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CrisisWatch

Tracking Conflict Worldwide

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CrisisWatch is our global conflict tracker, a tool designed to help decision-makers prevent deadly violence by keeping them up-to-date with developments in over 70 conflicts and crises, identifying trends and alerting them to risks of escalation and opportunities to advance peace.

Global Overview

Outlook for This Month June 2021

Conflict Risk Alerts

Resolution Opportunities

Trends for Last Month May 2021

Improved Situations

CrisisWatch warns of two conflict risks in June. 

  • Colombia’s Cali city is at a high risk of spiralling violence in coming weeks as anti-government protesters face an increasingly heavy security build-up and armed civilians.  
     
  • A controversial constitutional referendum in Haiti on 27 June could worsen the political crisis and fuel violent unrest. 

Our monthly conflict tracker highlights deteriorations in fourteen countries and conflict areas in May.

  • In Israel-Palestine, an eleven-day war between Israel and Gaza’s armed factions killed hundreds and sparked an unprecedented wave of unrest across Israel’s mixed cities. 
     
  • Amid rising social discontent, Mali’s military junta staged another coup, which Bamako’s main international partners immediately condemned.
     
  • In the most significant conflict escalation between Armenia and Azerbaijan since the Autumn 2020 war, deadly border clashes broke out. 
     
  • Ahead of the 12 June legislative elections, Algeria’s authorities stepped up repression against the Hirak protest movement, quashing demonstrations and arresting scores.
     
  • Jakarta signalled a major crackdown on Papuan separatists by sending more military troops to Indonesia’s easternmost region following a series of armed attacks.

We also noted an improvement in Venezuela. President Maduro made several gestures signalling a possible willingness to negotiate with rivals, providing a rare opportunity to temper the country’s protracted political crisis.

Aside from the 70+ conflict situations we regularly assess, we also tracked notable developments in: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, the Maldives, Morocco and Peru.

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Africa

Nile Waters

Rhetoric among parties grew harsher ahead of Addis Ababa’s second filling of Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). Ethiopian foreign ministry 4 May denounced “unwarranted, provocative and increasingly bellicose propaganda” by Sudan; statement followed Khartoum’s late-April warning that Ethiopia’s disavowal of past border treaties compromised country’s sovereignty over Benishangul-Gumuz region where GERD is located. Amid growing concerns that GERD’s second filling between June and Aug could escalate dispute, U.S. Horn of Africa Special Envoy Jeffrey Feltman 4-13 May travelled to region, called for immediate resumption of AU-led tripartite negotiations. In meeting with Feltman in Cairo, Egyptian President Sisi 5 May said Ethiopian dam was “existential” threat, warned Cairo would not accept anyone “harming its water interests”. Ethiopian foreign ministry 20 May warned Addis Ababa would “not tolerate any move” aimed at disrupting GERD’s second filling. Khartoum 25 May claimed Addis Ababa had begun second filling early May; Ethiopian Water Minister Seleshi Bekele same day denied allegations as “deliberately misleading”. In possible warning to Addis Ababa and preparation for possible escalation of tensions, Sudan and Egypt 26-31 May held third joint military exercise since Nov 2020. 

Burkina Faso

Jihadist violence continued to run high; meanwhile, govt attempted to convince former President Compaoré to return to country to face justice. Jihadist violence continued in Sahel region reflecting broader security deterioration in tri-border area between Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso: in Oudalan’s Tin-Akoff department, presumed Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) militants 4 May attacked Menzourou village, killing eight including members of Kel Essouk Tuareg community; unidentified assailants 13-14 May attacked Wassakoré village, killing at least three, and attackers 18-19 May killed at least 15 civilians in Adjarara village. Also in Oudalan, several ISGS members 13 May reported killed in Déou department. In Seno province, unknown attackers 11 May killed eight civilians in Wiboria village. In Soum province, armed assailants 30 May attacked soldiers and volunteers fighting alongside security forces (VDPs) in Kelbo department, killing two VDPs. In East region, presumed Al-Qaeda-affiliated Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM) militants 3 May attacked Kodyel village, Komandjari province, killing at least 30 people, including two VDPs, and displacing over 4,400. In North region, govt early May conducted airstrikes targeting suspected jihadists around Koumbri and Sollé departments. Meanwhile, in Centre-North region, unidentified militants 18 May attacked VDPs in Firka locality, Pissila department, leaving four VDPs missing. During official visit to Côte d’Ivoire, Zéphirin Diabré, minister in charge of national reconciliation, 5 May met former Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaoré in first such high-level meeting since Compaoré’s exile in 2014, to discuss his return to Ouagadougou for judgement on complicity in 1987 murder of former President Sankara, key step for govt in national reconciliation process. Ivorian Defence Minister Téné Birahima Ouattara 10 May met President Kaboré in Burkina Faso’s capital Ouagadougou to discuss counter-terrorism efforts.

Mali

Amid rising social discontent, military junta staged another coup; jihadist violence persisted in north and centre. Following series of strikes paralysing country, PM Ouane 14 May offered resignation to President N’Daw, who immediately reappointed him to form more inclusive cabinet. After interim govt 24 May appointed new cabinet ministers, military junta immediately arrested N’Daw and Ouane. Colonel Assimi Goïta, transition’s VP, next day announced that N’Daw and Ouane had violated transition’s charter by appointing new cabinet without consulting him and would be stripped of their powers; N’Daw and Ouane next day resigned. Goïta 27 May declared himself country’s transitional president and authorities released N’Daw and Ouane; Constitutional Court next day declared Goïta as interim president. Mali’s main international partners, including regional bloc ECOWAS, AU, EU, France and U.S., condemned junta’s action, while France and U.S. said they would consider sanctions; UN Security Council 26 May unanimously issued condemnation but stopped short of referring to “coup d’état” or including coercive measures; ECOWAS 30 May suspended Mali’s membership but did not impose new sanctions as it did after last year’s coup, instead called for civilian PM, respect of transition’s deadline and formation of inclusive govt. Meanwhile, in north, suspected Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) militants 2 May amputated hands and feet of three alleged robbers in Ansongo district, Gao region, nearly first time jihadists used such punishment since 2012 to apply Sharia law; move apparently aimed at bolstering group’s legitimacy as effective security alternative to state authorities. Few days later, al-Qaeda-linked Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM) 5 May released video of French journalist kidnapped 8 April near Gao city, urging French authorities to secure his release. In Kidal region (north), truck carrying gold miners 8 May struck IED near Tessalit district, killing two; truck 19 May struck IED on road to Ntillit village, Gao district, killing 16. In Mopti region (centre), presumed JNIM-affiliated Katiba Macina militants 4 May attacked Ndobougou and Kounti-Marka villages, Djenné district, killing three. Also in Mopti, Malian army vehicle 7 May struck IED, which JNIM reportedly planted, in Douentza district, killing three soldiers.

Niger

Jihadist violence continued, particularly in western region of Tillabery, where deadly attacks on civilians triggered mass displacement. In Tillabery region (west), heavily armed Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) militants 4 May attacked military outpost in Intoussan village, Banibangou department, killing at least 16 soldiers and four civilians; jihadists 13 May stormed Fatio village, Tera department, killing five civilians. UN Office for Humanitarian Affairs 17 May reported over 100 civilians killed since early May in Intoussan and Anzourou villages, and over 11,000 from Anzourou area fled following rising attacks against civilians. In Tahoua region (north east), presumed ISGS militants 1 May fired at farmers, killing two near Agando village, Tillia department; militants same day ambushed National Guard patrol, killing 16 soldiers in Agando. In Diffa city (southeast), Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) fighters 28 May killed four security forces, and four civilians, with at least six attackers dead. Meanwhile, intercommunal tensions persisted. Notably, Zarma groups 4 May killed several Fulani in Banibangou department, Tillabery region. Accusations of serious abuses by Nigerian security forces persisted. International NGO Human Rights Watch 5 May reported that security forces extrajudicially killed at least 185 people since Oct 2019, urged President Bazoum to prioritise seeking justice over abuses. During official visit to Niger, head of Chadian Transitional Military Council General Mahamat Idriss Déby Itno 10 May met Bazoum, who on 24 April was appointed as special mediator for Chadian crisis, to discuss future of both countries; also visited G5-affiliated Chadian battalion stationed in Tera city, Tillabery (see Chad). In Arlit (north), civil society groups 9 May issued letter to Bazoum raising concerns about 31 March closure of Akouta uranium mine, including lack of compensation for mine’s 800 subcontractors, and health and environmental risks of burying 20mn cubic metres of radioactive waste.

Burundi

Series of grenade attacks killed at least two and wounded scores; meanwhile, AU and UN missions downscaled in-country monitoring presence. Unidentified assailants launched five grenade attacks against bus stations and public markets during rush hour in capital Bujumbura 25 May and in Muramvya city 27 May, leaving at least two dead and at least 57 injured; police killed one attacker and arrested five suspects. Govt called violence “terrorism”; motives behind attacks still unclear. In Muramvya province, unidentified armed men 9 May killed at least eight and injured five; police by next day had arrested 32 individuals, including 25 former military officers. Ntahangwa High Court 7 May sentenced former opposition MP Fabien Banciryanino to one-year imprisonment for “rebellion and attack on the internal security of the state” after criticising former President Nkurunziza’s “Supreme Guide of Patriotism”; sentence lighter than requested by prosecution. AU Peace and Security Council 7 May announced decision to shut down Human Rights Observers and Military Experts Mission in Burundi by 31 May, and to remove country from agenda citing “significant progress” in political and security situation. UN Sec-Gen Special Envoy’s Office also due to close on 31 May. In neighbouring DR Congo’s South Kivu province ruling party CNDD-FDD youth wing Imbonerakure 19 May clashed with Maï-Maï militiamen aligned with Burundian armed group RED-Tabara in Uvira territory. Rwandan govt 24 May claimed to have killed two National Liberation Front (FLN) rebels crossing the border from Burundi; Gitega denied presence of armed groups hostile to Rwanda on Burundian soil.

Cameroon

Violent attacks between govt forces and separatists continued in Anglophone regions; jihadist violence persisted in Far North. In Njikwa town, North West region (NW), armed forces 6 May burnt homes reportedly killing at least one civilian; 9 May killed separatist in Nwa subdivision; 16 May killed 14 suspected separatists in Bambalang and Tadu villages. In apparent revenge killing for IED which reportedly killed two soldiers 15 May, armed forces 18 May burnt over 50 civilian homes near Kumbo, leaving two dead. Separatists 2 May kidnapped four council workers in Kumbo and 25 May attacked Lassin security post killing five soldiers. In South West region, armed forces 11 May killed separatist commander ‘Njayoh’ in Mbonge town; 14 May killed eight suspected separatists near Buea and in Konye. Separatists 1 May executed two soldiers in Bodam village, Akwaya; 15 May attacked police station in Muea, reportedly firing rocket-propelled grenade; casualties unknown. Separatist carried out other attacks in regions, including with IEDs on 26 May with unclear casualty figures. Govt 10 May held emergency security meeting over increasing use of IEDs by separatists. Defence Minister Beti Assomo said insurgents resorting to IEDs due to dwindling numbers and firepower. Assomo said at least 24 troops and civilians killed by IEDs within first week of May. U.S. Sec State Antony Blinken 4 May raised Anglophone conflict with French FM Jean-Yves Le Drian at G7 Ministerial Summit in London. In Far North, Boko Haram (BH) continued to launch attacks. BH 9 May killed one civilian in Talla-Massali village, Mayo-Tsanaga division; 15 May killed two civilians in Sanda Wadjiri village, Mayo Sava division; 17 May killed one civilian in Kerawa village in Kolofata town, Mayo-Sava department. BH mid-May released gruesome execution video threatening armed forces in French, first time BH used the language in public threats. Meanwhile, armed forces 4 May killed at least six BH in Soueram village, Logone-et-Chari division, and 16 May killed four BH in Goldavi village, Mayo-Mosokota division. Unconfirmed reports surfaced suggesting BH leader Abubakar Shekau 19 May had blown himself up or was seriously wounded in attempt to kill himself to avoid capture in clash between BH and the Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) in north-eastern Nigeria. 

Central African Republic

Govt forces along with foreign allies continued to gain ground against rebels, remaining rounds of legislative polls held without major incidents, and border tensions with N’djamena flared. Army, with Rwandan and Russian support, pursued military offensive against rebel Coalition of Patriots for Change (CPC), taking back at least 25 towns and villages previously under rebel control for several years; notably, armed forces 9 May regained control of Bakouma town in Mbomou prefecture, under rebel control since 2013. CPC rebels 17 May reportedly killed at least 17 civilians in Grevaï village, Nana-Gribizi prefecture; also, CPC continued to harass govt and allied forces through indirect confrontation, including using IEDs along roadsides, with at least seven incidents reported by month’s end. Clashes between rebels from Union for Peace in Central Africa (UPC), which withdrew from CPC in April, and suspected Russian paramilitaries 15-16 May reportedly killed at least 20 civilians in Boyo village, Ouaka prefecture. French media Radio France Internationale 3 May reported it had seen confidential UN peacekeeping force (MINUSCA) reports documenting abuses by Russian combatants against civilians, including 26 extrajudicial executions between Jan and April 2021. Govt same day cast doubt on accuracy of report but said it would establish commission of inquiry to investigate alleged abuses while Russia immediately denounced “fake news”. Tensions with Chad rose as N’Djamena 30 May said CAR soldiers attacked Chadian military post at border, leaving six soldiers dead, and accused Bangui of “war crime” that would “not go unpunished”; CAR next day said “exchanges of fire” at border had left casualties on both sides, suggested joint investigation. Meanwhile, 90 of 140 total MPs, most affiliated with ruling party United Hearts Movement (MCU), 3 May took up their seats in National Assembly, and 5 May elected MCU Secretary General Simplice Mathieu Sarandji as National Assembly president. Authorities 23 May held parliamentary elections in about 50 remaining constituencies where elections had been postponed due to insecurity; electoral commission 30 May announced MCU had won 11 new seats, bringing total to 36, far from absolute majority in National Assembly.

Chad

As rebels went into retreat, interim authorities consolidated their rule amid repression of opposition protesters; border tensions with Bangui flared. Army early May said it had defeated Libya-based Chad rebel group Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT) after violent clashes in Nokou area, Kanem province (centre); authorities 9 May announced victory and presented 156 FACT combatants to media, but armed group same day said they were unaware fighting had ended. Meanwhile, Transitional Military Council (CMT) 2 May named transitional govt headed by PM Pahimi Padacke, with 40 members including some opposition. Announcement sparked widespread discontent. Opposition and civil society platform Wakit Tama 8 May protested against military govt throughout country, defying ban on protests; police fired tear gas and arrested at least 15 in capital N’Djamena and 13 in Moundou city. New march 19 March poorly attended in N’Djamena and southern provinces, reportedly due to major police and military presence at various assembly points; authorities 19 May arrested and later released dozens across country, including Parti Réformiste leader Yacine Abderahmane Sakine, allegedly tortured while in custody. Students 20-21 May continued protests, notably attacking delegation led by Higher Education Minister Lydie Beassemnda at N’Djamena University. Meanwhile, international community remained divided over condemnation of CMT; AU Peace and Security Council 14 May called for civilian-led transition and transition not to be extended beyond eighteen months; called on authorities to hold inclusive national dialogue, and to urgently review national transitional charter to achieve better civil-military balance; AU however appeared to accept that CMT will stay in place for duration of transition. EU Parliament 20 May passed resolution condemning “military seizure of power” and called for “unhindered and speedy return to constitutional order”. In south east, intercommunal violence continued as farmer-herder clashes 17 May left three dead in Mouraye town, Salamat province. In South, N’djamena 30 May said Central African Republic (CAR) soldiers same day attacked Chadian military post at border, leaving six soldiers dead, accused Bangui of “war crime” and warned it would “not go unpunished”; CAR next day said “exchanges of fire” at border had left casualties on both sides, suggested joint investigation.

Democratic Republic of Congo

Amid ongoing violence in east, authorities started implementing “state of siege” in North Kivu and Ituri provinces as military took over from civil authorities. As part of “state of siege” in east, President Tshisekedi 4 May ordered military and police officers to take over from civilian authorities in North Kivu and Ituri provinces starting 6 May for initial period of 30 days; in controversial move, appointed Lt Gen Constant Ndima as North Kivu governor, despite UN accusation that he committed serious crimes in Ituri during 1999-2003 war, and Lt Gen Jon Luboya, former intelligence commander of Rwanda-backed Congolese Rally for Democracy, as governor of Ituri. Armed group violence continued in east. In North Kivu’s Beni region, unidentified armed men 1 and 18 May killed two imams, who had allegedly spoken out against violence in name of religion. Presumed rebels affiliated with Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) 10 May killed peacekeeper during attack on MONUSCO’s Kiliya base. Authorities 12 May announced creation of joint-operations centre with Uganda in Beni and 17 May struck agreement with Kampala to share intelligence on ADF rebels; move prompted several politicians to criticise Tshisekedi for what they called invitation to foreign armies without parliament agreement. In Ituri, armed forces early-May launched offensive against Patriotic and Integrationist Front of Congo (FPIC), notably causing 15,000 civilians to flee Nyakunde locality and killing nine FPIC militia. Meanwhile, in Mambasa territory, ADF 11 May killed at least 29 in Ngaka locality and 11-16 May killed 21 across Bangole groupement, Babila Babombi chiefdom. In Irumu territory, ADF 30-31 May killed over 50 in Boga and Tchabi villages. Tshisekedi continued efforts to consolidate power as his allies 6 May ousted governor of Tanganyika province, brother of former President Kabila, for mismanagement of province; 12 May announced intention to run for second term. In capital Kinshasa, celebrations for Islamic Eid al-Fitr holiday turned deadly: rival Muslim factions 13 May clashed, leaving police officer dead. Rwandan President Kagame 17 May denied crimes committed by Rwandan troops in eastern DR Congo between 1993-2003 despite 2010 UN Mapping Report detailing crimes.

Eritrea

Govt forces accused of blocking aid access to Ethiopia’s Tigray region. Amid ongoing Tigray conflict (see Ethiopia), Tigray’s interim govt and humanitarian workers, among others, late April-early May accused Eritrean soldiers of blocking movement of humanitarian aid and workers in Tigray region; UN Sec-Gen’s Office 12 May said “blockades by military forces” were impeding humanitarian access in rural areas; govt in following days denied allegation. Ethiopian Federal Attorney General 21 May admitted involvement of Eritrean troops in Axum massacre in Nov 2020, said Eritrean forces then killed 110 civilians. Aid workers 25 May claimed Eritrean and Ethiopian soldiers previous night forcibly detained around 500 internally displaced persons in four camps in Shire town, northern Tigray; Asmara immediately dismissed claim as Tigray People’s Liberation Front propaganda. U.S. Horn of Africa Special Envoy Jeffrey Feltman 6 May met with President Isaias in capital Asmara, emphasised imperative for Eritrean troops to withdraw from Ethiopia and risk of Tigray conflict sparking regional escalation. U.S. State Dept 23 May imposed visa restrictions on Eritrean and Ethiopian former and current govt and security forces officials for “undermining resolution” of Tigray crisis and 27 May warned of further action if “those stoking the conflict fail to reverse course”. Amid ongoing Sudan-Ethiopia tensions over disputed Al-Fashqa border zone, Isaias 4-5 May travelled to Sudan’s capital Khartoum, met with General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, head of Sudan’s ruling Sovereign Council, and Sudanese PM Abdallah Hamdok; visit comes after Khartoum earlier this year accused Eritrea of interfering in border dispute in support of Ethiopia. 

Ethiopia

Authorities faced further international pressure to end war in Tigray and new accusations of human rights violations in centre, and slightly postponed general elections to 21 June. Amid continued fighting between Tigray’s and federal govt’s forces in Tigray regional state in north, U.S. State Dept 23 May imposed restrictions on economic and security assistance to Ethiopia over alleged human rights abuses, and visa limitations for current and former Ethiopian and Eritrean officials accused of undermining efforts to stem violence; Addis Ababa next day denounced “attempt by U.S. to meddle in its internal affairs” and thousands of pro-govt protesters 30 May rallied against sanctions in capital. UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock 25 May warned of “serious risk of famine” in Tigray, said humanitarian access had deteriorated since March with aid operations being “attacked, obstructed or delayed”. Ethiopian and Eritrean soldiers overnight 24-25 May reportedly beat up and detained over 500 IDPs in four camps in Tigray’s Shire town, 27 May reportedly released most of them following international pressure. Authorities 6 May designated former ruling party Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) insurgent group as terrorist organisations. In Oromia regional state in centre, govt-appointed Human Rights Commission 6 May voiced “serious concern” over arbitrary detentions across region, accused authorities of committing “grave violations of human rights”. News magazine Addis Standard 12 May accused local security forces of having recently extrajudicially executed suspected OLA member in Dembi Dollo town. Suspected OLA insurgents 22 May reportedly killed seven in West Guji Zone. Electoral commission 20 May postponed already delayed general elections, due 5 June, to 21 June, citing logistical issues. EU 3 May said it had cancelled deployment of its electoral observation mission, citing disagreements with govt over mission’s independence. Meanwhile, Ethiopian militiamen mid-May reportedly clashed with Sudanese forces in Eastern Gallabat area of disputed Al-Fashqa border zone, where latter reportedly seized five settlements controlled by Ethiopia since 1995. Tensions ran high between Ethiopia,Sudan and Egypt amid reports Addis Ababa had started second filling of Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (see Nile Waters).

Kenya

Court dealt major blow to President Kenyatta’s attempt to amend constitution, while Al-Shabaab continued to stage attacks in north east. High Court 13 May ruled controversial attempt by President Kenyatta and de facto ally, opposition leader Raila Odinga, to amend constitution was illegal, warned civil proceedings may be instituted against Kenyatta for breaching constitution; constitutional amendment backers, Kenyatta and electoral commission late May separately appealed ruling. Move widely seen as bolstering position of Deputy President William Ruto, whose allies have opposed constitutional changes and who could vie with Odinga for presidency in 2022 elections. In further blow to Kenyatta, ruling Jubilee Party 18 May lost three parliamentary by-elections to opposition in Kiambu and Kisii counties; in Kiambu’s Juja town, police and Jubilee supporters same day clashed with opposition People’s Empowerment Party supporters over alleged voter fraud. Meanwhile, Al-Shabaab-related violence continued in north east and east. Notably, in Lamu county, suspected Al-Shabaab explosive devices killed two people near Ishakani village 3 May and at least three soldiers in Baure area 18 May; in Wajir county, police 12 May killed two suspected Al-Shabaab militants in Tarbaj area; in Mandera county, suspected militants 21 May ambushed police patrol in Banisa area, killing three. Following Qatar-mediated talks, Somalia 6 May said it had restored diplomatic relations with Kenya, which had been severed since Dec 2020 over Nairobi’s alleged interference in Somali affairs. However, Kenya 10 May suspended all commercial flights to and from Somalia for three months in response to Somalia’s refusal to resume khat stimulant imports.

Somalia

Election-related tensions subsided, Al-Shabaab attacks continued, and federal govt resumed relations with Kenya. Parliament’s lower house 1 May unanimously voted to repeal controversial resolution it passed in April to extend President Farmajo’s term by two years amid election deadlock, after move prompted deadly clashes between pro-opposition and pro-Farmajo factions of security forces in capital Mogadishu. Farmajo same day entrusted PM Roble with election preparations. Roble and pro-opposition troops 5 May reached agreement for latter to return to their barracks within 48 hours, in exchange of which they would not be penalised. Federal govt and member states 22 May resumed national consultative council (NCC) talks on electoral framework, 27 May agreed to hold parliamentary elections within 60 days. AU Commission 7 May appointed former Ghanaian President John Mahama as High Representative to Somalia to mediate electoral crisis; Mahama 20 May however stepped down after Mogadishu expressed reservations over his perceived ties with Kenya. Meanwhile, Al-Shabaab continued to launch deadly attacks. Notably, suicide attack 9 May killed six police officers and one civilian at Waberi police station in Mogadishu, and suspected Al-Shabaab explosive device 21 May killed three people on outskirts of capital. In Hiraan region in centre, security forces reportedly killed at least seven suspected Al-Shabaab militants near Mahas district 9 May and another six in Buloburte district 22 May. In Middle Shabelle region (also centre), security forces 29 May reportedly killed 37 suspected Al-Shabaab militants in Galka-Harare area, and regained control of several villages. Local Macawisley militia 19 May clashed with Hirshabelle state police in state capital Jowhar; ten people killed. After Qatari mediation, Somalia 6 May said it had restored diplomatic relations with Kenya, which had been severed since Dec 2020. However, Mogadishu in following days rejected Kenya’s attempts to resume khat stimulant exports to Somalia, prompting Nairobi to suspend all non-medical and humanitarian flights to and from Somalia for three months.

Somaliland

Amid opposition’s concerns over electoral process, parliamentary and local elections held without major incidents in late May. Opposition Justice and Welfare Party (UCID) and Waddani party 3 May denounced recent arrest of several of their candidates, accused authorities of confiscating voter ID cards from citizens, and called on President Bihi to end “abuses” in electoral process. Authorities 9 May dropped electoral fraud and treason charges against five UCID and Waddani candidates, and Bihi next day said he had reached agreement with leaders of both parties, electoral commission and members of Supreme Court on length of campaign and dispute resolution mechanisms. Unidentified gunmen 23 May fired at opposition offices in Las Anod town, Sool region in east, reportedly injuring at least two. No major incidents reported on election day 31 May.

South Sudan

Renewed escalation of intercommunal violence in east left 150 dead, and holdout rebel group suspended participation in peace talks amid clashes in south; meanwhile, govt made some progress in implementing 2018 peace deal. In Greater Pibor Administrative Area in east, renewed intercommunal clashes between ethnic Lou Nuer and Dinka on one side and ethnic Murle on the other 10-17 May killed over 150 in Gumuruk area. UN Mission in South Sudan 16 May expressed “deep concern” over “fresh escalation of violence”. UN Security Council 11 May extended mandate of UN peacekeeping force in disputed Abyei region (north) between South Sudan and Sudan, until Nov; intercommunal violence 16 May killed at least 11 people in Abyei’s Dungoup village. Meanwhile, holdout rebel group National Salvation Front (NAS) 6 May suspended its participation in new round of peace talks with govt scheduled for 8-12 May, accusing govt of involvement in April alleged assassination of Gen Abraham Wana Yoane, military chief of rebel group allied to NAS. In Central Equatoria state in south, suspected NAS combatants reportedly killed five civilians in Payawa village 12 May and four security forces in Gabada village next day. In Western Equatoria state (also south), President Kiir-aligned South Sudan People’s Defence Forces 14-15 May repelled attack by suspected NAS on their barracks in Maridi county; five reportedly killed. Kiir 10 May signed long-delayed decree reconstituting Transitional National Legislative Assembly to include former rebel opposition groups, paving way for completion of key steps of peace process including constitutional review and preparation for elections; move came after Troika states, Canada, France, Germany and EU 5 May jointly urged Kiir and presidency’s five VPs to take steps to bolster transition. Implementation of transitional security arrangements however continued to lag behind schedule and official body monitoring peace deal implementation, including unification of armed groups into single army, 20 May warned former rebel fighters were abandoning cantonment and training sites due to lack of food and medicine, jeopardising goal to graduate first batch of unified army by month’s end. UN Security Council 28 May extended arms embargo on South Sudan for one year.

Sudan

Govt made strides toward clearing its debt arrears, security forces cracked down on peaceful protesters, and tensions with Ethiopia remained high. International Monetary Fund 10 May announced it had approved financing plan that would allow Sudan to clear its debt arrears with international financing body. At investment and financing conference in France, govt 17-18 May secured several assurances of debt cancellation and new loans including from France, Germany and Norway. PM Hamdok 19 May said Sudan had fulfilled all conditions for debt forgiveness, which would pave way for Khartoum to regain access to international financing.Security forces 11 May opened fire and killed two protesters gathered outside army headquarters in capital Khartoum to commemorate 2019 massacre of over a hundred anti-Transitional Military Council sit-inners. Hamdok immediately condemned killings and army 16 May handed over seven soldiers suspected of involvement to Public Prosecutor. Sovereign Council member Aisha Musa 22 May announced resignation, accused transitional authorities of leading Sudan to “more killing, injustice, poverty and suffering”. Amid delays in implementation of Oct 2020 peace deal with rebel coalition Sudanese Revolutionary Front, UN assistance mission in Sudan 20 May voiced “great concern” over slow pace of unification of armed forces. Govt and rebel group Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North faction led by Abdelaziz al-Hilu – who demurred on signing Oct 2020 agreement – 26 May returned to talks in South Sudan’s capital Juba with view to bringing rebel group into transitional govt. Meanwhile, army 19 May reportedly clashed with Ethiopian militia in Eastern Gallabat area of disputed Al-Fashqa border zone, seizing five settlements controlled by Ethiopia since 1995. In apparent warning to Addis Ababa and preparation for possible escalation amid stalled negotiations on Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on Blue Nile river, Sudan 26-31 May held third joint military exercise with Egypt since Nov 2020 (see Nile Waters). UN Security Council 11 May extended mandate of UN peacekeeping force in disputed Abyei area at border with South Sudan until Nov, requesting UN Sec-Gen Guterres establish viable exit strategy by Oct; ethnic Misseriya gunmen 16 May reportedly killed at least 11 people in Abyei’s Dungoup village. 

Tanzania

President Suluhu Hassan continued to distance herself from predecessor Magufuli’s policies and took steps to improve relations with neighbours. In departure from COVID-19 scepticism during late President Mafuguli’s era, Hassan 7 Mayurged Tanzanians to wear masks to prevent spread of virus. Committee of experts established in April to advise govt on measures to curb pandemic 17 May presented 19 recommendations, notably calling on govt to release data on COVID-19 cases and join World Health Organization’s COVAX vaccine-sharing program. Hassan throughout month reshuffled key positions in effort to revamp public service, notably appointing new directors of public prosecutions and police. Hassan took steps to improve relationship with neighbours. Notably, Hassan 4-5 May visited Kenya, signed $1bn gas pipeline deal with counterpart Uhuru Kenyatta and promised tax and business reformsto make it easier for Kenyan investors to operate in Tanzania.

Uganda

President Museveni sworn in for sixth term amid massive military deployment in and around capital Kampala. In run-up to Museveni’s inauguration 12 May, security forces early May arrested at least 41 people for allegedly planning to disrupt ceremony and 10 May surrounded homes of opposition National Unity Platform (NUP) leader Bobi Wine and Forum for Democratic Change leader Kizza Besigye in Kampala. In inaugural address, Museveni accused western govts of interfering in domestic affairs of African nations to serve their own interests. In contentious parliament speaker election setting two of Museveni’s National Resistance Movement MPs against each other, Jacob Oulanyah 24 May defeated incumbent Rebecca Kadaga. Meanwhile, DR Congo’s govt 12 May announced joint operation with Ugandan army against armed group Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) in eastern DR Congo, days after Congolese President Tshisekedi introduced martial law in North Kivu and Ituri provinces to stem rising violence; Ugandan military 17 May said both countries had agreed to share intelligence and coordinate anti-ADF operations (see DR Congo). International Criminal Court 6 Maysentenced former commander of rebel group Lord’s Resistance Army Dominic Ongwen to 25 years in prison for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in northern Uganda in early 2000s.

Mozambique

Islamist insurgents continued to launch deadly attacks in far north despite ongoing counter-insurgency efforts. In far north Cabo Delgado province, insurgents targeted internally displaced persons fleeing violence by boat, reportedly killing at least seven and kidnapping at least 40 off the coast of Macomia district 3 May. In Nangade district, local militiamen 7 May clashed with insurgents in and around Ngalonga village, killing at least five, and 22 May killed five more insurgents in Chacamba village. In Palma district, insurgents 10 May killed three civilians and took others hostage in Olumbe village; armed forces 22-23 May reportedly thwarted insurgents’ attempt to capture Olumbe. Govt forces 21 May clashed with insurgents in and around strategic town of Diaca, Mocimboa da Praia district, allegedly driving them out of locality; 22-23 May reportedly took control of Muidumbe district capital Namacande, which had been under insurgents’ control since late 2020. NGO Amnesty International 13 May said rescue operation conducted by South African private military company Dyck Advisory Group (DAG) during siege of Palma town in March was marred by racial discrimination, with white contractors evacuated ahead of black locals; DAG same day denied allegations. Southern Africa regional bloc SADC 27 May held extraordinary double troika summit to discuss deployment of regional force in Cabo Delgado but deferred decision to deploy force to next meeting scheduled for 20 June. Meanwhile, André Matsangaíssa Júnior, former senior member of Renamo Military Junta (JMR), armed dissident faction of opposition Renamo party, 3 May said JMR leader Mariano Nhongo would soon surrender; three JMR members mid-May defected in Manica province, claimed JMR forces in stronghold of Gorongosa, Sofala province, much reduced with only seven people left in their ranks. Nyusi 16 May said disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration of former armed opposition movement Renamo forces would not be concluded by Aug as expected due to lack of funds.

Zimbabwe

Standoff emerged between High Court and President Mnangagwa, and intra-party violence erupted within both ruling party and opposition. Following constitutional amendments passed by parliament in April, Mnangagwa 11 May extended term of Chief Justice Luke Malaba, who was scheduled to retire mid-May, by five years. High Court 15 May ruled extension invalid, saying incumbent judges cannot benefit from term extension under Zimbabwe’s constitution. Govt 17 May appealed ruling before Supreme Court, and Malaba 23 May returned to work, saying appeal suspended High Court order; human rights lawyers 25 May filed High Court application seeking Malaba’s arrest on charges of contempt of court. Meanwhile, rival factions of ruling party ZANU-PF 8 May clashed in Makonde district, Mashonaland West province; police subsequently arrested four, who were granted bail 13 May. Violence next day erupted during meeting of Douglas Mwonzora-led faction of main opposition party Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) in capital Harare; MDC-T 10 May said supporters of rival faction, Nelson Chamisa-led MDC-A, had stabbed and injured five MDC-T members, which MDC-A denied. Meanwhile, High Court 5 May granted bail to MDC-A MP Joana Mamombe and youth leader Cecilia Chimbiri; both women under detention since March on charges of violating COVID-19 restrictions.

Côte d’Ivoire

Tensions emerged as civil society activists called for justice amid negotiations on conditions for former President Gbagbo’s return. Gbagbo’s Ivoirian Popular Front (FPI) and top govt officials continued to discuss conditions for Gbagbo’s possible return as early as June following his acquittal on charges of crimes against humanity at International Criminal Court; Security Minister Vagondo Diomandé 3 May confirmed setting-up of technical committees to work out details of possible agreement. Civil society activists 10 May took to streets in economic capital Abidjan to call for justice for victims of 2010-2011 post-election violence and arrest of Gbagbo upon his return. Authorities mid-May banned FPI and civil society demonstrations due to take place simultaneously in Abidjan 15 May, said move aimed at avoiding violent clashes between Gbagbo’s followers and civil society activists opposed to his return. FPI 31 May said Gbagbo would return to Côte d’Ivoire 17 June. Meanwhile, Liberia 6 May dispatched high-level delegation to Abidjan after Ivorian govt blamed “Liberian mercenaries” for attacking military barracks in Abobo district north of Abidjan late April; Liberian FM Dee-Maxwell Saah Kemayah, who headed delegation, said his country would not serve as rear base for any destabilisation attempt targeting Côte d’Ivoire. Following two jihadist incursions in Côte d’Ivoire’s north over past year, Defence Minister Téné Birahima Ouattara 9-11 May travelled to neighbouring Burkina Faso and Mali, agreed with counterparts to step up security cooperation. PM Patrick Achi mid-May received medical treatment in France after he collapsed at his residence in Abidjan, sparking speculations about his health; Achi was appointed PM in March following death of two PMs in less than eight months.

Guinea

COVID-19 restrictions sparked unrest. COVID-19-related ban on collective night prayers during last days of Ramadan 3-6 May sparked violent protests in Siguiri, Kankan and Kérouané cities, Kankan region (east), with demonstrators burning tyres and storming administrative buildings; security forces overnight 5-6 May reportedly killed one demonstrator in Kérouané. 

Nigeria

Overall security situation deteriorated further notably due to violent escalation in South East. In South East, suspected members of Eastern Security Network, armed wing of outlawed separatist group Indigenous People of Biafra 6-30 May killed at least 25 security personnel, mostly police officers, in Ebonyi, Anambra, Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Abia states; 30 May allegedly assassinated prominent northern politician, Ahmed Gulak, in Imo state. Herder-farmer violence displaced thousands in several states and left about 60 people killed in Bali area of Taraba state 13-16 May; at least 14 killed in Jos South area of Plateau state 23 May; and about 55 killed in Katsina-Ala and Ado areas of Benue state 27 and 30 May. Attacks and abductions continued in North West. In Kaduna state, gunmen 19 May attacked two villages, killing 11. In Katsina state, gunmen 8 May killed 11 in Safana area, 10 May abducted 45 in Jibia area and 18 May abducted 21 in Batsari area. In Niger state, armed groups 5 May killed eight and abducted over 100 in Shadadi town; 30 May abducted about 200 children in Rafi area; and next day killed at least 15 in Mariga area. In Sokoto state, armed groups 21-23 May killed 25 in Sabon Birni, Isah and Rabah areas. In Zamfara state, armed groups 22 May killed 19 farmers and two police officers across Gusau, Maradun and Zurmi areas; 24-25 May, killed 20 in Bungudu area. Meanwhile, several media organisations 20 May reported Abubakar Shekau, leader of Boko Haram faction (JAS), had blown himself up or was seriously wounded in attempt to kill himself to escape capture by rival group Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) in Borno state (north east); move followed major ISWAP offensive on Shekau’s Sambisa forest stronghold and seizure of territories formerly under his control. ISWAP also attacked military base in Borno’s Ajiri town 2-3 May; fighting killed five soldiers, 15 members of Civilian Joint Task Force and at least six civilians. Military killed at least 59 insurgents throughout month, including at least 40 in Konduga area mid-month.

Asia

China/Japan

Tensions continued between Japan and China over contested island chain in East China Sea. At foreign minister G7 meeting in UK, Japanese FM Motegi 4 May raised “grave concerns” over Chinese attempts to change status quo in East and South China Seas. Defence Minister Kishi 20 May said Japan must increase defence capabilities, citing China’s increased capabilities. Draft Japanese defence white paper 13 May referred to Chinese patrols in zone around Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands as “violation of international law” and stated that stability of Taiwan Strait was important to Japan’s security; in response, China 14 May lodged diplomatic complaint. Japanese govt identified 104 Chinese coast guard vessels in contiguous zone and ten in territorial sea of Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands during month; Japan 16 May reported three Chinese navy vessels sailing through Miyako Strait. Japanese, U.S. and French military forces 11-17 May attended first joint exercise on Japanese territory; Australia 15 May participated in expanded naval exercise in East China Sea.

Korean Peninsula

Pyongyang lambasted U.S. diplomacy following President Biden’s critical statement, while U.S. and South Korean leaders pledged to strengthen ties to guarantee regional security. In response to U.S. President Biden’s statement late April to U.S. Congress characterising North Korea’s (DPRK) nuclear program as a threat, North Korean foreign ministry 1-2 May said Biden had made “big blunder” and called U.S. diplomacy “spurious signboard” to “cover up its hostile acts”. At G7 meeting in UK, U.S. Sec State Antony Blinken and South Korean FM Chung Eui-yong 3 May reaffirmed their alliance’s role in Indo-Pacific peace and security, while Blinken said DPRK needs to take opportunity to engage diplomatically to move forward toward denuclearisation of Korean Peninsula. Chinese Envoy to UN Zhang Jun same day expressed hopes that U.S. review of North Korea policy will place more emphasis on dialogue, rather than on provocative and confrontational actions. South Korean President Moon 20-23 May visited Washington D.C. for meeting with President Biden to reaffirm security and economic ties; after summit, Biden said both leaders remained “deeply concerned” about ongoing nuclear threat from DPRK and announced appointment of new envoy to open diplomatic channels with Pyongyang. Moon same day announced joint decision with U.S. to end flight range guidelines signed in 1979 limiting Seoul’s missile development program, and called denuclearisation of Korean Peninsula “matter of survival”, affirming that main aim of meeting was to bring North Korea back on “path of dialogue”; Pyongyang 31 May criticised U.S. for ending restrictions on South Korea’s missile development, warning it could lead to “instable situation”. Chinese FM Wang Yi 28 May met North Korean Ambassador Ri Ryong-nam in China’s capital Beijing where pair pledged to “strengthen coordination and cooperation”. South Korean police 6 May raided office of anti-North Korea activist group that had stated it had released balloons into North carrying dollar bills and leaflets denouncing Pyongyang.

Taiwan Strait

Cross-strait tensions decreased as Taipei focused on containing COVID-19 outbreak. Taiwanese defence ministry claimed at least 28 Chinese military aircraft entered its Air Defence Identification Zone during month. U.S. guided-missile destroyer Curtis Wilbur 18 May transited through Taiwan Strait; in response, China 19 May accused U.S. of threatening Strait’s peace and stability. Taiwan saw worst COVID-19 outbreak since start of pandemic during May. Chinese officials 17 May offered Chinese vaccines to Taiwan, blaming ruling Taiwanese Democratic Progressive Party for creating “political obstacles” that prevented vaccines from arriving; Taiwan 18 May called offer “false sympathy” and President Tsai Ing-wen 27 May said China interfered with Taiwan’s efforts to procure vaccines from Germany’s BioNTech. Despite growing international support throughout month for Taiwan’s participation in 74th World Health Assembly 24-31 May, Taiwan not invited by end of month; Taipei 24 May criticised alleged “indifference” from World Health Organization. At G7 foreign ministers summit in UK, participants 5 May opposed “any unilateral actions that could escalate tensions” in Taiwan Strait; in response, China next day condemned statement as gross interference in internal affairs. Hong Kong authorities 18 May halted operations at its representative office in Taiwan.

Afghanistan

Taliban intensified coordinated assaults on Afghan military positions, with govt forces losing more district centres; terror attacks killed over 100 civilians. Deadly Taliban attacks escalated in nature and intensity throughout month as part of annual Spring offensive, especially from 1 May – start of symbolic U.S./NATO troop withdrawal. Notably, Taliban 2 May attacked security post, killing 12 security forces in Badakhshan province (north east); 3 May seized positions around Helmand’s capital (south) with 18 security forces killed or wounded; 4 May killed nine security forces in Baghlan province (north), followed by the surrender of 100 more on 6 May; 4 May killed 20 soldiers in Farah province (south west); and 7-8 May killed 23 soldiers in Ghazni and Wardak provinces (centre). Taliban offensive led to militants gaining control of district centres in Laghman, Wardak and Baghlan by end of month. Month also saw heavy toll on civilians: triple bombing 8 May targeted school in Hazara neighbourhood in capital Kabul, killing at least 90 civilians, mostly women and girls, and wounding 240 more; govt blamed Taliban for attack but group denied responsibility. IEDs on bus 10 May killed 11 civilians in Zabul province (South); bomb 14 May exploded in mosque, killing 12 civilians in capital Kabul, Islamic State later claimed responsibility for attack. Roadside bomb 16 May also killed three civilians in Ghanzi province (East). Large Uzbek ethnic community in Faryab province (north) demonstrated angrily against govt’s attempt to appoint new governor with no ties to province or Uzbek community. U.S. and UK continued high-level diplomatic efforts to support peace process by engaging with senior Pakistani officials and Taliban representatives; moves resulted in resumption of Taliban-govt peace discussions in Qatar’s capital Doha 13 and 24 May and statement of willingness from Taliban to attend high-level peace conference in Turkey in future, with conditions. Australia withdrew embassy from Kabul amid increasing international concerns about security environment.

Bangladesh

Political tensions continued in aftermath of anti-India unrest, and authorities revealed rise in number of Rohingyas attempting to enter Bangladesh since 1 Feb coup in Myanmar. Protesters in capital Dhaka 3 May called for release of student leaders arrested for protesting March visit of Indian PM Modi; delegation of six Hefazat-e-Islam leaders next day met with Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal to request release of activists detained following anti-India protests, also asked for ongoing arrests to stop. Police 15 May arrested Jamaat-e-Islami leader and former member of parliament on charges of instigating Hefazat-sponsored violence during anti-Modi protests in Chittagong city. Following charges filed by health ministry, senior journalist Rozina Islam 17 May arrested for violating Official Secrets Act; Islam, who had been reporting on institutional corruption and COVID-19, released on bail 22 May; local and international rights organisations called for all charges to be dropped. Nationalist Party (BNP) opposition leader and former PM Khaleda Zia 3 May hospitalised for post-COVID-19 health complications; law minister 9 May rejected Zia’s demand to seek medical treatment abroad. Paramilitary Rapid Action Battalion 2 May arrested four alleged members of banned Ansar al-Islam in Khulna district. Counter-terrorism police 4 May arrested two alleged members of banned New Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh; also in Dhaka, authorities 2, 5 and 20 May detained at least six alleged Ansar al-Islam members, and 19 May arrested alleged Hizb ut-Tahrir member in Cox’s Bazar district. High profile Islamist preacher 26 May arrested for inciting militancy. Border security officials 2 May said number of Rohingyas refugees trying to enter country more than tripled since 1 Feb military coup in Myanmar, revealed they had pushed back some 133 Rohingyas to Myanmar this year, including over 100 in March-April. State minister for foreign affairs 17 May stated around 20,000 Rohingyas so far relocated to Bhasan Char, low-lying flood-prone island in Bay of Bengal; during UN High Commissioner for Refugees officials’ inspection of island, several thousand Rohingyas 31 May staged protest against dire living conditions.

India

COVID-19 crisis continued to grip country as Maoist violence persisted in centre and west, and tens of thousands of farmers marked six months of protest movement. Country continued to reel under COVID-19 crisis as official tallies surpassed 300,000 deaths and 25mn cases, with unofficial cases and mortality rate possibly reaching far greater numbers; hundreds of corpses mid-month were spotted floating in river Ganges and washing up on embankments in various northern states. Maoist violence persisted. In Chhattisgarh state (centre), Maoists 11 May killed police constable in Sukma district, and next day killed civilian suspected of being police informer in Narayanpur district; IED 18 May killed police head constable in Bijapur district. Police 14 May killed Maoist in Dantewada district; exchanges of fire between police and Maoists 17 May killed three suspected Maoists in Sukma district; police 22 and 31 May killed Maoist in Dantewada district. In Maharashtra state (west), security forces 13 May killed two Maoists and 21 May killed 13 Maoists in Gadchiroli district. Ahead of six-month anniversary of farmer protests on 26 May, leaders of protest movement 21 May called on PM Modi to resume talks on their key demands, threatening intensification of protests if govt declines to engage; tens of thousands of farmers 26 May demonstrated across country. At border dispute with China, reports 10 May surfaced that China had equipped troops on Indian border with modified truck-mounted rocket, affording military greater mobility and flexibility. Indian army chief general 20 May said India will continue enhanced troop presence along border until de-escalation takes place and denied that talks with Beijing had reached impasse, saying trust had increased following disengagement deal in Feb.

India-Pakistan (Kashmir)

Pakistan and India traded blame for breaking ceasefire along Line of Control (LoC, dividing Pakistan and Indian-administered Kashmir); militant attacks continued in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). Pakistan and India held each other responsible for first violation of 25 Feb agreement reaffirming support for 2003 ceasefire along Kashmir’s LoC and international border; Pakistani PM Imran Khan 30 May said normalising ties with India would be “major betrayal” to people of Kashmir. According to Indian Border Security (BSF), Pakistan troops 3 May opened fire along international border in J&K’s Samba district; Pakistan’s foreign ministry same day lodged protest with India over BSF troops crossing and firing mortars along LoC in Sialkot’s Charwa Sector; no casualties reported on either side. India’s BSF 6 May killed alleged intruder and 18 May arrested another in alleged infiltration attempt across international border in Samba district. India 15 May accused Islamabad of using drones to deliver weapons into J&K. UN General Assembly President Volkan Bozkır 27 May said India and Pakistan should “refrain” from altering status of Kashmir; Indian foreign ministry next day called remarks “misleading and prejudiced”. Counter-insurgency operations and militant attacks continued in J&K throughout month. Security forces 4 and 6 May killed five suspected militants in Baramulla and Shopian districts in separate incidents; 11 and 17 May killed five alleged militants in separate incidents in Anantnag district and on outskirts of regional capital Srinagar. Grenade attack 7 May wounded three paramilitary soldiers and civilian in Srinagar. Kashmiri separatist leader and Tehreek-i-Hurriyat chairman Muhammad Ashraf Khan Sehrai 5 May died in custody; Sehrai, 78, had been jailed since his arrest in July 2020 under Public Safety Act; umbrella group of separatist parties, All Parties Hurriyat Conference, 5 May accused prison authorities of denying him timely medical assistance; police 15 May detained two of Sehrai’s sons in Srinagar after participants at his funeral in Kupwara district raised pro-separatist slogans on 6 May. Amid COVID-19 spread, local authorities 6 May requested doctors no longer speak with media, and directed oxygen manufacturing units to stop deliveries to NGOs and private users on account of shortages in hospitals.

Maldives

Terror attack targeted former President Mohamed Nasheed. Alleged Muslim extremists 6 May detonated homemade explosive outside home of former president and current parliament speaker, Mohamed Nasheed, in capital Malé, critically wounding Nasheed, two of his bodyguards and two bystanders; Nasheed 13 May flown to Germany for further medical treatment; police by 21 May had arrested four suspects. While attack has yet to be claimed, Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party reportedly said religious extremists and political interests could be involved.

Nepal

President Bhandari dissolved lower house of parliament for second time in six months and announced elections for mid-November, sparking widespread criticism that move undermines 2015 constitution. PM KP Oli 10 May lost vote of confidence, prompting Bhandari same day to call on opposition parties to form new majority govt within three days; after failure of parties to secure majority, Bhandari 13 May reappointed Oli as premier. Following political maneuvering among opposition parties in House of Representatives, 149 MPs from Nepali Congress, Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) and dissenting factions of Janata Samajbadi Party and Unified Marxist-Leninist parties 21 May presented signatures to Bhandari requesting that head of Nepali Congress party Sher Bahadur Deuba be appointed PM; later same day, Oli also presented his candidacy, claiming support of 153 parliamentarians, including several backing Deuba. After declaring that she could not appoint either candidate due to insufficient support, Bhandari 21 May dissolved parliament for second time since Dec 2020. Bhandari’s ongoing support for Oli – who had consistently sought elections in recent months – was widely criticised as undermining 2015 constitution; 146 MPs 24 May filed joint petition at Supreme Court challenging dissolution of parliament’s lower chamber and demanding its reinstatement.

Pakistan

Political tensions continued to run high, and militants killed more than a dozen security forces in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Opposition remained divided over results of last month’s by-election in Karachi city, where Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) rejected victory of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) despite 8 May vote recount. PML-N and PPP however same day jointly opposed presidential ordinance authorising Election Commission to procure electronic voting machines and enable overseas Pakistanis to vote in 2023 parliamentary elections. Tensions between ruling party and opposition increased when govt 8 May refused to allow opposition PML-N leader Shahbaz Sharif to leave for UK for medical treatment, despite previous day’s decision by Lahore High Court to allow for one-time visit. Following Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan’s violent April anti-govt protests, Punjab counter-terrorism authorities 8 May registered four cases against senior TLP leaders for instigating new protests to oust French ambassador. In response to European Parliament’s resolution condemning blasphemy laws in late April, govt 3 May agreed to introduce new legislation to address rights issues in line with EU agreements. Militant attacks in May left more than a dozen security forces dead. In Balochistan province, road bomb blast 3 May killed two police officers in Arawan district; Pakistani Taliban 5 May killed four soldiers in cross-border attack in Zhob district; 8 May killed three soldiers in Quetta and Turbat districts; drive-by shooting 10 May killed two police in Mastung district. Seven killed in 21 May bomb explosion at Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam’s Palestine solidarity rally in Chaman town. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, Pakistani Taliban attack 4 May left two soldiers dead in Bajaur district. Operation against Pakistani Taliban in North Wazirstan district 5 May killed four soldiers and two militants, while one soldier killed in cross-border militant attack 22 May; militants 9 May also killed police in Lakki Marwat district. Afghan President Ghani 11 May accused Pakistan of “operating an organised system of support” for Taliban and said “question of peace or hostility is now in Pakistani hands”; Pakistan 14 May summoned Afghan ambassador reportedly to protest comments.

Sri Lanka

Amid rapidly worsening COVID-19 crisis, country marked twelfth anniversary of end of civil war while parliament approved controversial govt bill on Colombo megaproject. Authorities prevented public commemorations in northern and eastern provinces to mark 12 years since end of civil war on 18 May; police same day arrested ten Tamil activists under Prevention of Terrorism Act for holding commemoration in eastern Batticaloa district. Well-known memorial to civilian Tamil dead in Mullivaikkal 13 May discovered vandalised while under army control. Tamil MPs, local officials and members of diaspora in Canada, UK and other European countries 18 May also recognised “Tamil Genocide Remembrance Day”, while PM Rajapaksa same day promised parliament that govt would never “betray” “war heroes” who sacrificed their lives to defeat terrorism. Govt next day held 12th National War Heroes’ Day events attended by President Rajapaksa and other govt and military officials. Parliament 20 May approved by nearly two-thirds majority govt’s landmark bill to establish legal and administrative framework for Chinese-built Colombo Port City megaproject, which provides for unprecedented legal autonomy to Port City Commission; opposition and civil society had previously expressed criticisms that project will facilitate money laundering and further increase Chinese influence over Sri Lankan economy and politics. Law 18 May rushed through parliament after speaker same day announced Supreme Court due to assess constitutionality of more than two dozen of bill’s provisions, following numerous petitions; govt immediately introduced amended bill after removing controversial provisions. Meanwhile, country faced rapidly worsening COVID-19 situation as hospital capacity appeared to reach its limit during month, and delays along with shortages in COVID-19 testing limited govt’s ability to track and control disease, fuelling criticism of govt’s handling of crisis. Public and health officials also protested politicised distribution of scarce vaccines.

Indonesia

Following series of violent attacks, authorities signalled major crackdown on Papuan separatists with deployment of more military troops to country’s easternmost region. Following last month’s series of deadly attacks in Papua’s Puncak district, and designation of Papuan armed groups as “terrorists”, military 6 May announced deployment of 400 additional troops to Papua; United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) leader Benny Wenda 4 May claimed deployment was part of “biggest military operation in West Papua since the late 1970s” amid reports of internet shutdown and displacement of locals. Chief Security Minister Mahfud MD 19 May said armed assailants previous day killed two Indonesian soldiers in Dekai district in Yahukimo regency and injured four others in separate attack in Serambakon district in Bintang regency. Police 9 May arrested spokesperson for West Papua National Committee Victor Yeimo in Papua’s provincial capital Jayapura for his alleged role in August 2019 protests and prior statement calling for referendum on independence; NGO Human Rights Watch 12 May called on authorities to “drop politically motivated treason charges and unconditionally release” Yeimo; over 30 civil society groups, including Amnesty International, 19 May also demanded his immediate release.

Myanmar

Civil disobedience actions continued as Tatmadaw and civil defence groups clashed, opposition govt launched armed wing and fighting persisted between ethnic armed groups and military. Strikes against coup and other civil disobedience activities continued across country; protests launched daily, with most small-scale and brief in order to avoid crackdowns from security forces. Amid ongoing arrests of anti-coup supporters, country witnessed fewer protest-related killings, although at least 68 reported during month. Spate of bombings and unclaimed arson attacks continued in Yangon, Mandalay and other cities, and at least dozen local govt officials reported killed. Armed clashes between military and locally organised civil defence groups persisted throughout May in north west Myanmar, including Chin State and Sagaing, Magway and Mandalay regions, as well as Kayah State in south east, killing dozens of military troops and police and enabling civil defence groups to seize assault weapons. In Mindat town, in southern Chin State, Chin Defence Force 12-14 May ambushed military vehicles; junta 13 May responded by imposing martial law in township and 15 May unleashed artillery barrage and airborne assault, re-taking town and forcing thousands of townspeople to flee. National Unity Government, which was set up in April in opposition to junta, 5 May announced founding of armed wing – People’s Defence Force – in attempt to unify resistance groups, specifically locally organised defence forces and disparate groups of several hundred protesters undergoing military training in areas controlled by ethnic armed groups. In northern Shan State, armed groups Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army and Ta-ang National Liberation Army 4-5 May staged joint attacks on military base in Kutkai township, seizing large cache of weapons. In Kachin State, military 8 May retook key communications base in Momauk township from Kachin Independence Army (KIO) armed group; KIO 4 May attacked police station in Mansi township, killing head of police force and injuring station chief. In Kayin State, Karen National Union (KNU) armed group continued attacks on military outposts, while junta continued artillery barrages and airstrikes on KNU targets – including civilian areas. G7 foreign ministers 5 May issued communiqué condemning military coup in “strongest terms”, committing to tightening sanctions on regime and preventing sale of weapons to junta.

Philippines

Low-level violence persisted in south between militant groups and security forces, while military clashed with communist rebels in centre, south and north. In Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao in south, low-level violence between insurgents and security forces continued throughout May, while communal violence and clan conflict reduced. In Maguindanao, suspected combatants of Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) 9 May fought with military near town market of Datu Paglas; elements of BIFF 12 and 16 May clashed again with military. In town of Piagapo, in Lanao del Sur province, Islamic State (ISIS)-linked rebels 6 May clashed with armed forces, killing one rebel and injuring three. In Sulu province, clashes between elements of ISIS-linked Abu Sayyaf Group and army 14 May killed three rebels and injured one soldier. Bangsamoro Transition Authority continued parliamentary sessions and 19 May passed Education Code, third element of priority legislation. Clashes between communist New People’s Army and armed forces throughout May continued at relatively lower levels than April in Visayas Islands in centre, Mindanao Island in south and Luzon Island in north, killing at least 12 combatants and civilians; clashes mainly resulted from security forces’ operations or rebel ambushes. In south, implementation of peace agreement with Moro Islamic Liberation Front remained delayed as main focus was on fighting COVID-19; govt 19 May launched Bangsamoro Normalization Trust Fund.

South China Sea

Tensions persisted between Philippines and China over Chinese maritime presence at disputed reef in South China Sea (SCS). Following heated exchanges in April over incursion by Chinese vessels at disputed Whitsun Reef, Philippines 3 May confirmed it had lodged diplomatic protest over Chinese Coast Guard harassment of Philippine Coast Guard ships 24-25 April; Philippines 29 May confirmed it had filed 100 protest notes against China’s maritime presence in SCS since 2016. Philippine FM Teodoro Locsin 3 May tweeted that Chinese vessels should leave Manila’s Exclusive Economic Zone. Manila 5 May rejected annual summer fishing ban imposed by China in northern SCS. Philippine Navy 12 May reported that 287 Chinese maritime militia vessels were in Philippine waters as of 9 May. At 27th Southeast Asia Regional Group (ASEAN)-China Senior Officials’ Consultation, Philippine Acting Undersecretary for Bilateral Relations and ASEAN Affairs Elizabeth Buensuceso 18 May called on member states and China to comply with 1982 UN Convention on Law of Sea and to uphold 2002 Declaration on Conduct of Parties. Meanwhile, Chinese Navy 2 May said that its Shandong aircraft carrier task group conducted routine training exercises in SCS. U.S. guided-missile destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur 20 May conducted Freedom of Navigation operation in vicinity of Paracel Islands; Beijing same day said U.S. warship had illegally entered its territorial waters. Japanese PM Yoshihide Suga 11 May said Japan “strongly opposes” China’s growing maritime assertiveness in region during phone call with Vietnamese President Nguyen Xuan Phuc. U.S. Sec State Antony Blinken 27 May spoke with Vietnam’s FM Bui Thanh Son, affirming “shared commitment to protecting and preserving the rules-based order in the South China Sea”.

Thailand

Protesters held small-scale pro-democracy rallies and maintained online activism, while sporadic violence continued in deep south. Around 200 protesters with Restart Democracy (ReDem) group 2 May marched from Victory Monument to Criminal Court in capital Bangkok to protest no-bail imprisonments of protest leaders and others; protesters dispersed later same day but police clashed in evening with stragglers, firing rubber bullets; police arrested one of two ReDem leaders, Hathairat Kaewseekram, to whom Appeals Court 10 May granted bail. Core leader of Ratsadon pro-democracy group Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak 1 May transferred from prison to hospital after 46 days on hunger strike; authorities 11 May granted him bail. Authorities 6 May released on bail prominent protest leader Panusaya “Rung” Sithijirawattanakul who faces charges that include lèse-majesté and sedition. Resurgent COVID-19 cases throughout month saw anti-govt movement turn to social media platforms. Protesters 2 May established Facebook page entitled “Let’s Move Abroad”, which gained several hundred thousand followers; Digital Economy and Society Minister Chaiwut Thanakhamanusorn 4 May said his ministry was monitoring Facebook page. Violence in deep south continued. In Yala province, security forces 4 May clashed with suspected insurgents in Krong Pinang district as they attempted to arrest suspected militant, leaving one ranger and two insurgents dead. In Narathiwat province, ranger patrol 11 May clashed with suspected militants in Bacho district, arresting two and killing one. Authorities 18 May found that 28 assault rifles were missing from armoury in Muang district, Narathiwat.

Europe & Central Asia

Eastern Mediterranean

Greek and Turkish foreign ministers held second meeting on regional dialogue while both parties resumed new round of military talks. Following talks in Greek capital Athens between Greek FM Nikos Dendias and Turkish FM Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, sides 31 May announced steps to deepen commercial ties through 25 economic cooperation programs; Greek and Turkish leaders now due to meet on sidelines of NATO summit in June. Ahead of meeting with Turkish counterpart, Greek FM Dendias 14 May said: “We have to find a way to resolve issues with Turkey. And if we cannot find a solution, at least we could find a way to manage our differences”. Turkish and Greek military delegations held videoconference on confidence-building measures 26-27 May; sides could not agree on new measures or recommit to old ones, but announced they would hold next round of military-to-military talks in Turkish capital Ankara in coming months. Maritime tensions persisted. Athens issued advisories for live-fire exercises in disputed waters south-east of Katpathos 14-21 May, prompting Ankara to state that Greece did not have jurisdiction to make such announcements. Starting on 25 May, Turkey carried out large-scale military drill in Aegean and eastern Mediterranean with participation of more than 25,000 personnel. U.S. and Greek air forces 28 May began joint exercises. Turkey and Greece continued diplomatic engagement in region. Notably, Turkish and Egyptian diplomats 5-6 May held talks in Egyptian capital Cairo for first time in eight years; sides discussed Eastern Mediterranean and other regional issues. Greek FM Dendias 18 May visited Israel, Palestinian territories and Jordan, as well as Egypt 20 May.

Bosnia And Herzegovina

International body implementing Dayton Peace Accord appointed new high representative. Steering Board of Peace Implementation Council, international body established to oversee implementation of 1995 Dayton Peace Accord, 27 May named German politician Christian Schmidt as high representative with term starting 1 August; Russia dissented from decision and its embassy same day said Schmidt would not be legitimate without UN Security Council approval; Republika Srpska also denied legitimacy of appointment.

Kosovo

Tensions persisted between Kosovo and Serbia at regional summit while Pristina announced intention to file genocide lawsuit against Belgrade. During summit of Western Balkan nations in Slovenia, dispute between Serbian President Vučić and Kosovo President Osmani 16 May surfaced over wording of resolution on sanctity of state borders; Vučić reportedly opposed resolution as it would indirectly recognise borders of former breakaway province of Kosovo. At summit, Osmani declared that “Republic of Kosovo as a sovereign and independent country is a permanent project” while Vučić commented that Kosovo “would like to interpret the borders as it wishes”. Kosovo PM Albin Kurti 7 May confirmed that Kosovo intends to file genocide lawsuit against Serbia in International Court of Justice. Osmani 19 May dismissed 12 of country’s ambassadors following foreign ministry proposal to recall those who were political appointees of former govt. EU Special Representative Miroslav Lajčák and U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary and Special Representative for Western Balkans Matthew Palmer 31 May began visits to Kosovo; talks with PM Kurti, Osmani and other leaders aimed at preparing for dialogue with Serbia in June.

Armenia

In most significant escalation since Autumn 2020 war, border tensions with Azerbaijan turned deadly; meanwhile, preparations for 20 June snap elections proceeded. Border tensions rose throughout month. Armenia 12-13 May reported advance of three Azerbaijani military groups in areas close to southern section of its state border, between Azerbaijani-controlled Kelbajar region and Armenian-controlled southern provinces of Syunik and Gegharkunik; Yerevan 27 May claimed up to 1,000 soldiers entered its territory, while Baku countered that new military positions were inside Azerbaijan. In most significant escalation and crisis since ceasefire that ended 2020 Autumn war, Armenian defence ministry 25 May said fighting with Azerbaijani forces along border of Armenia’s eastern Gegharkunik district killed one Armenian soldier; Baku same day said death had “nothing to do with the Azerbaijani side”. Azerbaijani defence ministry 27 May reported detention of six Armenian soldiers after their alleged attempt to cross to Kelbajar district; Yerevan same day said detention took place in its controlled territory. Azerbaijan defence ministry 28 May reported one Azerbaijani soldier wounded in exchange of fire with Armenian military at central location of state border with Azerbaijan’s exclave Nakhchivan; Yerevan denied involvement. After trip to border area, Armenian PM Pashinyan 27 May called on Azerbaijan to create demilitarised zone monitored by international observers or peacekeepers; Armenian FM Ara Ayvazyan same day announced his resignation over disagreements with PM. Prior to escalation, Armenia and Azerbaijan 12-18 May joined Russian-mediated talks aimed at demarcating border. Moscow 18 May proposed establishment of joint demarcation commission to look into border issues. Meanwhile, with political campaigning already under way in recent months, President Sarkissian 10 May signed official decree enabling snap parliamentary elections, scheduled for 20 June. After announcing candidacy, former president Robert Kocharyan (also former leader of de facto Nagorno-Karabakh) 9 May held mass rally in capital Yerevan, during which he claimed to be sole candidate able to guarantee Nagorno-Karabakh’s future. Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe 19 May officially opened observation mission in Yerevan.

Azerbaijan

In most significant escalation since Autumn 2020 war, border tensions with Armenia turned deadly.  Armenia 12-13 May reported advance of three Azerbaijani military groups in areas close to southern section of its state border, between Azerbaijani-controlled Kelbajar region and Armenian-controlled southern provinces of Syunik and Gegharkunik; Yerevan 27 May claimed up to 1,000 soldiers entered its territory while Baku countered that new military positions were inside Azerbaijan. In most significant escalation and crisis since ceasefire that ended 2020 Autumn war, Armenian defence ministry 25 May said fighting with Azerbaijani forces along border of Armenia’s eastern Gegharkunik district killed one Armenian soldier; Baku same day said death had “nothing to do with the Azerbaijani side”. Azerbaijani defence ministry 27 May reported detention of six Armenian soldiers after their alleged attempt to cross to Kelbajar district; Yerevan same day said detention took place in its controlled territory. Azerbaijan defence ministry 28 May reported one Azerbaijani soldier wounded in exchange of fire with Armenian military at central location of state border with Azerbaijan’s exclave Nakhchivan; Yerevan denied involvement. After trip to border area, Pashinyan 27 May called on Azerbaijan to create demilitarised zone monitored by international observers or peacekeepers. Prior to escalation, Armenia and Azerbaijan 12-18 May joined Russian-mediated talks aimed at demarcating border. Moscow 18 May proposed establishment of joint demarcation commission to look into border issues. Separately, President Ilham Aliyev 7 May signed decree declaring recently controlled city of Shusha inside Nagorno-Karabakh territory as Azerbaijan’s cultural capital.

Georgia

Govt and opposition focused on implementing EU and U.S.-brokered April agreement that ended political crisis. In line with EU and U.S.-brokered deal last month that concluded months-long political stalemate following Oct 2020 elections, main opposition parties and civil society representatives throughout May discussed amendments of electoral code – including provisions to consider more opposition representatives in top leadership of Central Election Commission and installation of video cameras at all electoral precincts ahead of local elections. Authorities 10 May released opposition United National Movement (UNM) leader Nika Melia from his pre-trial detention. EU and U.S. lawmakers throughout month continued to call on European Georgia and UNM opposition parties to relinquish their hard-line positions, sign brokered agreement and enter parliament; European Georgia party 18 May said it would continue boycott of parliament, although most party members had already joined parliament in their individual capacity. Ending months-long boycott, UNM 30 May decided to join parliament.

Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict

Despite rising border tensions between Azerbaijan and Armenia, NK conflict zone remained largely stable. Russian FM Sergey Lavrov 5-6 May visited Armenia’s capital Yerevan and 10-11 May Azerbaijan’s capital Baku, discussing issues with post-war processes and calling for release of Armenian prisoners of war and detainees as well as for access of international organisations to Nagorno-Karabakh (NK). Azerbaijani President Aliyev 10 May criticised Armenia for refusing to allow transport corridor through Armenia’s southern region of Syunik. After Armenia 12-13 May reported advance of three Azerbaijani military groups in areas close to southern section of its state border, rising tensions on state border turned deadly, as one Armenian soldier killed, in most significant escalation since ceasefire that ended 2020 Autumn war (see Armenia and Azerbaijan). Inside NK, de facto General Prosecutor’s Office 17 May reported shooting at military positions of local Armenian forces located close to Sos village, south of line of contact of 2020 war. Defence ministry of Azerbaijan 26 May reported shooting at its soldiers located in Shusha city; Armenia’s defence minister next day denied reports. Meanwhile, three opposition parties of NK’s de facto parliament 20 May called on president Arayik Harutyunyan to resign; Harutyunyan had promised in Dec 2020 to call for snap elections when situation stabilised in de facto entity. NK’s de facto Minister of State and Minister of Finance Grigori Martirosyan 28 May resigned saying that he took decision months ago, but decided to stay in post to help with response to post-war crisis.

Russia (Internal)

New legislation could further restrict space for opposition; meanwhile, authorities arrested ISIS supporter in North Caucasus.  Lower chamber of parliament 18 May passed first reading of three bills which could further restrict space for civil society and opposition. Notably, third bill intends to target individuals associated with activities of civil society and religious groups later declared as “extremist” or “terrorist”, with sanctions preventing them from running for parliament for several years; two other bills broaden the scope of “undesirable” organisations by banning participation in activities abroad. NGO Amnesty International same day called on parliamentarians to reject bills which include “new muzzles on individuals who criticize the government”, said bills constitute “brazen attack” against movement led by opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who currently faces charges of fraud. Lower chamber 26 May however adopted third bill; third bill needs to be approved by upper chamber Federation Council and signed by president to become law. Navalny 25 May said authorities had opened three new criminal investigations against him. In North Caucasus, security forces 15 May detained former member of Chechen militant group accused by Russian authorities of past involvement in armed rebellion and attempted murder of security forces in Yessentuki, Stavropol region. Security services 25 May reported detention of suspected Islamic State (ISIS) supporter in Stavropol region in previous month for allegedly planning terrorist attack.

Belarus

Amid ongoing repression of opposition and independent media, authorities sparked international condemnation after forcibly diverting passenger flight to arrest critic. Authorities 23 May scrambled fighter jet to forcibly divert passenger flight headed for Lithuania to land in capital Minsk, citing bomb threat; upon landing, security forces detained opposition activist and journalist Raman Pratasevich, sparking international outcry and condemnation from U.S., NATO, UK and EU and its member states, among others; in response, EU heads of state 24 May imposed new sanctions on President Lukashenka’s govt while U.S. 28 May announced forthcoming sanctions. Russia’s refusal to allow flights bypassing Belarus to enter its airspace fuelled speculation that Moscow might be mulling ban in support of Minsk that would risk escalating incident into larger East-West standoff; President Putin’s spokesman 28 May said Russian air traffic controllers were working to resolve what was technical issue. Meanwhile, Chyhunachny district court 4 May sentenced four associates of exiled opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya to six-and-a-half years imprisonment for role in organising 2020-2021 anti-govt protests. Authorities targeted independent media, arresting and, in numerous instances, sentencing journalists to prison terms. Notably, police 19 May raided office of well-known independent news site Tut.by and homes of several of site’s editors, accusing organisation of avoiding tax; Tsikhanouskaya 18 May called arrests “planned attack on our journalists & media” while U.S. State Dept same day said raids were “systematic effort to stifle independent voices and punish journalists”. Opposition continued efforts to rally international support. Tsikhanouskaya 6 May called on U.S. to “use its diplomacy to further isolate Lukashenko” and 9 May urged Finland to take lead in initiating roundtable talks between govt and civil society.

Ukraine

Donbas ceasefire continued to falter and peace process remained stalled, while fears of large-scale Russian invasion subsided. Fighting continued throughout month in Donbas conflict zone: shelling killed one civilian, live fire left one injured and mines injured three more. Ukrainian and Russian-backed forces suffered four and 12 fatalities, respectively. Ukraine’s foreign ministry 13 May said “the threat of military provocations remains unchanged”. After sides failed to agree on recommitment to terms of July 2020 ceasefire in late April when Russian envoys to Minsk Trilateral Contact Group (TCG) demanded that Kremlin proxies in so-called People’s Republics be included in agreement, sides revisited prospect of recommitting to ceasefire at 19-22 May TCG meeting but made no progress. At same meeting, sides struck preliminary agreement to greenlight opening of new civilian front-line checkpoints in Luhansk oblast through providing security guarantees for staff and civilians; it however remains unclear whether so-called republics will assent to checkpoints’ opening absent direct negotiations with Kyiv. Meanwhile, military tensions with Russia continued to slowly decline following Moscow’s late April announcement that it would withdraw some of its troops stationed near Ukraine’s borders. In his second annual presidential press conference, President Zelenskyy 20 May expressed hopes for “direct talks with the President of the Russian Federation” as well as “the inclusion of the US in this discussion”; while he did not specify format for these talks, he rebuffed idea that peace would be impossible until current Russian regime collapses. Zelenskyy 20 May called U.S. decision previous day to waive some sanctions related to Nordstream 2 pipeline “a serious political victory” for Moscow; Ukraine’s parliament 21 May voted in landslide for resolution calling on U.S. congress to override decision and use all legal means to “completely and irreversibly stop” pipeline’s construction. Kremlin 20 May confirmed that discussions on Zelenskyy-Putin meeting were in motion. Following Belarusian authorities’ forceful diversion of passenger flight on 23 May, Kyiv 26 May announced cessation of air travel with its neighbour (see Belarus).

Cyprus

President Anastasiades urged Turkish Cypriots to abandon two-state solution while Republic of Cyprus held parliamentary elections. Following late April 5+1 informal meeting between UN, leaders of two Cypriot communities and three guarantor powers Greece, Turkey and UK, gap between positions of Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots remained wide in terms of desired outcome for Cyprus settlement. Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar 27 May reacted harshly to conditions put forth by Republic of Cyprus President Anastasiades during his visit to Brussels, which included that Turkish Cypriots should abandon their two-state solution proposition. In parliamentary elections held in Republic of Cyprus 30 May, ruling conservative DISY party emerged in first place but fell short of outright majority.  UN Special Envoy for Cyprus Jane Hall Lute, due to visit Greek capital Athens, Turkish capital Ankara and Republic of Cyprus capital Nicosia next month to seek common ground for new round of talks.

Turkey

Authorities continued military operations against Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in country’s south east and in northern Iraq, and pursued crackdown on suspected ISIS supporters. In south east, military mostly targeted PKK militants and hideouts in Tunceli, Mardin and Ağrı provinces. In northern Iraq’s Duhok area, air raids and ground operations intensified as Turkish forces advanced into Amedi district. Despite objections from Baghdad, govt early May announced new base in Iraq’s Kani Masi sub-district in Duhok. President Erdoğan 17 May said that military operation in northern Iraq killed high-ranking PKK militant who allegedly ordered killing of 13 Turkish captives during Gara incident in Feb; PKK by month’s end had yet to confirm his death. Govt continued efforts to criminalise pro-Kurdish opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP); Turkish security units detained more than 100 individuals affiliated with HDP during month, mostly in country’s south-eastern provinces. Notably, authorities 26 May sentenced former co-mayor of Iğdır province to seven years and six months in prison for “membership to a terrorist organisation”. Security forces continued operations against Islamic State (ISIS) operatives; police throughout month detained some 70 individuals with suspected ISIS links. Notably, police 20 May detained 18 ISIS-affiliated foreign nationals, suspected of plotting attacks, across ten districts in economic capital Istanbul. Turkey-U.S. ties were further strained this month by series of statements from senior Turkish officials condemning Israeli actions amid outbreak of fighting with Gaza-based Palestinian armed factions (see Israel-Palestine). Notably, U.S. 18 May condemned Erdoğan for “anti-Semitic comments regarding the Jewish people” and said it found them “reprehensible”; Turkish foreign ministry 19 May replied that statement was “unfounded”.

Kyrgyzstan

Tentative calm returned to Kyrgyz-Tajik border following last month’s deadly fighting; President Japarov signed into law constitutional amendments which strengthen presidential powers.  Following deadliest fighting in years on Kyrgyz-Tajik border last month that killed dozens, officials in Kyrgyzstan’s Batken region 18 May said security forces established joint checkpoint between Kyrgyz village of Ak-Sai and Tajikistan's Vorukh district. Announcement followed previous day’s incident in which Kyrgyz authorities claimed three of their citizens beaten in Tajik custody along border; Tajik officials reportedly agreed to hold perpetrators accountable. Authorities 24 May announced “temporary” restrictions from 21 May on entry and exit of individuals and goods from Tajikistan. Batken region officials 14 May said minor skirmishes broke out along border between residents of Kyrgyz village of Sai and Uzbek village of Chashma. Meanwhile, President Japarov 5 May signed into law constitutional amendments which were endorsed in April referendum; new amendments provide for greater powers for president and reducing number of lawmakers from 120 to 90.

Tajikistan

Tentative calm returned to Kyrgyz-Tajik border following last month’s deadly fighting. Authorities in northern Sughd region 6 May confirmed that last month’s deadly fighting on Tajik-Kyrgyz border killed dozens. Officials in Kyrgyzstan’s Batken region 18 May said security forces established joint checkpoint between Kyrgyz village of Ak-Sai and Tajikistan’s Vorukh district. Announcement followed previous day’s incident during which Kyrgyz authorities claimed three of their citizens beaten in Tajik custody along border; Tajik officials reportedly agreed to hold perpetrators accountable.

Uzbekistan

President Mirziyoyev pardoned prisoners affiliated to proscribed groups. Marking end of holy month of Ramadan, President Mirziyoyev 12 May released, pardoned or commuted sentences of over 100 inmates, including 52 people convicted for taking part in activities of banned groups. Ahead of Oct presidential election, opposition politician mid-May said justice ministry rejected his application to register Truth and Development Social Democrat Party, citing insufficient signatures.

Latin America & Caribbean

Colombia

Anti-govt protests escalated further as protesters, armed civilians and security forces clashed, leaving dozens killed; Cali city faces high risk of spiralling violence in coming weeks. Following late April protests against govt’s tax reform, President Duque 2 May withdrew reform proposal and adopted other concessions in following days; tens of thousands however continued to rally across country, with protests taking increasingly deadly turn as protesters faced security build-up and armed civilians. Notably, civilians opposed to strikes 9 May opened fire on protesters including indigenous groups in Cali city, Valle del Cauca department (west), wounding at least eight. Videos of police firing into crowds, chasing civilians and using teargas indiscriminately circulated on social media, and Human Rights Ombudsman 11 May reported 42 killed and 168 missing since protests started. Duque 17 May authorised security forces’ “maximum deployment” to lift blockades across country. Clashes between protesters, police and armed civilians 28 May left several people dead in Cali; Duque same day announced deployment of 7,000 troops to Cali and rest of Valle del Cauca. Negotiations between govt and strike leaders, which started mid-May, remained stalled by month’s end. Meanwhile, High Commissioner for Peace Miguel Ceballos 9 May revealed govt had been conducting indirect talks with National Liberation Army (ELN) to explore group’s “disposition” toward govt’s pre-conditions for talks, including releasing hostages and ceasing kidnappings, child recruitment and use of mines; Ceballos 26 May resigned, citing former President Uribe’s contacts with ELN outside govt’s purview. Govt 16 May named jailed ELN leader Tulio Gilberto Astudillo Victoria, alias Juan Carlos Cuellar, as “manager of peace”, hereby allowing him to play mediating role; ELN commander Nicolás Rodríguez Bautista next day released statement supporting anti-govt protests and urging soldiers to disobey orders. UN Security Council 11 May renewed mandate of Verification Mission for Colombia until 31 Oct; mission’s mandate now due to include monitoring compliance with sentences of Special Jurisdiction for Peace, established under govt-Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) peace deal to handle cases deriving from conflict. Clashes between Venezuela’s military and FARC dissidents continued near Colombian border (see Venezuela).

Venezuela

President Maduro made several gestures signalling possible willingness to negotiate with rivals, including appointment of opposition members in new electoral authority. Govt-controlled National Assembly 4 May appointed new National Electoral Council (CNE), with five-person leadership including two opposition members, strongest opposition representation in 15 years – signalling Maduro’s possible openness to further concessions. New CNE divided opposition. Mainstream opposition leader Juan Guaidó same day said new CNE was creature of “illegitimate” National Assembly and would “drag country toward greater disaster”, while former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, who heads moderate opposition politicians engaged in dialogue with Maduro, 5 May welcomed “essential first step to open the constitutional and democratic reconstruction path”. Guaidó 11 May proposed “National Salvation Accord” including timetable for “free and fair” presidential, parliamentary, regional and municipal elections, release of political prisoners and humanitarian aid access in exchange for progressive lifting of international sanctions and guarantees for current govt officials. Capriles 25 May expressed support for Guaidó’s proposal, which U.S. 11 May and EU 13 May also welcomed. CNE 13 May announced regional and municipal elections for 21 Nov. In response, Guaidó next day said opposition would not “lend itself to a farce”. Meanwhile, chief prosecutor 1 May announced charges against low-ranking govt and military officials in three high-profile political killings for which govt had hitherto denied responsibility; move came day after six imprisoned oil executives, whose freedom is sought by U.S., were released into house arrest. In Apure state near border with Colombia, low-intensity conflict continued between Venezuela’s military and dissident faction of Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) known as 10th Front, with clashes leaving at least seven soldiers injured near La Victoria municipality early May. After 10th Front 15 May released video of eight soldiers reportedly taken prisoners in Apure late April, Defence Minister Gen Padrino López same day confirmed soldiers were in guerrillas’ hands. Jesús Santrich, leader of another FARC dissident faction known as “Segunda Marquetalia”, reportedly killed 17 May in Venezuela.

Brazil

Tensions ran high between President Bolsonaro on one hand, and Congress, state governors and military on the other. Current Health Minister Marcelo Queiroga and three of his predecessors throughout month testified before Senate’s parliamentary commission investigating federal govt’s handling of COVID-19 pandemic, which has resulted in over 450,000 deaths in country since early 2020. Notably, former Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta 4 May said that under his tenure he had “systematically” urged Bolsonaro to change his stance on pandemic, while former Health Minister Nelson Teich next day said he had resigned from his ministerial position over Bolsonaro’s pressure to widely use malaria drug hydroxychloroquine as COVID-19 treatment. Bolsonaro 5 May reiterated call on governors not to implement social distancing measures, said he will issue decree to “secure right of freedom of movement”. Thousands of govt supporters gathered in federal capital Brasília 15 May and country’s second most populous city Rio de Janeiro 23 May. Former health minister under Bolsonaro and lead witness on Senate’s parliamentary commission, Gen Eduardo Pazuello, appeared at 23 May protest, breaking military rules against active duty officers’ political involvement and furthering tensions between president and Army High Command. Bolsonaro 27 May threatened once again military action against any state govts announcing new COVID-19 related lockdowns. Tens of thousands 29 May protested across country against govt’s COVID-19 response, denouncing “dictatorship” and demanding Bolsonaro’s impeachment; police threw tear gas and shot rubber bullets at protesters in north-eastern city of Recife. Meanwhile, police raid in Rio de Janeiro’s Jacarezinho neighbourhood 6 May left 28 dead including one police officer; Rio de Janeiro’s Prosecutor’s Office 11 May announced creation of task force to investigate incident, including accusations that police carried out arbitrary killings and tampered with crime scene.

Honduras

Despite approval of new electoral law, uncertainty continued to loom over electoral process in lead-up to Nov polls. National Congress 25 May approved new electoral law. Opposition leader and former presidential candidate Salvador Nasralla same day decried law as “farce” that consolidates three-party system and excludes others, said his party will boycott Nov elections if not granted representatives at polling stations. National Anticorruption Council 26 May also criticised law for allowing individuals facing corruption investigations to run. U.S. court 13 May requested extradition of former police chief, Juan Carlos “El Tigre” Bonilla, on drug-trafficking charges. U.S. Congresswoman 18 May disclosed names of five Honduran lawmakers accused by U.S. State Dept of embezzlement or narco-trafficking. Govt continued to face criticism over management of COVID-19 pandemic. Notably, National Anticorruption Council 6 May urged President Hernández’s govt to immediately address deficiencies and shortcomings of triage centres in seven departments.

El Salvador

President Bukele moved to take control of judiciary, further straining relations with U.S. Newly inaugurated govt-controlled Legislative Assembly 1 May voted to remove all five justices of Supreme Court’s Constitutional Chamber, who had previously ruled against Bukele’s handling of COVID-19 pandemic; although Constitutional Chamber immediately declared move unconstitutional, four of five removed magistrates resigned in following days. Lawmakers overnight 1-2 May also dismissed Attorney General Raúl Melara, who had been investigating allegations of govt corruption and negotiations with gangs, over accusations of political affiliation. Washington slammed moves as dangerous power grab; notably, U.S. Special Envoy for Central America Ricardo Zuñiga 11 May decried removals as “unconstitutional”. Legislative Assembly 5 May approved legislation shielding officials from corruption investigations in COVID-19-related purchases since March 2020. U.S. Congresswoman 18 May disclosed names of five senior Salvadorian officials whom State Dept accused of corruption or involvement in narco-trafficking; Bukele immediately criticised list for not including opposition ARENA party representative, and Legislative Assembly next day ratified 2019 cooperation agreement with China in alleged response to U.S. pressure. U.S. development agency USAID 21 May redirected assistance away from National Police and Institute for Access to Public Information to civil society organisations; Bukele 25 May warned it would be illegal for USAID to fund opposition movements.

Nicaragua

President Ortega tightened his grip on electoral process by filling electoral authorities with loyalists and barring opposition from running. Ahead of general elections scheduled for Nov, govt-controlled National Assembly 4 May elected Supreme Electoral Council (CSE)’s magistrates, mostly members of ruling Sandinista National Liberation Front; same day amended electoral law, de facto restricting opposition participation and limiting international electoral observation. U.S. State Dept, Organization of American States and EU 6 May all condemned appointment of new CSE magistrates and changes to electoral law; U.S. State Dept also warned it will continue to use diplomatic and economic tools against Ortega’s govt. In response, Ortega 18 May accused U.S. and European diplomats of election interference. CSE 18-19 May withdrew legal status of Democratic Restoration Party, electoral vehicle of opposition bloc National Coalition and Conservative Party. Attorney General’s Office 20 May said opposition presidential hopeful Cristiana Chamorro is under investigation for alleged financial irregularities and money laundering; police same day raided premises of Chamorro’s NGO and independent news outlet Confidencial, run by her brother, in capital Managua. U.S. State Dept 21 May condemned “another alarming step away from democracy”. Attorney General’s Office by 26 May had summoned at least 16 journalists in relation to case. Meanwhile, opposition remained divided, with National Coalition and Citizen Alliance failing to form electoral alliance by 12 May deadline set by new CSE.

Haiti

Authorities confirmed intention to proceed with controversial constitutional referendum in late June despite dwindling international support; vote could worsen political crisis and fuel violent unrest. Interim PM Claude Joseph 4 May confirmed govt’s intention to hold constitutional referendum 27 June. EU Ambassador to Haiti Sylvie Tabesse 6 May said EU would not send electoral observer mission, deeming process insufficiently transparent and democratic; move follows late April withdrawal of support for referendum by Core Group – composed of representatives from UN Sec-Gen office, U.S., EU, France, Germany, Canada, Brazil, Spain and Organization of American States (OAS). After Joseph late April said govt was ready to host OAS mission to facilitate inclusive dialogue on political crisis, U.S. 12 May urged OAS to swiftly stipulate mission’s provisions, and OAS Permanent Council 26 May approved terms of reference for three-day mission to be deployed “no later than mid-June”. Protesters 3 and 7 May burned tyres and erected road blocks in several areas of capital Port-au-Prince to protest recent kidnappings of two residents by suspected gang members. Local media 11 May reported authorities had paid gangs in Port-au-Prince to stop or reduce kidnappings; govt immediately denied claim. Meanwhile, health authorities 14 May confirmed presence of two COVID-19 variants in country; World Health Organization 19 May said govt had accepted 130,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine in reversal of previous position, and govt 22 May declared state of emergency for eight days to curb rise in infections. UN Children agency late May warned number of children suffering from severe acute malnutrition could double this year due to impacts of COVID-19 and rising violence. Dominican Republic mid-May reported completion of first 23km of fence aimed at stemming illegal migration and smuggling along Dominican-Haitian border.

Mexico

Armed group violence continued, notably targeting politicians and journalists in lead-up to 6 June legislative, regional and local elections. Authorities 29 April-12 May excavated 26 bodies in and around Irapuato town, Guanajuato state (centre). Amid turf battles between Jalisco Cartel New Generation (CJNG) and rival Sinaloa Cartel in north of Jalisco state (centre), unidentified armed group 7 May abducted and later killed three siblings in state capital Guadalajara; thousands 12 May took to streets in Guadalajara to call for justice. In Sonora state (north), unidentified assailants early May killed local journalist in Sonoyta municipality and 13 May shot dead former state attorney and current mayoral candidate in Cajeme municipality. Also in north, unidentified gunmen 24 May ambushed and killed Sinaloa state police director near state capital Culiacan. Unidentified assailants 25 May killed mayoral candidate in Moroleon city in Guanajuato state, bringing to 34 number of candidates and to 88 number of politicians murdered ahead of 6 June vote. President López Obrador 7 May accused National Electoral Institute of tolerating vote buying by two opposition candidates in Nuevo León state (north). Attorney General’s Office 10 May announced investigations into both candidates over allegations of campaign irregularities; cases are currently the only ones made public out of 450 ongoing investigations for suspected electoral fraud. After collapse of Mexico City metro overpass 3 May killed 26, hundreds in following days took to streets to demand justice for victims and protest corruption and negligence; authorities had reportedly ignored successive warnings about structural weaknesses and damages in construction of elevated track. Ruling MORENA party-dominated Senate 6 May rejected creation of investigative commission into accident. López Obrador and U.S. VP Kamala Harris 7 May vowed to collaborate to tackle root causes of migration in Central America; more concrete steps expected during Harris’s visit to Mexico City scheduled for 8 June.

Peru

Maoist rebels staged deadly attack ahead of 6 June presidential election. Suspected remnants of Maoist revolutionary group Shining Path 23 May killed at least 16 people in San Miguel de Elne village, Valle de los Ríos Apurímac, Ene y Mantaro (VRAEM) region known for coca production; pamphlets warning against voting in 6 June presidential election reportedly found on site after attack. Interim President Sagasti next day said he had ordered deployment of armed forces and police in area, promised there will be “no impunity” for those behind massacre.  

Middle East & North Africa

Israel/Palestine

Israel’s forced evictions of Palestinians in East Jerusalem and restrictions on worshippers sparked widespread unrest and 11-day war with Gaza’s armed factions that killed hundreds. Israeli police 7 May clashed with young Palestinians protesting planned expulsions in East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood and worshippers observing Ramadan at Al-Aqsa mosque inside Old City, injuring over 200 Palestinians and 17 Israeli police officers; Israel’s restrictions and attacks on worshippers as well as police raids in compound continued over following days, injuring 1,000 Palestinians by 10 May. Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem 10 May protested Jewish ultra-nationalist plans to march through Old City toward al-Aqsa to mark Jerusalem Day, leading to police raids that injured some 300 Palestinians even as Israeli authorities same day redirected march. Responding to events, Hamas’ military wing admonished Israel to halt violence. Joint Chamber of Palestinian Resistance Factions in the Gaza Strip 10 May issued ultimatum for Israel to withdraw forces from al-Aqsa and Sheikh Jarrah and release detainees by 6pm; shortly after deadline expired, Hamas fired rockets toward Jerusalem. Israeli forces 10-21 May heavily bombarded Gaza as Palestinian factions fired thousands of rockets into Israel; fighting killed at least 248 Palestinians in Gaza, including some 66 children, and 12 people in Israel, including two children, before ceasefire went into effect 21 May. Amid Gaza hostilities, unprecedented wave of violence erupted throughout Israel’s mixed cities and neighbourhoods. Notably, govt 12 May declared state of emergency in Lod city for first time since 1966 to contain widespread violence, including Jewish gunman 10 May killing Palestinian and Palestinian same day setting fire to synagogue; Israeli ultranationalists 12 May attacked Lod’s Al-Omari mosque, prompting mayor same day to declare “civil war”; Israeli police late month made 1,550 arrests, 70% of them Palestinians. Palestinians held protests throughout West Bank in solidarity with Palestinians in Jerusalem and Gaza; Israeli forces 14 May responded with rubber bullets, tear gas and live ammunition and 16 May killed 13 Palestinians and injured 1600 others. Palestinians in West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza Strip and Israel 18 May held strike for first time in decades.

Lebanon

Political deadlock over govt formation continued amid ongoing economic and social strife; protesters rallied and groups fired rockets at border with Israel in support of Palestinians. French FM Jean-Yves Le Drian 6 May visited Lebanon in another attempt to break stalemate between PM-designate Saad Hariri and President Aoun in forming new govt; Le Drian next day announced sanctions on politicians blocking process. In letter to parliament speaker, Aoun 18 May blamed Hariri for delay and demanded plenary debate, widely seen as call on parliament to rescind Hariri’s PM nomination despite no constitutional provision providing for PM destitution. Hariri 22 May said he would “not form a government as the team of the president wants it, or any other political faction”. Former PMs Fouad Siniora, Najib Mikati and Tammam Salam, widely seen as influential political voices in Sunni community, 19 May condemned Aoun’s initiative as “attack on coexistence”. Economic and social hardship continued. Caretaker PM Hassan Diab 3 May said proposed ration card program aimed at replacing costly subsidies scheme and offering safety net to most vulnerable citizens faced political pushback. Petrol stations 10 May began closing amid continued fuel shortages and rationing, causing hours-long queues by 11 May; dispute over fuel allocation 17 May left one dead in north. World Bank 31 May warned that country’s economic and financial crises could amount to one of “most severe crises episodes globally since the mid-nineteenth century”. In response to deadly fighting between Israel and Gaza-based Palestinian armed factions (see Israel-Palestine), pro-Palestinian protesters 14 May attempted to cross border near Israeli town of Metula, prompting Israeli fire that killed one Hizbollah and injured two protesters; protests 17 May continued at border. Suspected Palestinian groups 18 May fired six rockets from south toward Israel that fell short of crossing border. Altercations broke out in-lead up to 26 May Syrian presidential elections (see Syria); notably, activists of Christian Lebanese Forces party attacked Syrian voters in and around capital Beirut, claiming voting indicated support for Assad regime.

Syria

Govt forces and rebels clashed in south west in lead-up to controversial presidential polls, which saw re-election of President Assad; meanwhile, ceasefire in Idlib held despite violations. Ahead of 26 May presidential election, Constitutional Court 3 May approved two opposition candidates for poll alongside Assad; U.S., UK, France and Germany 25 May denounced “fraudulent election”. Head of parliament 27 May declared Assad winner with over 95% of vote, marking his fourth term. In Daraa province in south west, discontent ahead of poll perceived as rigged fuelled tensions between former opposition groups and regime forces. Notably, unidentified gunmen 1-20 May reportedly killed at least 19 soldiers and ten former rebels who had enrolled in or struck reconciliation deals with govt forces. In Idlib province in north west, March 2020 ceasefire continued to hold despite reported clashes, artillery shelling and Russian airstrikes in countryside throughout month; notably, suspected Russian airstrike 3 March reportedly killed three people near Fuah town; militants affiliated with jihadist rebel group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham 7 May reportedly killed five soldiers of Russian-backed fifth corps west of Malajah village; little-known group Ansar Abu Bakr al-Siddiq Brigade 10 May killed one Turkish soldier near Kafraya village. In Aleppo governorate, suspected Islamic State (ISIS) militants 18 May reportedly killed eight Iran-backed militiamen in Maskanah desert. In north east, armed protesters 18 May attempted to storm base of Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in Shadadi town following armed group’s decision previous day to sharply raise fuel prices, leaving at least one protester dead; SDF 19 May cancelled price hike. Kurdish security forces 31 May opened fire to disperse residents protesting mandatory conscription in Manbij area, killing one. In central desert, Russia continued airstrikes against suspected ISIS targets throughout month, reportedly killing at least 27 militants; suspected ISIS militants 2 May killed four govt soldiers in Palmyra countryside (centre). Israel 5 May reportedly fired missiles on Iran-linked targets in Hama and Latakia countryside (west central), killing up to eight fighters and one civilian. In possible bid to mend ties, intelligence chief General Ali Mamlouk 3 May reportedly met with Saudi counterpart in capital Damascus.

Iran

Indirect U.S.-Iran talks to revive nuclear deal continued as Tehran advanced its nuclear activities and regional maritime tensions with U.S. persisted. U.S. and Iran continued to participate in international negotiations in Austrian capital Vienna aimed at reviving Iran nuclear deal, as gaps between two sides narrowed but significant hurdles, including scope of sanctions relief, remained; fifth round of talks in Vienna 25 May began with meeting of Joint Commission of nuclear deal. With roadmap toward mutual U.S. and Iranian compliance with deal emerging but still elusive, Tehran continued to advance its nuclear capacities. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) 11 May informed member states of “an enrichment level of up to 63 per cent”. Separately, IAEA and Tehran reportedly held further discussions on resolving outstanding safeguards concerns; IAEA 24 May announced one-month extension of deal reached in Feb for monitoring and verification of nuclear sites; IAEA 31 May said Tehran yet to explain traces of uranium found at undeclared sites. Amid deadly fighting in Israel and Gaza (see Israel-Palestine), U.S. criticism of Biden administration’s diplomatic efforts to engage with Iran on nuclear deal rose as 44 Senate Republicans 12 May signed letter calling on Washington to immediately end talks with Iran, accusing Tehran of “supporting terrorist activity” against Israel; letter portends bitter domestic debate if and when nuclear deal is revived. Meanwhile, Iran-U.S. maritime tensions continued. Over dozen Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps speedboats 10 May approached six U.S. navy vessels accompanying U.S. submarine through Strait of Hormuz, leading U.S. vessels to fire warning shots; encounter follows similar incidents last month, potentially signalling shift toward increased sabre-rattling which raises risk of miscalculation at sea. Ahead of presidential election scheduled for 18 June, over 590 candidates 11-15 May registered to enter race; Guardian Council, an oversight body, 25 May disqualified many – including First VP Eshagh Jahangiri, former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and former parliament speaker Ali Larijani – and approved seven candidates, five of whom are conservatives, most notably judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi. Foreign ministry 31 May said talks with Saudi Arabia are continuing, aimed at reaching “common understanding”.

Iraq

Iran-linked armed groups vowed to increase attacks on U.S. forces and targeted killings increased ahead of October election, fuelling climate of fear; Islamic State (ISIS) launched annual Ramadan offensive. Unknown groups 2-4, 24 May fired rockets at U.S.-led coalition troops in Baghdad airport as well as Balad and Ain al-Asad airbases. Coalition of Iran-aligned armed groups 24 May declared end of unofficial truce with U.S. forces and vowed further attacks, citing “lack of seriousness” of U.S. troop withdrawal. Meanwhile, targeted killings increased, sending chilling message ahead of Oct polls. Unidentified gunmen 9 May killed prominent activist Ihab al-Wazni in Karbala city; protesters same day rallied in Karbala to condemn killing, resulting in roadblocks and torching of vehicles outside Iranian consulate over accusations of pro-Iranian militia involvement. Unknown assailants 10 May shot and seriously injured journalist Ahmed Hassan in Diwaniya city (south). Unknown assailants 22 May injured activist Mohammed Khayat in Nasiriyah city; protesters same day stormed Dhi Qar governorate building. Head of Sunni political bloc Azm Coalition 22 May announced unknown assailants killed electoral candidate. Amid violence, several new parties linked to Oct 2019 protest movement throughout month announced withdrawal from poll citing fear of persecution. In attempt to regain