive a wedge” between Seoul and Washington, a widely shared view. In his 29 Jan State of the Union address, President Trump said “past experience has taught us that complacency and concessions only invite aggression and provocation” and that he would not repeat “mistakes of past administrations”. U.S. 24 Jan announced further sanctions on several entities, people and ships it said helped Pyongyang’s weapons program.
Islamic State (ISIS) video uploaded 30 Dec featured Malaysian Muhammad Aqif Heusen Rahizat, aka Abu Sufyan Malayzi, and Singaporean, Abu Akil Al Singapuri, urging others to launch attacks in their home countries if they cannot join ISIS in Syria. Police 22 Jan arrested two men believed to have links with ISIS, with one aiming to kill Buddhist monks as retaliation for violence suffered by Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. Media 28 Jan reported authorities uncovered ISIS plot to launch attacks through members working as security guards.
Deadly crackdown on Buddhist Rakhine protesters in Rakhine state further exacerbated tensions and complicated political situation, while attempts to begin repatriation of Rohingya refugees continued to face obstacles. Police 16 Jan fired live rounds on Buddhist Rakhine anti-govt demonstrators outside Mrauk-U town in Rakhine state, leaving at least seven demonstrators dead and several more seriously injured. Arakan Army armed group condemned crackdown and threatened to take action against police who fired on crowd. Observers fear incident creates further obstacles to repatriation of Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh, could hinder govt’s ability to push through unpopular recommendations of Kofi Annan advisory commission that would improve Rohingya rights. Govt 18 Jan arrested prominent Rakhine political leader MP Aye Maung for unlawful association, further inflaming local sentiment. First meeting of Bangladesh-Myanmar Joint Working Committee for repatriation 15 Jan agreed practical arrangements for some 688,000 Rohingya refugees, to commence 23 Jan with up to 1,500 returnees per week, and be completed “preferably within two years”. Rights groups and UN continued to voice concern over conditions for return, lack of guarantees for safety; with no refugees having volunteered to return, Bangladesh 22 Jan announced indefinite delay in repatriation (see also Bangladesh). Humanitarian access to northern Rakhine continues to be heavily restricted. U.S. diplomat Bill Richardson 24 Jan announced resignation from govt’s international advisory panel on Rohingya crisis following trip to country and heated meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi, calling panel “whitewash” of crisis; govt rejected his concerns, claimed he had “personal agenda”. Military 10 Jan released findings of internal investigation into mass grave in Maungdaw township, finding that ten Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) suspects had been detained by military unit, killed by soldiers and villagers and buried in mass grave 2 Sep 2017; indicated those responsible would be prosecuted. ARSA militants ambushed army vehicle in northern Maungdaw township 5 Jan, followed by reported firefight with soldiers. Clashes between govt forces and ethnic armed groups continued in Kachin state and northern Shan state in north east, particularly involving govt air power and heavy artillery around Kachin Independence Organisation’s Laiza headquarters.
Despite completion of federal, provincial, and local elections, transfer of power from Nepali Congress (NC) to leftist alliance between UML and CPN (Maoist Centre) continues to be delayed with country’s new decentralised governing bodies taking shape; new provincial assemblies sworn in 21 Jan; parties preparing for 7 Feb elections for upper house of federal parliament. PM Sher Bahadur Deuba continues to be criticised by leftist of alliance for unwillingness to step down. Govt’s 17 Jan declaration of temporary headquarters of all seven provinces led to protests in several areas; clashes between demonstrators and police in former regional headquarter cities resulted in over 25 injured; UML Chairman KP Oli vowed to reverse this and other decisions made by NC-led govt during transition period. UML and CPN (Maoist Centre) continued to discuss merger and power-sharing deals; 28 Jan decided four of seven provinces would be led by UML and two by CPN (Maoist Centre); deal criticised as disproportionate by some Maoist leaders who also demand Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal assume leadership of new unified party.
Relations with U.S. deteriorated further after President Trump 1 Jan prompted diplomat spat tweeting that U.S. had “foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit”, including providing safe haven to Afghan militants. Foreign ministry summoned U.S. ambassador to formally protest Trump’s remarks; govt 2 Jan issued statement describing tweet as “completely incomprehensible” and reiterating Pakistan’s commitment to Afghan peace process. U.S. 4 Jan said it had suspended security assistance to Pakistan, including Coalition Support Fund support and Foreign Military Financing, until govt takes “decisive action” against militant groups. FM Khawaja Asif described U.S. as “friend who always betrays”; demonstrators early Jan staged anti-U.S. protests amid opposition calls for retaliation. Govt 24 Jan claimed U.S. drone strike in Kurram agency, Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), targeted Afghan refugee camp; denied by U.S.. Balochistan chief minister and ruling Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) (PML-N) member Sanaullah Zehri resigned 9 Jan ahead of no-confidence vote tabled by PML-N dissidents and provincial cabinet, reportedly at military’s behest in bid to damage PML-N’s electoral prospects; replaced by Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid-e-Azam’s (PML-Q) Mir Abdul Qudoos Bizenjo. Ambush of paramilitary Frontier Corps (FC) convoy in Kech district, Balochistan (west), 15 Jan killed at least five FC soldiers. Unclaimed roadside bomb 30 Jan killed six members of family in Kurram agency. Multiple attacks on police targets throughout month in Balochistan provincial capital Quetta, including 9 Jan suicide bombing on police vehicle which killed seven people, mostly police; claimed by Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. Karachi police 13 Jan killed South Waziristan resident Naqeebullah Mehsud and three other terror suspects in apparently staged “encounter”, prompting major protests and calls for police accountability; police inquiry suspended superintendent involved and submitted report to Supreme Court confirming encounter was faked; court ordered arrest of superindendent, now in hiding. Amid ongoing crackdown by security agencies on journalists, academics and social/political activists, two students were briefly abducted in Karachi early Jan, while on 10 Jan journalist who previously reported threats from security services escaped kidnapping attempt in Islamabad.