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.
In January, Venezuela’s crisis took a dangerous new turn, while peace talks between the Colombian government and ELN guerrilla group fell apart. In Yemen, fighting eased off in Hodeida but the situation remains fragile, while violence between rival armed groups rocked Libya’s capital Tripoli and jihadists took Syria’s Idlib. Al-Shabaab carried out a deadly attack in Kenya’s capital, and looming offensives threatened South Sudan’s peace process. Burkina Faso saw another rise in attacks by ethnic armed groups and suspected jihadists. Tensions ran high in several other African countries including Sudan, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Gabon, and Côte d’Ivoire, while repression in Cameroon could stir more unrest. Election-related violence rose ahead of Nigeria’s polls, and Guatemala’s government stepped up attacks on anti-corruption institutions. In Myanmar’s Rakhine State, a deadly attack by ethnic insurgents provoked a military counteroffensive, and militant attacks rose in Thailand’s deep south. In good news, voters in southern Philippines approved a new governing entity intended to end decades of conflict, Macedonia and Greece took final steps to end their long-standing dispute, Lebanon formed a new national unity government, and tentative progress in U.S.-Taliban talks opened the possibility of a breakthrough in Afghanistan.
In his introduction to this month's edition of CrisisWatch, Crisis Group's conflict tracker, our President Robert Malley sees uncertainities in Democratic Republic of Congo and indicators of escalation in Venezuela and Nigeria.
A dangerous new phase opened in Venezuela’s crisis as new opposition leader Juan Guaidó claimed the role of interim president in a head-on confrontation with President Maduro, backed by mass anti-government protests and support from the U.S. and most major regional players, with China and Russia among those backing Maduro. Much rides on whether or not the opposition succeeds in provoking splits in the military and government; failure could unleash greater repression and violence, and even outside military intervention. Whether or not Maduro is toppled, the least dangerous path out of the crisis is a negotiated solution leading to free elections, but it will require firm international support to create conditions for meaningful talks.
The Colombian government ended peace talks with the National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla group after a car bomb attack in Bogotá killed 21 police, prompting fears of a return to open conflict and more violence along the border with Venezuela and Pacific Coast. A new military campaign against the ELN carries severe risks and needs to be accompanied by measures to safeguard the possibility of a return to talks. In Guatemala, the government stepped up its attacks on judicial institutions fighting corruption.
In Yemen, fighting eased off in Hodeida port city as the warring parties took initial steps to implement December’s Stockholm Agreement. February could see further progress, but without concerted international support, the battle for Hodeida could resume. Fighting between rival armed groups again rocked Libya’s capital Tripoli, and with Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army deploying in the south west, intent on purging it of terrorists and foreign armed groups, clashes could erupt there in coming weeks. In Syria, jihadists took control of Idlib in the north west straining the Russia-Turkey deal which has helped hold off a government assault on the densely populated area, while a rise in Israeli airstrikes on Iranian and Iran-allied targets in the south west triggered a worrying retaliation.
In Africa, Burkina Faso saw a further rise in attacks by ethnic armed groups and suspected jihadists. Facing both mounting insurgency and social protests, the government should better support its overstretched troops to guard against further instability. Meanwhile, Somali jihadist group Al-Shabaab launched a terror attack in Kenya’s capital, killing 21 civilians and stirring memories of its 2013 attack on the Westgate shopping centre.
Ahead of Nigeria’s polls this month, Boko Haram upped attacks in the north east and election-related violence began to climb. To avert a bloody crisis, security forces must remain impartial and politicians must keep their pledges to campaign peacefully and challenge results lawfully. Sudan’s security forces responded with greater brutality to continued protests calling for President Bashir’s exit. Influential foreign governments should seek to improve prospects for a peaceful transition by creating incentives for Bashir to step down. While South Sudan’s fragile peace deal between the government and main rebels is holding, a military build-up in the south points to looming offensives against rebels who refused to sign the September agreement.
Elsewhere on the continent, Zimbabwe’s security forces forcefully broke up opposition protests, Ethiopia’s military carried out airstrikes against ethnic Oromo rebels, Gabon’s security forces quickly stopped an attempted coup, and old tensions rekindled in Côte d’Ivoire after the International Criminal Court acquitted – but has not yet released – former President Laurent Gbagbo. A government crackdown on opposition protests in Cameroon could unleash further frustration and unrest, while violence rose in the Anglophone west.
In Myanmar’s Rakhine State, a deadly attack by the Arakan Army on four police stations provoked a military counteroffensive, further complicating efforts to repatriate Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh and jeopardising the country’s broader peace process. We call on all sides, with China’s support, to seek a negotiated solution to avoid further inflaming ethnic tensions. Violence also escalated in Thailand’s deep south, where separatist militants stepped up attacks and clashed with security forces.
Voters in Mindanao in the southern Philippines overwhelmingly approved the creation of a new, more autonomous entity to govern the region, representing the culmination of efforts to implement the 2014 peace agreement between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front – although a deadly bomb attack on a cathedral days later was a reminder of the danger posed by potential spoilers. In other good news, Macedonia and Greece took final steps to implement their June 2018 agreement ending a 27-year dispute over the name of Macedonia, and Lebanon formed a new national unity government, ending nearly nine months of deadlock. Lastly, reports that the U.S. and Taliban have agreed in principle on some elements of a framework for a deal on Afghanistan provided hope of a possible breakthrough in what is today the deadliest conflict in the world.
Jihadist attacks provoked rise in intercommunal violence in north, attacks by communal armed groups and suspected jihadists rose in south west, and suspected jihadists maintained insurgency in east. In north, suspected Islamist militants 1 Jan killed seven civilians in Yirgou village, Centre-North region, including local Mossi chief; Mossi community accused Fulanis of complicity with Islamist assailants and subsequent attacks left 39 Fulanis dead. President Kaboré and three ministers 5 Jan visited Yirgou and urged dialogue. Suspected Islamist militants attacked Gasseliki village, Sahel region 10 and 15 Jan, killing twelve civilians in first attack and seven in second. Unidentified gunmen 27 Jan attacked market in Sikiré village, Sahel region, at least ten civilians killed. Unidentified gunmen 28 Jan attacked military base in Nassoumbou, Sahel region, at least four soldiers killed. Canadian geologist kidnapped 15 Jan at gold mine near border with Niger in north east found dead next day in Beiga, Oudalan province, Sahel region. In south west, Dozo hunters of Dogon community 7 Jan clashed with suspected Islamist militants in Trimbio, South West region, at least one militant injured. Police 12 Jan clashed with villagers of Nafona, Cascades region over land dispute, one woman and two policemen killed. Suspected Islamist militants night of 14-15 Jan attacked police station in Yendéré, Cascades region in south west on border with Côte d’Ivoire, at least one civilian injured. Security minister 16 Jan said Canadian Edith Blais and Italian Luca Tacchetto who disappeared 15 Dec near Bobo-Dioulasso, Hauts-Bassins region in south west had been kidnapped. In west, police 18 Jan clashed with youths in Orodara town, Hauts-Bassins region after young man was shot dead, five other people killed. In east, unidentified gunmen 30 Jan attacked Kompienbiga military base, East region, at least one injured. Fulani NGO Kisal continued to report alleged extrajudicial killings by military, including killing of seven civilians between Tanwalbougou and Piega, East region 15 Jan and killing five civilians in Pama area, East region same day. National Assembly 11 Jan extended state of emergency in fourteen provinces in north by six months. PM Paul Kaba Thieba 18 Jan resigned along with cabinet, no official reason given. Kaboré next day appointed former Health Minister Christophe Dabiré as PM. With armed forces struggling to stop rise in jihadist attacks, Kaboré 10 Jan replaced army chief of staff.
Fighting again flared between military and rebels in eastern DRC and coalition of opposition parties in exile continued to collapse. Seventeen people reportedly killed in Kaberagure, Uvira territory in eastern DRC near Burundian border 16 Jan in fighting between, on one side, rebels including from RED-TABARA and National Liberation Forces (FNL) groups backed by local Mai-Mai militants and, on other, army and ruling party’s Imbonerakure youth wing backed by different Mai-Mai militants. Grenade attack in bar in capital Bujumbura 27 Jan wounded at least eight people. Govt 8 Jan confirmed its refusal to dialogue with opposition politicians it accuses of orchestrating 2015 coup attempt and asked member states of regional bloc East African Community to extradite them to Burundi. Four opposition parties and former first VP Frederic Bamvuginyumvira withdrew from coalition of opposition parties in exile CNARED Giriteka throughout month blaming coalition’s presidency for diverting from platform’s main mission, namely reestablishment of 2005 constitution and 2000 Arusha peace agreement. Ahead of 2020 general elections, leaders of nineteen parties (33 are recognised by law) analysed draft law amending electoral code in Gitega 4 Jan; opposition parties not invited. Some politicians criticised limited time available and called meeting “façade”. Proposed amendments roughly tripled presidential candidates’ deposit and stipulated that independent parliamentary candidates would have to win at least 40% of votes in their constituencies to be elected. Govt 3 Jan said 84 of 130 foreign NGOs previously operating in country had registered before 31 Dec deadline and fulfilled new conditions including ethnic quota for staff; some NGOs that reject conditions began to leave.
Authorities ramped up repression of opposition heightening risk of worse unrest in Feb, violence rose in Anglophone areas and Abubakar Shekau’s Boko Haram (BH) faction continued attacks in Far North. Security forces forcibly dispersed opposition protests in several cities 27-28 Jan called by opposition leader Maurice Kamto to protest allegedly rigged elections in Oct and express solidarity with Anglophones; security forces reportedly used live rounds against protestors in Douala, injuring at least six, and arrested some 200. Authorities arrested Kamto and senior members of his party in Douala 28 Jan triggering protest, which security forces dispersed. More intense violence in Anglophone regions in west left over 90 people dead, including civilians, separatists and security forces. Anglophone separatists 3 Jan cut off fingers of six Cameroon Development Corporation staff in Tiko, Southwest; same day burnt house of Anglophone politician, soon-to-be-appointed PM, Dion Ngute in Ekondo Titi, Southwest; same day attacked gendarmes in Brakah in Francophone West region. Separatists 16 Jan temporarily abducted 36 civilians in Ediki, Southwest; same day killed soldier in Ngouh, Northwest and 17 Jan beheaded two soldiers in Northwest. In Bamenda, Northwest, suspected separatists killed at least six military 18-27 Jan and policeman 28 Jan. Military reportedly killed at least 68 suspected separatists in Southwest and Northwest 4-28 Jan, separatists claimed at least fourteen were civilians. In Far North, BH attacked five villages in Kolofata, Mayo-Sava department 4-11 Jan killing two civilians; killed two civilians in Ldengla and Talla-Made, Mayo Tsanaga 12 and 17 Jan; about 50 militants attacked Achigachia, Mayo Tsanaga 17 Jan, injured nine civilians. BH 23 Jan killed four civilians in Satomi, Mayo Tsanaga, and Meri, Diamare department; and attacked Gossi and Toufou, 25 Jan, Mayo Tsanaga, burning 200 houses. BH killed three people in Kordi and Goumouldi, both Mayo Sava 31 Jan. Shekau faction said it would spare some villages if inhabitants agreed to disband vigilante groups and host logistical bases. Criminal groups based in neighbouring Central African Republic continued to launch attacks in Adamawa, North and East regions. President Biya 4 Jan established new govt, appointing sixteen new members, maintaining 50; reshuffle saw promotion of hardliners, including new Anglophone PM Dion Ngute.
Peace talks between govt and armed groups began in Sudanese capital Khartoum late month, but armed groups continued attacks in rural areas. Following joint high-level African Union (AU)-United Nations mission to capital Bangui 8-10 Jan to revive African Initiative for Peace and Reconciliation in CAR, AU-led talks between govt and fourteen armed groups opened in Khartoum 24 Jan; negotiations due to conclude 2 Feb. Armed groups 31 Jan suspended their participation in talks for two days to press govt to accept their demands including for general amnesty and creation of national unity govt with rebel representatives. Ex-Seleka armed group Union for Peace in the Central African Republic (UPC) 10 and 25 Jan attacked Bambari 400km north east of Bangui targeting police station; Portuguese troops of UN mission (MINUSCA) repelled UPC fighters; fighting left several people dead and several dozen wounded. Ex-Seleka armed group Popular Front for the Central African Renaissance (FPRC) withdrew from Bakouma in south east night of 15-16 Jan after fighting anti-balaka militiamen 31 Dec; over a dozen killed in fighting. PM Sarandji 28 Jan led rally in capital Bangui and reiterated govt’s call for lifting of UN arms embargo. UN Security Council 31 Jan agreed to review arms embargo by end Sept if CAR makes progress, including on security sector reform.
In Tibesti region in north, situation remained tense between govt forces, local armed groups and communities. In Miski area, amid signs of temporary truce between govt forces and ethnic Tebu self-defence groups, soldiers withdrew in Dec, but regrouped 100km from Miski and continued to block access in Jan. In Kouri Bougoudi area, new fighting reportedly erupted 12 Jan between on one side army and Libya-based Sudanese fighters and on other Libya-based Chadian rebel group Military Command Council for the Salvation of the Republic (CCMSR) and gold miners; a dozen people killed. Libyan Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) 16 Jan deployed to Sebha in south west Libya and said it would “rid the south of terrorists and foreign armed groups”. Tripoli-based Attorney General 3 Jan issued arrest warrants for fourteen Chadian rebels; some living in Paris and Doha, others already arrested. Tripoli authorities 3 Jan said they had arrested CCMSR “Defence Minister” Mohamad Taher Cheick who, according to his group, disappeared three months before. Amid protests and growing calls for Sudanese President Bashir to step down, Sudanese deputy president Ousman Mohamed Youssouf Kibir led govt delegation to N’Djamena 29-30 Jan to exchange views with President Déby and govt. Ceremony held in N’Djamena 28 Jan in honour of ten Chadian UN peacekeepers killed 20 Jan in Aguelhok, northern Mali; 54 of 181 peacekeepers killed in Mali since UN mission launched in 2013 are Chadian. Following Déby’s visit to Israel in Nov, Israeli PM Netanyahu visited capital N’Djamena 20 Jan to renew diplomatic ties, cut since 1972; leaders signed agreements including on military and intelligence support.
International Criminal Court (ICC) 15 Jan acquitted former President Gbagbo and co-defendant youth leader Charles Blé Goudé, rekindling divisions, especially between northerners and pro-Gbagbo westerners. Gbagbo supporters 15 Jan took to streets in Gagnoa in west and Yopougon municipality in economic capital Abidjan welcoming acquittal and demanding his return. Opponents of Gbagbo 17 Jan protested against his release in northern city of Korhogo and Bouaké in centre in heart of former rebellion. ICC appeals chamber 21 Jan ruled that Gbagbo and Blé Goudé would stay in detention in the Hague as judges considered prosecution’s appeal and scheduled hearing on appeal to start 1 Feb. Govt made contradictory statements on Gbagbo’s possible return if he is released: spokesman said decision up to Gbagbo but another govt official said he might be arrested if he returned. Head of opposition Democratic Party of Côte d’Ivoire (PDCI) and former President Henri Konan Bédié continued to build opposition coalition against President Ouattara ahead of 2020 presidential election. Bédié started negotiations with Gbagbo about possible alliance. Secretary General of Gbagbo’s party, Ivorian Popular Front (FPI), 9 Jan denied any formal agreement between Bédié and Gbagbo. Parliamentary speaker Guillaume Soro signalled closer alignment with Bédié and opposition to Ouattara: in speech in Ferkessédougou in north 3 Jan, Soro accused ruling coalition Rally of Houphouëtists for Democracy and Peace (RHDP) of sowing division between regions and called for inclusive governance. Authorities 15 Jan arrested Soro’s closest collaborator and historic figure of rebellion MP Alain Lobognon despite his parliamentary immunity for “spreading false news” and “incitement to hatred”. Parliamentary session, in which Soro faced up against presidential party members, maintained Lobognon’s immunity, but he remained in detention. Lobognon 21 Jan said he was going on hunger strike. RHDP held congress in Abidjan 26 Jan to transform coalition of parties into single party, Ouattara said RHDP would elect its presidential candidate in 2020.
Opposition candidate in late Dec polls, Félix Tshisekedi, installed as president 24 Jan in first peaceful transfer of power in country’s history amid strong concerns of vote rigging; and UN reported at least 535 people killed in ethnic violence in west mid-Dec. Electoral commission (CENI) published provisional results 10 Jan declaring Tshisekedi winner with small margin ahead of opposition Lamuka alliance’s candidate Martin Fayulu and ruling coalition’s candidate Ramani Shadary in third place. Amid strong concerns of vote rigging constitutional court 19 Jan confirmed Tshisekedi winner; Fayulu declared himself president. Southern African Development Community (SADC) and other African countries including Egypt, incoming AU chair, took lead in welcoming decision; others, including EU, took note. Former President Kabila’s coalition, Common Front for Congo (FCC), won majorities in national assembly (335 of 485 seats) and in most of 26 provincial assemblies. While security situation remained largely calm, results triggered protests in Kikwit, Kwilu province, Fayulu stronghold, and less so in Kisangani, Mbandaka, Goma and Kinshasa. Police 21 Jan dispersed small Fayulu-led rally in Kinshasa. Govt shut down SMS and mobile internet services 31 Dec-19 Jan, until just before confirmation of results. UN late Jan said at least 535 people were killed in clashes between Banunu and Batende communities in four villages in Yumbi territory, Mai-Ndombe province in west 16-18 Dec; some 465 houses and buildings reportedly burned down or pillaged, estimated 16,000 fled across border into Republic of Congo. UN 29 Jan said violence appeared to have been started by dispute over burial of local chief. In South Kivu, Burundian army backed by Burundian ruling party’s Imbonerakure youth wing and local Mai-Mai militants 16 Jan launched operations in Kaberagure, Uvira territory against Burundian rebels including from RED-TABARA and National Liberation Forces (FNL) groups backed by local Mai-Mai militants; seventeen people reportedly killed. In North Kivu, army 19 Jan clashed with splinter group of Rwandan Hutu rebels Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda (FDLR) near Katale, Masisi territory; army clashed with Allied Democratic Forces rebels in Mapobu, near Beni 21 Jan. In Ituri province, army 22 Jan reported killing of leader and six members of Simba armed group and ethnic Lendu militia attacked army position. Govt 28 Jan said it had extradited to Rwanda two FDLR members.
President Afwerki and Ethiopian PM Abiy 7 Jan reopened border crossing between Humera in Ethiopia and Oum Hajer in Eritrea as part of ongoing reconciliation. Kenyan President Kenyatta 24 Jan visited Eritrea for first time since 1999. Sudan 31 Jan reopened border with Eritrea, shut for a year to combat trafficking of weapons and foodstuffs.
Govt airstrikes against Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) rebels marked escalation in intra-Oromo power struggle. Military 12-13 Jan carried out airstrikes in western Oromia region targeting members of rebel group Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), reportedly killing seven civilians. Govt denied airstrikes but said security forces conducted “stabilising operation” following request from Oromia regional govt. Despite ceasefire agreement 24 Jan between Oromia regional govt and OLF, with OLF fighters agreeing to encamp, disarm, demobilise and reintegrate, OLF gunmen 28 Jan killed two farmers in Amaro district. In north east, after clashes between ethnic Afars and Issa Somali left a dozen dead in Dec, demonstrators 13-18 Jan blocked main road to Djibouti to protest surging ethnic violence. President Afwerki and Ethiopian PM Abiy 7 Jan reopened border crossing between Humera in Ethiopia and Oum Hajer in Eritrea as part of ongoing reconciliation.
Small group of soldiers 7 Jan took over state radio station and broadcast statement saying they were seizing power “to restore democracy” and calling on people to “rise up” while President Bongo was still recuperating in Morocco following stroke late Oct. Govt a few hours later said situation was “under control”, said two coup plotters had been killed and eight others arrested. Bongo 12 Jan named new PM as part of regular govt renewal following Oct legislative elections, 15 Jan returned from Morocco and swore in new govt largely identical to previous one, and same day returned to Morocco to continue recovery.
Govt and teachers’ union 10 Jan signed deal to end strike that has been ongoing on and off for a year; govt pledged to raise teachers’ pay by 40% as agreed in 2017 but only partially implemented since then; talks toward establishing base monthly salary of 8mn Guinean francs ($880) planned for May. Classes in primary and secondary schools resumed 14 Jan for first time in three months.
24 parties registered candidates ahead of 10 March legislative elections.
Al-Shabaab carried out terror attacks in capital Nairobi. Six Al-Shabaab gunmen (at least three of Kenyan origin) 15 Jan attacked hotel and office complex in Westlands area of Nairobi, detonating suicide bomb in hotel foyer and holding civilians captive inside. Seventeen-hour siege ended with security forces killing remaining assailants. 21 civilians killed and at least 30 injured during attack. Suspected Al-Shabaab bombing in central Nairobi 26 Jan also injured two people. Police removed box left at same location 28 Jan. In Garissa county in north, six unidentified armed men attacked road construction site in Shimbirey along Garissa-Madogashe road, police repelled assailants, guard and wife sustained gunshot wounds.
Following victory of former President Andry Rajoelina in Dec presidential run-off elections, thousands of supporters of his opponent former President Marc Ravalomanana 2 Jan protested alleged voting fraud in capital Antananarivo; police fired tear gas to disperse them. High Constitutional Court 8 Jan confirmed Rajoelina as winner, rejecting Ravalomanana’s appeal for cancellation of results. Rajoelina sworn in as president 19 Jan.
Ahead of May presidential and parliamentary elections, suspected youth members of ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) 20 Jan assaulted members of newly formed opposition party United Transformation Movement (UTM) and forced some members, including one woman, to undress in Mangochi; 23 Jan beat up member of opposition Malawi Congress Party (MPC) in Blantyre. President Mutharika 23 Jan condemned political violence, including acts aimed at humiliating women in political arena and urged police to stamp down on any DPP “rogue elements”. UN 25 Jan welcomed statement, but expressed concerns that no perpetrator had been held accountable in past year and called on govt to step up efforts to protect victims. Six main political parties, including DPP, 26 Jan issued joint communiqué calling police to bring culprits to justice.
Ethnic violence continued in centre raising pressure on govt to act, military and French forces pursued counter-terror operations in centre and ethnic violence continued in east. In centre, suspected Dogon militiamen (Dozos) 1 Jan stormed Koulogon village in Mopti region, killing 37 Fulani civilians they accused of supporting jihadist militants. President Keïta 4 Jan visited Koulogon and said crime would be punished. MPs 7 Jan urged PM Maïga to take action to stop conflict. France 2 Jan pressed govt to “take strong action” to stop violence. Fulani activists accused Dozos of genocide against Fulanis, while some in govt accused Fulani activists of not doing enough “to demarcate” themselves from jihadists. Also in centre, unidentified gunmen 18 Jan attacked Djéri village in Mopti region, two villagers reportedly killed including local imam. Roadside bomb 25 Jan killed two Sri Lankan peacekeepers and injured six others near Douentza, Mopti region. French and Malian forces continued counter-terror operations in Mopti region, killing about twenty suspected jihadists and arresting five 4-9 Jan in Serma forest; killing fifteen suspected jihadists 10 Jan in Dialloubé. Unidentified assailants 21 Jan attacked Toye, Ségou region in centre, killing one; govt said thirteen assailants also killed. Roadside bomb 28 Jan killed gendarme and injured two others in Toyé, Ségou region. In north, attack on camp of UN mission (MINUSMA) in Aguelhoc, Kidal region 20 Jan claimed by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) left ten Chadian peacekeepers dead and 25 others wounded. Unidentified assailants 29 Jan attacked military base in Tarkint, Gao region in north, two soldiers killed. In Ménaka region in east, clashes continued between Fulani armed groups close to Islamic State in the Greater Sahara and, on the other side, mainly ethnic Dossaak Movement for the Salvation of Azawad (MSA) and Self-Defence Group of Imrad Tuareg and Allies (GATIA), both allied with French forces. Notably, suspected Fulani militants 15 Jan attacked MSA post, killing at least 34, including many Dossaak civilians. Main workers’ union National Union of Workers of Mali (UNTM)’s nationwide strike 9-11 Jan partially paralysed both public and private sectors.
Suspected Islamist militants continued attacks in Cabo Delgado province in far north. Militants 6 Jan attacked minibus in Nangade district, killing driver and six passengers and attacked another vehicle in Palma town 12 Jan, killing fifteen. Assailants 10 Jan beheaded four people in Manila village in Mocimboa da Praia district and same day killed man in neighbouring Palma district. Govt 9 Jan said it had recently destroyed eight militant training camps, giving no further details. Some 200 residents of Palma town demonstrated 13 Jan, demanding that construction of liquefied natural gas plants on coast be suspended until attacks stop. Police 5 Jan arrested and detained journalist covering displacement of people due to attacks. Former armed opposition movement Renamo 17 Jan elected former guerrilla commander and MP Ossufo Momade as leader; Momade same day said Renamo was committed to peace.
Security forces continued to counter threats in south east and south near Nigerian and in south west near border with Burkina Faso. In Lake Chad area in south east, govt said week-long operation ending 3 Jan involving 700 troops and air support killed 287 “presumed members of Boko Haram”. Boko Haram militants 28 Jan attacked town of Bosso, Diffa region in south east, killing at least four. In border area of Maradi in south, joint operation with Nigeria against “group of extremist-infiltrated bandits” reportedly left five Nigerien and five Nigerian soldiers dead 1 Jan. In south west near border with Burkina Faso, unidentified armed men 3 Jan attacked security post in Torodi region, killing National Guard and wounding another.
Ahead of Feb-March polls, election-related violence rose, heightening risk of worse incidents in coming weeks, resurgent Boko Haram (BH) faction increased attacks in north east, and criminal violence in north west killed dozens. Election-related violence comprised over a dozen serious incidents, including attacks by thugs on campaign offices, vehicles and rallies. Notably, thugs 12 Jan attacked home of Senate President and member of main opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) in Ilorin, Kwara state, wounding at least eleven; supporters of ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and rival Allied Peoples’ Movement (APM) fought in Abeokuta, Ogun state 31 Jan, ten people wounded. President Buhari 25 Jan suspended chief justice who faced charges of declaring assets fraudulently; tension rose sharply as opposition and others protested move as threat to electoral justice. BH increased attacks in Borno and Yobe states, most thought perpetrated by faction Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP). In Borno state, BH 14 Jan attacked Rann briefly overrunning military base, reportedly killing fourteen people, including three soldiers. BH 17 Jan attacked military post in Kamuya village, six soldiers and unspecified number of insurgents killed. Military 19 Jan repelled attacks on Baga and Kajeri, killing ten insurgents. BH reportedly attacked several military bases late Jan, including in Ajiri 24 Jan, killing three soldiers. Air force 29 Jan bombed BH camp at Limberi. In Yobe state, army repelled BH attack on base in Buni-Yadi 20 Jan, killing several insurgents; four soldiers reportedly killed. In north west, violence involving bandits, communities and security forces continued in Zamfara, Sokoto and Katsina states, over 120 people killed. In Zamfara state, air force 3 Jan attacked bandits in Doumbourou hills, reportedly killing group’s leaders and others; army 20 Jan killed 58 bandits, rescued 75 captives in Dumburum and Gando forests, two soldiers and two vigilantes killed; gunmen 26 Jan kidnapped seven men in Birnin Magaji; 28 Jan kidnapped thirteen women in Majema. In Sokoto state, about 75 gunmen 13 Jan attacked three villages in Rabah area, killing at least 26 people. Army reported 21 bandits killed, 89 captives freed in Zamfara and Katsina states 22-29 Jan, said bandits killed eleven civilians and one vigilante in same period. Katsina state governor 2 Jan said state was “under serious siege”. To curb herder-farmer violence in Middle Belt, federal and state govts 17 Jan approved national plan to confine livestock to ranches and grazing reserves within next ten years. Niger Delta remained fragile: new armed group claimed responsibility for blowing up pipeline in oilfield in Bayelsa state 4 Jan.
DR Congo 28 Jan said it had extradited to Rwanda two members of DRC-based Rwandan rebel group Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda (FDLR).
Ahead of Feb presidential elections, Constitutional Council 14 Jan confirmed two main opposition candidates barred from running; Karim Wade, son of former President Abdoulaye Wade, and former mayor of capital Dakar Khalifa Sall imprisoned for corruption in 2015 and 2018 respectively. Police 25 Jan blocked planned opposition march against Constitutional Council’s ruling.
Federal govt expelled UN envoy to Somalia and Al-Shabaab continued attacks on Somali and international forces. Govt 2 Jan expelled UN Special Representative for Somalia Nicholas Haysom accusing him of undermining Somalia’s sovereignty; Haysom had publicly questioned legal basis for arrest of South West state’s presidential candidate and former Al-Shabaab deputy leader Mukhtar Robow in Dec. UN said it would replace Haysom. Al-Shabaab 15 Jan attacked Ethiopian forces in African Union mission in Somalia (AMISOM) near Bur Hakaba in Bay region of South West state; casualties undisclosed. Al-Shaabab 19 Jan overran Somali army base in Sanjuni village, near port city Kismayo in south east, later claiming it killed 40 Somali forces; in response U.S. same day carried out airstrike on Al-Shabaab militants, killing 52. U.S. 23 Jan carried out two more airstrikes near Jilib, Middle Juba region in south east, casualties undisclosed. Suspected Al-Shabaab car bombing near petroleum ministry in capital Mogadishu 29 Jan killed at least two. U.S. airstrike near Shebeeley, Hiraan region 30 Jan killed 24 militants. Al-Shabaab militants 15 Jan launched terror attack in Kenyan capital Nairobi (see Kenya). Former federal planning minister Said Abdullahi Deni elected president of semi-autonomous Puntland 8 Jan.
Fighting between main parties reduced as they began to implement Sept 2018 peace deal, but clashes rose in south west between signatories on one side and non-signatory armed group on other, raising risk of escalation in Feb. Peace monitors reported reduction in violence between main signatories of Revitalised Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan – govt forces and main rebel group Sudan People’s Liberation Army-In Opposition (SPLA-IO) – including in former hotspots, Wau in north west and Bentiu in north. But monitors 22 Jan said they were still barred access to some areas including Luri training site near Yei in south west, where security forces detained and beat monitors in Dec; govt has not yet held anyone responsible. Amid delays in reaching Pre-Transitional Period security benchmarks, parties 13 Jan agreed to launch pilot project to canton and train 3,000-strong joint unit in Kajo-Keji county, Yei River state in south, but plan faces opposition from local authorities and parties did not agree on unit’s mandate or funding source. Fighting erupted 9 Jan between SPLA-IO and non-signatory armed group National Salvation Front (NAS) led by Thomas Cirillo in Kozi county, Maridi state in south west. Further clashes broke out between army and NAS near Yei 19-20 Jan, leaving three soldiers dead. NAS 21 Jan said it had lost control of positions in stronghold Mukaya, north of Yei. Ugandan forces briefly deployed to Yei 17 Jan in violation of UN Security Council arms embargo; Ugandan deployment appeared linked to govt offensives against NAS. Intercommunal violence and banditry continued: cattle raid in Padiek county, Bieh state in north east 7 Jan left one dead and 105 people reportedly killed in cattle raids in Tonj state, centre-west 14 Jan. Ambush in Jonglei state in centre 8 Jan left five people dead and another in Duachan area, Akobo state 19 Jan killed at least four people. In support of Sudan, govt 7 Jan ordered Al Watan newspaper to stop publishing articles on protests in Sudan.
Security services responded with greater brutality to continued protests across country calling for President Bashir to step down. Security services 6 Jan arrested a number of prominent academics from Khartoum University. Despite Bashir’s 9 Jan speech blaming rebels from Darfur and outside powers for unrest, further protests reported 13 Jan in Khartoum North, Wad Medani, capital of Gezira state and Nyala, main city in South Darfur and 22 Jan in Khartoum and Omdurman. Security forces reportedly used live rounds and tear gas to disperse protests and targeted medical practitioners providing care to injured protesters. Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors 20 Jan called for general strike after security forces killed one doctor 17 Jan and carried out repeated attacks on hospitals. Authorities 25, 26 and 28 Jan arrested six journalists covering protests. After intelligence chief 29 Jan ordered release all detained in recent incidents, authorities released 186 protestors. Army 30 Jan said it would not let state collapse. Human rights groups claim at least 40 killed and 2,000 detained. Govt 31 Jan reopened border with Eritrea, shut for a year to combat trafficking of weapons and foodstuffs.
Over 1,000 supporters of opposition coalition 26 Jan demonstrated in capital Lomé to protest Dec legislative elections results, denouncing “irregularities”.
Riots erupted late Dec in Bidi Bidi refugee camp in West Nile region after Word Food Programme (WFP) decided to change location of food distribution points increasing their distance from camp residents; army deployed to contain unrest, WFP 3 Jan reverted its decision. After armed South Sudanese men suspected to be army soldiers hoisted South Sudan flag 6km south of Uganda-South Sudan border, Ugandan govt 14 Jan reportedly issued them 72-hour ultimatum threatening military intervention. Mediation initiated between Lamwo district local govt and South Sudan counterpart to resolve persistent disputes over border demarcation. Police 6 Jan blocked annual concert of singer-turned-opposition MP Robert Kyagulanyi, known as Bobi Wine.
Amid economic crisis, authorities violently repressed mass protests triggered by rise in fuel price. President Mnangagwa 12 Jan announced 200% hike in fuel price in response to fuel shortages and currency crisis. In response, trade unions 13 Jan called for general strike 14-16 Jan, to which civil society groups leant support. Widespread anti-govt demonstrations took place 14-15 Jan concentrated in and around main opposition strongholds of capital Harare, Bulawayo and other cities but also in many small towns nationwide. Security forces including military and paramilitary forces violently repressed protests. Human Rights NGO Forum 18 Jan reported some twelve deaths, 78 gunshot injuries, 242 cases of assault and almost 500 arbitrary arrests and detentions. During unrest some protestors engaged in looting and unidentified men burnt down office of opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in Harare. Govt 14 and 18 Jan shut down internet. Govt accused MDC, trade unions and civil society of orchestrating protests to undermine govt and install MDC’s leader Nelson Chamisa as president. UN human rights office 18 Jan denounced security forces’ “excessive use of force” against protesters. Govt 20 Jan described crackdown as “just a foretaste of things to come” and said it would hold opposition “fully accountable”. Civil servants 25 Jan held another general strike to protest low salaries following failure of 23 Jan salary renegotiations with govt. Mnangagwa 20 Jan broke off foreign tour to attend to crisis and 22 Jan said “misconduct by our security forces is unacceptable” and would be investigated. South African President Ramaphosa 22 Jan called for lifting of U.S., EU and others’ sanctions on govt, while MDC same day demanded regional bloc Southern African Development Community, African Union and international community to intervene to stop harassment of civilians and party members.
Amid continued intense fighting, U.S. and Taliban late Jan agreed in principle on framework for deal that could lead to wider peace talks, with possible working level teams to flesh out framework in coming month. Earlier in month, amid reports of ordered U.S. troop reduction, U.S. VP Pence 3 Jan said no decision made but potential drawdown would be evaluated. Taliban backed out of planned talks with U.S. early Jan, blaming U.S. for changing original negotiation agenda from withdrawal timeline and counter-terrorism to include intra-Afghan talks, and accused U.S. of bad faith and using influential Islamic countries to pressure Taliban. U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban resumed talks in Doha 20-26 Jan, coming to understanding in principle that foreign forces leave country and Taliban agree to prevent country from becoming platform for international terrorist groups; ceasefire and launch of talks between Taliban and Afghan govt discussed but not yet agreed. During talks, Taliban announced appointment of co-founder Abdul Ghani Baradar as their chief negotiator. In televised address 28 Jan, Afghan President Ghani spoke of potential for country without international troops. Hostilities continued across country in spite of winter weather, including in provinces of Sar-i Pul, Kandahar, Baghlan, Faryab, Badghis, Balkh and Nangarhar; both Taliban and govt claimed to have inflicted heavy casualties. Newly-appointed Defence Minister Asadullah Khalid 29 Dec promised shift to more offensive stance. Taliban attacks included truck bomb in Kabul 14 Jan that killed four and wounded over 100. President Ghani 25 Jan said 45,000 members of security forces had died since 2014, highest number publicly cited to date. Electoral commission 14 Jan announced full preliminary results of Oct 2018 parliamentary election, claiming 3.6mn votes cast (about 10% of population); protests against alleged electoral fraud continued in several provinces. Ghani and several former heads of security agencies registered as candidates for 20 July presidential election; Ghani’s running mate, former intelligence chief Amrullah Saleh, is outspoken critic of negotiations with Taliban.
Allegations persisted of vote rigging in contentious 30 Dec general elections, in which incumbent PM Hasina’s ruling Awami League and allies won 288 of 300 parliamentary seats. Dispute threatened legitimacy of govt and prompted concerns of further unrest, although month saw relative calm as thousands of opposition leaders and activists remained in custody. EU, U.S. and UK 1 Jan expressed concerns about electoral irregularities and UN human rights office 4 Jan called on govt to hold those responsible for human rights abuses in run-up to vote accountable, and expressed concern about ongoing “physical attacks and ill-treatment, arbitrary arrests, harassment, disappearances and filing of criminal cases” against opposition. Govt and electoral commission continued to reject all claims of rigging and intimidation. Anti-corruption NGO Transparency International Bangladesh 15 Jan highlighted “irregularities” in 47 of 50 constituencies it surveyed and recommended judicial enquiry; govt alleged NGO had links to opposition Bangladesh National Party (BNP). Police 1 Jan arrested Dhaka Tribune newspaper journalist in Khulna (south) under controversial Digital Security Act for allegedly publishing “false information” about voting irregularities. BNP-led opposition alliance Jatiya Oikya Front (United National Front) – which won only seven seats – continued to reject election results with its leader Kamal Hossain 6 Jan calling for foreign mediation to bring about fresh election in meeting with diplomats from some 30 countries including U.S., UK, Canada, Russia and China in Dhaka. Parliament reconvened 30 Jan, with opposition boycotting session and demanding new elections within six months; hundreds took part in anti-govt demonstrations in Dhaka same day.
Amid mounting international pressure on Beijing over Muslim camps in Xinjiang, China invited diplomats from twelve mostly-Muslim countries, and foreign media from six, on tightly managed tours in Xinjiang late Dec-mid-Jan including in Kashgar, Hotan and Karakax; EU delegation visited Urumqi and Kashgar 11-13 Jan. Senior Xinjiang official 6 Jan said China would welcome “unbiased” UN inspection visit, so long as officials “refrain from interfering in others’ internal affairs”. U.S. senators 17 Jan re-introduced Uighur Human Rights Policy Act, which reiterates calls for sanctions under Global Magnitsky Act against Chinese officials affiliated with camps and would establish investigative positions in U.S. govt. 37 international NGOs 30 Jan called for UN Human Rights Council to adopt resolution condemning Chinese human rights violations at session opening late Feb. Kazakhstan 21 January raised concerns with Beijing over reports of ethnic Kazakhs being held under house arrest in Xinjiang after being freed from camps (see Kazakhstan).
Japan and China held security talks amid ongoing maritime tensions. Japan and China 26-27 Dec held first annual meeting of their Maritime and Aerial Communication Mechanism, established June 2018, in Beijing; reportedly discussed opening previously agreed-to hotline, but no new agreements announced. Countries expected to hold security dialogue 1 Feb. Addressing parliament 28 Jan, Japanese PM Abe said he will continue to improve relations with China but also wants to bolster defence capacity. Japanese media 6 Jan reported plans to add five new patrol boats to Japanese Coast Guard’s fleet, citing trespassing of Chinese vessels in Japanese waters around disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, and illegal fishing by North Korean vessels in Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Beijing 2 Jan said Chinese research ship which was seen sailing near Japan’s southernmost point, Okinotori island, 18 Dec, prompting Japanese protest, was conducting “marine scientific and research activities” on “high seas”. Beijing disputed Okinotori’s status as an island generating an EEZ. U.S. held joint naval drills with Japan off west coast of Kyushu in East China Sea 11-12 Jan, and flew two B-52 bombers over area 28 Jan.
Maoists 5 Jan shot dead security guard and burnt several vehicles at construction site in Kandhamal district, Odisha state (east); police 15 Jan arrested seven men in connection with killing. Security forces 13 Jan killed Maoist commander Shahdev Rai, alias “Talada” in gunfight in Dumka district, Jharkhand state (east). Maoists rebels 15 Jan shot dead two civilians in Jamui district, Bihar state (north east), reportedly suspected of being police informers. Security forces 29 Jan claimed to have killed five militants in clash in West Singhbhum district, Jharkhand.
Militant violence continued in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), while uptick in cross-border shelling by Pakistani and Indian militaries fuelled bilateral tensions. In J&K, army 8 Jan reported it killed one militant during attack on army patrol in Pulwama district (south). Militants 11 Jan killed army major and one other soldier in bomb along Line of Control (LoC, dividing Pakistan and Indian-administered Kashmir) in Rajouri district (south west). Security forces 12 Jan killed two militants in Kulgram district (south); during funeral next day, eleven protesters were injured in clashes with security forces. Separatists 26 Jan held general strike on Indian Republic Day, while govt suspended mobile internet services. Clashes continued between Pakistani and Indian militaries across LoC leading to reciprocal accusations of ceasefire violations. In Pakistani-administered Kashmir (AJK), Pakistani military blamed India for cross-border shelling that killed civilian in Bhimber district (south) 7 Jan and another in Shahkot sector 9 Jan; meanwhile, India 15 Jan claimed Pakistani cross-border firing killed security force officer. Pakistani army 18 Jan claimed to have killed three Indian soldiers at border post while responding to Indian shelling, and earlier claimed to have shot down Indian spy drones along LoC 1 and 2 Jan; AJK PM Haider 2 Jan warned India was creating “warlike situation” along LoC. Pakistan FM Qureshi 6 Jan denied Indian media reports that Pakistani forces were working with militant group Lashkar-e-Tayyaba to carry out “surgical strike” on Indian posts along LoC. Inflammatory rhetoric added to tensions, with Pakistani foreign ministry early Jan warning India of risks of “strategic miscalculation”, while Indian army chief 15 Jan claimed Pakistan continued to support terrorists and said India would have “decisive success” if forced into war. Qureshi 29 Jan held phone call with separatist leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq; Indian govt next day summoned Pakistani envoy to complain of “brazen attempt” to subvert Indian sovereignty.
Clashes continued in Papua’s central Highlands region, including regencies of Nduga, Puncak, Puncak Jaya and Lanny Jaya, as military continued pursuit of West Papua Liberation Army following early Dec killing of at least sixteen road construction workers and a soldier. Military reported at least one separatist killed in 9 Jan clash, although United Liberation Movement for West Papua said military had targeted civilians and deceased was a civilian; military also reported one soldier killed in attack in Puncak Jaya 18 Jan. United Liberation Movement for West Papua claimed six civilians have been shot dead by military. Military reportedly raided and seized offices of pro-independence West Papua National Committee (KNPB) in Timika (south) 31 Dec and charged three KNPB members with subversion. Spokesperson for office of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet late Jan said govt has agreed in principle to grant access to Papua. Ahead of April presidential election, President Widodo was accused of trying to win over religious conservatives after govt announced radical Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, linked to 2002 Bali bombings, would be granted unconditional release; following domestic criticism and call from Australia not to show leniency, Widodo said his release would be conditional on him pledging loyalty to state and its secular ideology.
North Korea and U.S. tentatively agreed to second summit in Feb, and held significant working-level talks with South Korean involvement to lay groundwork; however, optimism tempered by substantive differences between sides. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in annual televised address 1 Jan pushed to revive dialogue with U.S. and move forward on collaborative projects with South Korea; emphasized potential for progress in talks with both Washington and Seoul as long as existing agreements are implemented. Kim declared that North Korea is not currently building, testing, using, or proliferating nuclear weapons; also warned U.S. against “attempts to unilaterally enforce something upon us” (meaning unilateral denuclearisation) and “imposing sanctions and pressure”, and warned against restarting U.S.-ROK joint military exercises or U.S. deploying strategic military assets to South Korea. Kim visited China for fourth time 7-10 Jan, reportedly agreeing with President Xi to “push for continuous new development of China-DPRK relations”. North Korea’s senior representative in talks with U.S., Gen. Kim Yong-chol, arrived in Washington 17 Jan for first round of talks with Sec State Pompeo since Oct. U.S. VP Pence 20 Jan said U.S. will lay out expectations for North Korea to “take concrete steps to begin to make real the denuclearization that Kim Jong-un committed to”. U.S. representative to working-level talks Stephen Biegun met with North Korean delegation in Sweden 19-21 Jan to prepare for summit; South Korea’s chief nuclear envoy took part in trilateral discussions. South Korean conservatives began to express concerns over U.S. aims in North Korea dialogue: that U.S. may be seeking deal with Pyongyang centered on its inter-continental ballistic missile capacity and freezing its nuclear weapons program but accepting its possession of nuclear weapons at existing levels. Deliveries of humanitarian aid to North Korea began after UN granted sanctions waivers to several international NGOs.
Deadly attacks by ethnic Rakhine insurgent group Arakan Army (AA) prompted fears of escalating violence in Rakhine State, further complicating prospects for improved security and making Rohingya refugee repatriation even more unlikely. AA 4 Jan launched series of coordinated attacks on four Border Guard Police posts in Buthidaung township in northern Rakhine State on Myanmar’s Independence Day, killing thirteen police and injuring nine. Military regained control of posts later same day and launched major clearance operations to dislodge AA, including using large number of infantry troops; over 5,000 people displaced. AA, which operates both in north (Kachin and Shan states) and along western border (northern Rakhine and southern Chin states), also blamed for 1 Jan roadside bomb attack on Rakhine Chief Minister’s convoy near Mrauk-U, no injuries. Previously, deadly clashes between AA and Myanmar military had been intensifying since late Nov across several townships in northern Rakhine State and southern Chin State. Rohingya militant group ARSA believed to be responsible for ambush on Border Guard Police vehicle that injured six officers 16 Jan; also believed to be responsible for 17 Dec attacks in Maungdaw township, northern Rakhine. These would be first attacks by group since Jan 2018. Unilateral four-month ceasefire in Kachin and Shan State announced by military 21 Dec largely held, however some fighting continued in north, including between rival Shan armed groups in northern Shan State, causing several thousand villagers to flee. UN’s budget committee late Dec approved $28mn in funding for independent mechanism to prepare case files to standard required for any future criminal prosecution of individuals responsible for international crimes against Rohingya. Yangon High Court 11 Jan rejected appeal by two imprisoned Reuters journalists. Parliament 29 Jan approved ruling National League for Democracy party proposal to establish committee on constitutional amendment, against wishes of military; however, military has veto on changes to the charter, so none can be forced through.
Govt 28 Jan decided to extend terms of two transitional justice mechanisms on truth and reconciliation and on enforced disappearances by one year, days before their mandates were due to expire on 9 Feb; both mechanisms, formed in 2015, have made little progress on investigating over 65,000 conflict-era cases. UN and nine embassies including the U.S., UK, France, Germany, Australia, and the EU issued joint statement 24 Jan asking govt to clarify future of transitional justice process and to encourage greater public consultation especially with victims. Victims’ groups claim both mechanisms have failed to deliver and require restructuring; govt yet to address calls to amend transitional justice legislation to prohibit amnesty for perpetrators of serious human rights violations. Madhes (southern lowland)-based Sanghiya Samajbadi Forum-Nepal – member of ruling coalition – 5 Jan submitted 11-point memorandum to PM KP Oli calling for current session of parliament to pursue constitutional amendments related to federalism and proportional representation. Tensions between federal and newly-created provincial-level govts continued to increase following 14 Jan tabling of policing legislation in federal parliament; provincial officials claim legislation grants disproportionate authority to federal govt on managing provincial security, reflects distrust of local govt, and dilutes new federal structure.
Amid economic difficulties and ongoing insecurity, govt’s continued efforts to weaken political opponents prompted creation of formal opposition alliance. Opposition parties led by Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) 15 Jan agreed to form alliance to challenge govt including joint strategy on legislative issues including extension of military courts, whose tenure expires in March. Alliance followed PM Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf govt late Dec-early Jan moves to target PML-N and PPP with investigations and court cases involving money laundering and corruption. Militant violence continued, including: in Balochistan province (south west), Pakistani Taliban claimed attack on paramilitary training centre in Loralai district that killed four personnel 1 Jan, and social worker organising protest in response to attack was killed 12 Jan; bomb blast in Peshawar (north) 5 Jan injured six. Govt 11 Jan announced arrest of five suspects reportedly involved in Nov attack on Chinese consulate in Karachi, alleging it had been prepared in Afghanistan with involvement of Indian intelligence. Govt continued to engage with U.S. around Afghanistan negotiation efforts; U.S. envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad 17-18 Jan visited Islamabad, meeting PM Khan and army chief. Amid economic downturn, talks with International Monetary Fund on potential bailout made little progress, and govt continued efforts to prevent Pakistan being blacklisted by Financial Action Task Force in Sept, presenting its action plan to counter terrorism financing and money laundering.
Voters in Mindanao overwhelmingly ratified Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) in 21 Jan referendum, approving creation of new entity, Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM). Compared to prior autonomous region, BARMM will have expanded powers, larger territory, budget allocation and parliament; referendum represented culmination of efforts to implement 2014 Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro between govt and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), ending over 40 years of armed conflict in Mindanao. Voting took place in Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, Cotabato City and Isabela City (which voted not to join new region), with turnout reported at over 85%. Election commission declared BOL ratified 25 Jan, with over 1.7mn people voting yes and some 255,000 against. Further vote to take place 6 Feb in adjacent areas including Lanao del Norte province and North Cotabato on whether they want to join BARMM. MILF chair Murad Ebrahim, expected to lead 80-member Bangsamoro Transition Authority that will govern BARMM until Oct 2022 national elections, welcomed result but warned of “huge challenge” of transforming from revolutionaries to administrators; region faces high poverty and threat of armed groups affiliated with Islamic State (ISIS). MILF negotiator Mohagher Iqbal said he hoped splinter groups would recognise popular will for peace. Two days after results announced, double bombing at cathedral in Jolo, Sulu province (which voted against BOL), killed at least 22 people and injured scores 27 Jan; ISIS claimed responsibility. Govt uncertain if it was suicide attack. Authorities believe bombing perpetrated by Ajang-Ajang gang, an Abu Sayyaf subgroup. Military launched ground assault and air strikes against militants in Sulu’s Patikul town. Two people killed in explosion at mosque in Zamboanga City 30 Jan. Attacks by armed groups and clashes with military continued, including encounter with Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters in Maguindanao 15 Jan which left four suspected rebels dead. Clashes also continued between military and Communist New People’s Army (NPA) rebels in different parts of country, killing several suspected rebels. Defence secretary early Jan announced new three-year deadline to end NPA insurgency.
U.S.-China tensions continued amid reports on China’s military capability build-up and first U.S. freedom of navigation operation of year. U.S. warship USS McCampbell 7 Jan sailed within 12 nautical miles of three disputed Paracel islands controlled by China but also claimed by Taiwan and Vietnam; Chinese military aircraft and ship reportedly warned it to leave and Beijing formally protested exercise; Chinese state media reported China had mobilised intermediate-range ballistic missiles. U.S. official reports released during month outlined China’s military build-up and expanding naval capabilities; Chinese state media also reported on shift, noting “transformational changes” to People’s Liberation Army, boosting size of navy and air force. Chinese state media reported tests of intercontinental ballistic missile with capacity to strike moving warships. President Trump signed Asia Reassurance Initiative Act into law 31 Dec, emphasising importance of strategic relations with regional partners; highlighting Chinese military assertiveness as cause for concern and referring to efforts to counter China’s strategic influence with $1.5bn authorised for initiative. While U.S. and China continued to exchange heated rhetoric, U.S. Chief of Naval Operations visiting China mid-Jan met with senior defence officials to discuss operational safety and risk reduction during maritime encounters. As ASEAN nations continued to raise concerns about South China Sea tensions and slow progress on Code of Conduct, statement following meeting of ASEAN FMs mid-month “took note of some concerns on the land reclamations and activities”. China late Jan reported it had opened maritime rescue centre on man-made island on disputed Fiery Cross Reef in Spratly Islands. Three Chinese naval ships paid goodwill visit to Manila 17-21 Jan.
President Sirisena continued to undermine newly-reappointed PM Wickremesinghe and his United National Party govt, fuelling concerns over political uncertainty and volatility. Sirisena 17 Jan appointed commission of inquiry to investigate corruption and malpractice under national unity govt of 2015-2018; also in late Dec appointed loyalists as secretaries to most ministries and took control of police and govt printing press. Parliament speaker 8 Jan appointed former President Rajapaksa as opposition leader despite resistance from Tamil National Alliance, which argued that his United People’s Freedom Alliance cannot be considered opposition since Sirisena is its leader. Uncertainty continued over timing of and which parties and candidates will run in provincial, presidential and parliamentary elections due in 2019 and 2020. In sign of Sirisena’s growing closeness to military, army 9 Jan announced Sirisena had appointed Major General Shavendra Silva – whom a 2015 UN report implicated in human rights violations – as Army Chief of Staff. In brief revival of constitutional reform process, Wickremesinghe 11 Jan convened session of parliament and presented report on constitutional reform, proposing devolution of power within framework of a unitary state; no date fixed for debate on report, amid dim hopes that process will produce new constitution. Rajapaksa attacked report as instrument to divide the country and rejected need for new constitution. Economic uncertainty generated by political turmoil continued, with foreign reserves reported to have fallen by $1bn to $6.9bn during attempted constitutional coup, but govt continued re-engagement with donors and international financial institutions which had suspended assistance during political crisis. Police 18 Jan announced seizure of 100kg of explosives and 100 detonators following arrest of four Muslim men, reportedly part of newly formed radical group and among those arrested late-Dec for vandalising Buddhist statues in Mawanella town. On four-day state visit to Philippines, Sirisena 17 Jan praised President Duterte’s “war against crime and drugs” as “an example to whole world” and promised to replicate crackdown in Sri Lanka.
Chinese President Xi renewed calls for reunification, while Taiwan’s allies and Western officials voiced support for Taipei. Taiwan President Tsai 1 Jan outlined conditions for improving relations with Beijing, including latter’s recognition of Taiwan and respect for its freedom and democracy. In 2 Jan “Message to Compatriots in Taiwan” speech, Xi called for unification talks between Beijing and Taipei, citing mainland’s model with Hong Kong; also reiterated possibility of forceful reunification, calling Taiwan’s status non-negotiable. Tsai responded rejecting “one country, two systems” approach. U.S., Canadian, UK and French officials denounced Xi’s rhetoric; EU 3 Jan reaffirmed commitments to developing Taiwan relations and U.S. 10 Jan called on Beijing to “stop its coercion”. U.S. President Trump signed Asia Reassurance Initiative Act into law 31 Dec, containing section reaffirming U.S. commitments to Taiwan. Beijing 2 Jan said act “seriously violates the one-China principle” and “grossly interferes in China’s internal affairs”. Two U.S. warships sailed through Taiwan Strait 24 Jan; Taipei reported China flew military planes near southern Taiwan 22 and 24 Jan, prompting it to send aircraft and surveillance ships. Taiwan’s defence ministry 9 Jan outlined island’s military drills planned for 2019, incorporating tactics to defend against possible Chinese invasion, and held live fire drills 17 Jan.
Violence in deep south escalated since late Dec with militants attacking symbolic and soft targets, including, for first time in years, Buddhist monks. Militants 8 Jan lynched retired Buddhist teacher in Saba Yoi district, Songkhla, and used victim’s truck as vehicle-borne IED, wounding two soldiers; defence minister blamed main Malay-Muslim separatist organisation Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN). Bomb in Yarang district, Pattani, same day targeted teacher-protection unit, wounding police officer and twelve-year-old girl. Militants 10 Jan killed four Muslim defence volunteers outside school in Yarang district, Pattani. Gunmen shot dead imam in Rueso district, Narathiwat province 11 Jan. Two insurgents killed in gun battle with security forces in Yaring district, Pattani, 12 Jan; one ranger and eight-year-old girl wounded. Six militants on motorcycles attacked police station in Khok Poh district, Pattani province 13 Jan, killing police officer. Security forces 18 Jan killed insurgent suspect in Chanea district, Narathiwat. Insurgents same day detonated two bombs in Pattani, wounding five soldiers and two police. Also on 18 Jan, militants attacked Buddhist temple in Sungai Padi, killing two monks. Three police and three civilians wounded in 25 Jan bombing in Krong Pinang, Pattani. Chief of Thailand’s peace-dialogue delegation 4 Jan met with Malaysian facilitator to discuss new framework for talks with BRN. BRN released video and statement dated 4 Jan marking fifteen-year anniversary of renewed insurgency, saying peace possible only if govt is sincere. Chief of delegation 11 Jan said govt would study political decentralisation as possible component of resolution. Royal decree published 23 Jan ordered general election, which Election Commission announced will take place 24 March; announcements calmed rising tensions and some protests after junta mid-Jan said previously promised 24 Feb election would not take place.
PM Pashinyan reappointed PM 14 Jan after landslide victory in Dec snap parliamentary elections. Pashinyan announced planned structural change to cabinet with merger and abolition of several ministries; re-appointed most key ministers from his pre-election cabinet.
Case of jailed anti-corruption blogger Mehman Huseynov attracted international attention as several local journalists, opposition activists and human rights advocates joined him in hunger strike to protest what he alleges are trumped up charges against him. EU Parliament 17 Jan passed resolution calling for Huseynov’s immediate release, and thousands joined opposition-organised protest in Baku 19 Jan; authorities 22 Jan dropped new charges against Huseynov.
Tensions increased between Belarus and Russia late Dec/early Jan over Minsk’s demands that Moscow compensate budget losses caused by a change in Russian tax system for oil exports making them more expensive for Belarus, and Russia’s counter demands for faster integration under 1999 plan for Union State between the two countries. Tensions sparked speculation that Russia sought to “annex” Belarus; meanwhile President Lukashenka moved to thaw relations with U.S. by lifting limit on number of U.S. diplomats in country, although many observers downplayed likelihood that Moscow harbours plans for annexation.
Republika Srpska (RS) entity 9 Jan celebrated its annual “RS statehood day” which included parade by police, fire fighters, civil protection force and pro-Putin Russian motorbike club, attended by Serbian PM Brnabić and Russian ambassador to Bosnia. Bosniak and Bosnian Croat leaders again condemned celebration, which Constitutional Court banned in 2015 declaring it unconstitutional. Main Bosniak Party of Democratic Action 23 Jan said it would challenge name of RS, which it claims has been used to discriminate against non-Serbs, at constitutional court, in move criticised by Office of the High Representative, international overseer of implementation of 1995 peace agreement that ended the war as “irresponsible and counterproductive”.