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.
Our monthly conflict tracker highlights eight deteriorations in December.
We also spotlight improvements in three conflict situations in Africa.
Aside from the scores of conflict situations we usually assess, we tracked notable developments in December in Bolivia, Gambia, Jordan and Rwanda.
Our CrisisWatch Digests offer a monthly one-page snapshot of conflict-related country trends in a clear, accessible format, using a map of the region to pinpoint developments.
For our most recent CrisisWatch Digests, please follow these links for Ethiopia, Lebanon and Somalia.
Jihadist violence remained widespread, while ruling junta sought to control flow of information amid rumours of coup attempt and deal with Russian paramilitaries.
Insecurity remained rampant across country. In Sahel region, alleged Islamic State Sahel Province (IS-Sahel) militants 5 Dec attacked civilian convoy near Peteguerse locality (Seno province), killing four. In North region, govt forces and volunteer fighters (VDPs) 9 Dec conducted operation in Youba village (Yatenga province); between ten and 40 people reported dead, with some sources alleging victims were civilians. In Centre-North region, al-Qaeda affiliated Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM) 7 Dec killed at least 12 people in Boala village (Namentenga province). In Boucle du Mouhoun region (west), govt forces 2 Dec engaged suspected JNIM militants near Bondokuy village (Mouhoun province), leaving ten dead; 7 Dec killed 23 suspected jihadists in Bondokuy and Ouarkoye departments (Mouhoun), and 30 presumed JNIM fighters in Banwa province. Also in Boucle du Mouhoun, locals alleged VDPs overnight 30-31 Dec killed 28 civilians in Nouna city (Kossi province); govt announced investigation. In East region, passenger bus 25 Dec hit explosive device near Fada N’Gourma (Gourma province), leaving ten dead.
Authorities suspended French media outlet amid reports of coup attempt. Local and international media outlets 2 Dec reported govt forces had foiled coup plot; interim govt immediately denied claim, next day suspended French media outlet RFI for releasing “misleading information” about alleged coup attempt. Authorities 30 Dec reportedly reinforced military presence around presidential headquarters in response to “security alert”.
Ghana alleged Wagner presence in Burkina Faso, sparking diplomatic spat. In meeting with U.S. Sec State Blinken, Ghana’s President Akufo-Addo 14 Dec accused transitional President Capt. Traoré of hiring Russian paramilitary Wagner Group to fight jihadists near border with Ghana. Interim govt 16 Dec called allegations “grave and inaccurate” and summoned Ghanaian ambassador to Burkina Faso. Ghana’s national security minister 21 Dec travelled to capital Ouagadougou, met with Traoré in apparent attempt to mend ties.
In other important developments. Govt 23 Dec ordered expulsion of UN coordinator Barbara Manzi; UN Sec Gen António Guterres next day said Ouagadougou had no authority to expel UN officials.
Authorities took steps to hold to account ruling party supporters as U.S. imposed sanctions on former PM for alleged human rights abuses; military operations against rebels continued near border with Rwanda.
Ruling party supporters came under scrutiny for human rights record. Amid general atmosphere of impunity, several members of ruling party’s youth militia Imbonerakure brought before courts for suspected role in acts of violence against civilians and opposition activists. Notably, Bubanza High Court 13 Dec sentenced one Imbonerakure to 20 years in prison for stabbing man to death in Bubanza province (west) on 7 Dec. Meanwhile, U.S. State Dept 13 Dec re-imposed sanctions, including asset freeze and travel ban, on notorious ruling party hardliner, former PM Alain-Guillaume Bunyoni, for alleged human rights violations during 2015 political crisis; U.S. had sanctioned Bunyoni in 2015, but lifted sanctions when he became PM in 2021.
President Ndayishimiye lashed out at officials as part of anti-corruption drive. Ndayishimiye 6 Dec vowed to combat corruption, notably accusing senior official responsible for public procurement control of alleged malpractices. Police in Rumonge province (south west) 7-10 Dec arrested three local officials and one governor adviser, all ruling party members, for alleged misappropriation of building materials.
Operations against Kinyarwanda-speaking rebels continued at Rwandan border. Amid ongoing fighting between govt forces and Kinyarwanda-speaking rebels in Kibira forest, Citiboke province (north west), forest rangers 2 Dec found nine bodies in Mabayi commune.
Separatist conflict continued to plague Anglophone regions, while President Biya travelled to U.S. amid govt efforts to bring separatists living abroad to justice.
Violence continued in Anglophone North West (NW) and South West (SW) regions. Govt forces 9 Dec killed high-profile separatist commander known as Gen. Lion in Mankon village, Mezam division (NW). In response, Ambazonia Defence Forces separatist fighters 11 Dec announced week-long lockdown of highway leading to Mankon. Anglophone separatists 15-16 Dec carried out string of attacks against govt forces notably in Kumbo town, Bui division (NW); Ndop town, Ngo-Ketunjia division (NW); and near Mamfe town, Manyu division (SW), leaving unknown casualties. In apparent retaliation, army 17-18 Dec reportedly burnt dozens of civilian homes, forcing unknown number to flee, in Bai-Panya village, Meme division (SW), and Yer-Dzekwa village, Bui division (NW). Meanwhile, Fulani militia 7 Dec killed four civilians in Menchum division (NW) over accusations of burning down cattle pasture used by Fulani herders.
Govt sought closer cooperation with U.S. against separatist sponsors. Defence Minister Joseph Beti Assomo 5 Dec announced creation of committee to identify and prosecute Anglophone separatist sponsors living abroad, particularly in U.S.; move comes after U.S. authorities late Nov indicted three people suspected of raising funds for Anglophone separatist fighters through extortion. Biya 13-15 Dec attended U.S.-Africa summit in Washington DC in likely attempt to show he remains at forefront of govt affairs despite his age. During summit, Anglophone groups demonstrated in Washington DC against Biya’s presence, blaming U.S. administration for inviting him. Meanwhile, jailed separatist leader Sisiku Julius Ayuk Tabe 5 Dec reiterated readiness for talks with govt under international mediation, set conditions including release of political prisoners, demilitarisation of Anglophone regions and amnesty for exiled separatists; govt reportedly rejected move.
Sporadic jihadist attacks continued in Far North region. Suspected Boko Haram militants overnight 23-24 Dec reportedly killed three women in Kolofata commune (Mayo-Sava division); 29 Dec ambushed army patrol in Ldaoussaf town (Mayo-Tsanaga division), killing one soldier and wounding another.
Authorities and Russian allies accused France of perpetrating “terrorist” acts, and armed groups continued to launch violent attacks across country.
Tensions with France boiled over following incident at border with Chad. After airstrike late Nov reportedly targeted military camp in Bossangoa town (Ouham prefecture near Chadian border), head of pro-govt organisation National Network for Safeguarding the Gains of Peace, Patrick Andjida, 2 Dec accused France and domestic opposition of manoeuvring to destabilise country; Russian military representative Alexander Ivanov 13 Dec said Central African Republic was under “threat … from the outside” and accused “international community” of supporting rebels. As explosive package 16 Dec injured Dimitri Sytyi, head of Russian cultural centre in capital Bangui, Russian private military company Wagner Group owner, Yevgeny Prigozhin, same day blamed attack on Paris, urged Moscow to declare France state sponsor of terrorism; France also 16 Dec denied allegation as “Russian propaganda”. Bangui 18 Dec denounced “terrorist attack” and launched investigation; 20 Dec claimed package was sent from Togo. Meanwhile, last contingent of French troops 15 Dec left country; Paris in June 2021 had suspended military cooperation with Bangui.
Security situation remained dire across country. Coalition of Patriots for Change (CPC) rebel groups continued to target civilians and military. Notably, Union for Peace in the Central African Republic 1 Dec launched attack on Bakouma town (Mbomou prefecture) which left seven civilians dead and six wounded. Unidentified CPC rebels 11-12 Dec targeted army positions in Lihoto and Bokolobo localities (Ouaka prefecture), with two civilians dead. Suspected 3R rebels overnight 23-24 Dec ambushed army patrol near Gallo locality (Nana-Mambéré prefecture), killing three soldiers. Armed forces 3-7 Dec reportedly arrested over 200 people, including many civilians, in search operations in towns of Paoua (Ouham-Pendé prefecture), Kaga Bandoro (Nana-Gribizi prefecture) and Bambari (Ouaka). In Haute-Kotto prefecture, govt forces and Wagner elements 12 Dec attacked CPC position at Kocho mine site, reportedly killing 36 rebels and capturing unknown number.
In other important developments. National Assembly 28 Dec adopted law regulating organisation of referendums in country. Opposition MP Joseph Bendounga same day said law would serve President Touadéra’s efforts to change constitution and run for third term.
Court sentenced hundreds to years in prison for involvement in October anti-govt protests, and authorities detained dozen military officers amid rumours of coup plot.
Hundreds sentenced to prison for involvement in anti-govt protests. Public prosecutor 5 Dec said court had condemned 262 people arrested in relation with 20 October opposition protests to two-to-three-year prison sentences; mass trial held 29 Nov-2 Dec in Koro-Toro maximum security prison (Borkou province, north). Authorities early Dec released 139 other people who were given suspended prison terms or found not guilty during same trial. Chadian Bar Association went on strike during trial to denounce “parody of justice”, citing absence of legal representation for defendants, prisoners’ detention conditions (including allegations of torture) and other procedural irregularities. Meanwhile, international commission of inquiry into violent suppression of 20 October protests – led by Economic Community of Central African States – 14 Dec started visit to country to define working framework; civil society including Chadian Bar Association late Dec questioned commission’s independence, called for genuine participation of other international organisations including African Union and UN.
Military arrested dozen soldiers amid rumours of coup attempt. Military intelligence 9-11 Dec reportedly arrested dozen elements of elite anti-terrorist army unit trained and funded by U.S., and civilian human rights activist Baradine Berdey Targuio, sparking rumours of coup attempt. Army leadership 13 Dec denied coup plot, but said civilians used group of military officers to try to “destabilise the institutions of the Republic” and announced further investigations.
Jihadist and other violence persisted in west and north. In Lake province (west), Boko Haram militants 11-12 Dec killed seven civilians in attacks on Fougoh village and Fourkoulom camp for internally displaced persons. In Tibesti province (north), armed self-defence group, Tourkou surveillance Committee, 5 Dec reportedly fired at miners at Tourkou gold mine, killing two and injuring four.
Authorities reported progress in negotiations with Mali for release of Ivorian soldiers who faced 20-year prison sentence, senior political figures continued to position themselves for 2025 election, and Grand-Bassam trial concluded.
Soldiers sentenced to prison in Mali amid reports of agreement for their release. West African regional bloc ECOWAS 4 Dec called on Malian authorities to release 46 Ivorian soldiers detained since July “by 1 Jan 2023” or face sanctions. Ivorian delegation 22 Dec met with Malian President Col. Goïta in capital Bamako and reportedly agreed on memorandum for soldiers’ release. Meanwhile, court in Bamako 30 Dec sentenced all 46 soldiers to 20-year prison term, and three released in Sept to death in absentia, for seeking to undermine state security. Ouattara next day said he was confident soldiers will “soon return to Ivorian soil”, hinting at possibility of pardon.
Political manoeuvring continued ahead of 2025 presidential election. Two weeks after returning to Côte d’Ivoire, former President Gbagbo’s Youth Minister Charles Blé Goudé 8 Dec registered on electoral roll; yet Goudé faces 20-year sentence for role in 2010-2011 post-election violence, making his eligibility for election unclear. Opposition Democratic Party of Côte d’Ivoire (PDCI) same day released contradictory statements on holding of extraordinary congress, possibly reflecting internal tensions over long-time party leader Henri Konan Bédié’s anticipated presidential bid in 2025; prominent Franco-Ivorian financier Tidjane Thiam 19 Dec registered on electoral roll during second visit to Côte d’Ivoire since Aug after more than 20 years in exile, adding to speculations over PDCI’s presidential candidate.
Court handed life imprisonment for 2016 jihadist attack. Court in Abidjan city 28 Dec sentenced at least ten people (including six in absentia) to life imprisonment for involvement in jihadist attack which killed 19 people in Grand-Bassam town in 2016.
M23 rebels announced withdrawal from strategic Kibumba town in east as fighting with govt forces and local militias continued.
Situation remained dire in North Kivu as militias took up fight against M23 rebels. Coalition of local militias from late Nov took up arms against M23’s westward advance in North Kivu province. Fighting involving M23, govt forces and local militias reported throughout month on western front of Rutshuru territory, including 6 Dec, 16-17 Dec, and 25-29 Dec in Bishusha and Tongo groupements; clashes 31 Dec also erupted in Kamatembe village in Masisi territory. Meanwhile, M23 rebels 23 Dec announced withdrawal from strategic Kibumba town (Nyiragongo territory) in “goodwill gesture”, reportedly handed over position to East African Community (EAC)’s regional force; army next day described move as “decoy”, saying rebels were strengthening positions elsewhere to occupy territory west of provincial capital Goma; local sources late Dec said M23 still present in Kibumba area. UN mission MONUSCO 7 Dec said M23 late Nov allegedly killed at least 131 civilians in Kishishe and Bambo villages of Rutshuru territory.
Other armed groups continued attacks notably in Ituri province. Islamic State-affiliated Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) 10-13 Dec killed at least 15 civilians in Bahema Boga and Walese Vontuku chiefdoms, Irumu territory (Ituri). Congolese and Ugandan forces 11 Dec bombed ADF camp at North Kivu-Ituri border, killing at least 30. Suspected members of ethnic Hema Zaire militia 16 Dec killed 12 people, mostly from Lendu ethnic group, in Walendu Watsi chiefdom of Mahagi territory (Ituri). In retaliation, ethnic Lendu CODECO militia 28 Dec killed a dozen Hema people in Usigo village, also Mahagi. Third round of EAC-led Nairobi talks between Kinshasa and some armed groups active in east 28 Nov-6 Dec failed to agree on terms of disarmament.
Prominent politician announced presidential bid, broke alliance with president. After electoral commission late Nov scheduled presidential election for 20 Dec 2023, senior political figure Moïse Katumbi 16 Dec declared candidacy, criticised President Tshisekedi’s “very bad, chaotic” record and announced departure from presidential “Sacred Union” coalition. Voter registration 24 Dec kicked off in ten western provinces (of country’s 26).
In significant development for Ethiopia’s delicate peace process, Eritrean forces began withdrawing from Tigray.
Asmara began withdrawing its forces from Tigray late Dec. Following news early Dec of continued Eritrean abuses in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, news agency Reuters 30 Dec reported that Eritrean troops had retreated from several towns in Tigray, including strategically important Shire and Axum towns, in Central and North Western zones (see Ethiopia). Reported withdrawal, which coincided with 29 Dec launch of African Union monitoring mission in Tigray, marks significant development in Ethiopia’s fragile peace process since Asmara’s stance remains crucial factor in implementing accord. Earlier in month, reports emerged of Eritrean forces looting and attacking civilians in Tigray’s north. Notably, senior Tigray official Getachew Reda 12 Dec alleged Eritrean soldiers were still carrying out “genocidal campaign”; media outlet Bloomberg late Nov accused Asmara of allowing its forces to continue attacking civilians, which Eritrean embassy in U.S. 5 Dec dismissed as little more than “crass disinformation”.
In other important developments. First batch of Somali troops, who have participated in controversial training program in Eritrea since 2019, 21 Dec returned to Somalia. Kenyan President Ruto 9-10 Dec visited Eritrea at invitation of President Isaias; leaders agreed to abolish visa requirements and cooperate on regional peace, security and development.
Fragile calm prevailed in Tigray as Eritrean forces began withdrawing from region and efforts to implement peace deal continued; escalating violence in Oromia aggravated Oromo-Amhara tensions.
Tigray’s peace deal held and Eritrean forces began withdrawing. 2 Nov peace agreement between federal govt and Tigray People’s Liberation Front continued to hold, although implementation of agreement was slow, particularly on security and political arrangements; notably, sides 3 Dec missed original deadline for Tigray’s disarmament. Tigray’s top commander Tadesse Werede 6 Dec reiterated that disarmament depended on region’s security, adding that continued Eritrean and Amhara troop presence would impede implementation. However, efforts to sustain momentum on peace deal continued and sides 22 Dec agreed to establish joint African Union Monitoring, Verification and Compliance mission to oversee implementation; days later, high-level delegation from federal govt 26 Dec arrived in Mekelle, which Tigray leaders hailed as “milestone”; monitoring mission launched 29 Dec. In another positive development, news agency Reuters 30 Dec reported that Eritrean troops had left several towns in Tigray’s Central and North Western Zones (see Eritrea). Meanwhile, UN humanitarian agency 6 Dec said humanitarian access had improved, federal govt began partially restoring phone and electricity lines and commercial flights 28 Dec resumed between Addis and Mekelle.
Conflict in Oromia intensified, fuelling intercommunal tensions. Fighting raged in western Oromia as Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) expanded operations and Amhara militias known as Fano deepened their involvement; all actors targeted civilians. Hostilities occurred throughout month in Horo Guduru Zone, East, Kellem and West Wollega Zones and South West and East Shewa Zones. Notably, clashes 3-4 Dec between Fano and Oromia regional special forces around Gutin town in East Wollega killed dozens and displaced thousands; Oromo residents and officials blamed Fano, while Amhara residents said Oromia Special Police initiated attacks. Deteriorating situation heightened Oromo-Amhara tensions elsewhere, notably in capital Addis Ababa, where several disputes related to display of Oromia flag and singing of Oromia anthem in public schools led to protests early Nov in several schools.
Relations with Sudan continued to improve. Ethiopia and Sudan 24 Dec signed cooperation agreement on peace and security issues.
Authorities reported foiling coup attempt to topple President Barrow, arrested several junior officers.
Govt 21 Dec announced authorities previous day thwarted military plot to overthrow President Barrow. Authorities 20-25 Dec reportedly arrested several junior officers for alleged involvement in coup attempt. Govt 27 Dec set up panel to investigate incident comprised of members of armed forces, police, intelligence services and justice ministry. National Security Adviser Abubakarr Suleiman Jeng 29 Dec alleged plot was sponsored by “civilian collaborators … both within and outside of the country”. Economic Community of West African States and African Union 21 Dec condemned attempted coup.
Regional leaders insisted two-year transition to civilian rule must end in Oct 2024, while national dialogue concluded despite boycott by main opposition groups.
ECOWAS clarified transition timetable, national dialogue concluded. West African regional bloc ECOWAS 4 Dec said 24-month transition to civilian rule must start “immediately”, understandably referring to Oct 2022 when transition timetable was agreed upon, and not in Jan 2023 as Interim President Col. Doumbouya is advocating for. Meanwhile, PM Bernard Gomou 14 Dec castigated main opposition coalition’s “express refusal” to take part in national dialogue; dialogue’s participants 21 Dec presented conclusions and final recommendations to Doumbouya, including introducing 75-year age limit for presidential candidates and maintaining ban on street protests until transition ends. Opposition coalition 30 Dec rejected dialogue’s conclusions as unilateral.
Authorities targeted President Condé-era figures in anti-corruption drive. After public prosecutor’s office 2 Dec blocked former PM Ibrahima Kassory Fofana’s conditional release for fourth time since his April arrest on corruption charges, ECOWAS leaders 4 Dec expressed concern over Fofana and other former ministers’ continued detention. Doumbouya 11 Dec and 28 Dec retired over 2,000 public servants and 22 magistrates, respectively. Justice ministry 12 Dec sought proceedings against president of Guinean Financial Information Processing Unit and security forces 15 Dec detained former Constitutional Court president, both on corruption allegations. Meanwhile, U.S. Treasury 9 Dec imposed sanctions, including asset freeze, on Condé for alleged human rights abuses by govt forces in 2020.
Former junta leader accused Condé of 2009 stadium massacre. In long-awaited testimony in trial of 2009 massacre of over 150 people in Conakry stadium, then-junta leader Capt. Moussa Dadis Camara 12 Dec said former Presidents Condé and Konaté (at the time opposition leader and defence minister, respectively), planned massacre as part of “plot” to outset him; also accused former aide-de-camp, Lt. Aboubacar Sidiki “Toumba” Diakité, of “executing” plan; Diakité’s lawyer immediately denounced “conspiracy theories”.
President Ruto suspended election commissioners who rejected his electoral victory as president, and Al-Shabaab carried out deadly attacks near Somalia border.
President Ruto suspended several election commissioners. Ruto 2 Dec ordered suspension and investigation of four commissioners of Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) who had refused to endorse his win in August presidential election, accusing them of trying to subvert election results in favour of runner-up Raila Odinga; Odinga same day condemned suspensions, saying move aimed to skew IEBC in favour of Ruto. Three commissioners facing dismissal resigned in following days, avoiding investigation into past conduct, while tribunal 20 Dec commenced hearings to consider petition for removal of fourth one.
Al-Shabaab launched deadly attacks near Somalia border. Suspected Al-Shabaab militants 11 Dec killed two civilians in ambush between Jabibar and Bambo villages in Mandera county. Al-Shabaab militants 21 Dec attacked police vehicle between Hayley Lapsset security camp and Garissa town in Garissa county, killing two officers and one civilian. In Lamu county, suspected Al-Shabaab militants overnight 24-25 Dec killed two villagers in Pandaguo area; bomb blast 30 Dec killed one soldier and injured at least four others in Mlima Faru area. Amid Somali offensive against Al-Shabaab in neighbouring Somalia, local media 10 Dec reported that additional security forces had deployed to border in anticipation of influx of militants.
In other important developments. In Meru county (important Ruto stronghold in Mount Kenya region), members of county assembly 14 Dec voted to impeach Governor Kawira Mwangaza over nepotism and other accusations; Senate committee 30 Dec rejected impeachment, said allegations not proven. Credit rating agency Fitch Ratings 14 Dec downgraded Kenya’s credit rating from B+ to B, due to high debt and diminishing foreign currency reserves.
Northern armed groups suspended participation in peace process to protest junta’s lack of political will to implement 2015 Algiers agreement; security situation remained volatile in north and centre.
Northern armed groups pulled out of Algiers peace process. Coalition of northern armed groups including Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA) 22 Dec suspended participation in monitoring and implementation mechanisms of 2015 Algiers peace agreement with govt, citing “lack of political will on the part of the transitional authorities to implement” accord. Earlier in month, CMA had deplored peace deal’s “decay” and requested emergency meeting with Algerian-led International Mediation outside Mali to examine accord’s “viability”.
Rival jihadist groups engaged in intense fighting in north. In Gao region, clashes 3-10 Dec erupted between al-Qaeda-affiliated Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM) and Islamic State Sahel Province (IS-Sahel) militants near Tagarangabot, Tadjalalt and Haroum localities, leaving dozens dead. Also in Gao, JNIM 4 Dec reportedly killed around 16 ethnic Fulani or Dawsahak people near In Aoutel locality. In Timbuktu city (Timbuktu region), unidentified gunman 16 Dec fired at UN peacekeepers, leaving two dead.
Govt faced accusations of serious abuses against civilians in centre. Amid ongoing operations against JNIM in country’s centre, govt forces, along with Dan Na Ambassagou militia and Russian allies, reportedly carried out human rights abuses against civilians, including arbitrary killings. Notably, govt forces and Russian paramilitary Wagner Group 6 Dec conducted air and ground operation in Kita town (Mopti region); authorities claimed to have killed one jihadist and arrested eight others, while locals said operation left five civilians dead, three wounded, and nine others detained.
In other important developments. Choguel Maïga 4 Dec reinstated as PM after three-month absence following stroke. Transitional govt continued to tighten control of NGOs, issuing new reporting obligations 15 Dec after banning NGOs funded or supported by France in Nov. After Interim President Col. Goïta 22 Dec reportedly agreed with Ivorian delegation to release 46 Ivorian soldiers detained since July, court in Bamako 30 Dec sentenced detained soldiers to 20 years in prison on charges of undermining state security (see Côte d’Ivoire).
Islamic State-affiliated insurgents continued to stage attacks in Cabo Delgado province, challenging govt’s normalisation narrative.
Insurgents remained active in northern and central districts of Cabo Delgado. In one of biggest insurgent attacks since foreign intervention started in mid-2021, Islamic State Mozambique Province (ISMP) 6 Dec assaulted army outpost in Nguida village, Macomia district, killing three soldiers and forcing around 100 more to withdraw. After first, unsuccessful attempt 9 Dec, security forces and Southern African Development Community Mission in Mozambique (SAMIM) troops 11-12 Dec launched assault on insurgents’ position in Nguida and retook village. Reports around 12 Dec also emerged of ISMP attacks on nearby Nkoe and Nova Zambezia villages, while suspected ISMP insurgents 20 Dec raided army base near Chai locality, killing four including one soldier. In Mueda district, local militia 7 Dec pursued and killed four insurgents in remote area of Nangumbe forest. In Nangade district, SAMIM troops continued operations, reportedly clashing with suspected ISMP in Nangade Sede area on 6 Dec. In Muidumbe district, bodies of four beheaded civilians found 26 Dec close to Mandava village; two more bodies found same day in nearby Muambula locality; and insurgents 30 Dec killed at least two civilians in Namande village.
Local militia kept up anti-insurgency operations in southern Cabo Delgado. Local militia known as “Naparama”, which has become prominent in fight against insurgents in southern Cabo Delgado since Nov, throughout Dec set up checkpoints and conducted searches in Namuno, Chiure, Balama and Montepuez districts. In Montepuez district, suspected ISMP 10-11 Dec beheaded at least five Naparama militiamen in Nairoto area.
RENAMO failed to complete demobilisation process. Last batch of approximately 350 RENAMO guerrilla fighters 19 Dec refused to demobilise as part of disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration program in Gorongosa district, Sofala province, citing delays in payment of pensions and integration of eligible fighters into security forces. RENAMO however reaffirmed commitment to peace process. About 4,700 guerrillas, about 90% of estimated total, have demobilised to date.
Govt secured major international financial support for development plan, with pledges exceeding initial expectations; jihadist violence persisted, albeit at lower levels.
Govt’s development plan garnered financial support from international partners. President Bazoum 5-6 Dec travelled to French capital Paris for fundraising event to finance Niger’s 2022-2026 socio-economic development plan, which aims to reduce poverty rate from 43% in 2022 to 35% in 2026. Public and private donors including World Bank, African Development Bank and UN reportedly promised €31.4bn in support, twice as much as initially hoped for, confirming that Niger is now international institutions’ primary partner in Sahel region.
Levels of violence decreased in Tillabery and Diffa regions. In Tillabery region (south west), suspected Islamic State Sahel Province combatants 2 Dec killed four people near Kokorbe village (Ouallam department); suspected al-Qaeda-affiliated Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims attack on police position in Say town (Say department) 5 Dec left one militant and two civilians dead; unidentified gunmen next day reportedly killed national guard in Ayorou town (Tillabery department). In Diffa region (south east), unidentified gunmen 5 Dec killed national guard in Diffa town (Diffa department); Boko Haram militants (likely JAS faction) 22 Dec clashed with armed forces between Bagué and Tchoungoua localities (N’Guimi department), leaving five jihadists dead and two soldiers wounded.
In other important developments. National Commission on Human Rights 27 Dec concluded armed forces did not commit abuses during late Oct counter-insurgency operation in Tamou village (Say department, Tillabery region), despite allegations by civil society movement M62 that airstrikes had killed many civilians.
Insecurity continued to pose major challenge for running and credibility of 2023 general elections; govt faced allegations of human rights violations in counter-insurgency operations.
Political violence continued ahead of 2023 polls. In Rivers state, thugs 8 Dec stormed residence of People’s Democratic Party (PDP) presidential campaign manager, Senator Lee Maeba, and gunmen 14 Dec shot and wounded local PDP youth leader. In Imo state, three attacks on electoral commission premises reported 1-12 Dec, while gunmen 16 Dec killed Labour Party candidate for state parliament, Christopher Eleghu.
Rival jihadists clashed, army’s human rights record under scrutiny in North East. In Borno state’s Sambisa forest, Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) early Dec killed Boko Haram (BH) commander Aboubakar Munzir; in apparent retaliation, BH fighters around 3 Dec ambushed ISWAP militants, killing at least 12, and stormed ISWAP camp, reportedly killing 33 women. Suspected BH militants 24 Dec also killed 17 herders in Mafa area (also Borno). International news agency Reuters 7-12 Dec reported army had killed thousands of children and run forced abortion program as part of counter-insurgency campaign since 2013.
Attacks continued despite military operations in North West and North Central. In Katsina state, gunmen 3 Dec attacked mosque in Funtua area, abducting over a dozen worshippers. In Kaduna state, air force 1 and 4 Dec targeted some groups’ hideouts in Igabi, Birnin Gwari and Giwa areas, inflicting “heavy casualties”. Also in Kaduna, gunmen 15-18 Dec killed around 38 people in Kaura area, and 25 Dec abducted 45 persons in Kajuru area.
Biafra agitation and other violence persisted in South East. Wave of killings and arson reported across South East after Finland-based factional leader and self-declared spokesman of separatist group Indigenous People of Biafra, Simon Ekpa, issued five-day sit-at-home order starting 9 Dec. Notably, gunmen 9-10 Dec killed at least ten people in Anambra, Enugu and Imo states. Meanwhile in Enugu, armed men 8 Dec killed at least 25 people in Isi-Uzo areas; residents blamed Fulani herders and members of Igala ethnic group coming from Kogi state.
Kigali remained under international pressure to stop supporting M23 advances in eastern DR Congo.
Kigali and Kinshasa continued to trade accusations over eastern DR Congo crisis. During state of nation address, DR Congo (DRC) President Tshisekedi 10 Dec said country was victim of “unequivocal aggression by Rwanda”, denounced neighbouring country’s “expansionist tendencies”. In response, President Kagame 14 Dec said he “cannot be responsible for... Congolese of Rwandan descent in Congo who are being denied their rights as citizens”. After UN mission in DRC 7 Dec said M23 rebels late Nov allegedly killed 131 civilians in North Kivu province (see DR Congo), Rwandan govt 21 Dec accused Kinshasa of “fabricating” massacre. Kigali 28 Dec said Kinshasa violated its airspace by flying fighter jet over its territory.
International concerns over Rwandan support for M23 rose further. In call with Kagame, U.S. Sec State Antony Blinken 4 Dec reportedly said “Rwanda’s support for M23” must stop. In response, Rwanda’s FM Vincent Biruta next day accused U.S. of “exacerbating” crisis in eastern DRC. Blinken mid-Dec again called on Rwanda to “use its influence” on M23 rebels to de-escalate crisis. UN experts’ report dated 16 Dec found “substantial evidence” of Rwandan forces crossing into eastern Congo since Jan 2022, either to reinforce M23 rebels or to conduct military operations. Kigali denied accusations. French embassy in Kinshasa 19 Dec condemned Rwanda’s support for M23, while European Union 31 Dec called on Rwanda to stop supporting insurgents.
Govt offensive against Al-Shabaab made significant advances notably in Hirshabelle state; political dispute in South West state turned violent.
Govt forces and allies solidified gains against Al-Shabaab in central regions. Middle Shabelle region of Hirshabelle state cleared from Al-Shabaab after govt forces and local clan militiamen around 3 Dec captured group’s regional headquarters at Adan Yabal town and 22 Dec took over Runirgod town (Al-Shabaab’s last remaining stronghold in Middle Shabelle). PM Hamza Abdi Barre 14 Dec visited Adan Yabal, most significant town taken from Al-Shabaab to date. Capture of Runirgod allowed forces to move further into Galmudug state by late Dec, including to Galcad area (Galgaduud region) 27 Dec; other fronts in Galmudug however saw little progress. In South West state, govt forces in Dec recaptured Daynuunay village and Goofgaduud town (Bay region) after recent Al-Shabaab advances, but situation remained precarious with Al-Shabaab 28 Dec temporarily occupying Goofgaduud again.
Violence erupted in South West state amid dispute over president’s term extension. Clashes 23 Dec broke out in South West state’s largest city, Baidoa, between state security forces and militia protecting local opposition figure who argues President Lafta-Gareen’s term has expired; at least two civilians killed. After mediation by Lower House Speaker Adan Madobe, Lafta-Gareen and leading state opposition figures agreed to reconciliation meeting on 5 Jan.
Federal govt pursued rapprochement with member states, sought foreign support. During National Consultative Council meeting, President Mohamud and federal member states 25-28 Dec agreed on federalising judiciary, sharing power in line with federal constitution and strengthening operations against Al-Shabaab; Puntland state requested more time to study proposals. Mohamud solicited further foreign support to fight Al-Shabaab, travelling to Djibouti 6 Dec to attend regional forum; to Saudi Arabia 9 Dec for China-Arab summit, and to U.S. 13-15 Dec for U.S.-Africa Leaders summit.
In other important developments. Mohamud early Dec discussed resuming Somalia-Somaliland reconciliation talks with Norway-Türkyie delegation, and deadly clashes late Dec erupted between Somaliland security forces and protesters in area claimed by Puntland (see Somaliland). UN experts 13 Dec said over 8mn Somalis badly food insecure, and 700,000 at risk of famine between April and June.
Clashes between security forces and protesters left at least 20 dead in contested area near Somalia’s Puntland region.
Deadly clashes erupted in contested area near Somalia’s Puntland region. Clashes between protesters and security forces late Dec erupted in Las Anod town in contested Sool region, with at least 20 civilians killed; protesters complained about lack of security in town, which has been beset by regular assassinations in recent years including 26 Dec killing of local leader and member of opposition Waddani Party, Abdifatah Abdullahi Abdi (alias Hadrawi). Information Minister Saleebaan Cali Koore 31 Dec urged protesters to stop demonstrations and start negotiations with govt. Dispute also ratcheted up tensions between Somaliland and Puntland, both of which claim Sool region. Puntland’s President Said Abdullahi Deni 31 Dec said Puntland stands with people of Las Anod and urged Somaliland forces to stop crackdown.
President Bihi set preconditions for reconciliation talks with Somalia. Joint Norway-Türkyie delegation 5-6 Dec met with Bihi in Somaliland’s capital Hargeisa and Somalia’s President Mohamud in capital Mogadishu to discuss prospects of resuming Somalia-Somaliland reconciliation talks; both presidents expressed support, but Bihi later issued set of seven preconditions, making any immediate resumption unlikely.
Election crisis remained unresolved. President Bihi’s initial five-year term 13 Dec came to close without resolution of dispute which pits govt and opposition against each other about sequencing of presidential and so-called “political parties” elections (parliament’s Upper House in Oct extended Bihi’s term by two years). Yet electoral groundwork continued as voter registration 28 Dec kicked off.
As fighting wreaked havoc in Upper Nile state, violence escalated in Jonglei, killing dozens and forcing around 30,000 civilians to flee.
Violence raged in Upper Nile state, displacing thousands. Fighting pitting ethnic Shilluk “Agwalek” under Gen. Johnson Olony against Nuer forces, predominantly backed by Gen. Simon Gatwech, continued unabated in Fashoda county. Thousands of civilians early Dec fled to Kodok town and Malakal civilian protection camp after Nuer forces late Nov razed Aburoc village in Fashoda county’s north. Nuer forces began surrounding Kodok, prompting Agwalek militia early Dec to reinforce town as fears of imminent attack grew. President Kiir 7 Dec sent ammunition and additional soldiers to push back Nuer forces, compelling them to retreat south; UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) same day deployed 30 additional troops to deter attacks on civilians. Agwalek troops and President Kiir’s South Sudan People’s Defence Forces (SSPDF) 13 Dec attempted to intercept Nuer forces near Wau Shilluk village, but Nuer forces reportedly won battle.
Hostilities in Jonglei killed dozens and displaced thousands. In Jonglei state, armed Lou Nuer and Dinka Bor armed youth 26-27 Dec attacked Murle community in Gumuruk and Likuangole towns of Greater Pibor Administrative Area, killing at least 50 and forcing SSPDF forces to withdraw from Gumuruk; SSPDF 28 Dec recaptured town. UN humanitarian agency 29 Dec reported around 30,000 people displaced by violence. Escalation marks collapse of local peace deal signed in 2021 in Pieri town under UN auspices. UNMISS and international partners, including Intergovernmental Authority on Development and Troika (U.S., UK and Norway), 28 Dec urged govt to address spiralling violence.
Economy deteriorated further, ruling party began preparations for 2024 elections. In sign that hundreds of millions of dollars in International Monetary Fund support have failed to stabilise economy, South Sudanese pound further depreciated against U.S. dollar. UN Panel of Experts on South Sudan 1 Dec said Central Bank “printed in excess of 270 billion South Sudanese pounds ($423 million)”, effectively doubling currency in circulation and driving inflationary spiral. Meanwhile, ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement 6 Dec endorsed President Salva Kiir as candidate for 2024 presidential elections.
Military and civilian groups signed framework agreement, paving way for all-civilian govt to end political impasse; deal received mixed reactions.
Sudan’s military and key civilian actors signed deal to restore civilian rule. Following months of negotiations, major civilian political parties and other civil forces, mostly under main civilian opposition bloc Forces for Freedom and Change-Central Council (FFC-CC), 5 Dec signed “political framework” deal with military to install all-civilian govt, end political stalemate and initiate two-year transition period ending in elections. Transition period is to begin with appointment of PM, nominated by civilian signatories, after second phase of negotiations concludes. These negotiations will focus on five particularly sensitive issues, namely transitional justice, security sector reform, Juba Peace Agreement, status of ex-regime dismantling committee and crisis in eastern Sudan. They were set to conclude by end of Dec but have been postponed until 5 Feb.
Public opinion on agreement remained divided. Although agreement aims to end political role of military in Sudan, implementation faces significant challenges as military expects their power to remain unchecked and deal is not yet supported by wider public or number of key stakeholders. Most notably, grassroots network Resistance Committees continues to reject deal and has vowed to sustain protests in capital Khartoum; three 2020 Juba Peace Agreement signatories also opposed deal. Still, over 50 political and civil groups week after deal was signed submitted request to sign agreement, which FFC-CC is reviewing to ensure none are affiliates of Bashir-era ruling National Congress Party.
Violence persisted in West Kordofan and South Darfur. Clashes between Humer and Misseriya groups over cattle rustlers 10-11 Dec killed at least 30 in Abu Koa area, West Kordofan state. Clashes between Arab herders, Daju farmers and other groups 21-23 Dec left at least 11 dead and around 16,000 people displaced in villages outside Nyala state capital, South Darfur.
In other important developments. UN humanitarian agency 14 Dec released 2023 Humanitarian Response Plan noting that 15.8mn people, almost one third of country’s population, will need humanitarian assistance next year. Meanwhile, relations with Ethiopia continued to improve, with both sides 24 Dec signing cooperation agreement on peace and security issues.
President Suluhu Hassan secured new term as ruling party chairperson and announced govt shake-up.
Ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi party 7-8 Dec held national congress in capital Dodoma, re-elected President Suluhu Hassan for five-year term as chairperson. Hassan 8 Dec announced she would “shake up” govt to remove “detractors” and “languid” individuals ahead of 2025 general elections.
President Museveni’s son lashed out at ruling party amid growing internal rift over Museveni’s succession; army repelled ADF incursion from DR Congo; and authorities rejected UN allegations that Uganda served as rear base for M23 rebels.
Museveni’s son criticised ruling party, repression of opposition continued. In series of tweets, Museveni’s son Lt-Gen. Muhoozi Kainerugaba 2-3 Dec attacked his father’s National Resistance Movement (NRM) party, saying it “does not represent the people of Uganda”; 5 Dec condemned “those signing declaration against [us] in NRM”, possibly referring to recent calls for Museveni to run in 2026 election. In response, NRM Sec Gen Richard Todwong 14 Dec urged Kainerugaba to “respect” and stop “insulting” party. Parliament’s Deputy Speaker Thomas Tayebwa same day criticised party’s old guard, saying NRM elders should not underestimate younger counterparts’ capacity to run state affairs. Security forces 30 Dec reportedly fired tear gas and arrested at least 30 people at rally of opposition leader Bobi Wine in capital Kampala.
ADF rebels raided villages close to DR Congo, attacks on security targets continued. Militants of Uganda-born, Islamic State-affiliated Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) 13 Dec crossed border from DR Congo into western Ntoroko district and opened fire at civilians, killing two; army engaged assailants, reportedly leaving 17 killed and capturing 13 others. Meanwhile, attacks on security installations continued. Notably, unidentified gunmen 9 Dec raided Kyabadaza police station in central Butambala district, killing two civilians.
Kampala rejected UN allegations about M23 using Ugandan territory as rear base. In report to UN Security Council, UN experts 16 Dec alleged M23 rebel group wreaking havoc in eastern DRC since March 2022 has been able to recruit in Uganda and move through Ugandan territory unhindered; also noted that Kampala denied knowledge of M23 presence on its soil, said it would “not condone any of Uganda’s territory [being] used to destabilise any country”.
In other important developments. UK 9 Dec sanctioned former Police Chief Gen. Edward Kale Kayihura over alleged police abuses under his leadership between 2005 and 2018, adding to U.S. sanctions imposed on Kayihura in 2019.
Political atmosphere remained tense months away from general elections, and NGOs expressed concern that new anti-money-laundering bill could further shrink space for civil society.
Political tensions remained high ahead of general elections. Police 10 Dec reportedly detained two members of main opposition party Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) who were assaulted late Nov by suspected ruling Zanu-FP party supporters in Gutu district; mid-Dec banned two CCC rallies in capital Harare. Zanu-PF senior officials late Dec rejected electoral commission’s recent report on delimitation of electoral boundaries, saying it favours opposition, and vowed to have it nullified in court. Opposition party People’s Unity Party 30 Dec called on all opposition parties to boycott general elections scheduled for July-August, citing fears polls will further divide country.
Parliament’s lower house adopted bill which could further restrict civic space. National Assembly 16 Dec passed Private Voluntary Organisations Amendment Bill granting govt unfettered access to NGOs and other voluntary organisations’ operations, including budgets, plans and funding sources, and power to delist or enlist them; govt said bill, which still needs Senate’s approval before President Mnangagwa signs it into law, is necessary to combat money laundering. Opposition lawmakers immediately requested further debate, saying bill had been passed without their knowledge, while civil society platform Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition around 18 Dec said text, if passed in its current form, would lead to closure of several NGOs, further restricting civil society space.
U.S. sanctioned president’s son for corruption and human rights abuses. U.S. Treasury Dept 12 Dec announced new sanctions on four individuals and two Zimbabwean entities for corruption and human rights abuses, including Emmerson Mnangagwa Jr., son of President Mnangagwa.
Taliban banned women from universities and NGOs, prompting backlash and dramatic disruption of aid flows as civilians struggle to survive amid economic hardship and severe winter.
Taliban banned women from working for NGOs and attending universities. In dramatic decision, Taliban 24 Dec ordered “all national and international organisations to stop females working” immediately, next day exempted health workers. UN and some major NGOs paused some humanitarian assistance to signal disapproval, partially scaling back aid operations, which could have calamitous impact on one of the world's largest humanitarian response. Earlier, UN Under Sec-Gen for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths 20 Dec reported that amid sub-zero winter temperatures, 97% of Afghans live in poverty, two-thirds need humanitarian assistance to survive and half population require access to clean water; Griffiths also warned “third consecutive drought is looming”. Further deepening restrictions imposed on women since banning girls from public secondary schools in March 2022, Taliban 20 Dec forbade university education for women countrywide; ban removed any illusions that educational restrictions on girls and women could be temporary.
Insecurity persisted amid attacks by Islamic State. Islamic State-Khorasan Province (IS-KP) 2 Dec conducted two attacks in capital Kabul seemingly using foreign fighters from Central Asia, one targeting Pakistani ambassador and another attacking former warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar in his mosque; assaults indicated increasing capacity and will by IS-KP to attack high-profile targets. IS-KP foreign fighters 12 Dec targeted Chinese-owned hotel inside Kabul, wounding at least five individuals. Meanwhile, armed opposition group Afghanistan Freedom Front showed increasing operational capacity in Dec inside Kandahar province (south). UN sec-gen 16 Dec reported that between mid-Aug and mid-Nov, country had witnessed 23% rise in security-related incidents compared to same period last year.
Taliban and Pakistani border forces clashed. Taliban border forces 11 Dec launched cross-border artillery and mortars into Pakistan, killing at least seven civilians and wounding 17 in Chaman, one of main border crossings. Further clashes 15 Dec erupted, with Taliban forces opening fire on Pakistani military personnel repairing section of border fence in Chaman, killing civilian and injuring 15 others.
Violence and instability escalated as police and opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) clashed, with further unrest possible.
Violence rose amid large-scale anti-govt rallies and police crackdown. Police arrested two, including BNP local leader, in connection with two homemade bomb explosions near ruling Awami League rally in Pirojpur district 6 Dec, which injured four. BNP activists 7 Dec clashed with police raiding central office in capital, killing student leader and injuring at least 50 others. Police 8 Dec arrested hundreds of BNP leaders and supporters. Police 9 Dec filed charges against 200 BNP leaders and activists allegedly linked to five homemade bomb explosions in Barisal district’s Babuganj sub-district previous day; police claimed they were attacked with Molotov cocktails as information minister 9 Dec claimed police recovered 15 bombs at BNP headquarters. At massive anti-govt rally in capital Dhaka, BNP 10 Dec disclosed ten-point agenda that included resignation of govt and early polls; all seven BNP members of parliament next day resigned, with by-elections scheduled for 1 Feb. BNP and police clashes 24 Dec killed one party leader and injured 50 in Panchagarh district. BNP 30 Dec announced another rally in Dhaka for 11 Jan, raising risks of more political violence.
Proscribed Islamist group voiced support for BNP and clashed with police. Days after Jamaat-i-Islami – country’s largest and banned Islamist party – declared its support for BNP’s anti-govt movement, police 13 Dec arrested its top leader in Dhaka under Anti-Terrorism Act. Protests by Jamaat supporters against leader’s detention 23-24 Dec led to clashes with police and scores of arrests in Dinajur town, Chittagong city and Lakshmipur district. Further arrests 30 Dec led to clashes with protesters that injured ten police officers in Dhaka.
Insecurity continued in Rohingya refugee camps. Gunfight between Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) and rival armed group over drug trafficking in Cox’s Bazar Ukhiya camp 9 Dec killed two. In Ukhiya camp, assailants 22 Dec shot dead four Rohingyas and 26 Dec Rohginya leader. First group of 24 Rohingya refugees to be resettled in U.S. 8 Dec left Bangladesh, part of anticipated annual intake of 300-800; Dhaka previously resisted third-country resettlement.
China continued military activity around disputed islands amid joint drills with Russia, while Japan unveiled first national security strategy in almost decade.
China and Russia continued joint military drills in region. After Russia’s Tu-95 bombers and Chinese H-6K bombers late Nov flew over Sea of Japan and East China Sea during eight-hour joint military drill, China and Russia 21-27 Dec held joint naval exercises dubbed “Maritime Cooperation 2022”; Japanese defence ministry 18 Dec said at least four large Chinese warships, including two Type 055 destroyers, were spotted during exercise in East China Sea. China Coast Guard vessels 21 Dec patrolled near disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, according to official statement from China.
Japan labelled China its pre-eminent security challenge in new strategy. Japan 16 Dec released its first National Security Strategy in nine years, which dubbed China as country’s “greatest strategic challenge”; key policies include increasing defence spending by total of 43 trillion yen ($313 billion) over five years, which will bring spending to 2% of annual GDP by 2027; strategy signalled clear move away from Japan’s post-war pacifism.
Indian and Chinese soldiers fought hand-to-hand along disputed Line of Actual Control (LAC) in first clash in two-and-a-half years, injuring dozens.
Scuffle broke out between Indian and Chinese troops along LAC. In first violent incident since deadly Galwan Valley clash in June 2020, Indian and Chinese soldiers 9 Dec violently confronted each other along LAC in Tawang sector of Arunachal Pradesh state (north east), leaving around 30 Indian and unknown number of Chinese soldiers with minor injuries; both sides reportedly disengaged immediately and local commanders 11 Dec met to discuss incident. Govt 13 Dec said that Indian soldiers prevented Chinese troops from crossing into Indian territory to “unilaterally change the status quo”, while China claimed that Indian soldiers “illegally” crossed LAC and “blocked” Chinese routine patrol. Clash prompted uproar in parliament: opposition parties 14 Dec walked out of both houses after chairpersons refused to discuss situation on LAC and 20 Dec accused govt of “legitimising Chinese aggression” – marking first major public criticism of PM Modi’s handling of border crisis since June 2020. National Congress party 21 Dec staged opposition protest to demand discussion on LAC dispute. FM S. Jaishankar 30 Dec said relations with China are “not normal” and “[India] will never agree to any attempt to change the [LAC] unilaterally”.
Maoist violence continued in east and centre. In Jharkhand state (east), Maoists 1 Dec injured five security personnel in clashes in West Singhbhum district; 12 Dec set two construction vehicles on fire in Chatra district. In Odisha state (east), security forces 6 Dec killed two Maoist cadres in Kandhamal district. In Chhattisgarh state (centre), security forces 20 Dec killed one Maoist in Bijapur district.
Govt resisted calls to cease imports of Russian oil. During German FM Annalena Baerbock’s visit 5 Dec, S. Jaishankar, when asked about India’s imports of Russian oil, stressed that European countries prioritised energy needs and continued importing Russian oil in first months of Ukraine war, thus cannot “ask India to do something else”. PM Modi 16 Dec reportedly urged “dialogue and diplomacy” in phone call with President Putin.
Acrimonious atmosphere continued between India and Pakistan, while onset of winter saw slight reduction in violence in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K).
New Delhi and Islamabad continued tit-for-tat verbal attacks. Pakistan’s newly appointed army chief Asim Munir 3 Dec condemned India’s “highly irresponsible statements”, vowing “to take the fight to the enemy if ever war is imposed on us”. New Delhi 13 Dec condemned visit by sec-gen of Organisation of Islamic Cooperation on 10-12 Dec to Pakistan-administered Kashmir, calling sec-gen “mouthpiece of Pakistan”; Islamabad 15 Dec rejected criticism. Pakistani FM Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari 14 Dec said there was “clear evidence” that India had “planned and supported” June 2021 terror attack in Pakistan’s Lahore city. India’s FM S. Jaishankar 15 Dec accused Pakistan of sheltering Osama bin Laden, calling country “epicentre of terrorism”; Bhutto-Zardari next day responded that bin Laden was dead but “the butcher of Gujarat” was alive, referring to PM Modi, who was chief minister of Gujurat state during bloody anti-Muslim riots in 2002.
Militant attacks and security operations decreased with onset of winter. Security forces 2 Dec claimed to have foiled infiltration attempt by Pakistani militants into Baramulla district’s Uri sector. Unidentified persons 16 Dec shot and killed two civilians in Rajouri district in Jammu region. Security forces 20 Dec claimed to have killed three Laskhar-e-Tayyaba militants in Shopian district. Security forces claimed to have recovered drugs sent across international border from Pakistan to India’s Punjab region via drones on 3, 5 and 6 Dec.
Officials downplayed militancy, as J&K chief introduced unique identification numbers. Minister of state for home 7 Dec told parliament that there were 123 militancy-related incidents in J&K during 2022, resulting in deaths of 31 security forces personnel, 31 civilians and 180 militants. Kashmir’s police chief 11 Dec said there were no top militant commanders left since security forces had killed 44 this year. J&K Lieutenant-Governor Manoj Sinha 12 Dec said administration will roll out eight-digit unique identification number for families in Union Territory “for speedy and transparent implementation of social security schemes”; Peoples Democratic Party President Mehbooba Mufti warned that this was yet another “surveillance tactic”.
North Korea conducted space rocket launch and missile tests, vowing military satellite launch in April 2023, while its bellicose rhetoric hinted at further provocations to come.
Pyongyang launched space rocket and appeared to set April 2023 for satellite launch. Pyongyang 18 Dec launched what it claimed was carrier rocket for its space program and released grainy photos of South Korean capital Seoul and port city Incheon purportedly taken at 500km altitude; state media next day noted that country was now making “preparations for military reconnaissance satellite No. 1 by April 2023”. Military reconnaissance satellite launch is one of five main military priorities announced by leader Kim Jong-un in Jan 2021 for 2021-2026 period.
North Korea conducted ballistic missile tests, rejected South Korea’s criticism. Pyongyang 15 Dec conducted its first ever solid-fuel missile engine test at Seohae Satellite Launch Station, marking one giant step closer to obtaining solid-fuel inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM) capability. Kim Jong-un’s sister Kim Yo-jong 20 Dec rejected South Korean comments, which asserted that technology used was same in ICBMs and therefore banned by UN Security Council resolutions; Kim also threatened to conduct down-range ICBM test, saying that Seoul “will immediately recognize [North Korea’s capability if] we launch an ICBM [at a normal angle]”. Combined with hints that it may launch military reconnaissance satellite in April, comments underscore risk of further escalatory actions in coming months, including possible seventh nuclear test. North Korea 23 and 31 Dec fired short-range ballistic missiles and 26 Dec deployed five drones that entered south. Meanwhile, Pyongyang 23 Dec denied U.S. assessment that it delivered arms to Russia for use by private military company Wagner Group in Ukraine.
U.S. continued military drills, Japan unveiled new security strategy. U.S. 20 Dec flew nuclear-capable bombers and stealth fighter jets during joint military drills with South Korean jets in remote corner of south. Japan 16 Dec released first national security strategy in nine years, pledging focus on three areas related to Korean Peninsula: North Korea’s state-sponsored abductions of Japanese citizens in 1970s and 80s, North Korean nuclear issue, and Pyongyang’s missile programs.
Violence between regime and resistance forces continued, as late Nov fragile ceasefire held in Rakhine State, while U.K., Canada, U.S. and UN Security Council censured regime.
Military continued operations, notably in Shan State; late-Nov pause in Rakhine State continued. Military continued major military operations during month; notably, ground and air forces 7 Dec launched surprise attack on ethnic armed group Ta’ang National Liberation Army close to Namhsan township headquarters, Shan State, conducting 30 airstrikes and shelling area for five days. Ceasefire in Rakhine State declared late Nov between Arakan Army (AA) and regime held throughout month despite little attempt by sides to de-escalate, with both AA and regime troops still entrenched amid regime redeployments and ongoing arrests of AA members; deal could collapse any time. Tatmadaw 4 Dec detained prominent Kachin civil society leader Rev. Hkalam Samson at Mandalay Airport.
Evidence surfaced of serious abuses at hands of People’s Defence Force (PDF). In Sagaing region, video 3 Dec emerged purportedly showing resistance group torturing and executing woman accused of being military informant in Tamu township; unnamed Tamu People’s Defence Force (PDF) member said video was six months old; National Unity Govt (NUG) 5 Dec commenced investigation. PDF Kantbalu Battlion 4 on 1 Dec detained lawyer San San Yi along with two others in Shwebo township, next day killed her in Kantbalu township and released other detainees; NUG 8 Dec confirmed investigation into her death.
Canada and UK imposed new sanctions, U.S. passed bill to support anti-regime forces. Marking Human Rights Day 10 Dec, Canada sanctioned three entities and 12 individuals including military personnel, cabinet members and arms dealers, while UK sanctioned Office of the Chief of Military Affairs Security and Light Infantry Divisions 33 and 99. U.S. Congress 15 Dec passed National Defense Authorisation Act, which included clauses to support NUG and other anti-military groups; provided for humanitarian assistance, including for first time to ethnic armed groups; and supported (but did not mandate) sanctions against state-run Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise. UN Security Council 21 Dec adopted first Myanmar resolution in seven decades, calling on junta to release all political prisoners.
Maoist chief “Prachanda” became new PM after breaking alliance with Nepali Congress and partnering once more with KP Oli, raising concerns over durability of broad new coalition.
Political jostling after final election results birthed another Prachanda-Oli alliance, denying Nepali Congress power. In official results following Nov poll, Nepali Congress cemented position as largest party in parliament, securing 89 out of 275 total seats in House of Representatives; Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) won 78 seats, while Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) won 32 seats. However, tensions between Nepali Congress and Maoists prevented formation of new govt, specifically due to impasse between Nepali Congress leader Sher Bahadur Deuba and Maoist chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal “Prachanda” over who would lead new govt first. President Bhandari 18 Dec gave parties seven days to form new govt. After Nepali Congress-Maoist talks faltered, Unified Marxist-Leninist chair and former PM KP Oli 25 Dec struck deal with Prachanda, forming new coalition govt led by Unified Marxist-Leninist, Maoists and five other parties, with Prachanda and Oli splitting up prime ministership in deal mirroring one that underpinned UML-Maoist govt formed in 2017. Prachanda 26 Dec took oath as PM. Concerns proliferated, however, over political stability and durability of new govt given ideological tensions between coalition partners and history of acrimony between Prachanda and Oli, specifically latter’s refusal to cede prime ministership in Dec 2020.
Political turmoil continued to roil country amid standoff between govt and former PM Imran Khan, Pakistani Taliban launched major attacks, and border clashes continued with Afghan Taliban.
Khan’s bid to dissolve provincial assemblies awaited court decisions. After Khan late Nov threatened to dissolve two Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)-led govts in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces, Khan 2 Dec demanded govt enter talks about snap polls or face elections “in almost 66 per cent of Pakistan”; govt same day rejected ultimatum. Punjab governor 22 Dec dismissed Punjab chief minister (Khan ally) for failing to obtain vote of confidence in assembly. Lahore High Court next day reinstated chief minister, providing assembly would not be dissolved until court 11 Jan resumed hearing on case, and 26 Dec put Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assembly on hold till decision on Punjab’s case. PTI leader 30 Dec claimed govt had discussed, and PTI rejected, interim govt of technocrats; cabinet minister same day denied plan, raising suspicions it was military-devised. PTI 31 Dec resumed countrywide anti-govt protests.
Attacks by Pakistani Taliban in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province sharply escalated. Pakistani Taliban claimed series of deadly assaults: notably, militants 6 Dec stormed police post in Bannu, killing constable; militants 14 Dec shot dead female schoolteacher in Peshawar; group 17 Dec attacked police station in Lakki Marwat district, killing four police constables. In significant escalation, Pakistani Taliban 18 Dec stormed facility run by Counter-Terrorism Department in Bannu, holding security personnel hostage; security forces 20 Dec launched operation, which defence minister claimed killed 33 militants, freed all hostages and left two soldiers dead. Suicide attack 20 Dec killed at least one soldier and two civilians in North Waziristan. In first such attack in capital in eight years, suicide attack by Pakistani Taliban 23 Dec killed one police officer. Groups’ attacks also spiked in Balochistan province.
Pakistani and Afghan Taliban border forces clashed. Taliban border forces 11 Dec launched cross-border artillery and mortars, killing at least seven civilians and wounding 17 in Chaman, one of main border crossings. Further clashes 15 Dec erupted, with Taliban forces opening fire on Pakistani military personnel repairing section of border fence in Chaman, killing civilian and injuring 15 others.
Insecurity persisted in south amid ongoing militant arrests and surrenders, while clashes between govt and Communist rebels continued as communist party founder died.
Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF)-linked militants clashed with military in south. Philippine paramilitary 9 Dec fought MILF-affiliated armed group in Aleosan town, Cotabato province, allegedly over longstanding land feud, killing nine and wounding six. Decommissioning phase of peace process between govt and MILF continued at slower pace due to Dec holidays.
Militant arrests and surrenders continued in south. Police and military 15 Dec arrested two Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) members allegedly involved in kidnappings and killing during joint execution of search warrant in Panamao town, Sulu province, with five others escaping. Meanwhile, 44 Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters belonging to Karialan faction members 9 Dec surrendered to army in Kabacan town, Maguindanao province, handing over firearms and explosives.
Communist insurgency killed two, senior communist party leader died abroad. Military operations and some militant ambushes by communist New People’s Army (NPA) in Mindanao Island in south, Visayas Islands in centre and Luzon Island in north claimed three combatant and civilian fatalities and ten injuries. Military 13 Dec reported dismantling of Eastern Mindanao Command and six NPA units primarily in Davao and Bukidnon regions, Mindanao. Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founder Jose Maria Sison 16 Dec died in Netherlands; Department of National Defense urged insurgents to surrender, while minority bloc in House celebrated Sison as “patriot and revolutionary” calling for renewed peace talks. CPP 20 Dec said NPA would not observe ceasefire over holiday season.
Tensions surfaced between Philippines and China over disputed claims, as new imagery revealed alleged Chinese construction in Spratly Islands.
Philippines asserted South China Sea (SCS) claims amid ongoing tensions with China. Philippine President Marcos Jr. 1 Dec reiterated Manilla could still exploit SCS energy resources even without reaching deal with China, as ongoing talks on joint energy exploration stalled amid overlapping territorial claims and sovereignty concerns. Philippines 14 Dec expressed “great concern” over “unacceptable” continued Chinese presence near Iriqouis Reef and Sabina Shoal in disputed Spratly Islands. U.S. 19 Dec echoed concern over “escalating swarms” of unsafe Chinese Coast Guards vessels encountering Philippines navy; China next day slammed remarks as “unfounded accusation”. Manilla 22 Dec ordered military to strengthen presence in SCS, citing “Chinese activities” in disputed waters close to Pagada (Thitu) Island. Meanwhile, satellite images released 20 Dec showed newly developed formations appearing over previously unoccupied land formations over past year at Eldad Reef in northern Spratlys and neighbouring Lankiam Cay, Whitsun Reef and Sandy Cay; China next day dismissed allegations it was responsible as “completely untrue”. U.S. military 29 Dec said that Chinese fighter jet performed unsafe maneuver during intercept of U.S. Air Force jet.
Govt pursued plan to exit near-unprecedented economic hardship facing millions, and renewed calls to political parties to endorse plan to address decades-old ethnic conflict.
Govt sought relief amid acute economic and humanitarian crises. Inflation fell from record levels but remained high at 57% in Dec; govt 15 Dec reported economy shrank 11.8% in July-Sept quarter, marking second-worst quarterly contraction ever. World Food Programme and UN Food and Agriculture Organisation early Dec reported that 6.3mn people (30% of population) were food insecure, while over 60% of families were eating less, and eating cheaper, less nutritious food. World Bank 6 Dec confirmed its decision to renew govt’s eligibility for concessional loans from International Development Association; President Wickremesinghe same day presided over roundtable discussion with World Bank, Asian Development Bank, International Monetary Fund and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, who were later reported to have endorsed a “coordinated assistance program” to address economic crisis. Central bank governor 20 Dec confirmed debt restructuring negotiations with bilateral creditors were progressing more slowly than hoped. Meanwhile, parliament 8 Dec approved budget with comfortable majority of 123 votes (out of 225), winning support from most of now-fragmented Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) party led by Rajapaksas.
Govt provided accelerated initiative to address ethnic conflict. At All-Party Conference held 13 Dec, Wickremesinghe reiterated his appeal for all political parties to agree on solution to ethnic problem by country’s 75th anniversary on 4 Feb, specifically by: addressing immediate concerns of Tamils, especially in north and east; establishing “truth-seeking” process to address legacy of war and conflict-related violence; and constitutional reforms to strengthen devolution of power to provinces. Despite positive responses from party leaders in attendance, scepticism is high they can achieve consensus so quickly on issue that has violently riven Sri Lankan politics for decades. Wickremesinghe 21 Dec met Tamil National Alliance leaders for follow-up discussions on release of prisoners and land.
Local election preparations continued. Elections commission chief 28 Dec announced that nominations for local govt elections would be called before 5 Jan, with vote held before 10 March.
China maintained frequent aerial and maritime activity around island, including largest-scale single day aerial incursion this year, while U.S. continued military support for Taiwan.
China continued military presence around island and coercive trade practices. At least 472 Chinese military aircraft were detected entering Taiwan’s Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) during month, of which at least 191 either crossed unofficial maritime demarcation known as “median line” or were detected in south west of ADIZ near strategic Bashi Channel; Taiwan reported 112 sightings of Chinese navy vessels in surrounding waters. Notably, China 27 Dec sent 71 warplanes into Taiwan’s ADIZ, of which 47 crossed the median line – marking biggest number in single day reported this year. Policy chief of Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party Koichi Hagiuda same day became most senior member of ruling party to visit Taiwan in 19 years; Haguida remarked that Beijing should refrain from using force to change status quo. China 10 Dec suspended shipments of seafood, beer, liquor and other beverages from key suppliers from Taiwan, citing failure to comply with new customs registration system introduced last year; move is widely seen as latest attempt to economically coerce Taiwan. Taiwan 27 Dec announced extension of its conscription military service from current four months to one year, which will come into effect in Jan 2024.
U.S. continued militarily supporting Taiwan. U.S. Congress 8 Dec passed National Defense Authorisation Act, which will provide as much as $10bn loan to Taiwan over five years to acquire weapons in bid to enhance its defence capability against China; Beijing responded that it “firmly reject[s] the negative content about China from the bill” and urged U.S. to stop using Taiwan to contain China. Canada’s FM Melanie Joly 5 Dec said Ottawa plans to send more warships through Taiwan Strait, as it aims to play bigger role in Indo-Pacific; Canada recently launched its Indo-Pacific Strategy in which it described China as “increasingly disruptive power”.
Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) and Thai govt resumed peace talks amid ongoing violence in deep south, while concern amplified over ill-health of princess, presumed to be royal successor.
BRN and Thai govt engaged in dialogue to resolve ongoing conflict. Main insurgent group BRN and Thai officials 7-9 Dec met in German capital Berlin; BRN 10 Dec said group and govt were drawing up “roadmap”, including provisions for safety and legal immunity of BRN representatives to facilitate consultations with locals in southernmost Thai provinces, and shared BRN’s aim of “democratic governance system”. BRN and Thai delegations’ technical teams met 19 Dec in Malaysia.
Violent attacks persisted during month in deep south. In Songkhla province, bomb 3 Dec exploded under railway tracks in Sadao district in rare attack, derailing freight train. IED 6 dec detonated at temporary command post, killing three railway workers and wounding four others. In Bannang Satar district, Yala province, unidentified assailants 6 Dec shot and killed rubber buyer. Militants 14 Dec launched two attacks in Bannang Satar sub-district; attack on security checkpoint wounded four rangers. Militants 31 Dec set fire to car tyres on major roads in Panare, Mayo and Nong Chik districts, Pattani province, as well as police checkpoint in Mayo district. Gunmen same day fired shots at army base in Yaring district, Pattani.
In other important developments. Princess Bajrakitiyabha Narendira Debyavati – widely presumed to be successor of King Maha Vajiralongkorn, despite no official confirmation – 14 Dec fell unconscious at army base in Nakhon Ratchasima province and was taken to hospital; palace next day announced princess was in stable condition. Independent journalist citing palace sources same day reported doctors had pronounced princess dead, with palace allegedly withholding announcement until after new year. Meanwhile, HTMS Sukhothai 19 Dec sank in Gulf of Thailand during storm while conducting ceremony on death anniversary of Prince of Chumphon, regarded as “Father of the Thai Navy”; as of 1 Jan, 76 of 105 passengers were rescued and 24 bodies recovered, with five still missing.
Situation along Armenia-Azerbaijan border stabilised but tensions rose over blockade of Lachin corridor; sides missed end-of-year deadline for peace treaty.
Situation at border with Azerbaijan calmed as tensions rose over Lachin Corridor. After numerous reports of ceasefire violations along Armenia-Azerbaijan border in Nov, situation stabilised in Dec, possibly due to reduced military activity during winter season. Elsewhere, tensions rose over blockade of only road connecting Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia, known as Lachin Corridor (see Nagorno-Karabakh).
Baku and Yerevan missed deadline for peace deal. Despite hope for peace agreement by end of 2022, sides missed deadline due to delays in drafting treaty, gap in vision for terms of deal, lack of outside mediation and worsening relations since Sept border clashes. Sides offered new proposals for peace treaty during month but tensions over Lachin corridor hindered diplomatic efforts; notably, Yerevan requested postponing meeting between Armenian, Azerbaijani and Russian FMs scheduled for 23 Dec in Russia. Still, Russian President Putin 26 Dec met with PM Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Aliyev separately on sidelines of Commonwealth of Independent States summit in Russia’s St. Petersburg city; Putin also said three leaders met, but gave few details on what was discussed.
In other important developments. European Union (EU) temporary civilian monitoring team, deployed after Sept border clashes along Armenian side of international border with Azerbaijan, 19 Dec completed activities; EU, in agreement with authorities, same day announced new transitional team to “prepare the ground for a possible longer term EU mission in Armenia”. Azerbaijani FM Bayramov 27 Dec said Baku had received no report on Oct-Dec monitoring mission and that any new mission should be done in coordination with Azerbaijan. Meanwhile, Armenia and Hungary 1 Dec agreed to restore diplomatic relations.
Situation at border with Azerbaijan calmed as tensions rose over Lachin Corridor. After numerous reports of ceasefire violations along Armenia-Azerbaijan border in Nov, situation stabilised during Dec, possibly due to reduced military activity during winter season. Elsewhere, tensions rose over blockade of only road connecting Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia, known as Lachin Corridor (see Nagorno-Karabakh).
Baku and Yerevan missed deadline for peace deal. Despite hope for peace agreement by end of 2022, sides missed deadline due to delays in drafting treaty, gap in vision for terms of deal, lack of outside mediation and worsening relations since Sept border clashes. Sides offered new proposals for peace treaty during month but tensions over Lachin corridor hindered diplomatic efforts; notably, Yerevan requested postponing meeting between Armenian, Azerbaijani and Russian FMs scheduled for 23 Dec in Russia. Still, Russian President Putin 26 Dec met with President Aliyev and Armenian PM Pashinyan separately on sidelines of Commonwealth of Independent States summit in Russia’s St. Petersburg city; Putin also said three leaders met, but gave few details on what was discussed.
Baku responded to EU plans for new transitional monitoring team in Armenia. European Union (EU) temporary civilian monitoring team, deployed after Sept border clashes along Armenian side of international border with Azerbaijan, 19 Dec completed activities; EU, in agreement with Armenia’s authorities, same day announced new transitional team to “prepare the ground for a possible longer term EU mission in Armenia”. FM Bayramov 27 Dec said Baku had received no report on Oct-Dec monitoring mission and that any new mission should be done in coordination with Azerbaijan.
Increased military activities and Russian President Putin’s visit to capital Minsk raised concerns in Ukraine; crackdown on opposition persisted.
Putin visited Minsk amid stepped-up military activity, fuelling concern in Kyiv. State news agency BelTA 7 Dec reported govt plans to move troops and military equipment 7-8 Dec as part of “counterterrorism” exercise, 13 Dec reported “sudden check of combat readiness” had begun. Meanwhile, Russian President Putin 19 Dec met with President Lukashenko in Minsk as Russian news agency Interfax, citing Russia’s defence ministry, same day reported that around 9,000 Russian soldiers, stationed in Belarus since Oct, will conduct “tactical exercises”; announcement fuelled fears that Belarus plans to deepen its involvement in Ukraine. Exiled opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya same day warned that chance of govt sending troops to Ukraine “might increase in coming weeks” while authorities 21 Dec temporarily restricted access to parts of south-eastern Gomel region bordering Russia and Ukraine. Lukashenko 22 Dec said exercises were defensive.
Ukrainian missile entered Belarusian airspace. Minsk 29 Dec said it downed Ukrainian S-300 air defence missile close to Ukraine border; foreign ministry summoned Ukrainian ambassador, demanding Ukraine “conduct a thorough investigation”. Ukraine’s military same day acknowledged missile was Ukrainian, saying it was “the result of air defence”.
Repression of dissent continued. Court in Minsk 2 Dec sentenced journalist Dzmitry Luksha to four years in prison and two associates to over two years and 18 months in prison for activities that “disrupt social order”; 13 Dec sentenced four activists to between five and ten years in prison for “facilitating extremist activities”, among other charges. Court in Gomel 27 Dec sentenced three activists to over 20 years in prison each for sabotaging railway line used by Russia for transporting military equipment and weapons for Ukraine war in Feb 2022.
Tensions between Republic of Cyprus and Turkish Cypriot leaders persisted.
Disputes over UN peacekeeping force and energy exploration continued. Turkish Cypriot FM Ertuğruloğlu 8 Dec reiterated that “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” (“TRNC”) will continue to allow UN peacekeeping force “on its territory” only if “mutually acceptable legal arrangement between the two parties” is concluded. Hydrocarbon exploration remained contentious: Republic of Cyprus’s energy ministry 21 Dec announced that consortium of French and Italian energy companies found more natural gas off Cyprus; “TRNC” next day dismissed legitimacy of Republic of Cyprus-claimed Exclusive Economic Zone and asserted exploration activities “coincide with the continental shelf of [Türkiye]”, while Türkiye 23 Dec said Republic of Cyprus’s hydrocarbon activities threatened peace and stability in eastern Mediterranean. Meanwhile, Republic of Cyprus President Anastasiades 22 Dec hinted progress on peace settlement may materialise once Turkish President Erdoğan leaves office and next day said “national dignity” cannot accept any solution ensuring permanent presence of Türkiye in Cyprus.
Controversy over fate of imprisoned former President Mikheil Saakashvili grew, and Russia and breakaway Abkhazia signed cooperation agreement.
Authorities remained defiant over calls to transfer Saakashvili abroad for medical treatment. Amid mounting concern around health of imprisoned former President Mikheil Saakashvili, authorities 14 Dec released footage of Saakashvili inside hospital where he has been receiving treatment as “proof that his life is not in danger”. Move triggered backlash from opposition. Notably, four MPs from United National Movement party 15-16 Dec went on hunger strike and demanded his transfer abroad for treatment, which Saakashvili’s family have long demanded. Meanwhile, U.S. 12 Dec said govt is responsible for ensuring Saakashvili’s “health is respected and human rights are protected”; European Parliament 14 Dec voted for resolution calling for release of Saakashvili on humanitarian grounds; and Ukrainian President Zelenskyy 19 Dec urged authorities to permit Saakashvili’s transfer abroad. Hearing on transfer 22 Dec began but Saakashvili’s lawyer said Saakashvili felt unwell and trial proceeded without him. Next hearing on whether to defer or suspend Saakashvili’s case for health reasons expected 9 Jan.
Govt condemned senior Russian figure’s visit to breakaway Abkhazia. Russian State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin 1 Dec paid “first official” visit to breakaway Abkhazia; Volodin and de facto Abkhazian counterpart Lasha Ashuba 2 Dec signed cooperation agreement; Georgian foreign ministry same day condemned visit.
In other important developments. PM Gharibashvili 7 Dec ruled out military assistance to Ukraine, saying “we will never get involved in this war”; comments followed criticism from acting Ukrainian Ambassador to Georgia Andriy Kasyanov over repeated requests for military assistance.
Violent protests erupted in northern Kosovo following arrest of Serb police officer, but tensions eased late Dec and protesters removed barricades.
Arrest of Serb police officer sparked violent protests in northern Kosovo. Authorities 10 Dec arrested former Serb police officer Dejan Pantic for alleged attacks on municipal election commission offices in North Mitrovica town; Pantic had resigned in Nov along with some 600 Serb officers over license plate dispute before Pristina and Belgrade reached deal on 23 Nov. Pantic’s arrest prompted hundreds of Kosovo Serb protesters 10 Dec to erect roadblocks in northern Kosovo; security forces reported exchanges of fire with protesters and said one stun grenade targeted vehicle of European Union (EU) Mission in Kosovo. EU High Representative Josep Borrell 11 Dec said EU “will not tolerate attacks on EULEX Kosovo or the use of violent, criminal acts in the north” and urged protesters to remove barricades. Thousands 22 Dec demonstrated in Rudare locality, calling for withdrawal of Kosovo police units from Serb-majority north.
Tensions eased late Dec and protesters removed barricades. Serb President Vučić 16 Dec submitted request to NATO-led force KFOR to send up to 1,000 police and military forces to northern Kosovo to “defuse tensions and protect Serb population”; KFOR same day said they are “evaluating” demand but Kosovar President Osmani dismissed idea. Serbia 26 Dec placed security forces at border with Kosovo in “full state of combat readiness” while Kosovo 28 Dec closed Merdare border crossing with Serbia. Vučić 28 Dec announced barricades would be removed after authorities released Pantic and placed him under house arrest; protesters following day began removing barricades, while some border crossings reopened, reducing tensions.
Kosovo formally applied to join EU. Pristina 15 Dec formally submitted application for EU membership, although normalisation with Serbia remains crucial condition for Kosovo’s candidacy. EU ambassadors 20 Dec approved text on visa liberalisation for Kosovo, still to be ratified by European Parliament and EU Council.
Detained activists protesting border delimitation agreement with Uzbekistan went on hunger strike.
Following crackdown late Oct when authorities detained 26 activists and politicians protesting border delimitation agreement with Uzbekistan, court in capital Bishkek 13 Dec extended pre-trial detention for number of detainees until at least 20 Feb. Four detainees next day announced hunger strike to protest “against mass political repression accompanied by fabricated criminal cases, injustice and lawlessness being conducted against a wide number of politicians, activists, journalists and bloggers”; in following days, 15 more detainees joined hunger strike. Court 27-28 Dec extended custody for 20 detainees, whose health reportedly began to deteriorate. Meanwhile, relatives of all detainees 20 Dec rallied in Bishkek, demanding their release and calling for meeting with President Japarov to resolve issue.
Azerbaijan-backed protesters blocked vital transport link between Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh (NK), fuelling fears of looming humanitarian crisis.
Blockade of Lachin corridor fuelled concerns over humanitarian situation. While Armenia-Azerbaijan border stabilised in Dec (see Armenia, Azerbaijan), new crisis emerged at Lachin corridor, only road connecting Armenian-populated NK with Armenia. Tensions rose after Azerbaijani officials and AzerGold mining company 3 Dec started negotiations with Russian peacekeepers to allow inspections of two mines in NK due to alleged “illegal economic activity” and “damage to the environment”. Russian peacekeepers failed to secure visit, prompting dozens of Azerbaijani govt-backed “environmental activists” 12 Dec to conduct round-the-clock protests near Shusha town. Protesters blocked road during month, preventing movement of people and goods into and out of NK and fuelling fears of humanitarian crisis. Disruptions 12 Dec in natural gas supplies further aggravated situation, with de facto NK authorities 13 Dec announcing school closures due to weather conditions; gas supply 16 Dec resumed. Armenian PM Pashinyan 29 Dec announced Yerevan had approved additional $10mn in aid to ethnic Armenian population in NK.
Baku denied involvement in blockade and underplayed humanitarian risks. Azerbaijani foreign ministry 13 Dec blamed Russian peacekeepers for blocking corridor while Azerbaijani pro-govt media 16, 25 Dec released videos of Russian peacekeepers’ vehicles passing unhindered through Shusha to show that activists are not “blocking the road”. Azerbaijani state-owned Azariqaz gas company 14 Dec denied Azerbaijan’s role in disruption of gas supplies to NK. Meanwhile, Azerbaijan’s FM Bayramov 15 Dec dismissed fears of imminent humanitarian crisis as “an exaggeration”, saying Azerbaijan is “always ready to meet humanitarian needs of the Armenian residents living on our territories”.
Local and international pressure failed to resolve crisis. International actors, including European Union, U.S., Russia and UN Sec-Gen António Guterres called on Azerbaijani authorities to ensure free movement through corridor, while UN Security Council 20 Dec convened emergency session. Russian FM Sergei Lavrov 23 Dec said Russian peacekeepers were working tirelessly to secure free passage through corridor amid criticism from Pashinyan. Meanwhile, thousands 25 Dec rallied in de facto capital Stepanakert, but Lachin corridor remained blocked by end of Dec.
Govt announced reforms to army, crackdown on dissent continued, and Ukraine struck military bases hundreds of miles inside Russia.
Authorities announced reforms to strengthen military. Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu 21 Dec announced increase in maximum number of army servicemen from 1.15mn to 1.5mn. Shoigu also proposed changes to conscription age – currently between 18 and 27 – to 21 and 30 and outlined plans to form new military units. He added that “priority” task for 2023 is continuing “special military operation until its full completion”. Meanwhile, President Putin 9 Dec said Russia could abandon “no first use” nuclear doctrine; Kremlin 12 Dec clarified that Russia does not intend to take “quick actions”.
Crackdown on opposition persisted. Court in Moscow 9 Dec sentenced politician Ilya Yashin to over eight years in penal colony for spreading disinformation about Russian army. Justice ministry 20 Dec filed lawsuit to liquidate Moscow Helsinki Group, Russia’s oldest human rights organisation. Prosecutor general’s office 22 Dec declared NGO Russian Anti-war Committee in Sweden “undesirable organisation”. Police 29 Dec arrested politician Mikhail Lobanov. Meanwhile, law expanding definition of “foreign agent” to include any individual or organisation that is “under foreign influence” 1 Dec entered into force.
Ukraine launched strikes deep into Russia. Authorities 5 Dec accused Ukraine of attacking air bases in Saratov and Ryazan regions, which killed three and damaged several aircrafts; Kyiv acknowledged attacks but did not publicly claim responsibility. Attacks on military bases hundreds of miles inside country reveal Ukraine’s long-range capabilities, which Russia’s air defence appeared unprepared for (see Ukraine). Further strikes on air base near Saratov 26 Dec, although reportedly intercepted by Russian air defence, killed three. Meanwhile, Belgorod and Kursk regional governors 6 Dec announced formation of “territorial defence units” amid continued Ukrainian shelling in border regions.
In other important developments. Group of Seven 3 Dec agreed to price cap of $60 per barrel of Russian oil, which 5 Dec came into force; Moscow 4 Dec said it would not sell gas to any country participating in cap. Meanwhile, U.S. 9 Dec accused Russia of providing Iran with “unprecedented” level of military assistance in exchange for drones.
UN condemned treatment of human rights defenders.
During two-week visit to Tajikistan, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders Mary Lawlor 9 Dec raised concerns about deteriorating situation for human rights defenders across country and urged govt to eliminate “the intensifying climate of fear”. Meanwhile, prosecutors 1 Dec called on court in capital Dushanbe to sentence Faromuz Irgashev, activist from Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region detained following region’s deadly May protests, to 30 years in prison.
Govt continued operations against Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and Syrian affiliate amid threat of ground operation in Syria, while tensions with Greece remained elevated.
Military continued operations against Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)-linked militants. Security operations, including drone strikes targeting upper echelons of PKK and its Syrian affiliate People’s Protection Units (YPG), continued in both northern Syria and northern Iraq, albeit at lower intensity than in Nov (see Syria). Amid ongoing concern that Ankara remains intent on new ground incursion into northern Syria, possibly aimed at YPG-held town Tal Rıfat, west of Euphrates River, President Erdoğan 11 Dec requested Moscow to prioritise withdrawal of PKK/YPG elements from 30km border strip and 26 Dec said Türkiye will “enter a new phase of struggle that will destroy [their] entire infrastructure and resources”. In south eastern Türkiye, car bomb attack in majority Kurdish province of Diyarbakır 16 Dec injured eight police officers and one civilian.
Maritime tensions with Greece continued despite dialogue. National Security Council 1 Dec announced it expected Greece to immediately demilitarise Aegean islands off Turkish coast, while Greek foreign ministry 7 Dec rejected Türkiye’s “unilateral claims” and “threats of war”. Erdoğan 11 Dec stated that “TAYFUN missile will hit Athens … unless you behave”; Greek FM Dendias next day called rhetoric “unacceptable” from NATO ally. Turkish and Greek officials 16 Dec met in Belgian capital Brussels for Germany-brokered talks. Sides continued mutual accusations of airspace violations.
Political tensions heightened ahead of 2023 elections. Ahead of elections due between April and June, criminal court 14 Dec sentenced Istanbul metropolitan mayor and potential presidential candidate Ekrem İmamoğlu to two years and seven months in jail and banned him from politics for insulting members of Supreme Electoral Council, with appeal process underway. In response, tens of thousands of citizens 15-16 Dec rallied before Istanbul municipality.
In other important developments. Police detained some 85 individuals countrywide during month with alleged links to Islamic State. Defence Minister Hulusi Akar and intelligence chief Hakan Fidan 28 Dec met with Russian and Syrian counterparts, marking first official ministerial-level engagement between Türkiye and Syria in 11 years (see Syria).
Fighting raged in east as parts of front line descended into trench warfare, Russian attacks on civilian infrastructure continued, and authorities investigated role of Russian-affiliated churches.
Hostilities intensified in east as Bakhmut became war’s new epicentre. Following Ukraine’s liberation of southern Kherson city in Nov, Russian troops redeployed further east where fierce fighting continued throughout month. Notably, clashes around Bakhmut town in Donetsk region descended into trench warfare, with hundreds of dead and injured reported daily. Kremlin-linked private military company Wagner Group assumed high-profile role in attempted conquest of city, which President Zelenskyy 20 Dec visited. Meanwhile, senior officials gave media interviews throughout Dec, warning of new Russian offensive in early 2023 with stepped-up support from Belarus.
Russian attacks on energy infrastructure persisted, Ukraine hit Russian airbases. Russia launched strikes on critical infrastructure throughout month, often using Iranian loitering munition, severely hindering energy supplies thro