The President's Take
On the first working day of every month, Crisis Group refreshes CrisisWatch, our early-warning tool providing regular updates on the most significant conflicts around the world. It’s one of our most popular features because it is an inestimable resource for all who care about conflict and want to know both the dangers that lurk and the opportunities that arise. Beginning this month, I will add a brief commentary of my own.
This time, I am highlighting two conflict situations: the Korean peninsula, where the potential for a catastrophe of untold proportions comes hand-in-hand with a rare chance for de-escalation; and Israel-Palestine, where a conflict that remains dormant until it inevitably flares up was made more dangerous by the U.S. president’s pronouncements.
As to the former: North and South Korea have agreed to resume contacts in the context of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics; Pyongyang put some of its more provocative actions on the back burner; and Washington postponed its military exercises. These steps should be built upon to avoid an outcome as absurd as it would be tragic: having the U.S. risk a nuclear war in order to avoid one.
As to the latter: for some time now, one of President Abbas’s chief functions has been to maintain as many illusions as possible amid widespread Palestinian disillusionment – with the peace process, the U.S., non-violence, and the two-state solution. Through his actions and words, President Trump has been systematically stripping away even the pretense of an illusion. The danger is that he reap what he has sowed.
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July saw Venezuela’s political turmoil worsen as the government pressed ahead with an election for an all-powerful constituent assembly, prompting fears of further violence and economic collapse. Political tensions rose in the run-up to polls in Kenya as Al-Shabaab intensified attacks. Grievances in the security forces led to more violence in Côte d’Ivoire and Zambia’s president imposed emergency rule. In Yemen, fighting between Huthi rebels and the Saudi-led coalition escalated, raising the risk of worse bloodshed in August, while in both South Sudan and Mali deadly clashes strained fragile peace processes. Talks between Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders to reunify the divided island collapsed. In East Asia, North Korea’s launch of two inter-continental ballistic missiles added to growing regional and international concern over the threat posed by Pyongyang.
KenyaSouth SudanZambiaCôte d’IvoireMaliKorean PeninsulaCyprusVenezuelaYemen
In Venezuela, President Maduro’s government took a definitive step in replacing the country’s ailing democracy with a full-fledged dictatorship, pushing through a vote on 30 July to elect a constituent assembly with the power to dissolve state institutions – including the opposition-led parliament – and rewrite the constitution. The vote went ahead in the face of intensifying opposition protests, including deadly clashes with security forces and pro-Maduro gunmen, and growing international condemnation. The closing off of options for political opposition has prompted fears of more violence on the streets and accelerating state failure and economic collapse. Crisis Group has advocated that regional states should put in place a contact group to push for a negotiated solution to restore democracy, a move that will require broad international support including from major powers friendly to the Maduro regime such as Russia and China.
Ahead of Kenya’s high-stakes general elections on 8 August, the murder of a high-ranking election official late July electrified an already tense atmosphere, and jihadist group Al-Shabaab stepped up attacks on civilians and security forces. While bloodshed on the scale of the 2007 post-election violence is unlikely, fierce competitions for the presidency and county governorships have worsened clashes in Laikipia county between ranchers and herders and ethnic and border tensions in the north, and could open old wounds in the Rift Valley. To keep the peace, external partners should step up pressure on President Kenyatta and his main challenger Raila Odinga, and election observers should deter vote tampering by deploying heavily in both their strongholds. Tensions that fuelled army mutinies in Côte d’Ivoire in January and May led to new violence, and Zambia’s president imposed emergency rule in response to a string of arson attacks he blamed on the opposition.
More than two years into Yemen’s war, fighting between Huthi rebels and the Saudi-led coalition escalated yet again, especially in Taiz governorate in the south west, portending a more violent month ahead. Heavy fighting for control of Khaled bin Walid military base east of the Red Sea port city of Mokha left at least 40 government soldiers and rebels dead, while a Saudi-led coalition airstrike on Mawza killed over twenty civilians. The Huthis claimed several counter-attacks including on a United Arab Emirates military vessel off Mokha, which they say killed at least a dozen soldiers. They also claim to have launched multiple missiles into Saudi Arabia, including one that flew 930km, the furthest yet. New fighting strained South Sudan’s fragile peace process when Sudan, in response to the U.S. postponing a decision on whether to lift sanctions on it, supported South Sudanese rebels to attack government forces in northern Unity oil field. Mali also suffered a serious setback to the implementation of its June 2015 peace deal, as fighting between signatory parties resumed in the northern region of Kidal.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres announced that negotiations to reunify Cyprus had collapsed on 7 July, as another intense round of talks between Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders came to a close in Switzerland, reportedly unable to reach agreement on the issue of security guarantees. Both sides blamed each other for the collapse in the talks, which had been seen as the best prospect in years to reunify the divided island.
A series of accelerated North Korean missile tests in recent months culminated with the launch of what Pyongyang claimed, and most others including the U.S. agreed, was an inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM) on 4 July, following up with a second reported ICBM test on 28 July. Defying successive UN Security Council resolutions, the tests increase the credibility of North Korea’s threat to the continental U.S., and add to security concerns in the region.
New round of talks between govt and opposition in Arusha, announced by office of former Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa early July, did not materialise. For first time since May 2015 coup attempt, representatives of regime and opposition coalition CNARED (National Council for the Respect of the Arusha Agreement, Restoration of the Rule of Law) met 31 July in Helsinki. Members of ruling party CNDD-FDD and its Imbonerakure youth militia demonstrated 15 July in Muramvya province in centre in support of fourth term for President Nkurunziza after 2020 elections. Grenade attack reportedly targeting coffee processing company chief at Gatara in Kayanza province in north 9 July killed at least five people, alleged target unhurt. Grenade attack by unidentified assailants targeting policemen 11 July in Bujumbura wounded four, another grenade attack 16 July in same area caused no harm. European Parliament 5 July voted to continue to suspend aid to govt. In first visit abroad since May 2015 coup attempt, Nkurunziza 20 July met Tanzanian President Magufuli in western Tanzania; both urged over 240,000 Burundian refugees living there to return home as, according to Magufuli, “country is in peace”. Interior minister 26-27 July went to DRC capital Kinshasa for govt’s authorisation to step up actions against armed opposition groups in South Kivu, eastern DRC.
Boko Haram (BH) continued to intensify attacks in Far North against civilians and military. BH likely responsible for nine suicide bombings during month close to Nigerian border, notably two women detonated explosives 12 July in Waza, Logone et Chari department killing seventeen civilians. BH militants 5 July kidnapped several people in Karena, Logone et Chari department, 18 July killed civilian in Zeneme, Mayo Tsanaga department, 26 July killed two gendarmes in Sagme, Logone et Chari department. Amnesty International 20 July reported human rights violations including torture by security forces fighting BH. Gendarme killed four fellow gendarmes in Kousseri, Logone et Chari department capital 14 July to protest his alleged mistreatment by squadron commander. Anglophone minority in North West and South West regions kept up general strike in protest against marginalisation by govt. Trial of strike leaders postponed again 27 July, now scheduled for 31 Aug.
Violence involving armed groups continued, including against humanitarian workers and facilities. Ex-Seleka faction Central African Patriotic Movement (MPC) 1 July clashed with anti-balaka in Kaga Bandoro, Nana-Gribizi province in north, at least ten people killed; unidentified gunmen same day looted UN Refugee Agency office there, threatening staff. MPC and Revolution and Justice (RJ) militants 9 July took control of Ngaoundaye, Ouaham Pende province in far north west. Two gunmen 11 July entered Médecins Sans Frontières-run hospital in Zemio in south east and opened fire at family, killing baby. Christian and Muslim communities clashed again in Bangassou in south east 22-23 July; anti-balaka local defence forces shot dead one Moroccan peacekeeper 22 July and two Moroccan peacekeepers 25 July when they delivered water to displaced Muslims. Following signing of ceasefire and political agreement 19 June, Catholic community Sant’Egidio mid-July visited country in effort to form follow-up committee comprising govt, armed groups, parliament and UN mission (MINUSCA). African Initiative for Peace and Reconciliation in CAR notably comprising African Union, central African regional bloc ECCAS and regional govts 17 July adopted roadmap for peace; African Union said roadmap only reference for peace process.
Authorities arrested Laoukein Médard, 2016 presidential candidate and mayor of second largest city Moundou in south 2012-June 2017, for embezzlement 13 July; opposition denounced arrest as political. President Déby attended summit of Sahel G5 (Mali, Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso and Mauritania) 2 July in Bamako at which member states each pledged €10mn to finance joint military force to counter jihadism, EU repeated pledge of €50mn and France pledged €8mn and operational and technical assistance; pledges still fall short of estimated €385mn required.
Electoral commission (CENI) 7 July said elections will not take place in Dec 2017 as foreseen in 31 Dec 2016 agreement; Catholic Church (CENCO) 10 July said decision to postpone elections required consultation between govt, CENI and committee overseeing implementation of 31 Dec agreement (CNSA), while Felix Tshisekedi, leader of opposition coalition Rassemblement, 11 July said CENI had “declared war” on people. Govt 22 July appointed CNSA members and named Rassemblement dissident Joseph Olenghankoy as chair; opposition criticised Olenghankoy’s appointment. Rassemblement 22 July released six-month plan for mass mobilisation against Kabila and suggested short transitional period without him if elections do not take place by end-2017. Prime minister 7 July called on donors for financial assistance to ease “economic difficulties”, but IMF 12 July said release of funds conditional upon political environment improving. U.S. 11 July said it would place sanctions on whoever hinders organisation of elections. Govt 13 July sentenced Angolan President Dos Santos’ Congolese son-in-law and Kabila’s fierce critic Sindika Dokolo to one year prison for real estate fraud. UN mission (MONUSCO) 7 July said it would close five bases in N Kivu in east by 31 July. In N Kivu, Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) militia 5 July kidnapped eighteen people in Beni, releasing them five days later; at least nine Mai Mai militiamen, two members of security forces and one civilian killed in clashes 5 and 11 July. Militias 8-11 July launched multiple attacks on army positions in Masisi, Rutshuru, Beni and Lubero territories in N Kivu. In S Kivu, army regained control of Fizi and Ishasa 5 July after five days of combat that killed at least two soldiers, nine Mai Mai and one civilian; in country’s fifth jailbreak in three months, some twenty prisoners escaped in attack on Bukavu’s central prison. In Kasai provinces, UN 4-7 July identified 38 more mass graves, bringing total to 80 in centre; suspected Kamuina Nsapu militiamen 9 July kidnapped 26, mostly civilians, in Lomami province. In south, intercommunity fighting continued.
After Eritrea deployed troops into disputed Doumeira territory on Djibouti-Eritrea border in June, govt 3 July asked African Union to send in observers. Eritrea 4 July said it would only recognise as mediator Qatar, which withdrew ceasefire monitoring mission from Doumeira early June. Eritrea 9 July postponed visit of African Union’s peace and security commissioner to capital Asmara citing “conflicting calendars”. China 23 July said it would consider mediating dispute and sending in peacekeepers if requested; 11 July indicated it had sent warships to Djibouti to set up overseas military base, reportedly to fulfil humanitarian commitments in Gulf. Govt 21 July agreed to bolster security and defence cooperation with Ethiopia.
After govt deployed troops into disputed Doumeira territory on Eritrea-Djibouti border in June, Djibouti 3 July asked African Union to send in observers. Govt 4 July said it would only recognise as mediator Qatar, which withdrew ceasefire monitoring mission from Doumeira early June. Govt 9 July postponed visit of African Union’s peace and security commissioner to capital Asmara citing “conflicting calendars”. China 23 July said it would consider mediating dispute and sending in peacekeepers if requested.
Federal govt’s introduction of law 7 July raising taxes on small businesses triggered protests in several towns in Oromia region; business owners 17 July called for open-ended strikes. Clashes between police and protestors in Ambo, 120km west of Addis Ababa left two protestors dead, allegedly shot by police mid-July. Govt cancelled tax hike 23 July. Govt 21 July agreed to bolster security and defence cooperation with Djibouti.
In run-up to 8 Aug elections, Al-Shabaab intensified attacks in Lamu county on coast and political tensions rose amid election-related violence. Some 200 Al-Shabaab militants attacked Pandanguo police station 5 July killing at least three officers; suspected militants beheaded nine civilians in Jima area 8 July; militants ambushed govt convoy in Milihoi on Lamu-Mpeketoni road 13 July killing at least four security officers and one civilian and briefly abducting senior official. Govt 8 July imposed three-month curfew in Lamu, Garissa and Tana River counties. Security forces 10 July said they had launched airstrikes on Al-Shabaab stronghold Boni forest in Lamu county. Some 30 Al-Shabaab militants 18 July made abortive attempt to attack police station in Mokowe, Lamu county; no casualties reported. Court of Appeal 20 July overturned 7 July decision by High Court to cancel award of tender to print ballot papers to Dubai-based firm which opposition said had links to ruling Jubilee party. Police shot dead gunman 30 July eighteen hours after he broke into Deputy President Ruto’s home compound near Eldoret in west, killing one guard and wounding another. Electoral commission’s head of IT, missing since 28 July, found dead 31 July, commission said he had been tortured and murdered.
Al-Shabaab continued to attack civilian and military targets in Somalia and Kenya (see Kenya). In Mogadishu area, Al-Shabaab claimed IED explosions that killed two civilians in Elasha district 20km north east of capital 1 July and targeted African Union mission (AMISOM) convoy in Middle Shabelle 18 July; Al-Shabaab claimed car bombing 18 July at checkpoint on Mogadishu-Afgoye highway that left three dead; suspected Al-Shabaab suicide car bomb killed ten, mostly civilians, in Mogadishu 30 July. In south east, militants 30 July ambushed AMISOM convoy in Lower Shabelle’s Bulamareer district, killing at least 23 soldiers. In south west, militants 23 July killed at least four soldiers in IED explosion near Baidoa 250km south west of capital; 24 July ambushed AMISOM convoy in Bardhere, Gedo region but caused no casualties. Al-Shabaab 24 July released seven aid workers it abducted near Baidoa in south west 16 July, reportedly after receiving weapons as ransom. Security forces continued operations against Al-Shabaab, reportedly killing eighteen militants early July in Puntland’s Galgala hills in north; group denied any casualties. Kenyan AMISOM forces 16 July reportedly killed 40 militants in airstrikes near Garbaharey in Gedo in south west and killed senior Al-Shabaab commander Hassan Isaack Ibrahim in joint operation with Jubbaland security force in southern Gelef 19 July. U.S. airstrikes on Al-Shabaab training camp near Sakow in Middle Juba in south 2 July, on Al-Shabaab-held territory 4 July and near Tortoroow in Lower Shabelle in south 29 July killed undisclosed number of militants. U.S. and Somali forces 13 July attacked Al-Shabaab in two locations in Lower Shabelle in south, including Kunya-Barrow where they freed detainees and killed several militants; Al-Shabaab said its fighters foiled attempted attack.
Foreign minister mid-July pledged support to Djibouti amid renewed tensions between Djibouti and Eritrea over disputed Doumeira territory (see Djibouti and Eritrea). Govt 2 July rejected Somalia President Farmajo’s call previous day to unify Somalia and Somaliland. Leaders of Khatumo state, which declared itself autonomous in 2012 but in June signed unity agreement with govt, 10 July criticised upcoming tribal conference in south-eastern Buhoodle for allegedly aiming to disrupt June agreement.
In response to U.S. postponement of decision on whether to lift sanctions on Sudan (see Sudan), Sudan late July supported S Sudanese rebels, Sudan People’s Liberation Army-In Opposition (SPLA-IO), to launch attacks from Sudan against govt forces in northern Unity oil field. Despite govt’s unilateral ceasefire declared in May, govt forces negotiated and fought with SPLA-IO near Pagak, SPLA-IO’s former HQ, in north east during July to secure area for oil refinery project with Ethiopia. SPLA-IO 30 July near DRC border clashed with group who defected from it to join opposing rebel group, National Salvation Front. Troika members (U.S., UK and Norway) and EU 20 July denounced attacks by opposition and govt forces’ “clear violation” of ceasefire. National Dialogue Steering Committee (NDSC) delegation early July went to South Africa to meet rebel leader Riek Machar and invite his input in National Dialogue design. NDSC 3 July said Machar declined to meet. President Kiir 10 July earmarked 2.4bn S Sudanese pounds for NDSC activities.
U.S. President Trump 11 July pushed back by three months 12 July deadline for U.S. to assess whether Sudan has made sufficient progress on five tracks to warrant lifting sanctions; U.S. cited need for more time to make assessment. President Bashir 12 July responded by suspending monthly meetings with U.S. on sanctions. Govt supported S Sudanese rebels, Sudan People’s Liberation Army-In Opposition (SPLA-IO), to launch attacks from Sudan in former Unity state, S Sudan late July (see S Sudan). Bashir 2 July extended unilateral ceasefire in Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile states by four months. Leadership dispute continued within rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N): SPLM-N’s regional political group in Nuba Mountains 5 July endorsed 29 June appointment of former Deputy Chairman Abdelaziz al-Hilu as Chairman, replacing Malik Aggar. Dispute triggered fighting throughout month between supporters of al-Hilu (mostly ethnic Uduk) and Aggar (mostly Ingessana) in Blue Nile state and in refugee camps in S Sudan. In Darfur, clashes between Maaliya and Rizeigat tribes over resources 40km south east of El-Daien 22-23 July reportedly left ten dead.
Police arrested at least 60 opposition supporters 19-20 July protesting reported bid by ruling party National Resistance Movement to amend constitution, lift age limit for presidential candidates and allow President Museveni to run for sixth term in 2021.
Campaigning for 23 Aug general elections officially began 23 July. Govt mid-July reportedly said EU election observers welcome but they would not have unrestricted access to all polling stations, as demanded by EU; EU 28 July said it would send small team of experts to assess elections, not Electoral Observation Mission, as govt did not agree to conditions. DRC 13 July sentenced in absentia President Dos Santos’ Congolese son-in-law and Kabila’s fierce critic Sindika Dokolo to one year in prison for real estate fraud (see DRC).
Govt early July insisted govt forces had withdrawn from eight positions near stronghold of armed opposition Renamo in Gorongosa mountains in Sofala province in centre, as promised by President Nyusi 25 June, after Renamo leader Afonso Dhlakama denied withdrawal. Ceasefire persisted. After 10-19 July mission, IMF decided it would not resume financial assistance to govt this year due to missing “critical information” relating to govt’s use of proceeds from loans, demanded tax rises and spending cuts.
Following multiple suspected arson attacks, including on main market in capital Lusaka 4 July, President Lungu 5 July imposed emergency rule, increasing authorities’ powers of detention, to counter “acts of sabotage” he blamed on opposition. Parliament 11 July extended emergency rule for 90 days.
Police fired tear gas and water cannon to disperse youth supporters of opposition Movement for Democratic Change-Tsvangirai (MDC-T) in Harare 12 July demanding electoral commission implement reforms ahead of 2018 general elections. Electoral commission said it needed $274mn to finance vote and that new voter register would be completed by Dec. Parliament 25 July amended 2013 constitution to return to President Mugabe the power to appoint three most senior judges (chief justice, his deputy and judge president of High Court) which he held before 2013. First Lady Grace Mugabe 27 July told Mugabe to name preferred successor to end factionalism within ruling ZANU-PF party.
Violence likely involving jihadists continued in northern and western areas near Mali border. Gunmen 25 July killed five people wanted by security forces in Soum province in north in apparent score settling among members of jihadist group Ansarul Islam, amid possible infighting for leadership. Ansarul Islam late June posted on Facebook that Jafar Dicko had replaced Malam Ibrahim Dicko as leader, hinting that latter had died. Security forces repelled seven gunmen 12 July who fired shots at them in Doumbala, Kossi province in west; no casualties reported. Inhabitants fought nomadic Fulani herders after cattle damaged field in Doussoula, Sourou province in north west 11 July, one killed. At summit of G5 Sahel (Mali, Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso and Mauritania) in Bamako 1-2 July, members each pledged €10mn to finance 5,000-strong joint military force to counter jihadism in region (see Mali). National Assembly 4 July passed law on workings of High Court of Justice that paves way for resumption of trial of 34 former ministers under former President Compaoré for involvement in repression of Oct 2014 popular uprising. Arrest warrant against François Compaoré (former president’s brother) for his role in 1998 assassination of journalist Norbert Zongo issued early May revealed 28 July. UN working group on arbitrary detention early July said detention of former Foreign Minister Bassolé for alleged involvement in Sept 2015 military coup was arbitrary and that he should not be tried by military court because he was on leave from military at time of coup. Govt 7 July dismissed accusation, saying all civilians involved in coup would face military justice.
Persistent tensions between former rebels and govt, and among security forces led to renewed violence. Demobilised former rebels 9 July blocked entrance to Bouaké in centre demanding FCFA18mn (about $32,000) each; police dispersed them with tear gas. Soldiers 15 July fired shots and clashed with fellow soldiers at two military camps, in Abidjan in south and Korhogo in north after military leaders said they would not receive bonuses, three soldiers killed in Korhogo, six soldiers arrested in total. Demobilised former rebels and active soldiers 19 July raided national police academy in Abidjan’s Cocody neighbourhood, killing police officer and stealing weapons, and attacked security institutions in Yopougon neighbourhood. Same group reportedly attacked gendarmerie post in Azaguié near Abidjan 22 July, no casualties reported. Five people including three soldiers arrested for attacks late July. President Ouattara 19 July reshuffled cabinet as tensions grew within ruling coalition Houphouëtist Rally for Democracy and Peace (RHDP). Govt suspended deputy spokesperson of coalition member Democratic Party of Côte d’Ivoire (PDCI) Jean-Louis Billon 12 July; Ouattara dismissed head of State Inspectorate General and nephew of PDCI President Bédié, Gnamien N’Goran 13 July. Amid tensions within Ouattara’s Rally of Republicans (RDR), govt by presidential decree fired two officials close to former rebel leader Assembly Speaker Guillaume Soro 13 July. Police 3 July searched Abidjan house of Souleymane Kamagaté, Soro’s close associate in whose house in Bouaké weapons cache used by army mutineers was found late May; seized two mobile phones. Gendarmes 14 July interrogated two of Soro’s security detail.
Opposition led by Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea (UFDG) 16 July demonstrated in Conakry against repeated postponement of local elections, denounced alleged plan by President Condé’s inner circle to amend constitution to allow him to run for third term.
After electoral commission disqualified several candidates running in Oct presidential and legislative elections based on Code of Conduct, Chief Justice Francis Korkpor 11 July said that only Supreme Court has legal authority to do so. Campaigning started 31 July.
Serious fighting between signatory parties of June 2015 peace agreement resumed in Kidal region in north. Self-Defence Group of Imrad Tuareg and Allies (GATIA), member of pro-national unity Platform coalition, 6 July clashed with separatist rebel alliance Coalition of Azawad Movements (CMA) near Aguelhok, over ten reportedly killed. Clashes erupted again 11 July in Djancheche area, 65km from Kidal city, casualties unknown. In east, ethnic Doosaak linked to CMA splinter group Movement for the Salvation of Azawad (MSA) and Tuaregs linked to GATIA clashed with ethnic Fulani reportedly close to jihadist groups, especially Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa, in Ménaka region 5-10 July. Armed assailants continued to attack Malian, UN and French forces and civilians in several areas. Eight unidentified gunmen 8 July clashed with policemen in Ségou region in centre. IED 11 July hit UN mission (MINUSMA) vehicle near UN camp in Kidal city. Unidentified gunmen same day attacked police vehicle in Timbuktu, wounding two policemen. Malian and French troops 8 July arrested six alleged jihadists in camp near Ber, Timbuktu region in north, including Alhousseini Ag Assaley, close associate of Amadou Koufa, leader of jihadist group Macina Liberation Front. Alleged jihadists ambushed eight govt troops 9 July near Ménaka whose bodies were found 17 July. At summit of G5 Sahel (Mali, Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso and Mauritania) in Bamako 1-2 July, members each pledged €10mn to finance 5,000-strong joint military force to counter jihadism in region, EU repeated pledge of €50mn and France pledged €8mn and operational and technical assistance; pledges still fall short of estimated €385mn required. Civil society and political parties protested in Bamako and in Kayes, Sikasso and Ségou regions 1 July against proposed changes in new draft constitution including those that would strengthen presidential powers; govt announced no new date for referendum, initially planned 9 July.
Jihadist activity continued in west along Mali border. Jihadist coalition Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (GSIM) claimed 5 July ambush on military convoy that killed five soldiers in Midal valley, Tahoua region, supposedly under influence of other jihadist group Islamic State in Greater Sahara (ISGS). Mali-based Tuareg and Doosaak groups reportedly killed seven Fulani herders at Anderaboukhane on Mali-Niger border 11 July. Boko Haram (BH) attacks rose again in Diffa region in south east: alleged BH militants 2 July killed nine civilians and abducted dozens in Ngalewa village, looting food and cattle. Soldiers 6 July killed fourteen unarmed civilians in restricted access area around Abadam village, mistaking them for BH militants. At summit of G5 Sahel (Mali, Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso and Mauritania) in Bamako 1-2 July, members each pledged €10mn to finance 5,000-strong joint military force to counter jihadism in region (see Mali). Authorities increasingly harassed journalists and civil society: journalist Ali Soumana imprisoned and charged 3 July with stealing official documents and “violating the secrecy of the investigation” into case involving govt and Lebanese company.
President Buhari remained in UK on ‘‘medical vacation’’ that began 7 May; Acting President Osinbajo and other ruling party leaders who visited him said he was recovering and would return soon. Boko Haram (BH) continued attacks in Borno state in NE killing over 100 during month. BH 25 July ambushed oil exploration team from federal govt-owned Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation and University of Maiduguri, killing some 50 people and abducting unknown number. BH 28 July issued video of abducted university staff, who said they were held by Al-Barnawi faction. BH 3 July attacked military bases in Gulumba Gana, Bama and Dikwa Local Govt Areas (LGA), unknown number of soldiers and insurgents killed. BH 3 July raided Agari and Azir villages, Damboa LGA, killing three. Two male suicide bombers tried to attack university in state capital Maiduguri 6 July, security forces shot dead one, second blew himself up. Multiple suicide attacks (at least one bomber female) 11 July killed at least nineteen in Maiduguri targeting vigilantes working with army. Security forces 16 July killed two female suicide bombers trying to cross security trench in Mammanti on outskirts of Maiduguri. Female suicide bomber 17 July attacked mosque in Maiduguri, killing eight. BH 24 July attacked Kaleri and Alau, Konduga LGA, killing over fifteen people. Two female suicide bombers 28 July struck displaced persons’ camp in Dikwa LGA, killing at least eight people. Suicide bomber 30 July detonated IED in Kosahari village, Gwoza LGA, killing three. Niger Delta leaders and elders under Pan-Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) 11 July urged federal govt to step up implementation of sixteen demands submitted Nov 2016 to President Buhari. Militant group Niger Delta Revolutionary Crusaders 30 July said it would start attacks 30 Sept as dialogue between govt and PANDEF had yielded no results. Farmer-herder violence continued: Fulani group Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association (MACBAN) 15 July reported youths from Kajuru LGA, Kaduna state in centre killed four Fulani herders; 37 more people killed 16-17 July in clashes between Fulani herders and farming communities in same LGA.
Chinese President Xi and Japanese PM Abe held cordial meeting 8 July on sidelines of G20 summit, reaffirmed importance of improving bilateral relations as their countries marked 45 years of diplomatic relations. Building on recent supportive statements, Abe reportedly called China’s Belt and Road Initiative “vision with potential”; Xi welcomed Japan’s participation. Xinhua news agency reported Xi said Japan should honour words on historical issues (i.e. apologies related to World War II) and Taiwan, improve situation in East China Sea, stay out of disputes in South China Sea, and remove all “distractions” in bilateral relations. Abe invited Xi to make what would be his first official visit to Japan in 2018. Planned trilateral China, Japan and South Korea summit postponed.
North Korea 4 July launched what it claimed, and most others including U.S. agreed, was inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM), landing 500 miles away in Sea of Japan; followed up with second confirmed test of Hwasong-14 ICBM 28 July. In UN Security Council deliberations following first test, Russia denied launch was ICBM, calling it an intermediate range rocket and vetoing draft joint statement that would have paved way for punitive sanctions. North Korea’s UN ambassador 10 July circulated letter claiming launch was defensive act, asserting North Korea more transparent about pursuit of ICBM capability than other states and criticising U.S. hostility. Senior U.S. military official 18 July said North Korea lacks ability to launch accurate missile strike on U.S.; while Pentagon intelligence agency reportedly assessed Pyongyang will be able to field nuclear-capable ICBM in 2018. Responding to second test, South Korea and U.S. conducted joint military drill 29 July, and South Korean military said it and U.S. would deploy “strategic assets”. China continued to press for all parties to accept its “dual-track”, “suspension for suspension” proposal, reiterated in 4 July China-Russia joint statement. U.S. 11 July announced successful test of Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system. Seoul 17 July proposed military talks with Pyongyang for 21 July to discuss ways to ease border tensions, and humanitarian talks for 1 Aug to arrange family reunions. North Korea did not respond to proposal, which comes ahead of U.S.-South Korean military drills planned for Aug. North Korean team late June joined Taekwondo demonstration in South Korea; North Korea’s International Olympic Committee member Chang Ung reacted negatively to proposal by President Moon for unified Korean team at 2018 Winter Olympics, telling South Korean media “politics lies above sports”.
Following late June U.S. announcement of sale of $1.42bn arms package to Taiwan, China’s ambassador to U.S. 13 July warned that “troubling developments” could “derail” bilateral relationship. U.S. Congress 14 July passed defence bill including proposed expansion of training and exercises with Taiwan; China said it had lodged complaint. Taipei reported China flew several fighter and reconnaissance aircraft drills near Taiwan during month, 25 July said it would “not back down in the face of threats”, was prepared to defend itself against China if necessary.
Taliban attacks continued throughout country, including 22-23 July capture of Kohistan district (Faryab province in N), and Taywara district (Ghor province in centre). At least 38 killed in Taliban-claimed suicide attack on bus carrying govt employees in Kabul 24 July. Pentagon 14 July said U.S. forces killed Abu Sayed, leader of Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K) in strike on group’s HQ in Kunar province. At least four Islamic State (ISIS) fighters attacked Iraqi embassy 31 July, killing two. UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan mid-year report documented over 1,660 civilian deaths and 3,580 injuries in first six months of 2017, similar to same period in 2016 but with marked increase in casualties among women and children; Kabul still worst-affected city. Creation of two new political groupings, one from within govt ranks and one from opposition, accentuated challenges facing President Ghani’s National Unity Government (NUG). Three influential ex-Northern Alliance leaders, Balkh Governor Atta Mohammad Noor, first VP and leader of Junbish-e Milli Islami Abdul Rashid Dostum, and Hezb-e-Wahdat Islami leader Mohammad Mohaqeq, 30 June announced formation of “coalition for the salvation of Afghanistan”, in Turkish capital Ankara; joined by acting Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani. Coalition’s declared aim is to “prevent the collapse of the system and political chaos” due to security situation, “illegal process of govt operations”; accused Ghani of monopolising power and violating law, pressed for decentralisation of budgeting control to provinces and ministries, reiterated call for “systematic reforms” of security services. Several former officials under ex-President Karzai 16 July launched new opposition party Mehwar-e-Mardom-e-Afghanistan, whose 74-member leadership council includes former Head of National Directorate of Security Rahmatullah Nabil and former National Security Council Advisor Rangin Dadfar Spanta.
Opposition intellectual and commentator Farhad Mazhar disappeared for eighteen hours 3 July, provoking a strong public reaction, with many holding security agencies responsible. Police, who ostensibly found Mazhar on bus several hundred kilometres outside Dhaka, denied involvement or that Mazhar had been kidnapped at all. Human Rights Watch 6 July published report calling on govt to end enforced disappearances and secret detentions, accusing security agencies of illegally detaining hundreds of people, including some 90 in 2016. Supreme Court 3 July declared sixteenth amendment to constitution, passed in Sept 2014 to give parliament power to impeach Supreme Court judges, illegal, concluding prolonged executive-judiciary clash over judicial independence. Ruling seen as significant defeat for PM Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League (AL) govt. AL parliamentarians, ignoring parliamentary rules prohibiting discussion of judiciary, condemned decision. Police and paramilitary Rapid Action Battalion continued anti-militancy operations, arresting several alleged Jamaat ul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) militants and seizing arms and ammunitions from Gazipur on outskirts of Dhaka, Rajshahi, and elsewhere. Police 8 July arrested Sohel Mahfuz (aka Hatkata Mizan), leading militant wanted in both Bangladesh and India, allegedly involved in militancy for over a decade and wanted in connection with July 2016 café attack in Dhaka and Oct 2014 Burdwan bombing in India’s West Bengal. Govt-opposition tensions continued, including 6 July suspension of Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP)-backed Gazipur mayor, only eighteen days after he assumed office, over corruption charges (high court later put three-month stay on order); and 9 July indictment of BNP Sec Gen Mirza Fakhrul Alamgir. Dhaka court 27 July issued arrest warrants against 39 BNP leaders and activists, 30 July asked BNP chair Khaleda Zia to appear before court in Sept in eleven cases.
Indian security forces clashed with demonstrators marking one-year anniversary 8 July of killing of Kashmiri militant commander Burhan Wani by Indian security forces; protests took place despite heavy security restrictions in place. Officials in Pakistan-administered Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK)’s Poonch district claimed five civilians killed in cross-Line of Control (LOC) firing same day; India claimed two people killed by Pakistani fire. Pakistani military officials 9 July claimed to have killed four Indian soldiers in retaliatory firing. Seven Hindu pilgrims reported killed in crossfire during militant attack in Indian-administered Kashmir 10 July. Pakistani officials announced suspension of Poonch-Rawalkot cross-LOC bus service. Pakistani military spokesman 16 July accused India of violating LOC ceasefire 580 times so far in 2017, compared to 382 in 2016. Four Pakistani soldiers reported killed same day in Indian army cross-border firing; India next day reported soldier and civilian killed by Pakistani firing. India’s counter-terrorism agency 24 July arrested seven members of separatist umbrella group All Parties Hurriyat Conference charged with receiving fund from Pakistani militant groups to prepare attacks. Al-Qaeda 27 July announced Kashmiri militant leader Zakir Musa as head of newly-created cell in Kashmir, Ansar Ghawzat-ul-Hind. Pakistani foreign advisor Sartaj Aziz 3 July told Kashmiri journalists Pakistan not obliged to follow recent U.S. sanctions on Kashmiri militant Hizbul Mujahideen leader Syed Salahuddin. India’s foreign ministry 13 July rebuffed Chinese offer to mediate with Pakistan, saying any dialogue would be bilateral.
Security forces 24 July locked down parliament, reportedly on orders of President Yameen in attempt to block scheduled no-confidence vote against speaker, drawing condemnation from Western diplomats; opposition MPs clashed with police preventing them from entering parliament. UN Secretary-General Guterres 27 July expressed concern over “gradual erosion of basic democratic norms and principles” in country, urged govt to uphold rights of speech and assembly.
With ruling coalition preoccupied with negotiating cabinet expansion for most of July, talks with dissenting Madhesi parties failed to progress. Ruling Nepali Congress (NC) 24 July decided to put constitution amendment proposal to vote in parliament before 18 Sept third and final phase of local elections. Amendment seen as unlikely to pass as opposition UML party – second largest in parliament – continues to block it; NC leaders claimed an unsuccessful amendment vote would draw criticism toward UML in the eight Tarai districts where third phase of local elections being held. Madhesi parties struggling to map out common strategy including on participation in third phase amid growing internal divisions following boycott of first two phases (May and June), which enjoyed high turnout. Madhesi parties also weighing ruling coalition offer to address some second-tier demands in exchange for election participation. Mainstream parties shifting focus to provincial and general elections needed to be held by Jan 2018; voter registration began 16 July; Constituency Delineation Commission formed 20 July, due to present report to govt on new electoral constituencies for both elections. Fringe parties criticised UML – which performed strongly in local elections – for demanding higher threshold of votes needed to win parliamentary seats in general election.
Supreme Court (SC) 28 July disqualified PM Nawaz Sharif as member of parliament for failing to disclose unclaimed salary in United Arab Emirates-based company in nomination papers for 2013 elections. Controversial Islamic provision used to oust PM, instead of corruption charges filed after Panama papers leak about his and family’s offshore assets. SC asked National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to investigate corruption cases against PM, sons and daughter within six months. SC-mandated Joint Investigation Team investigating PM Sharif and his family’s offshore assets had submitted adverse report 10 July finding “significant gap/disparity” between known and declared sources of income and wealth. Sharif’s party 29 July endorsed nomination of his brother, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, as PM to serve last ten months of govt, and former Federal Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi as interim PM till parliament elects Shahbaz. Nawaz Sharif said he will file review petition in SC against disqualification. Financial Action Task Force, international terror financing watchdog, 26 June expressed concerns Islamabad still not fully complying with curbs against entities blacklisted under UN Security Council Resolution 1267. U.S. 21 July said it would withhold $50mn in military reimbursements to Pakistan because it has not taken sufficient action against Haqqani Network. Militant attacks continued amid tightened security following large-scale June attacks in Balochistan (west) and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA, north west). At least two Frontier Corps (FC) personnel killed 10 July in bombing in FATA’s Kurram Agency; Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan’s (TTP) claimed responsibility. Military 16 July announced new operation in FATA’s Khyber Agency against TTP splinter groups and ISIS-linked militants. Three FC personnel killed 17 July in TTP-claimed suicide attack in Peshawar. Several security personnel and civilians killed in attacks in Balochistan, including four police killed in Quetta 13 July and four members of Shia Hazara family killed in Mastung district 19 July. At least 25 killed in TTP-claimed suicide bomb in Lahore (east) 24 July.
President Sirisena 20 July signed into law Office on Missing Persons – first of four promised transitional justice mechanisms, although more steps needed for office to be operational – as protests by northern families of persons forcibly disappeared during civil war continued into sixth month. Sirisena early July appointed two senior officials known as supportive of reform, naming Austin Fernando as presidential secretary and Major General Mahesh Senanayaka as army commander. Group of senior monks 4 July announced opposition to new constitution, resolving that prominence accorded to Buddhism and unitary character of country should be retained along with executive powers of president. Sirisena 6 July issued assurance that they and other religious leaders would be allowed to review any draft constitution before it is presented to parliament, and saying country’s unitary state and special status for Buddhism would be preserved. PM 7 July said process to draft new constitution cannot stop, part of govt’s electoral mandate. Monks also called for delay in parliament’s consideration of bill to incorporate in domestic law international convention against enforced disappearances, claiming it could lead to prosecuting military personnel; govt postponed parliamentary debate on bill, officials said it will outlaw only future disappearances. Following 11-14 July visit, UN Special Rapporteur for Counter-terrorism and Human Rights Ben Emmerson issued statement characterising torture in Sri Lanka as “endemic and routine”, called Prevention of Terrorism Act “flagrant denial of justice” and said draft “Counter Terrorism Act” would still lead to violation of human rights. Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe accused Emmerson of making factually inaccurate claims. Policeman shot and killed in Jaffna 22 July in apparent assassination attempt against High Court judge hearing high-profile rape and murder case. Despite months of opposition-backed protests and strikes by trade unions, govt 29 July signed $1.1bn debt-equity swap giving Chinese govt-owned corporation 70% stake in strategic Hambantota port and development zone.
Following months of sectarian protests and tensions, President “Jokowi” Widodo 10 July signed decree allowing authorities to disband organisations considered to pose threat to national unity, by amending existing law regulating mass organisations and allowing govt to circumvent lengthy court processes to implement bans. Moderate Islamic groups supported move, however human rights groups criticised amendments. Using new decree, govt 19 July revoked legal status of Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia, which advocates establishment of Islamic caliphate and Sharia law in Indonesia. Govt 14 July blocked web versions of encrypted Telegram instant messaging app, said it would ban app completely if it continues to be forum for propaganda and calls for violence.
Media 21 July reported Malaysian Islamic State (ISIS) leader Muhammad Fudhail Omar killed in airstrike in Raqqa, Syria. Defence minister 23 July announced govt would send assistance to help Philippines fight ISIS militants in Marawi City (see Philippines).
In northern Rakhine state, Buddhist mob 5 July attacked group of seven Muslims from IDP camp near state capital Sittwe, killing one and injuring six, despite them being escorted by policeman. Security forces in area around Maungdaw remain on high alert following late June attack on Buddhist civilians. Sporadic killings of villagers in northern Rakhine continued, blamed on Rohingya insurgents. Govt maintained refusal to admit fact-finding mission established by UN Human Rights Council (HRC) to look into allegations of crimes against humanity committed by military in northern Rakhine state, despite international pressure and strong criticism from human rights groups; HRC 27 July announced new chair of mission, Indonesia’s Marzuki Darusman, after Indira Jaising resigned amid claims of bias. Visiting mid-month, UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights Yanghee Lee urged govt to allow mission, also complained of restrictions on her access and criticised state surveillance of activists and journalists. UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi visited Myanmar 1-6 July, travelling to Rakhine state and meeting Aung San Suu Kyi and several ministers in Naypyitaw; called for greater efforts to address statelessness and protracted displacement. Myanmar’s National Security Adviser visited Bangladesh 2-4 July, meeting PM in visit aimed at easing tensions fuelled by exodus of some 75,000 Rohingya to Bangladesh since Oct 2016. Amid uncertainty in ethnic peace process, two groups – Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO) and Wa National Organisation – quit United Nationalities Federal Council armed group umbrella organisation late June. Further clashes broke out 8-9 July in Kachin state’s Tanai township between govt forces and KIO, with several civilians reported killed or injured by govt artillery fire. Clashes between Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and govt forces in northern Shan continued, and broke out between TNLA and Shan State Army-South; several hundred civilians reportedly fled fighting during month.
Ongoing battle in Marawi City between govt troops and Islamic State (ISIS)-linked militants from Abu Sayyaf and Maute Group, which began 23 May, reported to have claimed 630 casualties (mostly militants) and, as of 20 July, 466,000 displaced. Military 28 July estimated 60 extremists remain, limited to two barangays (districts) in Marawi City. Surviving military described fighters as “well-equipped” and employing fighting style seen in Iraq. Police 5 July arrested Monaliza “Monay” Romato, niece of Maute matriarch and suspected financier and logistics supporter of ISIS-linked militants. Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict 21 July reported ISIS has funnelled money and recruits to help local militants seize territory. Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim 18 July refused any talks with Maute group. Local Muslim leader 17 July alleged that Marawi City siege co-leader Abdullah Maute is still alive, Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon escaped Marawi end-May. Congress 22 July agreed to extend martial law in Mindanao until end 2017. Suspected Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters 29 July fired on helicopter carrying Maguindanao governor, who was left unscathed. President Duterte 19 July again cancelled peace talks with Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), National Democratic Front (NDF) and New People’s Army (NPA), which had been set to resume in Aug, after members of Presidential Security Group were wounded in encounter with NPA in North Cotabato. Duterte 21 July declared he would order offensive against NPA after Marawi Battle is won. Firefights between govt forces and NPA raged in provinces of Negros Oriental, Sorsogon, Pangasinan, Agusan Del Sur following breakdown of talks. Bangsamoro Transition Commission 17 July submitted first draft of Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) to president. Institute for Autonomy and Governance based in Cotabato said delays in BBL’s passage a driver for extremist recruitment.
U.S. continued displays of force, with Freedom of Navigation Operation (FONOP) 2 July sailing within 12 nautical miles of Chinese-controlled Triton Island in disputed Paracel (Xisha) archipelago; China accused U.S. of trespassing with “serious political and military provocation”. Two U.S. B-1B bombers 6 July flew training mission with Japanese fighters over East China Sea and South China Sea (SCS). China’s naval expansion and modernisation continued: navy 28 June launched first of eighteen new guided-missile destroyers; Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative 29 June released imagery showing China had progressed in building military outposts on artificial islands in Spratly archipelago. Cambodian defence minister 19 July met with Chinese officials to discuss prospects of military-to-military cooperation, amid perceived Cambodian pivot away from West. Indonesia 14 July renamed northern area of its exclusive economic zone in SCS, where it has expanded naval presence, as North Natuna Sea, in move seen by observers as assertion of sovereignty. Japan expanded military engagement with South East Asian countries. Amid ongoing rapprochement with China, Philippine Navy 1 July conducted joint patrol with U.S. in Sulu Sea focusing on anti-piracy and counter-terrorism, despite previous statements by President Duterte that joint patrols in SCS would cease. Manila 12 July issued statement marking first anniversary landmark ruling by International Tribunal on Law of the Sea in favour of Philippines, playing down its significance. Philippines 12 July said drilling for oil and natural gas on Reed (Recto) Bank may resume before year’s end. Vietnam early July extended Indian oil company’s exploration rights in block 128 of disputed waters, sparking objection by China; 15 July reportedly ordered halt to agreed drilling activities by Spanish company in separate block 136-03 gas field after China reportedly threatened to attack its bases in Spratly Islands. China 25 July expressed support for joint development with Philippines, called for halt to unilateral oil drilling in disputed territory.
Appointed legislature 16 July passed legislation giving control of Crown Property Bureau, which reportedly controls assets of some $40bn and was previously administered by finance ministry, to King MahaVajiralongkorn (Rama X), giving him “sole authority over royal assets”. Amid contradictory statements from officials over whether future govts will be compelled to implement twenty-year reform plan, seen by critics as bid to extend military influence over civilian govts, PM Prayuth 7 July said that anyone who believes National Council for Peace and Order wishes to cling to power should not be considered Thai. Prayuth 17 July approved “social contract for unity and reconciliation” emphasising “clean” government and including ban on govts using executive powers for political gain. Govt continued efforts to weaken exiled former PM Thaksin Shinawatra and family, enacting new law 13 July that would sustain old cases against him by suspending statutes of limitations in certain cases (applying retroactively) and approving use of trials in absentia. Criminal case for dereliction of duty against former PM Yingluck Shinawatra due to end with verdict 25 Aug; amid govt fears that it could provide rallying point for growing discontent with military rule, Prayuth warned her supporters against protesting. Yingluck 27 July said govt has seized twelve of her bank accounts, although injunction against asset seizure is still pending; state-appointed committee Sept 2015 recommended Yingluck pay 35.7bn baht ($1bn) fine as compensation for losses incurred by her govt’s rice subsidy. As southern insurgency continued to inflict casualties, several suspected militants killed during month allegedly while resisting arrest, including two suspects in May shopping centre bombing in Pattani. Deputy defence minister 28 June told reporters govt is looking into whether it has the “right dialogue partners” in peace dialogue process, leading to speculation it may reconsider possibility of engaging with main insurgent group Barisan Revolusi Nasional.
Voting in general election closed 8 July amid ongoing reports of irregularities and violence in some areas. PM O’Neill’s Ruling National Congress party won move votes but no outright majority; O’Neill invited late month to try and form coalition govt.
Constitutional Court (CC) 6 July rejected appeal from Republika Srpska (RS) legislature which claimed that state public holidays violate constitution since they are not recognised by RS, in move prompted by CC’s rejection of RS’s own national day celebration. Having previously reiterated threat of RS secession if CC rejected appeal, RS President Dodik criticised CC decision, saying it violated ethnic Serb interests; called on Serb representatives to withdraw from court. CC also removed parts of election law which it had previously ruled violated constitution, after deadline for state parliament to amend law expired. Ruling coalition of two leading Bosniak political parties broke up 21 July, following months of tensions.
Discussions to form coalition govt following 11 June snap general elections continued. Several leading Kosovo politicians including foreign minister welcomed call in 24 July article by Serbian President Vučić for Serbia to “stop burying its head in sand” on Kosovo and start “internal dialogue”, be “realistic” and “not expect to receive what we have lost long ago”.
Small ethnic Albanian party DPA – Movement for Reforms, which holds three seats in parliament, 12 July said it would withdraw support for PM Zaev’s new govt unless it adopts law extending official use of Albanian “within a reasonable time”. Matthew Nimetz, UN special envoy in longstanding dispute between Macedonia and Greece over use of name Macedonia, following visit to Skopje and Athens early July said no breakthrough in name talks anticipated in coming months; Zaev late month told Politico if Greek side is “prepared to help us, we are prepared to think about everything that will be helpful”. Macedonia and Bulgaria 13 July agreed text of friendship treaty, to be signed 1 Aug, to end historic tensions and improve relations. Appeals Court 24 July rejected plea by special prosecutor to detain former PM Gruevski and other former ministers ahead of their trials for election fraud. Helsinki Committee for Human Rights 25 July reported sharp rise in hate crimes over previous year, nearly half apparently with ethnic motive, many with political motive. Joint military exercise with U.S. began in central Macedonia late July.
Russian President Putin 27 July approved law creating Russian-Armenian joint military units. Israeli minister of regional cooperation 25-27 July visited Armenia in first high-level visit in years, marking attempts to improve bilateral relations and see opportunities for arms sales.
Baku court 24 July jailed opposition politician Faiq Amirli to three years for inciting religious hatred and violating rights of citizens; Amirli pleaded not guilty.
Amid ongoing concerns about continued borderisation along South Ossetian administrative boundary line (ABL) with rest of Georgia, group of Georgians demonstrated near ABL 9 and 14 July after Russian forces reportedly moved “border signs” further into Georgian territory in June near Bershueti village, Gori municipality. Group of Georgians patrolling near village during daytime since 25 July “to prevent new arrests” of Georgian citizens by Russian forces. Criminal incidents against Russian tourists in Abkhazia, including fatal stabbing, raised questions in Abkhazia and Russia about ability of local law-enforcement agencies to sustain order and seek accountability. Ukrainian President Poroshenko visited Georgia 17-19 July; presidents signed agreement pledging to work together on goals including EU and NATO accession. Poroshenko 26 July revoked former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili’s Ukrainian citizenship; Saakashvili lost his Georgian passport in 2015 when he took Ukrainian citizenship to take up governor post there. U.S. VP Pence 31 July visited Georgia to demonstrate continued support, as Georgia began hosting joint military exercise involving troops from U.S., UK, Germany and several neighbouring states.
Regular exchange of fire during month with intensified activity in southern part of Line of Contact (LoC), including 4 July attack in Azerbaijan’s Alkhanli village which killed woman and her two-year-old granddaughter, prompting outcry in Baku. Armenia said shelling was response to Azerbaijani rockets originating from civilian-populated area. Azerbaijani army put on alarm 6 July, Armenian side also declared its readiness for large-scale escalation. Armenian side reported at least one soldier killed and three wounded 7 July; both sides reported regular use of mortars and grenade-launchers, and use of drones and rockets in southern part of LoC; Azerbaijan 30 July reported military casualty. OSCE Minsk Group mediators 5 July called for restraint, made additional efforts to bring sides together for high-level talks, helping stem escalation. Azerbaijan’s President Aliyev 10 July met U.S. Sec State Rex Tillerson in Istanbul; Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers met Russian counterpart in Vienna 11 July, participated in detailed talks same day in Brussels with Minsk Group co-chairs. Russian President Putin held unplanned meeting with Aliyev 21 July. Aliyev in 12 July speech said he expected Armenia to make concessions leading to “restoration of territorial integrity” of Azerbaijan, excluded corresponding steps from his side; President Sargsyan 16 July ruled out any unilateral concessions, again called on Azerbaijan to implement agreements reached at 2016 summits in Vienna and St. Petersburg. Azerbaijani authorities handed keys of 50 houses in renovated village Jojug Marjanli near LoC to internally displaced persons during month; village returned to Baku’s full control in April 2016 after Azerbaijani army seized Lalatapa height in south of LoC. N-K de facto parliamentarians 19 July voted in Bako Sahakyan as de facto president for three-year transition period until new constitution comes into force; Sahakyan already in charge of de facto entity for ten years; Baku protested vote. Baku court 20 July sentenced Aleksandr Lapshin, Russian-language blogger and citizen of Israel, Russia and Ukraine, to three years’ prison for charges related to his travel to N-K, first such sentence of its kind; Lapshin requested extradition to Israel.
Novaya Gazeta 9 July published names of 27 men reportedly among dozens arrested in security operation following Dec 2016 attack on police in Chechen capital Grozny, and executed 25-26 Jan without trial; Chechen information minister rejected allegations; BBC 27 July reported some families forced to sign declarations that their missing relatives had gone to Syria. Memorial human rights group 27 July issued names and details of thirteen Chechen men missing since Dec 2016, reporting they had been detained by authorities following Dec attack without relatives being informed, one man had died in custody. Ten men reportedly detained in Chechnya early July for criticising republic leader Ramzan Kadyrov after sharing online video clips. Ethnic Chechens and Avars clashed late June/early July in west Dagestan near border with Chechnya, amid historical tensions over land and border; Chechen and Dagestan republic leaders intervened to de-escalate situation, though land conflicts unresolved. Also in Dagestan, unrest among ethnic Nogais over land rights de-escalated with appointment of new head of Nogai district. Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov criticised 13 July conviction by Moscow military court of five Chechens for 2015 murder of opposition politician Boris Nemtsov, calling evidence “doubtful”. Associated Press report highlighted issue of forced charitable contributions by Chechens being funnelled to rebuild Syria through Kadyrov Foundation. Dagestan authorities reported they had stopped 190 people planning to travel to Syria during first half of 2017.
Despite ongoing protests since June, President Dodon 20 July signed into law bill introducing mixed electoral system, after it was approved by parliament same day. Constitutional Court 27 July ruled that referendum proposed by President Dodon to broaden his powers – specifically being allowed to dissolve parliament and announce early elections – was unconstitutional. NGOs issued statement urging govt not to ban foreign funding for NGOs involved in “political activity”. On 25th anniversary of end of 1992 Transnistria war, parliament 21 July called for Russian troops to pull out of separatist Transnistria region, prompting criticism from Dodon who called it “provocative step”, “intended to worsen relations with Russia”.
Casualties in eastern Ukraine spiked in second half of July after several weeks of modest decline; nine soldiers reported killed in several incidents 20 July, deadliest day of conflict for months. Kyiv 10 July reported that work on draft law to change terms of engagement in Donbas from anti-terror to liberation operation, announced 13 June, is being put aside. Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) head Aleksandr Zakharchenko 18 July announced formation of new political entity, Malorossiya (“Little Russia”), uniting DNR and Luhansk People’s Republic; announcement criticised by Kyiv and West, dismissed by Russia. U.S. Sec State Rex Tillerson 7 July announced former ambassador to NATO Kurt Volker as new U.S. special representative for Ukraine; Volker visited Ukraine with Tillerson 9 July and again late month, said conflict not frozen but a “hot war”, important for U.S. to become more engaged; 25 July said U.S. is considering sending Kyiv lethal weapons to help fight separatists. Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine participated in phone call 24 July in Normandy format, called for immediate halt to ceasefire violations. U.S. Senate 27 July approved new sanctions on Moscow; Russia condemned sanctions, EU expressed concern over impact on European energy security. Poroshenko met NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg in Brussels 10 July, said Ukraine and NATO had started discussing membership action plan; NATO spokesman stated NATO had taken Ukraine’s ambitions into consideration but did not confirm existence of a plan. Stoltenberg expressed NATO’s “unwavering support” for Ukraine’s territorial integrity, called on Russia to remove its “thousands of soldiers from Ukraine” and stop supporting militants with military equipment. Visiting Odessa during joint U.S.-Ukraine military exercises 17 July, Poroshenko reiterated intention to put action plan for NATO membership “back on the agenda”. Ukraine 26 July cut power supply to separatist-controlled areas of Donetsk. EU 11 July formally endorsed EU-Ukraine Association Agreement, to enter into force 1 Sept.
UN Secretary-General Guterres 7 July announced that reunification talks had collapsed, following intense round of talks between Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders joined by guarantor powers in Switzerland 28 June-7 July. Sides blamed each other for collapse, with main disagreements over issue of security guarantees. President Erdoğan 10 July blamed failure of talks on “negative attitude” of Greek Cypriot side. Greek Cypriot govt spokesperson 7 July blamed collapse on Turkey’s refusal to relinquish intervention rights and presence of troops on island. Turkish FM Çavuşoğlu 18 July announced Ankara would work with Turkish Cypriot leadership to get support for recognition of “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” (TRNC) as separate state, called for lifting of embargoes and restrictions on “TRNC”. Spat over drilling for potential offshore hydrocarbon sources immediately resumed after collapse of talks; tensions increased with reports 12 July of exploration activities by two companies off Greek side of island, and Turkish naval forces patrolling. Ankara 10-11 July said unilateral drilling and exploration unacceptable, resources belong to both sides of island.
As resumed violence with Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) entered third year, clashes in south east continued at low intensity, with at least 62 killed. Security forces fatalities concentrated in rural areas Hakkari and Şırnak; PKK militants killed mostly during security operations in Bingöl, Diyarbakır, Erzincan, Şırnak and Van provinces; and increase in PKK attacks on civilians and political functionaries of ruling AKP party, including two killed in Diyarbakır and Van provinces 1 July. Pressure on Kurdish movement continued with new arrests and detentions: former Democratic People’s Party (HDP) co-chair Figen Yüksekdağ 4 July appeared before court for first time since Nov 2016 arrest, facing charges related to Oct 2014 protests. Erdoğan 8 July called jailed HDP co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş “terrorist” during G-20 summit; HDP officials and Demirtaş rejected allegation. Police 5 July detained ten rights activists including Amnesty International’s Turkey Director on charges of aiding unspecified terror group; eight of them arrested, two released pending trial. “Justice March” from Ankara to Istanbul, launched mid-June by leader of main opposition party Republican People’s Party (CHP) Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, ended 9 July with rally in Istanbul. On 15 July anniversary of failed coup attempt, huge crowds rallied in Istanbul and Ankara to celebrate its defeat. As Kurdish People’s Protection Unit (YPG)-led campaign against Islamic State (ISIS) in northern Syria continued, tensions between YPG and Turkish military remained high, while U.S. support to YPG continued to strain relations with Washington. Violence between host and refugee communities continued, including brawl in Ankara’s Yenimahalle district 3 July that left several injured. Govt 4 July called for “public tolerance” toward refugees, next day issued statement describing recent tensions as “distorted” and “exaggerated”. Observers noted collapse of Cyprus reunification talks (see Cyprus) likely further setback for EU-Turkey relations.
President Nazarbayev 11 July signed new law enabling removal of citizenship for those convicted of crimes of genocide, separatist activities, and creation, management, or participation in extremist group. Addressing security services in Astana several days later, Nazarbayev said hybrid wars, religious radicalisation, cyber security are priority areas.
Ahead of Oct presidential elections, ruling Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan (SDPK) thrown into turmoil after party member and current Speaker of Parliament Chynbai Tursunbekov 30 June announced intention to run for president against official SDPK candidate, PM Sooronbai Jeenbekov. Nationalist Ata-Jurt party 18 July nominated two candidates, Kamchybek Tashiev and Akhmatbek Keldibekov. During same event, politician Azimbek Beknazarov, who also intends to run for president, delivered inflammatory speech endorsing Ata-Jurt’s “pure bred” Kyrgyz candidates and saying only ethnic Kyrgyz should lead country. District court in Bishkek late June sentenced three men convicted of helping organise and finance Aug 2016 Chinese embassy attack; all pleaded not guilty.
Police reported four close relatives of former Colonel Gulmurod Khalimov, police commander who defected to Islamic State (ISIS) in 2015, killed in clash with security forces 4 July in Vose district, Kulyob province; interior ministry said they had joined ISIS and were planning to go to Afghanistan. Khalimov’s eighteen-year-old son sentenced to ten years’ prison in June for mercenary activities, reportedly to have been planning to travel to Syria. Tajikistan’s Centre for Strategic Studies 10 July warned that Islamic State-Khorasan in Afghanistan posed threat to Tajikistan and other Central Asian states. Authorities’ harassment of families of leadership of banned Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan reportedly picked up as party held conference in Germany 9 July.
Fighting in Afghanistan moved closer to Turkmen border during month, with three-way clashes between Taliban, Islamic State-Khorasan and Afghan army reported in Darzab district. Media 27 July reported four Islamic State (ISIS) members captured inside Turkmen territory.
During EU-Uzbekistan council in Brussels (first since 2015), Foreign Minister Kamilov 17 July reported delegation from Human Rights Watch, whose office in country was suspended in 2011, due to visit country in August, said other human rights organisations will be allowed to visit. Prosecutor general 28 July said late President Karimov’s daughter Gulnara, rumoured to have been under house arrest since 2015, is in custody and faces new charges including money laundering as well as ongoing investigation.
As implementation of govt-Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) peace process continued, FARC 13 July stated it would not hand over the “few” children still in its ranks, demanding reintegration benefits be provided to them in cantonments – violating process designed by govt and FARC for release and reintegration of minors. Census of 10,015 FARC combatants presented early July, intended to help tailor reintegration process; shows majority come from rural backgrounds, have little-to-no formal education, would like to work in agricultural projects; around half have children. FARC 24 July announced it would launch new political party 1 Sept. Different FARC dissident groups began to unite or absorb smaller groups in Caquetá and Tumaco in south. FARC dissidents from first front in Guaviare department (south centre) 5 July released UN Office on Drugs and Crime employee, kidnapped 3 May. National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla group and govt finished second round of dialogue in Ecuadoran capital Quito 30 June, announcing they would try to negotiate bilateral ceasefire before mid-Sept, when Pope is scheduled to visit. As third round of talks began 24 July, ELN reported it had proposed three-month ceasefire. Govt 8 July stated that ceasefire must be accompanied by cessation of hostilities and must be verified. ELN attacks continued in various parts of country, including Arauca, Cesar, Antioquia, and Norte de Santander, prompting clashes with security forces. Brother of second in command of Clan del Golfo, country’s largest drug trafficking organisation, killed 12 July in north-west town Unguía along with five other fighters. Clan del Golfo attacks on security forces reportedly down on previous month but observers warned of possibility they will increase due to operations against group.
Despite intensifying domestic opposition and international pressure, President Maduro’s govt pushed ahead with 30 July election for constituent assembly with power to dissolve state institutions (including opposition-led parliament and attorney general’s office) and rewrite constitution, prompting fears of more severe and widespread violence and economic collapse. Turnout in constituent assembly vote disputed, as govt claimed over 8 million (41.4%) took part against opposition estimate of under a third of that number. Opposition reported over a dozen protesters killed on day of vote, attorney general said ten. Earlier in month, opposition claimed over 7.5 million people participated in 16 July opposition Democratic Unity alliance (MUD)-organised unofficial vote on assembly plan: 98% rejected assembly election, similar percentages backed call for armed forces to respect constitution and for opposition to appoint new Supreme Court judges and new electoral authority and form “national unity govt”. Govt tried to hinder vote; pro-govt gunmen shot dead one woman waiting to vote, wounded three. MUD 18 July announced appointment of new Supreme Court justices – three were subsequently arrested and threatened with jail, with their bank accounts frozen – and outlined future “national unity govt” with primaries to select presidential candidate. Opposition radicals rejected MUD’s plan as not tough enough; so-called “Resistance” 18 July erected barricades in Caracas and other cities, many said they did not recognise authority of MUD and rejected any negotiations with govt as “treachery”. MUD organised 24-hour general strike 20 July and 48-hour strike 26-27 July in which three people were killed. Govt 27 July banned protests until 1 Aug; MUD defied ban, but protests were broken up. Amid growing international pressure on Maduro govt, U.S. 26 July imposed new sanctions on thirteen senior officials and said any member of new constituent assembly faced possible sanctions; threatened broader, financial and economic sanctions if vote went ahead and 31 July imposed sanctions on Maduro. Country’s most prominent political prisoner, Leopoldo López, unexpectedly granted house arrest 8 July after over three years’ military prison, but re-arrested together with Antonio Ledezma 1 Aug. In talks involving former Spanish premier Rodríguez Zapatero 23-24 July, govt reportedly offered to suspend temporarily vote for constituent assembly, and hold regional (2017) and presidential (2018) elections; MUD turned down offer, demanding assembly plan be dropped altogether.
International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) and attorney general’s office 14 July revealed new corruption scheme allegedly led by another former minister in Patriot Party govt, Alejandro Sinibaldi. Seventeen suspects captured, fifteen still on the run including former ambassador to U.S.. CICIG Commissioner Iván Velásquez 14 July said former President Otto Pérez and former VP Baldetti may have benefitted directly from scheme. UN Secretary-General late June extended Velásquez’s contract until Sept 2019. Attorney general’s office 25 June presented Supreme Court with U.S. extradition request for former Interior Minister Mauricio López Bonilla, alleged to have facilitated operations of Zetas Mexican drug cartel in Guatemala.
Govt 17 July announced homicides down 22% in first six months of 2017, with 2,159 registered cases. Govt 15 July shared migration statistics showing 22,546 nationals, including over 2,000 minors, deported back to Honduras during same period. Women’s groups 5 July declared “red alert” after eighteen women were killed over space of ten days. Govt 5 July told UN human rights chief that culprits behind March 2016 murder of environmentalist Berta Cáceres would be brought to justice; three environmental activists including Berta’s daughter attacked in central Honduras 30 June. Two European development banks 7 July pulled out of controversial dam project due to activist murders; Organization of American States-backed Mission Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras announced investigation into Honduran energy company linked to project. Leader of Atlantic Cartel Wilter Blanco, previously extradited to U.S., 2 July confessed and agreed to collaborate with U.S. authorities.
Police 17 July confirmed spike in murders in June with 350 killings; comes despite continuing fall in reported homicides in 2017 compared with previous year. Special Prosecutor for Human Rights 3 July released report citing over 800 cases of human rights abuse involving police and army, and 22 suspected extrajudicial killings in 2016. Prosecutors late July ordered almost 600 arrests for crimes including homicide and extortion in attempted crackdown on gang activity. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions visited El Salvador 27 July for meetings related to regional anti-gang taskforce. Corruption allegations against politicians from ruling and opposition parties continued. Facing prospect of mass deportations of its citizens by U.S., govt late June drafted legal framework to control returned gang members; official sources say four to five high-ranking gang members returning to country every day.
Human Rights Section of UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) and UN Human Rights office 4 July published report on threats to human rights and security, including widespread impunity, lack of investigation into illegal and arbitrary arrests, inhumane prison conditions and targeting of vulnerable women and children by traffickers. Report by National Network for Defense of Human Rights NGO 29 June also highlighted govt’s failure to address growing insecurity, reported 94 people shot dead in first half 0f 2017. MINUSTAH head Sandra Honoré 18 July told UN Security Council Haiti has “remained on the path of stabilisation and democratic consolidation”. Tensions increased along border with Dominican Republic, which reported continued smuggling and trafficking of women and children and said it would adopt tougher stance against illegal Haitian immigrants; arrested and repatriated some 4,000 Haitians in second week of July alone, and reportedly turned back 140,000 during first half of 2017. U.S. court 22 June sentenced former Senator Guy Philippe to nine years’ prison on corruption charges including money laundering and accepting bribes in connection to international drug trafficking. Foreign ministry 26 July announced it would cut diplomatic missions by 66% due to budget cuts.
Continued killings related to organised crime included 30 murders reported in Sinaloa state (north west) 1 July, mostly related to fragmentation of Sinaloa cartel and militarisation of region; nineteen occurred in single confrontation between security forces and suspected gang members in Villa Unión. Nine killed in Huehuetlán el Grande, Puebla state (centre) 2-3 July; 26 killed in clash between police and members of “La Línea” and Sinaloa Cartel in La Varas, Chihuahua (north west) 5 July; eleven killed at party in Tizayuca, Hidalgo (centre) 13 July. In Mexico City, five suspected gang members killed in clash with marines 20 July and five people killed in separate shootings 23 July; official figures revealed May-June 2017 as deadliest two-month period recorded in capital with 206 murders. Month also saw resurgence in self-defence groups. José Manuel Mireles Valverde, former self-defence leader in Michoacán (south west), 11 July called for self-defence groups to assemble in Tepalcatepec city, demanded armed forces withdraw; reports emerged of subsequent confrontation and tensions between local population and armed forces. Twenty people wounded in Tlatempanapa, Guerrero 15 July when army tried to disarm self-defence group. Local residents announced creation of self-defence groups in Vallecito de Zaragoza, Guerrero 16 July and Chiapas highlands 18 July; Mexico City mayor 18 July denied rumours of self-defence group in capital. Interior minister 18 July said self-defence groups would not be tolerated. NGO Redodem 5 July denounced increase since 2016 in crimes against immigrants, especially in Chiapas (south) and Guanajuato (centre). Edwin Rivera Paz, Honduran journalist living in Acayucan, Veracruz (south east) assassinated 9 July. UN human rights chief 10 July denounced reported torture 3-5 July of ten civilians by municipal police in Aguascalientes (centre).
Three Palestinians with Israeli citizenship shot dead two policemen guarding entrance to Jerusalem’s Holy Esplanade 14 July, before being killed by police. Israeli authorities same day closed site until 16 July and installed metal detectors at entrances, leading Muslims to boycott site and triggering protests in and around Jerusalem, West Bank and Gaza against Israel’s perceived attempt to increase control of esplanade. Israeli-Palestinian violence escalated: Israeli military shot dead Palestinian who rammed car into soldiers in West Bank 18 July, injuring two; Palestinian fatally stabbed three Israelis in West Bank settlement Halamish 21 July; four Palestinian protestors killed in clashes with Israeli security forces in and around Jerusalem 21-22 July. Palestinian Authority (PA) President Abbas 21 July announced suspension of security coordination with Israel citing installation of metal detectors, but coordination continued. Israeli guard at Israel’s embassy in Jordanian capital Amman 23 July shot dead seventeen-year-old Jordanian, who reportedly attacked him with screwdriver, and bystander; Israeli embassy staff including guard repatriated 25 July (see Jordan). Israeli authorities 24-25 July removed metal detectors outside Holy Esplanade, reportedly in return for Jordan allowing repatriation of embassy guard. Israel’s security cabinet 13 July suspended plans to build Palestinian homes in West Bank city Qalqilya, despite having agreed in June to allow more building. Humanitarian crisis in Gaza continued as PA took further steps to weaken Hamas and Gaza’s economy. Hamas 8 July accused PA of blocking fuel payments to Egypt; Gaza’s only power plant shut down 12 July due to fuel shortage. PA early July also said it would force thousands of PA civil servants in Gaza to retire early, and threatened to cut welfare payments to 80,000 Gaza families. Two stray Syrian shells landed in Golan Heights 1 July, no casualties reported. After two rockets landed in south west Israel 23 July, Israeli forces next day destroyed Hamas installation in Gaza.
Israeli guard at Israel’s embassy in Amman 23 July shot dead seventeen-year-old Jordanian, who reportedly attacked him with screwdriver, and bystander. After brief standoff, Israel allowed authorities to question guard in embassy; Israel withdrew all its embassy staff including guard 25 July. King Abdullah 27 July said Israeli PM Netanyahu’s handling of incident was “provocative” and “absolutely unacceptable” and conditioned return of Israel’s ambassador to Jordan on Israeli authorities opening criminal inquiry against guard in Israel (see Israel-Palestine).
Hizbollah and Syrian army 21 July launched coordinated operations to dislodge militants linked to Salafi-jihadist groups Fath al-Sham and Islamic State (ISIS) from around Arsal in north east and near Fleita in Syria near shared border. Lebanese troops, reportedly not participating in offensive but defending Arsal, clashed with militants attempting to flee to Arsal 21 July. Hizbollah and Fath al-Sham agreed ceasefire 27 July under which latter’s members and their families will reportedly go to rebel-held areas of Idlib province in NE Syria in exchange for Fath al-Sham releasing eight Hizbollah members; transfer of 9,000 people including militants and their families reportedly began 31 July. Lebanese army cracked down on Syrian refugees detaining more than 350, four died in custody 30 June-4 July.
In fifth round of talks in Kazakh capital Astana 4-5 July, Russia, Iran and Turkey failed to cement agreements on four “de-escalation zones”. U.S. President Trump and Russian President Putin at G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany 7-8 July agreed on outlines of ceasefire in south west covering Quneitra and Daraa provinces and parts of Sweida province, which came into effect 9 July; agreement includes regime and rebels ending direct attacks and bans presence of foreign fighters. Another round of UN-led talks in Geneva mid-July ended with no breakthrough. Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and allies in Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) coalition made slow progress in retaking Raqqa in north east against stiff resistance from Islamic State (ISIS); broke through Old City walls early July. Govt forces took oil wells from ISIS south west of Raqqa province mid-July. Fighting escalated between YPG and Turkish forces in north west throughout month. In Idlib province in north west, ceasefire held between rebels and pro-regime forces but rising tensions 18-21 July led to worst clashes yet between rival rebel groups Ahrar al-Sham, Islamist faction backed by Turkey, and Hei’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), al-Qaeda-linked alliance dominated by Salafi-jihadist group Fath al-Sham. After HTS surrounded Ahrar al-Sham at Bab al-Hawa crossing on Turkish border, two sides agreed ceasefire 21 July under which Ahrar al-Sham ceded control of crossing. In south east, govt forces and allied Iranian-backed militias launched assault 10 July on Western-backed rebels in eastern Sweida province near Iraqi border, capturing at least seven villages. Negotiations in Cairo between Russia and rebel faction Jaish al-Islam resulted in 22 July partial ceasefire and renewed aid delivery in Eastern Ghouta suburb of Damascus; govt strikes continued on areas of Ghouta controlled by other rebel factions. Govt forces and Lebanese Shiite Islamist militant group Hizbollah 21 July launched coordinated offensives against Fath al-Sham and ISIS around Arsal in Lebanon and near Fleita in Syria; Hizbollah and Fath al-Sham agreed ceasefire 27 July under which latter’s members and their families will move to rebel-held areas of Idlib province (see Lebanon).
Human rights campaigner Ebtissam al-Saegh arrested 3 July after reposting tweets critical of authorities and charged with spreading “fake news” under terrorism law 18 July. Hospitalised human rights activist Nabeel Rajab sentenced in absentia to two years’ prison for “spreading false news” 10 July, following one-year pre-trial detention.
Relations with Pakistan remained tense: border guards 8 July fired mortars into Panjgoor district in Pakistan; Revolutionary Guards said that Pakistani militant group Jaish-al-Adl 15 July launched projectiles across border, killing two Iranian civilians. Govt agreed with Iraq 23 July to step up military cooperation and fight against “terrorism and extremism”. U.S. administration reported to Congress 17 July that Iran was complying with commitments under 2015 nuclear deal. U.S. next day placed sanctions on eighteen individuals and organisations allegedly helping Revolutionary Guards procure military equipment or develop missiles; group’s commander 19 July said move would endanger U.S. forces in region and President Rouhani and parliament promised to retaliate. U.S. Navy ship fired warning shots when Revolutionary Guards vessel came within 140 metres in Persian Gulf 25 July. After govt launched satellite-carrying rocket into space 27 July, U.S. next day imposed sanctions on six subsidiaries of Shahid Hemmat Industrial Group which U.S. Treasury said was “central” to Iran’s ballistic missile program. France’s oil and gas company Total 3 July signed $5bn agreement with Iran to invest in South Pars offshore gas field and Germany’s car manufacturer Volkswagen 4 July said it would return to Iran after seventeen years’ absence.
PM Abadi announced victory over Islamic State (ISIS) in Mosul in north 10 July after weeks of heavy fighting to recapture western half, though small-scale clashes between U.S.-backed govt forces and ISIS continued in city in following days. Fighting continued around Mosul: ISIS captured Imam Gharbi village 70km south of Mosul 5 July, retaken by govt forces 20 July; govt forces 11 July repelled ISIS attack on nearby al-Jaran village. Govt-backed forces 11 July also repelled ISIS attack on Hatra city 110km SW of Mosul. ISIS killed 30 civilians in Hawija district, Kirkuk province in centre north 18 July. Abadi rejected rights groups’ allegations of abuses by govt-backed forces 12 July, day after footage emerged online appearing to show security forces beating and summarily executing detainees in Mosul. German Chancellor Merkel 19 July urged Abadi to investigate alleged abuses by govt-backed forces during and after operation to retake Mosul.
Govt ordered expulsion of Iranian ambassador and fourteen other diplomats and closure of Iranian cultural mission 20 July for their alleged links to “spy and terror” cell; Iran denied reports and said ambassador would remain to maintain dialogue.
Saudi-led coalition blockading Qatar since early June 2 July extended by two days deadline for govt to meet thirteen demands issued 23 June; FM 4 July rejected demands as “unrealistic”. Govt 17 July accused United Arab Emirate (UAE) of breaking international law following reports UAE allegedly behind late-May hacking of Qatar state news agency, which helped prompt crisis. Saudi-led coalition 18 July urged Qatar to adhere to six principles including combating extremism and terrorism, first released 5 July, rather than meet thirteen demands. U.S. Sec State Tillerson 21 July said Gulf states should lift blockade after praising Qatar for signing anti-terror memorandum with U.S. 11 July. Blockading nations 25 July added eighteen entities with alleged ties to Qatar to terrorism blacklist first released 8 June, and 30 July reiterated initial thirteen demands. Saudi FM same day described alleged Qatari call to internationalise Muslim holy sites as “a declaration of war against the kingdom”; Qatar denied making call.
Tensions remained high with Qatar after govt and allies suspended diplomatic and economic ties with it early June. Govt 2 July extended by two days deadline for Qatar to meet thirteen demands issued late June; Qatari FM 5 July accused Saudi of “clear aggression”. Govt and allies 18 July said Qatar no longer had to satisfy thirteen demands but abide by six principles including commitment to combat terrorism (see Qatar). Govt overhauled security institutions 20 July creating Presidency of State Security, which includes special forces and counter-terror units. Iranian Revolutionary Guards 22 July detained Saudi fishing boat and arrested crew. Yemen-based Huthi rebels 22 July fired missile from near Sadaa in Yemen into Saudi Arabia, reportedly targeting oil facility near port city of Yanbu; govt did not confirm missile attack, but reported accidental fire at oil facility same day which it said did not affect operations.
Fighting escalated, especially in Taiz governorate, and Huthi rebels fired missile further into Saudi Arabia, raising risk of worse violence in Aug. In Taiz governorate forces backed by Saudi-led coalition claimed several advances on road between Mokha and Hodeida; heavy fighting for control of Khaled bin Walid military base east of Mokha 27-30 July left at least 40 govt soldiers and rebels killed; Saudi-led coalition airstrike on Mawza 17 July killed over twenty civilians. Huthis 30 July claimed strike against United Arab Emirates (UAE) military vessel off Mokha port that they say killed at least twelve UAE soldiers, coalition denied claim saying Huthis were targeting aid deliveries. Huthis 24 July attacked Saudi military vessel off Hodeida coast, killing two crew. Huthis 22 July fired missile from near Sadaa in north Yemen 930km into Saudi Arabia (furthest yet), reportedly targeting oil facility near Saudi port city of Yanbu. Huthi leadership warned Saudi of more attacks against oil facilities. Saudi Arabia did not confirm missile attack, but reported accidental fire at oil facility same day which it said did not affect operations. Huthis 27 July claimed to have fired multiple missiles at Fahd airbase in Taif, Saudi Arabia; coalition said missiles intended to hit Mecca and that it intercepted Huthi missile 69km south of city. UN Special Envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed tried to secure agreement for withdrawal of Huthi/Saleh rebels from Hodeida port city and surrounding areas in return for Saudi Arabia-led coalition ending military operations in area; govt accepted UN proposal but Huthis continued to refuse to meet UN envoy, claiming he was biased in favour of Saudi-led coalition. Tensions remained high between President Hadi’s govt and UAE-backed, pro-southern independence Southern Transitional Council (STC) formed in May. STC staged protest in Aden 7 July that gathered tens of thousands, while pro-Hadi counter-rally in Aden same day gathered few hundred. At rally, STC leaders called on international community to recognise STC as official representative of south and banned Muslim Brotherhood and govt-affiliated Sunni Islamist party Islah. World Health Organization 29 July said 1,992 people had died from cholera since late April and reported over 419,804 suspected cases.
Amid rising tensions between Algerians and migrants from sub-Saharan Africa leading to attacks and clashes, govt sent conflicting messages: President Bouteflika’s Chief of Staff and head of Rally for National Democracy (RND) Ahmed Ouyahia 8 July said sub-Saharan migrants were “source of drugs and criminality”, contradicting PM Tebboune who late June said plan to regularise status of “our African brothers” was underway. Army 24 July killed two alleged Islamist militants in Aghbal area, west of Algiers. Security forces 25 July reportedly foiled “terrorist plot”, arrested three including suspected head of cell in Ain Tagourait, 60km west of Algiers.
Insecurity persisted with attacks in Sinai, Nile Valley and on Red Sea coast. Islamic State (ISIS) Sinai Province (SP) claimed suicide attack and assault at checkpoint near al-Barth town, N Sinai 7 July that killed at least 23 soldiers, including special forces colonel. Two unidentified gunmen same day killed National Security Agency officer outside his home in Qaliubiya governorate north of Cairo. Assailant with knife killed two Germans, one Czech and injured three other foreign tourists 14 July in Red Sea resort city Hurghada; security officials 30 July said assailant had links to ISIS. Unidentified gunmen 14 July killed five police officers in ambush south of Cairo. Roadside explosion 17 July killed five policemen in al-Arish city, N Sinai. Car bomb 25 July killed seven civilians, including two children, at checkpoint near al-Arish city, N Sinai. Military 21 July said security forces killed 30 suspected Islamist militants in four-day operation in N Sinai. Libyan Red Crescent reported bodies of nineteen migrants believed to be Egyptians found 8 July in Libya near Egypt border. Military prosecutor 9 July charged 292 people with offences related to eighteen terror incidents, including two assassination attempts against President Sisi, and ISIS Sinai Province membership. Govt 1 July removed more subsidies on fuel and electricity provoking protests in Cairo, dozens of protestors arrested. Cairo prosecution 2 July ordered detention of six people for four days pending investigations into 29 June illegal protest against hike in fuel prices. President Sisi 24 July vowed to keep up Qatar blockade.
UN-backed Tripoli-based PM Serraj 15 July announced roadmap to end crisis, including parliamentary and presidential elections in March 2018, gradual merging of rival parliamentary bodies, and nationwide ceasefire. Serraj and eastern-based strongman Gen Haftar in France 25 July issued ten-point joint declaration committing to ceasefire, working toward parliamentary and presidential elections and securing territory against terrorism and trafficking. Haftar in following days told Saudi newspaper that not everything in Paris agreement can be implemented. UN-backed education ministry 3 July said gunmen attacked minister’s convoy in Sebha in south and briefly detained part of team. During fighting between rival groups at and around Mitiga airport east of capital Tripoli 4 July, stray rocket hit beach, killing five people, including at least one child. After Haftar 5 July announced his Libyan National Army (LNA) had retaken Benghazi in east, at least twelve LNA killed in clashes with rival armed groups there; more clashes killed six LNA troops 22 July. Constitution Drafting Assembly (CDA) voted in favour of latest draft constitution 29 July, but some CDA members claimed irregularities; remains unclear if vote was legal. Serraj 31 July called for referendum on draft constitution. After Italian PM Gentiloni 27 July said plan to deploy Italian vessels in Libyan waters to combat human trafficking would be presented to parliament, UN-backed PM Serraj denied having agreed plan with Rome and said that his administration had approved that Italy provide only training and arms.
Govt 12 July declared north-eastern border with Algeria and Mali military zone “absolutely prohibited to civilians” due to security threat posed by traffickers. Army mid-July stopped vehicle carrying weapons and ammunition near north-eastern border coming from Sahrawi refugee camps in Tindouf, Algeria. At summit of G5 Sahel (Mali, Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso and Mauritania) in Bamako 1-2 July, members each pledged €10mn to finance 5,000-strong joint military force to counter jihadism in region (see Mali). Police 26 July cracked down on demonstrators in capital Nouakchott protesting against referendum on constitution planned for 5 Aug, several wounded.
Police in northern town al-Hoceima in Rif region 20 July fired tear gas to disperse hundreds of protesters defying govt ban to demand jobs, denounce corruption and repression.
“Clean hands” operation against corruption launched 23 May continued: several directors of hospitals, doctors and pharmacists suspended 14 July on suspicion of corruption. President Essebsi 3 July granted power of judicial police to army in zones where it protects production sites and installations such as oil, gas and phosphate mines.
Moroccan FM Bourita 3 July said at country’s first African Union (AU) summit since rejoining bloc that he was “very satisfied” that AU had agreed to let UN lead attempts to resolve Western Sahara conflict. Rabat Court of Appeals 19 July sentenced 23 Sahrawi civilians to prison terms ranging from two years to life over killing of eleven members of Moroccan security forces after they dismantled Gdim Izik camp in contested Western Sahara in Nov 2010.