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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 March 2022

Conflict Risk Alerts

Resolution Opportunities

Trends for Last Month February 2022

Deteriorated Situations

Improved Situations

Our monthly conflict tracker warns of four conflict risks and one resolution opportunity in March.

  • Moscow launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, forcing hundreds of thousands to flee. As Russian forces continue their assault in the face of resistance, the conflict could further intensify, with major repercussions beyond Ukraine’s borders.
     
  • Marathon negotiations involving Iran, the U.S. and other world powers reached an inflection point that will determine whether the 2015 nuclear deal is revived or collapses.
     
  • After Libya’s eastern-based parliament announced it had appointed a new prime minister and approved his cabinet, the country faces a high risk of institutional division with two rival governments vying for power.
     
  • Deadly political violence in Zimbabwe, which erupted in February, could escalate around by-elections scheduled for 26 March.

 

CrisisWatch also highlights deteriorations in five countries in February.

  • A controversial phone call discussing plans to destabilise Chad surfaced on social media, fuelling tensions between N’djamena and Bangui, and straining progress to hold a pre-dialogue initiative between Chadian authorities and armed groups.
     
  • Gunfire near the government palace in Guinea-Bissau gave rise to competing narratives and exposed the fragility of President Sissoco Embaló’s seat.

 

Aside from the conflict situations we regularly assess, we tracked notable developments in Benin, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the Nile Waters.

Our CrisisWatch Digests for Ethiopia, Lebanon and Somalia offer a monthly one-page snapshot of conflict-related country trends in a clear, accessible format, using a map of the region to pinpoint developments:

  • View the February 2022 CrisisWatch Digest on Ethiopia here.
  • View the February 2022 CrisisWatch Digest on Lebanon here.
  • View the February 2022 CrisisWatch Digest on Somalia here.

Latest Updates

Africa

Nile Waters

Ethiopia launched power production from Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), lowering hopes of renewed dialogue between Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan. Addis Ababa 20 Feb announced it had started producing electricity at GERD. In response, Egypt’s FM Sameh Shoukry same day accused Ethiopia of violating 2015 Declaration of Principles signed by all three countries. Cairo in letter to UN Security Council around 25 Feb said Ethiopia bears “full responsibility” for “any damage caused to Egypt” as a result. Sudan’s acting Irrigation and Water Resources Minister Daw Al-Bait Abdul-Rahman 21 Feb rejected “unacceptable move” and “unilateral step” by Ethiopia.

Burkina Faso

Military junta approved three-year transition before elections; French and Burkinabé forces conducted airstrikes against jihadists in north and east. Lt Col Henri-Paul Sandaogo Damiba sworn in as president 16 Feb, pledged to “preserve, respect, uphold and defend the Constitution”. Junta early Feb set up 15-member technical commission tasked with outlining transition charter and roadmap; commission 23 Feb proposed 30-month transition led by Damiba before elections. After military junta 28 Feb opened “national consultation” to debate commission’s proposals, Damiba overnight 28 Feb-1 March signed charter outlining three-year transition. Amid lull in jihadist violence in Sahel region (north), military 2-3 and 11-13 Feb carried out airstrikes in Soum, Oudalan and Seno provinces. Centre-North region saw significant clashes between volunteers fighting alongside security forces (VDPs) and al-Qaeda affiliated Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM) or Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) jihadists: at least four VDPs and one civilian killed in Namentenga province 2 and 11 Feb; seven dead including one civilian in Sanmatenga province 2-3 Feb. Explosive device attack on military convoy 8 Feb killed two soldiers in Centre-North’s Bam province. In North region, air force 11 Feb carried out two airstrikes on presumed JNIM positions in Yatenga province, causing unknown casualties. Also in Yatenga, French Barkhane forces 7 Feb launched airstrike on camp of JNIM-affiliated Ansarul Islam combatants suspected of involvement in Nov 2021 Inata attack; ten jihadists and four civilians reportedly killed. East region from late-Jan witnessed significant upsurge in violence. Barkhane forces 10 Feb carried out three airstrikes and one drone strike against presumed JNIM convoys in Tapoa province, killing around 40 militants; strikes reportedly targeted militants suspected of involvement in 8 Feb attacks in Benin (see Benin). Jihadists also flexed their muscles across East region despite stiff resistance from local volunteer defence groups; notably, presumed JNIM militants 11 Feb burned schools in several villages of Gnagna province.

Mali

France and European partners announced troop withdrawal amid heightened tensions with Bamako, while jihadist violence persisted. France and allied European countries 17 Feb announced full withdrawal of French Barkhane and European Takuba forces from Mali within six months. Transitional authorities next day denounced “unilateral” decision in breach of bilateral agreements, asked France and European countries to pull out forces “without delay”; French President Macron immediately rejected request, demanded “respect”, saying “France has been, equipping, training” Malian army for nine years. Transition’s trajectory stoked domestic tensions. Main political and civil society umbrella group Cadre d’échange des partis politiques pour une transition réussie 9 Feb announced it would no longer recognise transitional authorities beyond 25 March – end of initially agreed 18-month transition; coalition also warned it would reject transition charter’s revision. Legislative body National Transitional Council 21 Feb however approved amendment to transition’s charter extending transition period for up to five years. Meanwhile, EU 4 Feb imposed travel bans and asset freezes on five prominent members of transitional govt including PM Choguel Maïga. West Africa’s regional bloc ECOWAS delegation 25 Feb left Bamako after inconclusive talks with military junta over transition’s duration. Violence continued notably in Gao region’s Ansongo district; joint operation between Takuba task force and Malian army 1-6 Feb reportedly killed 30 Islamist militants in Indelimane area; Takuba 9-13 Feb also killed eight suspected Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) combatants in Inchakamak area; Malian army 18 Feb said it had killed 57 jihadists and lost eight soldiers in Tessit area. Meanwhile, ISGS militants 13-15 Feb killed about 40 civilians in several villages of Ansongo district. Amid recent influx of ISGS fighters from neighbouring Niger and Burkina Faso, clashes continued between al-Qaeda-linked Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM) and ISGS. Notably, fighting 5-6 Feb left at least ten ISGS combatants dead in Ansongo district. Amid ongoing accusations of army abuses against civilians, reports emerged of army airstrike killing 13 civilians in Ségou region’s Niono district 7 Feb.

Niger

Niger set to take on enhanced role in regional security architecture amid departure of French and other forces from Mali; insecurity remained widespread in Tillabery and Diffa regions. French Defence Minister Florence Parly 2-3 Feb visited Niger to assure Niamey of Paris’s “unfailing support” in fight against jihadists amid reconfiguration of France’s security presence in Sahel. France and partners 17 Feb announced full withdrawal of French Barkhane and European Takuba forces from Mali within six months, also stated intent to build new regional security architecture focusing on Niger and West African coastal countries by June. President Bazoum same day confirmed Niger will welcome part of Takuba troops leaving Mali but did not mention Barkhane. Possible reinforcement of French military presence stoked domestic tensions. Authorities 10 Feb banned demonstration scheduled for next day by civil society coalition Tournons La Page against French presence and deployed law enforcement forces in capital Niamey to prevent gathering. Meanwhile, several deadly attacks targeted civilians, local self-defence groups and military forces in Tillabery region (south west). Notably, army vehicle 16 Feb struck explosive device near Téra department’s Samira gold-mining site, leaving five killed and two wounded; unidentified assailants 20 Feb attacked truck in Banibangou department killing at least 18 civilians. In Diffa region (south east), series of abductions by suspected Boko Haram (BH) Bakura faction or Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) continued. Notably, ISWAP or Bakura faction 8 Feb killed one person and abducted 16 including women and children in Bosso department. Banditry activity and several abductions recorded in Maradi region (south). Unidentified gunmen 1 Feb attacked civilians in Koakora village (Guidan Roumdji department) and abducted four women; next day clashed with local defence militia and abducted woman in Tchadi village (also Guidan Roumdji). Also in Maradi, Nigerian army airstrike targeting armed bandits 18 Feb reportedly killed seven children in Nachadé village (Madarounfa department) bordering Nigeria.

Cameroon

Separatists launched attacks in Anglophone regions during country’s Youth Day, concerns rose over Biya’s succession plans, and jihadist kept up attacks in Far North. In Anglophone regions, violence ran high, notably when separatists 10-11 Feb sought to disrupt Youth Day, national day marking 1961 plebiscite for independence in British Southern Cameroons. Armed militiamen 10 Feb set fire to girl’s secondary school dormitory in Okoyong, Mamfe, South West (SW), announcing ghost town and threatening defaulters to prevent celebrations next day. International diplomats 14 Feb jointly condemned attack and Ambazonia Governing Council (AGovC) same day called for attacks on schools to stop. In most Anglophone towns, few people demonstrated on Youth Day in fear of reprisals while marches took place in Francophone regions; President Paul Biya 11 Feb delivered speech without reference to situation in Anglophone areas. Armed separatists conducted attacks throughout month; notably, separatists 1 Feb carried out attacks in North West (NW) in Bui’s division capital Kumbo killing at least three; 7 Feb killed govt soldier in Kumba city. Unidentified armed men 8 Feb also set fire to primary school in SW’s capital Buea. Desertions among security forces increased; notably, police 5 and 16 Feb announced total of twelve officials failed to report in different parts of NW. Govt forces 16 Feb killed lead separatist commander “General” Ebube in Alabukam village (NW). Separatist Interim Govt of Ambazonia faction based in Maryland, U.S., saw rift during month with leader Samuel Sako dismissed but refusing to leave. Several other groups held meetings towards unity: AGovC’s Ayabo Cho (armed wing: Ambazonia Defence Forces) and African Peoples Liberation Front’s Ebenezer Akwanga (armed wing: Southern Cameroon Defence Forces, SOCADEF) 11-12 Feb met in Ireland, discussed common approach to fighting and negotiation; AGovC 26 Feb met representatives of 11 other groups from Ambazonia Coalition for Talks, then jointly agreed to negotiated settlement and pursuit of independence. Amid 13 Feb Biya’s 89th anniversary, speculations arose about succession plans including first lady Chantal Biya’s growing power. Meanwhile, jihadist insurgency continued in north east with attacks on military position; notably, Boko Haram fighters 9-14 Feb killed four civilians in Mayo Tsanaga department.

Central African Republic

President Touadéra appointed Félix Moloua as new PM, opposition agreed to return to national dialogue, and armed clashes with rebels continued. Touadéra 7 Feb appointed Félix Moloua as new PM following Henri-Marie Dondra’s resignation; Mouloua seen as longstanding Touadéra ally, trusted technocrat by international donors and with more conciliant views on Russian paramilitary group Wagner than Dondra. Dondra now reportedly preparing exit to take over Rassemblement Démocratique Centrafricain (RDC) party, although his political ambitions may be challenged in near future as he is reportedly facing criminal charges for embezzlement of public funds while he was minister of finance and budget (2016-2021). In major step forward, opposition parties 3 Feb announced steering committee return to national dialogue after withdrawal in late Oct 2021; decision followed cancellation of procedure by National Assembly President Simplice Mathieu Sarandji to lift parliamentary immunity of three opposition leaders accused of collusion with Rebel Coalition of Patriots for Change (CPC). Cancellation became automatic after general prosecutor 10 Feb suspended judicial investigations against opposition leaders. Dialogue agenda likely to become another contentious issue with opposition parties as they call for inclusion of armed groups and equal number of representatives from govt, civil society and opposition in steering committee along with list of topics to discuss including transparency of electoral system ahead of Sept 2022 elections. Meanwhile, armed forces and Wagner paramilitary continued to pursue (their) efforts to eradicate Ali Darassa’s armed group Union pour la Paix en Centrafrique; notably armed clashes 2 Feb killed 12 people, including at least six civilians, in Boyo locality (Ouaka prefecture). Wagner reportedly now concentrated around mining sites and relying more on armed forces and local militias to control other zones to make intervention cost-effective. Russian mercenaries 12 Feb executed Rassemblement pour le renouveau de la Centrafrique (RPCR) leader Zakaria Damane along with a dozen of his men and family members in Sam-Ouandja town (Haute-Kotto prefecture). Damane’s stronghold was seen as key mining area and transit route for illegal traffic with Sudan; his death could incite some RPRC combatants to abandon disarmament process and join the rebellion.

Chad

Pre-dialogue initiative with armed groups faced setback and delay, tensions with Central African Republic rose and intercommunal violence left dozen dead. Pre-dialogue with armed groups planned for 27 Feb in Qatar’s capital Doha delayed, possibly rescheduled to mid-March due to logistical issues. Pre-dialogue also faced major challenge after controversial phone conversation between Chadian rebel group Union des forces de la Résistance (UFR) leader Timan Erdimi and former Special Adviser for Central African Republic (CAR) Aboulkassim Algoni Tidjani Annour 15 Feb surfaced on social media; in call, leaders discussed plan to destabilise Chad, with Erdimi saying he wished to convince Russian paramilitary group Wagner to oust Transitional Military Council (TMC) leader Mahamat Idriss Déby and drive France out of Chad. Govt and parliament members immediately condemned plot, with govt stating refusal to host man planning “war” at dialogue talks with armed groups, while some MPs called for cancellation of amnesty law enacted in late Dec. UFR 18 Feb reaffirmed willingness to participate in dialogue and denounced attempt to exclude them. Déby 21 Feb reaffirmed that no armed group will be excluded from pre-dialogue. Tensions between CAR and Chad rose over leaked audio recording; CAR presidency 17 Feb denied involvement in plot and said Tidjani had been dismissed as presidential adviser in Feb 2021. Meanwhile, various stakeholders including Déby and civil society coalition Wakit Tama 9 Feb discussed conditions for dialogue participation; Groupe de Réflexion et d’Action pour l’Appel du 1er juin 2021 – group composed of former officials and longstanding opponents – also same day published document with recommendations on dialogue agenda and proposals on ways to identify participants. Meanwhile, intercommunal violence persisted. In east, tensions remained high despite non-aggression pact 2 Feb signed between Arab and Ouaddaïan communities following late-Jan incidents in Abéché city in Ouaddaï region. In south, farmer-herder tensions erupted: herder group 10 Feb launched reprisal attack which left 12 dead in Sandana area after they found dead body of community member. Demonstrations held during month in southern cities and in capital N’djamena against corruption, impunity and injustice.

Burundi

Reports of ongoing army operations in eastern DR Congo (DRC), including alleged serious abuses, continued; President Ndayishimiye pursued diplomatic engagement as EU lifted financial sanctions. Although authorities denied presence in eastern DRC, reliable reports indicated that Burundian army (FNDB) stepped up its operations in DRC’s South Kivu with an estimated 600 Burundian soldiers 31 Jan-3 Feb reportedly crossing Lake Tanganyika into Fizi territory; many soldiers reportedly killed on battlefront or in attempts to reach it. Congolese armed forces (FARDC) 2 Feb killed 33 Mai Mai militiamen allied with Burundian rebels of Résistance pour un Etat de Droit (RED-Tabara) and National Liberation Front (FNL) in Uvira territory. Local media 3 Feb reported that Burundian military intelligence services allegedly executed at least 20 soldiers who were seeking official recognition of their mission in Uvira territory. Congolese civil society 2 Feb denounced grave human rights violations at hands of FNDB likely intensified by operations’ secretive and unofficial nature, notably said FNDB have killed over 70 civilians and caused 80,000 to flee villages since operations started in Dec. Intelligence services and ruling party youth wing Imbonerakure continued to terrorise civilians and political opposition; notably, two armed men in police uniforms 8 Feb arrested opposition party National Freedom Congress (CNL) member in Bujumbura province’s Kanyosha commune. Accusations over collaboration with rebels created new opportunities for state-sanctioned violence; suspected RED-Tabara supporter 6 Feb died, reportedly after being tortured by intelligence agents in Cibitoke province. Meanwhile, Gitega pursued continental and multilateral diplomacy; notably, President Evariste Ndayishimiye 7 Feb met with Ethiopian counterpart and next day announced adhesion to African Peer Review Mechanism, which he said showed country’s contribution to good governance. Rwandan President Paul Kagame same day declared upcoming normalisation of bilateral relations. Ndayishimiye 15 Feb attended AU-EU summit in Belgian capital Brussels, first European visit since 2014; visit follows EU’s 8 Feb lift of financial sanctions imposed in March 2016 on Burundian administration; civil society groups 12 Feb criticised decision fearing it could further embolden repressive practices.

Democratic Republic of Congo

Authorities arrested President Félix Tshisekedi’s special security adviser while rebel attacks continued in east. National Intelligence Agency (ANR) 5 Feb arrested Tshisekedi’s special security adviser, François Beya, in capital Kinshasa; Beya had served last four presidents and had played instrumental role in 2018 election deal between Tshisekedi and former President Joseph Kabila. ANR 8 Feb said arrest related to attempted threat to national security, while many debated exact reasons. Tshisekedi 4 Feb extended state of siege in Ituri and North Kivu despite intensifying discontent. Police 8 Feb arrested National Deputy Josué Mufula after he criticised measure, next day released him. North Kivu provincial deputies 14 Feb asked for state of siege to be replaced with state of limited security emergency for hot zones like Beni and rehabilitation of democratic institutions. Civil society groups 16 Feb requested Ituri General Governor Johnny Luboya be replaced due to his inability to stop attacks. Militia attacks persisted in east. In Ituri, Cooperative for the Development of Congo (CODECO) resumed and extended attacks near Djugu territory and toward Mungwalu gold-bearing areas. Most notably, CODECO 2 Feb attacked Djugu’s Plaine Savo camp for internally displaced persons, killing 62 people. CODECO militia faction linked to Lendu community 16 Feb took delegation of former Ituri warlords hostage in Gutsi locality, Djugu; ex-warlords tasked by Tshisekedi to conduct negotiations on disarmament with various militias active in Ituri. Militia set conditions for delegation’s release, including immediate ceasefire, release of Lendu prisoners, and end of Ituri state of siege; negotiations still under way by end of month. Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) continued to launch attacks. Notably, ADF 20 Feb killed three civilians in Irumu territory’s Biane town; 3 Feb killed four civilians and freed about 20 detainees from police station bordering Uganda’s Nobili village in North Kivu. In speech before Rwandan parliament, Rwandan President Paul Kagame 12 Feb evoked possible military intervention to neutralise armed groups in eastern DRC that represent threat to Rwanda, in particular Hutu rebels of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) and ADF.

Uganda

Rapprochement with Rwanda continued, torture allegations sparked condemnation, and military pursued operations in DR Congo. Following late Jan border reopening between Rwanda and Uganda after three-year closure, cautious rapprochement between neighbouring countries held. Case of novelist Kakwenza Rukirabashaija, who reported he was tortured during detention, including in presence of President Museveni’s son, Lt Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba, continued to spark outcry. Notably, over 100 opposition lawmakers 3 Feb began two-week parliamentary boycott; U.S. embassy 4 Feb demanded accountability for those responsible for abuse, and EU delegation 7 Feb expressed concern over “increase of reports of torture”. Govt 8 Feb denied using torture, and in defiance of international criticism, Museveni 9 Feb appointed Maj Gen Abel Kandiho, who is blacklisted by U.S. for human rights violations, as head of police force; move reverted previous gesture toward Rwanda when Museveni 25 Jan relieved Kandiho (long accused by Kigali of kidnapping and torturing Rwandans in Uganda) from his duties and ordered his transfer to South Sudan. Rukirabashaija 9 Feb fled Uganda for Germany to get medical treatment. Meanwhile, Ugandan and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)’s militaries 1, 9 Feb opened second and third offensive route against Allied Democratic Forces in eastern DRC. Police 14 Feb announced arrest of seven terror suspects in Butambala and Kalungu districts for alleged role in late 2021 Kampala attacks. International Court of Justice 9 Feb ordered Uganda to pay $325mn in reparations to DRC for occupation of DRC’s eastern Ituri province during 1998-2003 war; govt rejected ruling. Arrest of boda boda driver 23 Feb sparked riot in Koboko district, which prompted clashes that left one dead and three injured.

Eritrea

Govt continued to face accusations of military involvement in Ethiopia’s civil war, and Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia suffered new attacks. Tigray govt 4 Feb accused Eritrea’s military of backing Afar forces’ alleged attacks on Tigrayan civilians at Tigray-Afar border in late Dec and Jan; Asmara did not respond. UN refugee agency (UNHCR) 18 Feb said attack by unidentified gunmen on Afar region’s Barahle refugee camp 3 Feb killed five and displaced at least 14,000 Eritrean refugees; also expressed concern about “safety and wellbeing of thousands of Eritrean refugees” caught up in conflict in northern Ethiopia.

Ethiopia

Fighting continued in northern areas, particularly in Afar region, further hindering humanitarian operations; widespread insecurity persisted in other regions. In Afar region, clashes between Tigray forces on one hand, and Afar special forces and militias backed by Ethiopian air force on the other, early to mid-Feb spread from border town of Abala into other areas of Kilbati Rasu-Zone 2. Afar regional govt 7 Feb reported Tigray forces advancing toward Serdo checkpoint, which regulates traffic to Ethiopia’s only access to sea via Djibouti port. Amid ongoing violence in Afar, delivery of humanitarian supplies into Tigray via Semera-Abala-Mekelle road remained suspended. In Amhara region, Tigray forces and federal and Amhara regional forces late Feb reportedly clashed in Raya Kobo Woreda in North Wollo Zone; also in Amhara, unidentified gunmen 7 Feb attacked prison in South Gondar Zone, breaking prisoners out of jail; 16 gunmen reportedly killed. UN Deputy Sec-Gen Amina Mohammed 9 Feb completed five-day visit to Ethiopia, said country in “much better place” than months ago to resolve Tigray conflict. Federal govt 15 Feb lifted state of emergency imposed last Nov. Security situation in Oromia region continued to deteriorate. Insurgent group Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) 3 Feb killed at least three in ambush on Oromia President Shimelis Abdissa’s security detail near Bule Hora in West Guji Zone; several encounters reported 19-21 Feb between OLA and federal forces in West Guji and Guji Zones. Also in Oromia, ethnic Amhara militias launched attacks on civilians, notably killing at least 31 in Horo Guduru Wollega and East Wollega Zones 12-25 Feb. Political tensions ran high in Somali region as ex-regional officials early Feb challenged rule of region’s President Mustafa Omar; regional govt mid-Feb accused “anti-peace elements” of seeking to disrupt peace and stoke unrest. In Gambela region, members of ethnic Murle militia from South Sudan 9-11 Feb killed at least four people and abducted three children in Agnewak Zone. Meanwhile, three parties – Oromo Federalist Congress, Oromo Liberation Front and Ogaden National Liberation Front – 4 Feb said national dialogue lacked impartiality, transparency and inclusivity, making boycott of process likely.

Kenya

Violence continued near Somali border and govt launched security operation amid spate of deadly attacks in Rift Valley; preparations for August elections continued. Suspected Al-Shabaab attacks 2-19 Feb killed at least ten people in country’s east near Somali border: explosive devices 2 and 10 Feb killed eight in Wajir and Garissa counties; attacks on military convoys in Lamu and Garissa counties 12 Feb left at least two dead. Army 26 Feb reportedly killed four alleged Al-Shabaab militants in Boni forest, Lamu county. Kenya and Ethiopia 15 Feb signed agreement to start joint counter-terrorism operation along shared border within a month. Amid spate of deadly attacks in Rift Valley province, govt 6 Feb launched security operation in West Pokot, Baringo and Elgeyo Marakwet counties of Rift Valley; 18 Feb blamed violence on ethnic Pokot militia and announced plans to outlaw group. Violence continued, however, notably in Elgeyo Marakwet county: suspected ethnic Pokot militia 17 Feb reportedly attacked school bus convoy on Arror-Mogil road, killing driver and injuring 15; 20 Feb reportedly killed man in Kipyebo area; intercommunal clashes 26 Feb reportedly killed eight in Chesetan area. Ahead of presidential elections in Aug, electoral commission registered around one mn additional voters in extended registration drive ending 6 Feb, falling short of 4.5mn target. TIFA opinion poll, which surveyed 1,541 people, 17 Feb placed Deputy President William Ruto in front with 38.7%, and opposition leader Raila Odinga at 27%. President Kenyatta 23 Feb officially endorsed Odinga as presidential candidate. Ruling Jubilee Party 26 Feb formally removed Ruto as deputy party leader and announced it would join Odinga’s coalition.

Somalia

Authorities extended Lower House elections deadline amid ongoing manipulation and interference; Al-Shabaab stepped up attacks in bid to disrupt electoral process. As federal and member state leaders focused on installing loyalists as future MPs, including active intelligence and security officials, dispute emerged over selection of former intelligence agency (NISA) chief Fahad Yasin as new MP in Hiraan region’s capital Beledweyne: federal electoral commission mid-Feb suspended voting for seat citing allegations of interference, but state commission went ahead resulting in Yasin’s selection 20 Feb; federal commission next day declared vote null and void. Voting in Feb shifted from state capitals to secondary locations, with first vote outside state capitals held 9-10 Feb in South West state’s Barawe city; Jubaland govt officials and MPs 13 Feb said elections cannot take place under current conditions in Gedo region’s Garbaharey city, citing challenges including alleged presence of NISA agents there. Meanwhile, tensions persisted in Beledweyne after federal security forces late Jan deployed to city to facilitate Hirshabelle President Ali Guudlaawe’s visit and initiation of polls: clash between federal Police Special Operations Battalion (Haramcad) and local police forces 17 Feb left local police commander dead. As authorities failed to complete Lower House elections by 25 Feb deadline, National Consultative Council (which comprises federal and state govt leaders) 24 Feb extended electoral deadline to 15 March. In response, U.S. 25 Feb imposed visa restrictions on individuals accused of undermining elections “to promote accountability for their obstructionist actions”. Al-Qaeda-affiliated Al-Shabaab stepped up violence targeting electoral participants and election venues. Notably, mortars 9 Feb temporarily disrupted voting in Barawe city. In capital Mogadishu, Al-Shabaab suicide bomber 10 Feb targeted convoy of Somaliland election delegates near presidential palace, killing eight people; Al-Shabaab 16 Feb launched series of attacks – its most coordinated in capital in at least a year – targeting police stations, security checkpoints and govt officials, killing dozen people. Suicide blast 19 Feb killed at least 13 people including Lower House election candidates in Beledweyne. U.S. 22 Feb conducted first drone strike against Al-Shabaab in Somalia since Aug, in Duduble area, north west of Mogadishu.

Somaliland

Govt carried out series of foreign policy engagements. FM Essa Kayd 9-11 Feb led senior ministerial delegation’s visit to Taiwan, described ties with Taiwan as “special and historical relationship between two champions of democracies in Africa and Asia”; China 9 Feb condemned visit, and Kayd 11 Feb said “China cannot dictate” to “born free” Somaliland. President Bihi 21 Feb started multiple-day visit to neighbouring Djibouti to discuss strengthening bilateral ties. Diplomatic offensive follows Bihi’s notable 18 Jan visit to Ethiopia.

South Sudan

Fighting continued between VP Riek Machar’s forces and breakaway Kitgwang faction; rebel group National Salvation Front faced military pressure in Equatoria region; intercommunal and other violence persisted. Clashes between Machar’s Sudan’s People Liberation Movement-In Opposition (SPLM-IO) on one hand, and breakaway Kitgwang faction headed by Simon Gatwech and govt-aligned forces on the other, 6 Feb reportedly killed ten in Nasir and Longechuk counties of Upper Nile state. Fighting mid- to late Feb also pitted Machar loyalists against either Kitgwang or President Kiir’s Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-In Government forces in several counties of Unity state. Repeated clashes between Thomas Cirillo’s National Salvation Front (NAS) and South Sudan People’s Defence Forces (SSPDF) reported late Jan and early Feb in Lainya and Wonduruba areas of Central Equatoria state, and in Western Equatoria state. Gen Paul Malong’s holdout rebel group South Sudan United Front (SSUF) and SSPDF soldiers 9 Feb also reportedly clashed near Lakes state’s capital Rumbek; SSUF 11 Feb claimed to have killed six govt soldiers. Intercommunal and other violence continued in several states. Cattle-related violence 7 Feb killed five in Uror county of Jonglei state. Lakes state police reported security forces and suspected criminals 9 Feb clashed, leaving at least six killed in Cueibet county. Assailants believed to come from Twic county (Warrap state) 10 Feb reportedly killed four people in Rumamer county of Abyei Administrative Area. Violent clashes between youth from Ruweng Administrative Area and youth from Guit county (Unity state) 12 Feb left at least 23 dead near Longlei village, Unity state. Jonglei state authorities said armed men from Ayod and Nyirol counties 18 Feb attacked cattle camp in Uror county leaving 16 people dead and sparking several days of intercommunal clashes. Eastern Equatoria state officials said clashes between cattle raiders and pastoralists 27 Feb left at least 20 people dead in Magwi county. Unidentified gunmen 28 Feb attacked UN food convoy in Gadiang area, Jonglei state, leaving at least one injured.

Sudan

First stage of UN-led mediation to salvage political transition inconclusive, while violent crackdown on protests continued; situation remained tense in Darfur. In first interview on national TV since Oct, coup leader and head of Sovereign Council Gen Abdel Fattah al-Burhan 12 Feb said “military will quit politics” after elections, denied need for security sector reform and dismissed Western threats of sanctions. UN mission in Sudan (UNITAMS) next day concluded first stage of mediation between army and civilian actors with no clear outcome; consultations failed to bring all actors to negotiation table, with powerful civil society group Sudanese Professional Association 4 Feb accusing UNITAMS of implicitly recognising coup leaders and violating its mandate. Grassroots networks Khartoum Resistance Committees 27 Feb published political charter laying out key demands, including two-year transition under PM appointed by document’s signatories. Mass protests against military rule continued. Notably, tens of thousands 14 Feb took to streets across country and inhabitants of Northern state early to mid-Feb blocked road to Egypt in protest against increase in electricity prices; security forces’ crackdown throughout month killed five and injured hundreds, bringing number of protesters killed since Oct coup to at least 84. Amid wave of detentions, authorities 9 Feb arrested former minister and two members of Empowerment Removal Committee, which aims to dismantle remnants of former President Bashir’s regime; 13 Feb detained former civilian member of Sovereign Council Mohamed al-Faki. UN official 24 Feb said authorities had released 115 anti-coup protesters from weeks-long detention. Amid deadly clashes involving tribal militias in Darfur, Burhan and paramilitary Rapid Support Forces head Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo “Hemedti” 2 Feb presided over meeting on implementation of security arrangements in North Darfur’s capital El Fasher; Burhan reportedly ordered armed groups to leave major towns in Darfur to make way for implementation of 2020 Juba Peace Agreement; security forces reportedly injured five demonstrators protesting visit. Clashes between military forces and armed groups around former AU-UN peacekeeping mission UNAMID headquarters in El Fasher 5 Feb killed at least four.

Tanzania

Govt lifted former President Magufuli-era bans on four newspapers and President Suluhu Hassan met opposition leader abroad. Following resignation of parliament speaker amid feud with Suluhu Hassan in Jan, parliament 1 Feb elected Tulia Ackson as new speaker. Govt 10 Feb announced removing ban on four newspapers imposed under Magufuli’s rule. Suluhu Hassan 16 Feb met Deputy Chairman of opposition Chadema party Tundu Lissu in Belgian capital Brussels, where Lissu is in self-imposed exile, to discuss opposition’s call for new constitution and independent electoral body; Lissu also reportedly requested terrorism charges facing Chadema Chairman Freeman Mbowe be dropped. Court 18 Feb however confirmed Mbowe will stand trial. Mtwara regional police commander 16 Feb reported discovery 6, 12 and 15 Feb of bodies of three missing motorcycle taxi drivers in southern Mtwara region near Mozambican border.

Mozambique

In far north, Islamist militant attacks continued along N380 corridor in Macomia district; insurgent and pro-govt operations also centred around Cabo Delgado province’s northern districts. Islamist militants 1 Feb attacked Matemo Island, Ibo district, killing three civilians before leaving next day following govt airstrike. Militants 5 Feb launched series of raids in southern Macomia, moving from south to north along N380 road that connects Macomia town to Pemba city: four civilians killed in ambush near Nacate village on Macomia-Quissanga border; one man killed and at least ten women and girls kidnapped in Rafique village; Bangala 2 village, 10km south of Macomia city, also under attack. Militants same day ambushed patrol reportedly made up of Mozambican, Rwandan and southern African regional bloc SADC Mission in Mozambique (SAMIM) soldiers near Macomia’s Nova Zambezia village; resulting firefight left five assailants and one Mozambican soldier dead. Islamic State Central Africa Province 25 Feb claimed militants killed several Mozambican troops in three Macomia villages 23 Feb. International Organization for Migration 8 Feb recorded 3,504 people displaced by violence in Meluco district since 2 Feb. Insurgent and pro-govt operations also took place in Cabo Delgado’s northern districts of Nangade and Palma. In Nangade, suspected militants 6 Feb attacked Nambedo village, reportedly killing one civilian and one local militia member and kidnapping six women; next day killed one civilian in Namuembe village, prompting firefight with local militia and vigilantes: seven insurgents, three local vigilantes and one militiaman reportedly killed. Local militia 9 Feb also killed six insurgents in ambush near Namuembe. Joint force made up of Rwandan military and police and Mozambican military personnel 7-8 Feb launched clearing operations in western Palma district; several insurgents reportedly killed or captured. Rwandan President Kagame subsequently said at least 80% of Rwandan forces’ area of responsibility in northern Mozambique cleared of insurgents. Columns of insurgents pushed out of their bases in western Palma 18 Feb arrived in Nangade district, immediately attacked two villages killing at least six civilians. Militants in following days moved across district and attacked several villages while SAMIM forces stationed in Nangade town reportedly failed to respond.

Zimbabwe

Deadly political violence erupted as political parties geared up for March elections; situation could escalate around voting day. President Mnangagwa 12 Feb launched ruling party ZANU-PF’s campaign for long-delayed legislative and municipal by-elections scheduled for 26 March, addressing thousands of supporters at rally near capital Harare. Throughout Feb, main opposition party Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) and civil society organisations denounced raft of attacks against CCC supporters by ruling party members or police. CCC accused ZANU-PF supporters of beating up CCC members with iron bars during campaign rally of opposition party’s VP Tendai Biti in Harare East constituency 16 Feb; ZANU-PF same day denounced unfounded allegations. Video of policemen allegedly assaulting CCC supporters in Harare 18 Feb surfaced on social media; church leaders same day urged govt institutions to conduct peaceful polls and called on security forces to avoid misconduct. CCC said police 19 Feb detained at least 80 opposition supporters who were campaigning in Masvingo city (Masvingo province). Police 20 Feb mounted roadblocks on major axes in Harare in alleged attempt to disrupt CCC’s star rally; addressing thousands of supporters, opposition leader Nelson Chamisa same day accused electoral commission of attempting to rig by-elections by manipulating electoral roll. Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum 24 Feb denounced increase in politically motivated violence over past month. Suspected ZANU-PF supporters 27 Feb attacked CCC rally in Kwekwe city (Midlands province), reportedly leaving two dead and over 20 wounded; police arrested 16 people suspected of involvement in violence.

Benin

Deadly attacks in northern wildlife reserve confirmed spillover of jihadist violence into West African coastal countries. Suspected al-Qaeda-affiliated Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims 8 Feb launched attacks involving improvised explosive devices on two park ranger patrols in W National Park near border with Niger and Burkina Faso; eight reportedly killed, including five park rangers, one park official, one soldier and one French instructor accompanying them. Reconnaissance patrol 10 Feb hit another explosive in same area, killing one park official. France 12 Feb said it had killed 40 militants allegedly linked to 8 and 10 Feb attacks in airstrikes in Burkina Faso.

Côte d’Ivoire

Authorities and international partners hinted at increased role for Côte d’Ivoire in region’s security architecture in wake of French forces’ withdrawal from Mali. French Chief of Defence Staff Gen Thierry Burkhard and Ivorian Defence Minister Téné Birahima Ouattara 7 Feb met in economic capital Abidjan to discuss security cooperation; Burkhard pledged to help “consolidate the autonomy of the Ivorian army to fight terrorism”. President Ouattara 16 Feb said planned departure of French and European forces from Mali “creates a vacuum”, and confirmed ongoing discussions to host additional French troops. French President Macron 17 Feb stated France and European partners “consider extending [...] support” to ad hoc security coalition of West African states, Accra Initiative, which aims to address transnational organised crime and violent extremism in member countries’ border areas. Authorities 21-28 Feb hosted U.S.-led annual military training program for African forces. Amid strained relations with Mali, Ouattara 17 Feb said Mali’s transitional leaders should “comply with the demands of the Economic Community of West African States” for sanctions to be lifted. In phone call leaked 11 Feb, Ouattara and former Malian PM Boubou Cissé made harsh remarks on Malian interim President Goïta and inner circle. Meanwhile, political dialogue between govt and political opposition resumed 14 Feb; delegates explored ways to consolidate sociopolitical appeasement measures, including return of political dissidents in exile and release of those arrested during 2010-2011 post-electoral violence.

Guinea

Tensions ran high between political class and military over transition’s trajectory. Legislative body National Transitional Council (CNT) 5 Feb met for inaugural session and 7 Feb held first plenary session in capital Conakry. Coalition of opposition parties Forum des Partis Politiques, which includes former PM Sidya Touré’s Union of Republican Forces, 10 Feb decried as “inappropriate” population’s hearing tour planned by CNT President Dansa Kourouma and peers. Amid rumours that transition’s President Doumbouya wants CNT to set age limit for presidential candidates, septuagenarian Touré 12 Feb urged Doumbouya to “abstain from excluding political leaders” from upcoming elections. New Prosecutor Alphonse Charles Wright 3 Feb referred embezzlement case against prominent politician Cellou Dalein Diallo to newly created Court for the Repression of Economic and Financial Crimes; Diallo 5 Feb painted move as “another manoeuvre to harm him”. Wright 13 Feb launched investigations into crimes committed under former President Condé between 2010 and 2020, including killings. Meanwhile, regional bloc Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) 3 Feb voiced renewed concern over lack of electoral calendar to restore constitutional rule. Joint ECOWAS-UN delegation 27 Feb landed in Conakry to discuss electoral schedule with transitional authorities.

Guinea-Bissau

Murky attack on govt palace exposed fragility of President Sissoco Embaló’s seat and gave rise to competing narratives. Heavy gunfire 1 Feb broke out in capital Bissau near govt premises where Embaló and PM Nuno Nabiam were chairing cabinet meeting; Embaló hours later said govt forces had repelled attackers and declared situation under control; also suggested apparent “assassination attempt” aimed to end his fight against drug trafficking. Govt 2 Feb said 11 people killed in firefight, including four civilians; media reported seven security personnel, three civilians and one assailant killed; medical sources mentioned only eight killed. Embaló 10 Feb said three people previously detained by U.S. authorities on drug-trafficking charges were behind coup plot, including ex-Navy chief Bubo na Tchuto; also said all three had been arrested. Main opposition party African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cabo Verde (PAIGC) in following days expressed skepticism about president’s narrative, with party leader Domingos Simoes Pereira 3 Feb telling Deutsche Welle “such a coup would be an ideal pretext to intensify his purge of internal critics and opposition figures”; Prosecutor General’s Office 22 Feb barred Pereira from leaving country, citing legal cases against him. West Africa’s regional bloc, Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), 1 Feb condemned “coup attempt” and 3 Feb said it will deploy stabilising force to country.

Nigeria

Bandits displaced by airstrikes in North West could pose new threats elsewhere, and jihadists established stronger presence in Niger state. In North West, govt airstrikes 2 and 16 Feb killed at least 83 suspected gunmen including three local kingpins in Katsina state. Deadly attacks on civilians however continued. In Kaduna state, armed groups killed 11 people in Kaura area 4 Feb, ten in Zangon Kataf area 9 and 15 Feb and at least ten in Birnin Gwari area 26 Feb. In Katsina, bandits 4 and 8 Feb killed at least 16 people and kidnapped scores in Jibiya and Bakori areas. In Zamfara state, bandits 3-6 Feb killed about 30 civilians in Tsafe and Bungudu areas; 18-19 Feb killed at least 18 in Anka area. Violence raged in Niger state adjoining North West: armed groups 7 and 18-19 Feb killed at least 52 and kidnapped 42 villagers in Shiroro and Munya areas; 26 Feb killed at least 17 in Mashegu, Lavun and Wushishi areas. Meanwhile, local think-tank SB Morgen Intelligence 8 Feb said bandits from Zamfara had moved into Kwara state (south of Niger state) to escape military. Boko Haram or Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) launched attacks in Niger state, killing 37 people, mainly civilians, in Shiroro area 5 and 20-21 Feb. Both groups remained active in North East’s Borno state despite suffering major losses. Explosive device attack 4 Feb killed around 20 soldiers in Abadam area; ISWAP 25-26 Feb killed at least 25 people in Chibok, Damboa and Biu areas. Govt airstrikes 3-4 Feb killed 45 suspected jihadists in Monguno and Marte areas, 13 Feb killed ISWAP commander Mallam Buba Danfulani in Kukawa area. Troops and vigilantes 10 Feb killed around 20 jihadists in Gubio area. In South East, gunmen 11-12 Feb killed seven policemen in Enugu state capital; 15 Feb killed at least eight civilians in Abia state’s Ukwa West area; 20 Feb killed four policemen in Imo and Anambra states; police blamed attacks on Biafra separatist group’s armed wing Eastern Security Network. In Anambra, gunmen 26 Feb killed 20 in Awka North area, reportedly due to cult rivalry.

Asia

China/Japan

Japan held joint military exercise with U.S. and participated in security talks with U.S., Australia and India. Japan and U.S. 3-7 Feb held joint exercise sea area from Luzon Strait to Mikyako Strait and East China Sea; Chinese state media 10 Feb said army conducted exercises in South China Sea, East China Sea and Yellow Sea in response. U.S., Australian, Indian and Japanese FMs in 11 Feb Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (“Quad”) meeting issued joint statement reiterating importance of adhering to international law to “meet challenges to the maritime rules-based order, including in the South and East China Seas”. Japan’s Ishigaki City mayor 1 Feb said city employees and Tokai University 31 Jan conducted survey of disputed Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands for conservation efforts and fishing, and indicated potential petitioning of central govt for permission to install sign on disputed islands to indicate Japanese authority; city council opposition said survey would damage relations with China. As of 23 Feb, 60 Chinese coast guard vessels had entered waters surrounding Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands during month.

Korean Peninsula

North Korea conducted late month missile test following weeks-long hiatus amid international concerns about resumption of testing. In wake of late Jan barrage of missile tests, North Korea saw pause in missile testing for most of month. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un 4 Feb issued congratulations to Chinese President Xi for hosting Winter Olympics 4-20 Feb, in gesture signalling confirmation of missile testing hiatus for duration of games likely aimed at limiting friction with Beijing; 22 Feb congratulated Xi on completion of games, vowed to strengthen cooperation with Beijing to “frustrate” threats from U.S. and its allies. U.S. Defence Secretary 9 Feb met with South Korean and Japanese counterparts to discuss North Korean missile tests, calling them “destabilizing to regional security” and “direct and serious threat”. South Korean President Moon in 10 Feb interview said resumption of nuclear or long-range missile testing would cause Korean Peninsula to “instantly fall back into the state of crisis we faced five years ago” and called for “persistent dialogue”; Moon’s comments come ahead of South Korea’s March elections that could coincide with resumption of North Korean testing. North Korea 27 Feb conducted missile test, prompting condemnation from U.S. and other states. Anniversary of birth of Kim Jong-il – father of Kim Jong-un – 16 Feb passed without notable events in North Korean capital Pyongyang despite rumoured planned military parade, with main event taking place in border city of Samjiyeon, birthplace of Kim according to official state history; move appeared to have been made to limit show of state power and associated risks of regional tensions. Supreme People’s Assembly 8 Feb pledged to develop economy in face of “persevering struggle” against both international sanctions and COVID-19 pandemic.

Taiwan Strait

U.S. maintained posture of support for Taiwan, while China deployed dozens of aircraft into Taiwan’s air defence zone. U.S. 7 Feb authorised possible sale of military equipment and services worth $100mn to help Taiwan “sustain, maintain, and improve” its Patriot missile defence system; Chinese defence ministry 9 Feb said act “grossly interferes” with China’s internal affairs, called on U.S. to revoke sale. U.S. Biden administration 11 Feb unveiled its new Indo-Pacific Strategy, which pledges to deter military aggression in Taiwan Strait. Senior Chinese official Wang Yang in 5 Feb meeting with former leader of Taiwan’s opposition Kuomintang party Hung Hsiu-chu said China was willing to hold dialogue on “democratic consultations” on basis of “one-China” principle; Taiwanese officials next day strongly rejected Chinese offer, calling it bid to “destroy” Taiwan. Meanwhile, Chinese aircraft flew into Taiwan’s air defence identification zone throughout month, totalling 39 aircraft as of 23 Feb. Defence ministry 15 Feb said China flew civilian aircraft into “defence reaction zone” of remote Taiwanese island Dongyin on 5 Feb, speculating China may have been testing military’s response. U.S. warship USS Ralph Johnson 26 Feb sailed through Taiwan Strait in “routine” transit that China same day denounced as “provocative”. Taiwan 15 Feb announced it would join U.S., UK and Australia in consultations on EU’s case against China at World Trade Organization, in which Beijing is accused of blocking trade with Lithuania. Somaliland’s FM 9 Feb visited Taiwan and met with President Tsai.

Afghanistan

Taliban continued to consolidate its rule as international actors unfroze country’s financial assets and pressured regime to respect women’s rights. Taliban continued to fill govt positions with Taliban loyalists. Taliban 2 Feb appointed Qari Salahuddin Ayubi, an ethnic Uzbek, as head of Mansoori army corps, reportedly to appease Uzbek Taliban fighters after arrest of popular Uzbek commander Makhdoom Alam on 12 Jan. Taliban appointed some women in symbolic govt positions, including Dr Malalai Faizi as director of Malalai Maternity Hospital 31 Jan. Taliban information ministry 13 Feb also appointed Nisa Mobarez as women’s representative in Badakhshan province. Some women protesters that were apparently abducted by Taliban authorities were released around 13 Feb following international outrage; Taliban did not officially confirm their arrest or release. Journalists continued to complain of Taliban’s media restrictions including short-term detentions. Taliban authorities also temporarily detained two foreigners working for UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Targeted attacks against former govt figures continued. Unknown assailants 11 Feb attacked former Hizb commander Mohammad Khan’s house, resulting in death of his son, wife and bodyguard; Taliban claimed attack was result of family feud, while Khan rejected claim. Taliban forces 5 Feb arrested at least 24 Baloch separatists from Baloch Liberation Army group, which is waging insurgency against Pakistan (see Pakistan). Attacks by Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISIS-K) subsided, while attacks by Northern Resistance Front (NRF) appeared to be on the rise; NRF-affiliated fighters clashed with Taliban forces in Balkh and Baghlan provinces (north) during month, and Taliban launched major military operations against NRF forces in Panjshir late Feb. Internationally, U.S. President Biden 11 Feb signed executive order to split $7 billion of frozen Afghan reserves, with half of money removed from pending legal cases so it can be utilised “for the benefit of the Afghan people”. World Bank 19 Feb considered plan to use $1 billion in frozen Afghan trust fund for education, agriculture, health and family programs. Meanwhile, Taliban delegation 7 Feb visited Switzerland to discuss humanitarian assistance; 15 Feb visited Qatar’s capital Doha to meet Arab Gulf and EU representatives.

Bangladesh

Low-level electoral violence persisted, ruling party pressed for selection of new Election Commission, and clashes erupted in Chittagong Hill Tracts. Despite an enhanced security presence, infighting within ruling Awami League party continued to fuel low-level violence during local elections, with clashes leaving one killed in Bogra district 1 Feb and two killed in Chittagong district 7 Feb. President Hamid 5 Feb formed new six-member search committee tasked with proposing ten nominees for Election Commission on 24 Feb; President 24 Feb received (as yet undisclosed) ten names by search committee for next five-member election commission. Committee 14 Feb disclosed it had received 322 names from 24 political parties, six professional organisations and civil society groups; main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) however continued to refuse to participate in process. BNP Sec Gen Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir 16 Feb called activities of search committee “meaningless” and reiterated party’s opposition to any election held under Awami League’s auspices. Month saw clashes between army and tribal militant groups Chittagong Hill Tracts. Clashes 2 Feb left one soldier and three suspected members of Parbatya Chattogram Jana Sanghati Samiti dead in Chittagong Hill Tracts’s Bandarban district. Referring to recent attacks on army, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan 5 Feb referred to “conspiracies” at work aimed at destabilising region; army same day claimed to have destroyed base and training centre of another tribal militant group, United Peoples Democratic Front, in Chittagong Hill Tract’s Khagrachhari district. Meanwhile relocation of Rohingya refugees to flood-prone Bhasan Char island continued; another 1,655 refugees 17 Feb relocated from Cox’s Bazar camps to island, bringing total refugee population on island to more than 22,000.

India

Maoist-related violence continued, while tensions between govt and China persisted. Maoist activity and anti-Maoist security operations continued during month. In Odisha state (east), explosive device allegedly planted by Maoists 5 Feb killed journalist in Kalahandi district; Maoists 15 Feb allegedly killed 32-year-old man in Kandhamal district on suspicion that he was police informer. In Chhattisgarh state (centre), clashes with Maoists 12 Feb killed one security forces personnel and injured another in Bijapur district; security forces 16 Feb killed Maoist in security operation in Lohardaga district. In Jharkland state (east), 12-day security operation 19 Feb led to arrest of ten Maoists in Lohardaga district. Tensions continued with China. Govt 3 Feb announced diplomatic boycott of Beijing Winter Olympic games just ahead of opening ceremony. FM S. Jaishankar 11 Feb said dispute over unofficial border known as Line of Actual Control (LAC) had “arisen due to the disregard by China in 2020 of written agreements with us, not to amass forces at the border”; in response, China’s foreign ministry said “responsibility does not rest with China”. Jaishankar 19 Feb said “the state of the border will determine the state of the relationship” and “relations with China right now are going through a very difficult phase”.

India-Pakistan (Kashmir)

Tensions between India and Pakistan ran high, while opposition rejected proposed delimitations for new electoral constituencies in Jammu and Kashmir. Indian army chief 3 Feb said ceasefire along Kashmir’s Line of Control (LoC) was holding because India had “negotiated from a position of strength”; Pakistani army next day said claim was “misleading” and Islamabad only agreed to ceasefire due to “concerns for the safety of the people of Kashmir living on both sides of the LoC”. Following PM Khan’s visit to China 3-6 Feb, China and Pakistan 6 Feb stated that Kashmir dispute “should be properly and peacefully resolved based on the UN Charter”. In response, India’s external affairs ministry 9 Feb said that Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) and Ladakh “have been, are, and will always remain integral and inalienable parts of India” and expressed concern regarding China-Pakistan Economic Corridor projects “that were in India’s territory that has been illegally occupied by Pakistan”. Speaking at annual meeting of UN Counter-Terrorism Committee, Pakistan’s UN Representative Umer Siddique 15 Feb urged UN Security Council to hold accountable “masterminds” who supported, financed and sponsored cross-border terrorist attacks. Meanwhile, political tensions rose in J&K when delimitation commission tasked with carving out new constituencies 4 Feb submitted new interim report, which proposed allocating seven new seats to Jammu region and only one to Kashmir, thus tilting power balance against Muslim-majority region. Opposition parties, including Kashmir’s National Conference party and People’s Democratic Party, immediately rejected report on grounds that it was unfair to Kashmir and Muslim minority. Authorities continued to harass journalists; notably, court 1 Feb directed police to arrest journalist Gowhar Geelani for endangering lives through social media activity; police 4 Feb arrested Kashmiri journalist Fahad Shah for “anti-national” social media posts. Meanwhile, security operations and militant attacks including trend of targeted attacks on policemen persisted. Notably, Hizbul Mujahideen militant 1 Feb shot Kashmiri police officer in Shopian district. Security forces 12 Feb arrested four alleged Al Badr militants and three associates in Baramulla district. State Investigation Agency 16 Feb arrested ten alleged supporters of Jaish-e-Muhammad in raids throughout Kashmir.

Nepal

Disagreement among parties over long-delayed U.S. development grant triggered fresh political tensions, threatening to split ruling alliance, while parliament impeached chief justice. Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), U.S. foreign aid agency, 3 Feb notified govt that $500mn infrastructure grant agreed in 2017 would have to be ratified by Nepal’s parliament by 28 Feb or risk being cancelled; implementation of MCC projects — mostly installing electricity transmission lines and upgrading highways — have been delayed for years due to allegations that some provisions in grant undermined Nepal’s sovereignty. Announcement of 28 Feb deadline accelerated political manoeuvring among parties, as ruling coalition member Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) 16 Feb opposed deal’s ratification absent broader consensus and threatened to quit coalition if compact was tabled in parliament. Ruling Nepali Congress, however, 20 Feb tabled MCC compact in parliament. Following 24 Feb discussions between PM Sher Bahadur Deuba and opposition Unified Marxist-Leninist party leader and former PM KP Oli on potentially forming new alliance that would ensure passage of grant through lower house, Maoists agreed to ratify deal to salvage ruling coalition paving way for parliament 27 Feb to approve compact. Meanwhile, Chief Justice Cholendra Rana was suspended 13 Feb after 98 MPs registered impeachment motion against him over corruption allegations.

Pakistan

Pakistani Taliban and Baloch militants launched deadly attacks on military, mob incidents erupted in Punjab, and authorities increased prison sentences for defamation crime. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, Pakistani Taliban 6 Feb launched cross-border attack which killed five soldiers in Kurram district; military same day condemned use of Afghan territory “for activities against Pakistan”, stated that Islamabad “expects that the interim Afghan government will not allow conduct of such activities against Pakistan in future”. In Balochistan, attacks by Baloch militants on security forces spiked late Jan-early Feb; in high-profile attack, Baloch militants 2 Feb killed five soldiers in two military camps in Nuskhi and Panjgur districts. In “clearing operation”, military 5 Feb claimed to have killed 20 Baloch militants in both districts; military 3 Feb attributed surge in Baloch militant attacks on elements based in Afghanistan. In apparent recognition that Baloch militants benefit from local support, army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa 12 Feb emphasised importance of “breaking the nexus between terrorists and their sympathisers and support base” while visiting Panjgur district. Punjab province, main constituency of banned Sunni hardline Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP), saw several violent mob incidents. Notably, violent mobs 14 and 15 Feb stoned men in Khanewal and Faisalabad districts, accusing them of desecrating Quran, killing one. In Muzaffargarh district, mob 15 Feb attempted to lynch man accused of burning pages of Quran until police intervened. President Alvi 20 Feb issued ordinance amending Prevention of Electronics Crimes Act, broadening definition of defamation from “a person” to include any institution, authority or organisation, and making offense non-bailable with prison sentences increasing from three to five years; opposition politicians and media organisations immediately condemned move, said ordinance a bid to silence dissent. Islamabad High Court 24 Feb called ordinance “oppressive and draconian”. Anti-terrorism court in Karachi city 14 Feb called for arrest of Pashtun Tahafuz Movement leader and federal parliamentarian Ali Wazir (who is already detained in case related to defaming state institutions). Meanwhile, PM Khan 24 Feb met President Putin in Russia’s capital Moscow, day Russia invaded Ukraine; Pakistani foreign ministry said Khan regretted “the latest situation” between Russia and Ukraine and called for diplomatic solution.

Sri Lanka

Economic strains worsened, pressure rose to repeal controversial Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), and new allegations surfaced of intelligence agencies’ involvement in 2019 Easter bombings. On economic front, hard currency shortages limited importers’ ability to buy goods and contributed to inflation; foreign reserves fell to $2.3bn during month, with $1.8bn due to be repaid between Feb and April and $1bn in July. Power cuts grew longer and more frequent amid growing fuel shortages. President Rajapaksa 12 Feb invoked emergency powers to ban strikes in health and electricity sectors, ending nearly week-long strike by health workers. FM GL Peiris 6-8 Feb visited Indian capital New Delhi to secure additional emergency financial support; visit followed 2 Feb signing of $500mn line of credit for gasoline purchases from Indian Oil Corporation, latest in series of Indian loans totalling $1.4bn designed to keep economy afloat; further $1bn under negotiation. Ahead of March session of UN Human Rights Council, Court of Appeal 7 Feb agreed to release on bail Muslim lawyer Hejaaz Hisbullah, held under PTA for almost two years. After cabinet late Jan approved draft bill to amend PTA, EU 8 Feb welcomed amendments but “noted that important elements had not been included in the Amendment Bill”. Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka 15 Feb announced support for complete abolition of PTA, while Archbishop of Colombo, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, 17 Feb signed petition for act’s repeal. Meanwhile, former most senior police investigator Shani Abeysekara 17 Feb filed petition in Supreme Court that appeared to confirm claims made by opposition parliamentarians in 2021 that intelligence services loyal to Rajapaksas had actively obstructed and misdirected pre- and post-attack police investigations into jihadist network responsible for 2019 Easter bombings. Three-judge High Court panel 18 Feb unanimously dismissed all 855 charges against Hemasiri Fernando, then secretary to ministry of defence, and Inspector General of Police Pujith Jayasundara, on trial for allegedly failing to act on early warnings of the bombings from Indian intelligence agency.

Myanmar

Regime forces’ ongoing battles against resistance forces and ethnic armed groups fuelled uptick in fighting, while nationwide strike and sanctions marked coup’s first anniversary. Violence rose in Sagaing region (north west) as regime forces continued counter-insurgency campaign and local resistance groups retaliated. Notably, military 6-7 Feb deployed air support during raid on village in Ye-U township, detaining over 70 people and forcing some 10,000 to flee. In Pale township, regime and paramilitary forces from pro-military Pyusawhti networks 4 Feb allegedly raided two villages, burning some 700 homes in total; combined forces of 14 resistance groups next day reportedly attacked police station and General Administration Department in Pale with “heavy weapons”, claiming to have killed eight, including district administrator. Similarly, at least six resistance groups 9 Feb attacked police station in Taze township. Clashes also persisted with some ethnic armed groups. Notably, Arakan Army (AA) 4-8 Feb clashed with military in Maungdaw township, near Bangladesh border, in heaviest fighting since Nov 2020 informal ceasefire. Both sides, however, appeared keen to de-escalate, with regime releasing several dozen AA-linked detainees and AA 12 Feb sending delegation to regime’s Union Day ceremony. In Chin State, military destroyed over 90 homes in Thantlang town in early Feb in retaliation for clashes with Chinland Defence Force. Kachin Independence Army early month launched several attacks on regime targets, upending relative lull in fighting in northern Myanmar. To mark one-year anniversary of 1 Feb coup, resistance called for “silent strike” that was widely observed across country. In Tachileik township (Shan state) unknown assailants same day threw grenade at pro-military rally, reportedly killing two and injuring 20. U.S., Canada and UK marked 1 Feb anniversary with additional sanctions against regime officials and businesspeople helping to arm military. Cambodia next day confirmed it would not invite junta FM Wunna Maung Lwin to rescheduled regional body ASEAN’s meeting on 16-17 Feb, citing regime’s lack of progress on five-point consensus. EU 21 Feb issued new sanctions, including against state-owned oil and gas company. U.S., Japanese, Indian and Australian FMs 11 Feb called for “an end to violence” and reaffirmed support for ASEAN’s efforts.

Philippines

Violence continued in south with greater lethality, while clashes between govt forces and communist rebels persisted. In Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao in south, month witnessed slight uptick in both clashes between militants and authorities and clan violence. Notably, in Sulu province, military 3 Feb clashed with members of Islamic State-linked Abu Sayyaf Group in Patikul town, killing one soldier and one militant. In Lanao del Sur province, marines 3 Feb clashed with Maute militants in Balabagan town. With regard to clan-related relations, armed group members 11 Feb ambushed Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) commander and his relatives, killing nine and injuring three. Militant surrenders continued through month. Three members associated with armed group in Maute 1 Feb surrendered in Marawi province, while two Abu Sayyaf members 3 Feb surrendered in Patikul town, Sulu province; 14 Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) combatants from Karialan faction 15 Feb surrendered in Midsayap town, Cotabato province. Meanwhile, clashes between armed forces and communist New People’s Army persisted at broadly similar levels to Jan; violence in Mindanao Island in south, Visayas Islands in centre and Luzon Island in north killed at least eight combatants and civilians and injured three during Feb. In Marawi city, housing officials 15 Feb cast doubt on progress of reconstruction, saying major housing projects in Marawi may not be completed by the time President Duterte steps down in June.

South China Sea

U.S. and its allies reiterated commitment to international law in South China Sea (SCS), calling on China to follow suit. U.S., Australian, Indian and Japanese FMs in 11 Feb Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (“Quad”) meeting reaffirmed commitment to “free, open and inclusive rules-based order” and “adherence to international law” in East and South China Seas. U.S. State Dept 12 Feb released study concluding that China “asserts unlawful maritime claims in most of the South China Sea, including an unlawful historic rights claim” and called on Beijing to “conform its maritime claims to international law as reflected in the Law of the Sea Convention” and “to cease its unlawful and coercive activities in the South China Sea”. Chinese naval vessel 17 Feb shone military-grade laser at Australian air force plane in Arafura Sea, within Australia’s exclusive economic zone; Australia’s defence ministry 19 Feb described action as “unprofessional and unsafe military conduct” while Australian Defence Minister Peter Dutton called it “aggressive bullying”. U.S. House of Representatives 3 Feb passed non-binding resolution asserting that U.S. interest would be served by ratifying UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Following crash of F-35C fighter jet on deck of USS Carl Vinson operating in SCS last month, carrier 14 Feb returned to U.S.; as of 20 Feb, U.S. navy had not recovered jet in region.

Thailand

Court released several political activists under strict conditions, while insecurity persisted in deep south amid spate of IED attacks and deadly encounters between military and security forces. Similar to last month, Feb saw no anti-govt protests. Thai Criminal Court 9 Feb agreed to temporarily release political activists Jatupat “Pai Dao Din” Boonpathararaksa and Panupong “Mike Rayong” Jadnok held on multiple charges, including lèse-majesté. Activist Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak, also charged with lèse-majesté, received bail on 24 Feb to continue his university studies; their release is conditional on abstaining from political activities, observing curfew, and wearing ankle monitors. Seksakol Atthawong, vice minister attached to PM’s Office, 17 Feb led group of royalists to submit petition allegedly carrying 1.2mn signatures to interior ministry to expel Amnesty International from country, accusing NGO of interfering with internal affairs and threatening national security. Minister of Digital Economy and Society Chaiwut Thanakamanusorn next day said his ministry is considering introducing single internet gateway, ostensibly to protect Thais from online crime; move could give authorities tighter grip on access to information inside country. In deep south, insecurity persisted with several IED attacks. In Songhkla province, security forces 3 Feb killed three militants attempting to break through perimeter around Koran learning centre at Khok Khet mosque, Ban-na sub-district, Chana district; IED same day detonated near railway bridge 5km from mosque, wounding villager; another IED 4 Feb exploded in same area, wounding two police officers. In Bangnang Sata district, Yala province, unidentified gunmen 10 Feb wounded Muslim man; IED same day exploded at Bang La dam power plant, wounding Muslim security guard. IED 18 Feb targeted two police vehicles in Raman district, with officers suffering no serious wounds. IED at railway crossing 23 Feb wounded two police officers in Muang district, Yala. In Pattani province, unidentified gunmen on motorcycles 18 Feb shot dead assistant village headman in Talor Kraithong subdistrict, Mai Kaen district; gunmen 21 Feb shot and killed former assistant village chief in Nong Chik district, Pattani.

Europe & Central Asia

Bosnia And Herzegovina

Concerns over secession continued as Republika Srpska (RS) moved to establish independent judicial body. Republika Srpska’s parliament 1 Feb adopted resolution to reverse Bosnian Serb representatives’ boycott of federal institutions imposed in July 2021, yet required representatives to follow RS policy. In further provocative measure and challenge to state’s central authority, Republika Srpska assembly 10 Feb approved draft law to establish entity’s own High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council to oversee appointment of judges and prosecutors; draft bill will undergo period of public consultation. Move immediately triggered international condemnation. Peace Implementation Council, international body established to oversee implementation of 1995 Dayton Peace Accord, 10 Feb said such law would create “unconstitutional body, jeopardizing fundamental legal rights of all Bosnia-Herzegovina citizens”. U.S. embassy in Sarajevo same day said move would “allow criminals to prosper and corruption to flourish”. EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell 11 Feb urged Bosnia and Herzegovina’s three main leaders to resume “serious and meaningful dialogue” and 20 Feb warned “situation in Bosnia is more worrying than ever”. Croatian National Parliament 19 Feb threatened to boycott Oct elections and start process of forming autonomous region unless electoral law is amended to strengthen Croat representation and comply with court rulings. EU’s peacekeeping mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina 24 Feb added 500 troops as a “precautionary measure” citing risks of spreading “instability to Bosnia and Herzegovina” amid threats to European security (see Ukraine).

Kosovo

Country marked 14th anniversary of statehood and govt expressed willingness to resume dialogue with Serbia. Ahead of country’s National Day on 17 Feb, which marks 14th anniversary of statehood for Kosovo, U.S. President Biden 15 Feb congratulated country on its “independence”; at ceremony in parliament, PM Kurti 18 Feb declared “Europe is where we belong, while NATO is a condition for peace for all of us”, same day asked EU for “more funds” to continue reform process. Following meeting with EU High Representative Josep Borrell, Kurti 20 Feb affirmed willingness to dialogue with Serbia “if there is the same will from the Serbian side”. After Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov 18 Feb alleged mercenaries were recruited from Kosovo, Albania and Bosnia to fight in Ukraine in order to “destabilize Russia” (see Ukraine), authorities 21 Feb rejected “false” Russian allegations. Kosovo’s and Serbia’s negotiating teams 23 Feb engaged with dialogue facilitators in Belgian capital Brussels in attempt to resume dialogue; meeting ended without decisive progress.

Armenia

Armenia and Azerbaijan continued diplomatic engagement as number and scope of skirmishes between their armed forces slightly reduced. Month witnessed reduction in number and geographic range of skirmishes between Azerbaijani and Armenian forces along international state border, with direct clashes shifting to Armenian populated areas in Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone (see Nagorno-Karabakh). Azerbaijani defence ministry however said its positions in Tovuz district on Armenian border 18 Feb came under fire and its positions in Lachin district 23 Feb faced intermittent fire from Armenia’s Goris town; Armenian defence ministry denied latter report and called on Azerbaijani side “to refrain from spreading obviously false information” on border situation. PM Pashinyan, Azerbaijani President Aliyev, French President Macron and European Council President Charles Michel 4 Feb held video conference at French initiative; govt and Azerbaijan same day announced agreement on UNESCO mission “to both countries”, Baku also reported exchanges on “humanitarian issues, confidence-building”, landmines, communications, as well as border delimitation and demarcation. In positive sign, Azerbaijan 7 Feb returned eight detainees to Yerevan, explaining handover was in return for information about Azerbaijanis missing in 1990s’ first Karabakh war; Pashinyan 9 Feb clarified that, since 2020 war, Armenia had handed over remains of 108 people to Azerbaijan without any preconditions and would hand over remains of two more people in near future. Special envoys of Armenia and Turkey for normalisation talks 24 Feb met in Austrian capital Vienna and reiterated their countries’ commitment to normalise relations; special envoys exchanged views on possible steps that can be taken to achieve normalisation and agreed to take measures to continue the process without preconditions.

Azerbaijan

Armenia and Azerbaijan continued diplomatic engagement as number and scope of skirmishes between their armed forces slightly reduced. Month witnessed reduction in number and geographic range of skirmishes between Azerbaijani and Armenian forces along international state border, with direct clashes between armed forces shifting to Armenian-populated areas in Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone (see Nagorno-Karabakh). Defence ministry however said its positions in Tovuz district on Armenian border 18 Feb came under fire and its positions in Lachin district 23 Feb faced intermittent fire from Armenia’s Goris city; Armenian defence ministry denied latter report and called on Azerbaijani side “to refrain from spreading obviously false information” on border situation. President Aliyev, Armenian PM Pashinyan, French President Macron and European Council President Charles Michel 4 Feb held video conference at French initiative; govt and Azerbaijan same day announced agreement on UNESCO mission “to both countries”, Azerbaijan also reported exchanges on “humanitarian issues, confidence-building”, landmines, communications, as well as border delimitation and demarcation. In positive sign, Azerbaijan 7 Feb returned eight detainees to Yerevan, explaining handover was in return for information about Azerbaijanis killed in 1990s Karabakh war; Pashinyan 9 Feb clarified that since 2020 war, Armenia had handed over remains of 108 people to Azerbaijan without any preconditions and remains of two more people would be handed over in near future. Following Aliyev’s Dec criticism of unfair division of EU funds between Baku and Yerevan, EU Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi during visit to capital Baku 4 Feb announced financial package worth €2bn for Azerbaijan. Parliament 1 Feb ratified June 2021 declaration on alliance with Turkey. Aliyev and Russian President Putin 22 Feb signed Declaration on Allied Cooperation.

Georgia

Georgians demonstrated in support of Ukraine following Russian invasion, while breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia expressed hope for recognition by Belarus. Parliament 1 Feb adopted resolution in support of Ukraine amid Russia’s military build-up around country (see Ukraine); resolution did not label Russia “aggressor” as demanded by opposition MPs. Following Russian invasion of Ukraine on 24 Feb, thousands of Georgians protested in solidarity with Ukraine. Protests increased after 25 Feb remarks of Georgian PM Irakli Gharibashvili about non-alliance with Western sanctions against Russia. Abkhazia 25 Feb announced its recognition of Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, Ukraine’s breakaway regions. After Tbilisi City Court in Jan convicted founders of political party Lelo for fraud, parliament 15 Feb terminated mandates of three opposition parliamentarians, leaving Lelo party without leader at legislature. Belarusian President Lukashenko 6 Feb indicated possibility of recognising independence of breakaway states of Abkhazia and South Ossetia “as soon as I see [the need]”. Abkhazia’s de facto foreign ministry 8 Feb declared interest “in establishing official contacts with the Republic of Belarus”, while South Ossetia’s de facto leader Anatoly Bibilov 12 Feb argued “in moral terms, Belarus can recognize us”. Georgia’s foreign ministry 8 Feb insisted that “Belarus is committed to the fundamental principles of international law” and that such recognition “is not on the agenda”. De facto ruling party One Ossetia in breakaway South Ossetia 8 Feb nominated incumbent Anatoly Bibilov as candidate for April’s de facto presidential elections; Bibilov 26 Feb dismissed Defence Minister Ibragim Gassiyev for supporting opposition candidates in upcoming elections.

Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict

Skirmishes persisted in conflict zone, while diplomatic engagement between Azerbaijan and Armenia led to humanitarian gesture on detainees and information on 1990s war. Incidents erupted at line between Armenian-populated Karabakh and Azerbaijani-controlled area in Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) conflict zone. Notably, Azerbaijan’s defence ministry 6 Feb claimed de facto NK troops fired at its military near Qapanli village in Tartar district; de facto NK authorities same day reiterated commitment to ceasefire and accused Azerbaijan of truce violation by firing large-calibre machine gun at locals. Azerbaijan’s defence ministry 15 Feb claimed its forces prevented “Armenian illegal armed groups” from building fortifications in NK allegedly under guise of agricultural work; de facto authorities same day accused Azerbaijani troops of opening fire on farmers carrying out agricultural work in Khramort village, who “managed to escape thanks to the intervention of Russian peacekeepers”. De facto authorities same day reported serious wounding of soldier in truce violation at area of same village; Azerbaijan 15 Feb denied incident. Azerbaijani defence ministry 19 Feb said that Azerbaijani army positions in Taghavard village had come under fire; de facto NK authorities same day said Azerbaijani troops fired at residential houses in Taghavard 18 Feb; Azerbaijani defence ministry denied report. Despite skirmishes, Azerbaijani President Aliyev and Armenian PM Pashinyan 4 Feb attended virtual meeting under French and EU mediation (see Azerbaijan and Armenia); engagement led to Azerbaijan 7 Feb returning eight detainees to Yerevan, arguing handover was in return for information about Azerbaijanis killed in 1990s Karabakh war; Pashinyan 9 Feb clarified that Armenia handed over remains of 108 people to Azerbaijan since ceasefire of 2020 war. Tensions also resurfaced over cultural heritage in NK. Azerbaijani Culture Minister Anar Karimov 3 Feb announced research working group on Caucasian-Albanian heritage in territories regained in 2020 war; Armenia 8 Feb condemned move. Official of Azerbaijani Prosecutor General’s Office 15 Feb said that Baku was seeking to arrest de facto leader of NK Arayik Harutyunyan over missile attacks on Ganja, Azerbaijan’s second largest city, during 2020 war; Armenian justice minister next day said there were no legal grounds for move.

Russia (Internal)

Invasion of Ukraine sparked countrywide protests and opposition as Western states imposed unprecedented sanctions; authorities brought new charges against imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine (see Ukraine), thousands rallied at anti-war demonstrations in 103 cities countrywide, resulting in police arresting 6,640 people; most people were detained in capital Moscow (3,126) and in Saint-Petersburg city (2,084). In notable instances of dissent, girl 24 Feb threw Molotov cocktail in direction of security forces on Pushkin Square in Moscow; man 27 Feb drove car with anti-war slogans into roadblock on Moscow’s Pushkinskaya Square and then set car on fire. EU and member states, UK and U.S. late Feb imposed range of crippling and unprecedented economic sanctions, while also blocking Russian planes from accessing much of European airspace. U.S. 28 Feb approved departure of all non-emergency staff from U.S. embassy in Moscow, citing “security and safety issues” regarding war in Ukraine. Following allegations of fraud in Dec 2020 and contempt of court in May 2021, authorities 15 Feb initiated two new criminal cases against jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny in Pokrov penal colony in Vladimir region. Supreme Court 28 Feb upheld ban of human rights organisation Memorial under foreign agents law. In North Caucasus, Chechen officials, including Chechen Vice-PM Abuzaid Vismuradov and other high-level officials, 1 Feb threatened to kill and behead family of Abubakar Yangulbayev, former lawyer of human rights organisation Committee Against Torture, in social media video circulated by Vismuradov. European Court of Human Rights 14 Feb ordered Russia to provide information every two weeks about health of Zarema Musayeva, wife of former federal judge and mother of Yangulbayev; security services reportedly abducted Musayeva in Jan.

Belarus

Western powers imposed sanctions in response for Minsk’s role in Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine; crackdown on dissent continued. Belarus and Russia 10 Feb launched joint military training exercises; French FM Jean-Yves Le Drian same day dubbed “extremely massive” drills as “a gesture of great violence”. Russia 15 Feb announced return of some troops; UK and U.S. 16 Feb argued contrary was true, as Western media mid-Feb circulated satellite images allegedly showing heavy weaponry in “military buildup” in Belarus. Following meeting between French President Macron and Russian President Putin, Macron 8 Feb indicated agreement with Russia on non-prolongation of exercises in Belarus. Defence Minister Viktar Khrenin 20 Feb announced indefinite prolongation of exercises, citing “increase in military activity near the external borders”. As Russia 24 Feb invaded Ukraine, partly via Belarus territory, U.S. same day sanctioned 24 Belarusians, targeting “military and financial capabilities”; EU next day announced sanctions on those Belarusians “who facilitated the Russian military aggression”; G7 27 Feb agreed on “massive and coordinated sanctions, including on Belarus”. Opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya 26 Feb declared herself “national leader”, accusing President Lukashenko of “treason” by participating in Russia-Ukraine war. International media 28 Feb cited U.S. Defence Dept official accusing Belarus of preparing to join Russian forces in military operation in Ukraine. Authorities 27 Feb declared 65.2% voted in favour of constitutional referendum, strengthening powers of presidency and scrapping country’s non-nuclear status. Meanwhile, authorities continued crackdown on dissent. Notably, Minsk court 16 Feb sentenced opposition United Civic Party activist Andrey Kudzik to two years’ imprisonment for activities related to disrupting civil order; Kudzik rejected accusation and refused testimony. U.S. State Dept 1 Feb warned U.S. citizens of travel to Belarus due to “arbitrary” law enforcement; U.S. 4 Feb introduced sanctions against “Belarusian nationals for their involvement in serious, extraterritorial counter-dissident activity”. EU 9 Feb claimed authorities detained 1,040 people as “political prisoners” and called “for their immediate and unconditional release”.

Ukraine

Moscow launched multi-pronged invasion, forcing hundreds of thousands to flee as hostilities with Ukrainian forces killed hundreds of civilians and possibly thousands of military personnel; with no end in sight, conflict escalation looms. Russia 24 Feb launched full-scale military assault, involving significant portion of some 200,000 military personnel amassed in recent months on Ukraine’s borders and deploying wide range of land, sea and air military assets; offensive began with Russian missile strikes across country before Russian troops invaded from annexed Crimea region, Belarus and Russian territory, as well as Donbas. Russian forces approached and besieged number of key regional centres such as Kherson, Sumy, Chernihiv, Kharkiv and capital Kyiv; numerous reports indicated fierce military and local resistance as well as logistical and other challenges that have hampered Russian progress. Notably, Russian troops attempted to encircle and seize Kyiv, leading to fierce battle for Hostomel airfield north east of city 24-27 Feb; govt claimed it repelled attack and inflicted heavy Russian causalities. Russian forces 28 Feb began indiscriminately bombarding Karkhiv city in east and continued to advance. As of 28 Feb, hostilities killed 352 civilians, including 14 children, and injured 1,684, according to interior ministry. Kyiv claimed Russian forces suffered 5,710 casualties, and that it held 200 Russian soldiers prisoner; Ukrainian forces reported 137 service personnel killed with over 300 injured as of first day of invasion. Over 660,000 people sought refuge in EU countries and Moldova, according to UN refugee agency. On diplomatic front, Russia 26 Feb blocked UN Security Council resolution demanding end to attack; UN General Assembly 28 Feb began Emergency Special Session on war. Ukrainian leadership 28 Feb signed request to join EU under simplified procedure; European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen previous day expressed support for accession. EU and member states, UK and U.S. imposed crippling economic sanctions, while also blocking Russian planes from accessing European airspace; U.S., Canada and numerous European countries, notably UK, France, Germany and Sweden, continued to provide arms and military equipment to Ukraine. Russian and Ukrainian delegations 28 Feb held negotiations in Homel city, Belarus; while talks did not stop hostilities, sides agreed to continue dialogue.

Cyprus

Prospects for relaunching formal negotiations between Turkish and Greek Cypriots remained dim. Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar 2 Feb received UN Sec-Gen’s Special Representative in Cyprus Colin Stewart in Lefkoşa, de facto capital of Turkish Cypriot north of island. Following meeting, Stewart said that they were focused on steps such as intercommunal contact, trade relations and peace education to facilitate dialogue toward settlement. UN in Cyprus 8 Feb announced that Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades and Tatar agreed on action plan developed by Technical Committee on Gender Equality to ensure “women’s full, equal and meaningful representation in the settlement process in Cyprus”. New “coalition government” to be headed by Faiz Sucuoğlu 21 Feb formed in unrecognised Turkish Cypriot north between three right-wing parties.

Turkey

Military continued operations against Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in northern Iraq and south east Turkey, while President Erdoğan urged support for Ukraine following Russia’s invasion. Military operations against PKK remained concentrated in northern Iraq, with occasional clashes in south east and at Turkey-Syria border. Notably, military 2 Feb launched simultaneous cross-border aerial campaign (dubbed “Winter Eagle”), with airstrikes in northern Syria’s Derik city, and Sinjar and Makhmour regions in northern Iraq. Ground operations in south east during Feb were concentrated in rural areas of Şanlıurfa, Bingöl and Muş provinces. Security units’ operations against Islamic State (ISIS) cells/operatives across country continued, leading to detention of more than 85 individuals with alleged ISIS links. High inflation led to rising energy prices and ignited discontent. Notably, 11 mayors from main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), including Istanbul’s mayor, 8 Feb released joint statement calling for govt to ease “unbearable” burden of energy prices on local administrations. Detention of businessman and human rights advocate Osman Kavala remained point of tension with western allies; Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers 2 Feb referred Kavala case to European Court of Human Rights, which will determine whether govt, by not releasing Kavala, violated European Convention on Human Rights; Erdoğan 3 Feb dismissed decision as “biased”. Tensions persisted with Greece in eastern Mediterranean. FM Çavuşoğlu 10 Feb said that if militarisation of islands close to Turkey’s mainland continues, “sovereignty of these islands will be discussed”. Erdoğan 16 Feb stated that govt will make the highest-level warning if Greece “continues with its provocations” because it is “not possible” to remain silent on military activities carried out on islands which ought to be demilitarised. Turkish and Greek officials 22-23 Feb met for round of “exploratory talks” in Greek capital Athens that led to no substantial progress. Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine (see Ukraine), Erdoğan 24 Feb called attack “serious blow to peace and stability” and “unacceptable”; Erdoğan next day criticised NATO and EU for not taking more decisive steps in support of Ukraine. Turkish FM Çavuşoğlu 28 Feb announced that Turkey closed Bosphorus and Dardanelles waterways to passage of “all warships”.

Latin America & Caribbean

Colombia

Attacks against security forces continued across country, notably along Pacific coast and Venezuelan border; some senior and retired military officials faced accusations of links with armed groups. Police and soldiers faced attacks throughout month, notably in Norte de Santander and Cauca departments, wounding dozens. In Meta department (south), motorcycle bomb 9 Feb exploded in front of Infantry Battalion N.21 “Batalla Pantano de Vargas” in Granada municipality, killing two; security forces killed 15 Clan del Golfo members during raid in Ituango municipality. In Pacific Coast, UN 2 Feb reported 18,000 forcibly confined in Nariño’s El Charco municipality; said another 20,000 later displaced and confined in Nariño’s Triángulo Telembí, fluvial area contested between competing factions of Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) dissidents and local criminal groups. Armed men 15 Feb attacked convoy of Mayra Goana, candidate for Congress’ designated seats for victims, in Catatumbo region (east). Army 24 Feb launched military operation in Arauca department (north) killing at least 23 FARC dissidents. Violence along Venezuela-Colombia border ran high; Venezuelan security forces targeted Colombian criminal groups and FARC dissidents, 14 Feb and 20 Feb said Colombian criminal groups had planted explosives prompting them to deactivate landmines along border. Some senior military officials accused of links with armed groups. Notably, magazine Cambio 11 Feb reported General Jorge Hernando Herrera allied with criminal group Los Pocillos in combating FARC dissident front Carlos Patiño; Blu Radio 15 Feb revealed attorney general’s case against retired General Leonardo Alfonso Barrero who allegedly worked with La Cordillera, local franchise of Clan del Golfo post-paramilitary group in Northern Nariño (south). National Strike Committee and United Workers’ Union 9 Feb called for 3 March peaceful protests against govt; National Liberation Army 23-26 Feb conducted 72-hour “armed” strike against President Duque’s govt, which saw series of incidents notably in eastern Santander province where road explosion between Socorro and San Gil municipalities left eight people injured. According to civil society group Indepaz, six massacres (murder of three or more persons) took place across country 2-11 Feb, killing 18 in total; Indepaz 23 Feb said at least 12 social leaders killed during Feb.

Venezuela

Dialogue initiative between authorities and opposition in Mexico City remained stalled, while low-level violence persisted at Colombian border. Supporters of opposition leader Juan Guaidó 12 Feb held peaceful gathering to reject authoritarian rule, turned up in small numbers with mostly members of Guaidó’s Voluntad Popular party and representatives from minor parties. Mexico talks between opposition and authorities remained stalled; International Contact Group (with among others Chile, Ecuador, EU, France, Germany and Spain) 4 Feb urged all parties to resume dialogue. U.S., EU and 19 other countries 16 Feb seconded dialogue request, highlighting willingness to review sanctions policies. U.S. court 16 Feb revealed Maduro’s close collaborator Colombian businessman Alex Saab was cooperating source for U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration from 2018 and provided agents with information about bribes he paid to Venezuelan officials; Maduro has frequently demanded Saab’s release, saying he is Venezuelan diplomat whose presence is needed for Mexico talks. After govt late Jan began process of slimming down Supreme Court from 32 to 20 members, 2 Feb installed parliamentary committee to appoint new justices; following discussion with some opposition and civil society members, govt accepted five of their nominations and extended nomination period until 21 Feb. Low-intensity conflict continued in Apure state at Colombian border: Defence Minister Vladimir Padrino 11 Feb said military operations killed at least nine illegal armed groups members; shoot-out between National Liberation Army and dissident faction of Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia known as 10th Front 7 Feb killed one civilian in El Amparo. Antipersonnel mines placed by warring guerrilla groups in rural areas first week of Feb killed eight civilians, also in Apure. EU election observer mission 22 Feb presented final report on 21 Nov elections in Belgian capital Brussels, having failed to get permission to present it in Caracas; said election conditions had improved, proposed 23 recommendations for changes. After Russian deputy PM Yuri Borisov 16 Feb visited capital Caracas, Maduro expressed full support for Russian invasion of Ukraine, promised “powerful military cooperation” between two countries. Venezuela 24 Feb reopened border with Brazil which had been closed for two years due to COVID-19 crisis.

Honduras

Agreement between factions of ruling party Libre ended split within assembly, but Luis Redondo’s leadership in Congress continued to be questioned; U.S. requested extradition of former President Juan Orlando Hernández. Following Jan dispute over election of National Congress head, Libre Party 7 Feb signed agreement with dissident deputies supporting Libre legislator Jorge Cálix, recognising instead Luis Redondo from Honduras’ Saviour Party (PSH) as National Congress head; agreed that 18 lawmakers who they said in late Jan would be expelled from party would be reinstated. Redondo next day presided first plenary with all 128 members; while deputies, mainly from opposition National Party, insisted vote for National Congress Head should be repeated, Libre and PSH rejected demand. U.S. 14 Feb requested former President Hernández be extradited on drug-trafficking and related weapon charges; 7 Feb said Hernández’s U.S. visa had been revoked and that he had been included in Engel List of corrupt Central American actors since 1 July 2021. Hernández 15 Feb said he would surrender voluntarily; authorities however same day arrested him and Hernández next day appeared before judge who confirmed temporary detention; judge following case 21 Feb admitted defence’s request to turn detention into house arrest; Supreme Court 24 Feb however rejected house arrest’s request. Trujillo local court 9 Feb found six Guapinol (east) environmental activists arrested in 2019 guilty of aggravated damages on a private mining company and illegal detention of their security chief; NGO Amnesty International and UN special rapporteur on human rights defenders same day strongly condemned ruling; Supreme Court 10 Feb overruled decision and ordered activists’ release. Congress 2 Feb passed amnesty law for state employees of Mel Zelaya’s administration who faced politically motivated judicial prosecution; Zelaya is President Castro’s husband and was deposed in coup d’état in 2009; critics noted amnesty also covered those accused of embezzlement. Castro 17 Feb asked UN to set up International Commission against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras to help national authorities prosecute corrupt practices.

El Salvador

Following allegations of state-sponsored surveillance on journalists and activists, authorities endorsed revisions to criminal code allowing “digital undercover operations”. Legislative Assembly 1 Feb amended criminal code, with new measures authorising state-led digital undercover operations, reportedly in response to crimes that are and can be committed through abuse of information and communication technologies; opposition alongside NGOs including Human Rights Watch and Association of Journalists of El Salvador (APES) immediately condemned move, said it legalises espionage and gives too broad powers to prosecutor’s office. NGO Cristosal 8 Feb filed complaint before Court of Audits against President Bukele, and three other officials including minister of justice and minister of defence, for alleged use of funds to support Pegasus surveillance program which had been found in numerous Salvadoran activists’ and journalists’ devices. Dozens 4 Feb protested in capital San Salvador demanding pension reform promised by Bukele. U.S. agency Fitch Ratings 9 Feb downgraded El Salvador’s Long-Term Foreign Currency Issuer Default Rating from B- to CCC, arguing “weakening of institutions and concentration of power in the presidency have increased policy unpredictability” and “adoption of bitcoin as legal tender has added uncertainty about potential for IMF [International Monetary Fund] program that would unlock financing for 2022-2023”. After three U.S. senators 16 Feb introduced Accountability for Cryptocurrency in El Salvador (ACES) bill, Bukele same day called them “boomers” and denied U.S. jurisdiction over “sovereign and independent nation”. Bukele 20 Feb said he will send Congress proposal to grant citizenship to foreign investors. Attorney General’s Office 25 Feb brought forward charges against former President Alfredo Cristiani and 12 others for role in 1989 massacre of six Jesuit priests and two women. Nicaragua 6 Feb denounced violation of maritime space by El Salvador naval forces in Gulf of Fonseca, deemed it provocative; El Salvador next day said space under its sovereignty.

Nicaragua

Authorities continued trials of dozens of opponents in closed-door trials and cancelled status of several universities and NGOs sparking international condemnation. Public prosecutors 1 Feb resumed trials of around 40 opposition figures and activists arrested in run-up to 7 Nov 2021 presidential election; at least 26 found guilty of conspiracy and undermining national integrity after closed door trials, including three presidential hopefuls. Death of former Sandinista guerrilla fighter Hugo Torres in prison on 12 Feb put conditions of political prisoners in spotlight. While officials said Torres’ death resulted from illness, prisoners’ relatives had previously raised concerns about his poor detention conditions; UN High Commissioner for Human Rights 13 Feb said Torres had been subjected to “criminal trial without guarantees” in “inhumane” conditions; EU 14 Feb called for independent investigation, and U.S. same day called for all political prisoners to be released; Organization of American States 18 Feb passed resolution denouncing “human suffering” and requested release of political prisoners. Prosecutor’s office same day granted house arrest to three other political prisoners with precarious health conditions, and 24 Feb to another two. National Assembly 2 Feb cancelled legal status of five Nicaraguan universities and 11 NGOs for allegedly contravening transparency norms; 15 Feb cancelled status of six more NGOs and 16 Feb of six international NGOs; 23 Feb cancelled licenses of two more universities. National Assembly 7 Feb approved creation of three state universities, from assets of cancelled universities. Interior ministry 3 Feb said seven foreign academic programs shut down. Economist Investigative Unit 9 Feb released Democracy Index showing Nicaragua as one of most undemocratic countries after falling 20 places. Coalition comprising 16 national and international organisations, Collective 46/2, 25 Feb called on UN Human Rights Council to establish accountability mechanism in Nicaragua. Nicaragua 6 Feb denounced violation of maritime space by El Salvador naval force in Gulf of Fonseca, deemed it provocative; El Salvador next day affirmed space under its sovereignty.

Haiti

Interim PM Henry held on to power despite mandate expiration; political negotiations with civil society proposing transitional govt failed, fuelling political instability amid gang insecurity. Interim PM Henry 7 Feb rejected critics’ argument that his term had expired on 7 Feb (date when former President Moïse’s term would have ended) and stated elections were only solution to political impasse. Representatives from Montana Accord (who have proposed two-year transitional plan that includes five-member presidential college and a prime minister) 11 Feb met Henry behind closed doors; follow-up meeting due to be held 14 Feb however did not take place, Montana Accord Monitoring Office same day said negotiations would resume if several preconditions are in place including suspension of new Provisional Electoral Council and Henry’s collaboration in Moïse’s assassination investigation. Local media 4 Feb said Judge Chavannes Étienne now in charge of overseeing investigation, follows Judge Garry Orélien’s resignation in Jan. U.S.-based TV channel CNN 8 Feb revealed Orélien had said in Autumn 2021 recording that Henry is “connected” with mastermind of Moïse’s killing. FM Jean Victor Généus 10 Feb rejected allegations of Henry’s involvement in assassination; Étienne same day withdrew from case, citing concerns for his life. Meanwhile, gang violence continued. Notably, unknown assailants 4-6 Feb killed at least ten people and gangs kidnapped at least 20 others in capital Port-au-Prince and in Croix-des-Bouquets, including University rector and former Education Minister Gérard Dorcély, who was held in captivity for more than two weeks. Henry 14 Feb said he is committed to taking back control of Port-au-Prince’s Martissant neighbourhood including through clearing gang-controlled section of main road connecting capital to southern peninsula; police 21 Feb arrested five members of “400 Mawozo” gang. Amid rising inflation, factory workers primarily in the garment sector mid-month demonstrated to call for increased salaries; govt 21 Feb announced hikes in minimum wage; police 23 Feb reportedly opened fire on demonstrators in Port-au-Prince calling for higher minimum wage, leaving one journalist dead. Meanwhile, Dominican govt 20 Feb began building wall at its border with Haiti to stop irregular migration and smuggling.

Mexico

Targeted killings of journalists prompted local outcry, armed group violence continued unabated, and U.S. authorities temporarily halted avocado import after security incident. Deadly attacks on journalists continued throughout month, with a total of at least six journalists killed since Jan: suspected gang members 5 Feb killed former journalist Ernesto Islas Flores outside his house in Tijuana city, Baja California state (north west); unidentified gunmen 10 Feb shot dead journalist Heber Lopez in Oaxaca state (south). President López Obrador 11 Feb illegally revealed financial information about journalist Carlos Loret; Loret is among those who reported alleged conflict of interest in president’s family, including case involving one of López Obrador’s sons. In response to attacks on journalists, dozens of reporters 14 Feb launched protest at Chamber of Deputies session; series of protests across country urging govt to put an end to violence on journalists followed in subsequent weeks. Meanwhile, armed groups violence continued across country. Notably, clashes 5 Feb erupted between criminal gangs in Zacatecas state (centre north), killing 16; three separate armed attacks 2, 3, 6 Feb killed ten in Juchitán de Zaragoza, Oaxaca state (south). Authorities 7 Feb found body of Enrique Velázquez Orozco, mayor of Contepec municipality, Michoacán state (centre), who had disappeared two days earlier; 10 Feb found four plastic bags with human remains in front of govt building in Yehualtepec municipality, Puebla state (centre). In Tapachula city, Chiapas state (south), hundreds of migrants 3 Feb protested against slow pace of visa approvals and threatened to form new caravan; National Human Rights Commission 5 Feb asked immigration authorities to speed up regularisation processes to allow nearly 2,000 migrants to regularise their stay or travel free from detention. Mexico representative of UN refugee agency 11 Feb urged Mexico to find alternatives to migrant detention or asylum. In unprecedented step, U.S. 12 Feb suspended avocado imports from Michoacán state after U.S. health inspector reportedly received threatening phone call; authorities 18 Feb lifted ban.

Middle East & North Africa

Israel/Palestine

East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah remained tense flashpoint, while Palestinian Central Council convened for first time since 2018. In occupied East Jerusalem, tensions ran high in Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood, which remained critical flashpoint of friction. Most notably, in provocative move, far-right lawmaker Itamar Ben Gvit 13 Feb reopened makeshift office in Sheikh Jarrah claiming to protect Israeli settlers, prompting clashes between Palestinians, settlers and police, injuring at least 14. EU and Palestinian Authority (PA) same day voiced concerns over potential for wider outbreak of violence. Israeli police 18 Feb violently dispersed protesters at weekly demonstration against eviction of Palestinian Salem family initially scheduled in March; court 22 Feb ruled to freeze judgment until at least after Ramadan in April. In West Bank, Israeli special forces 8 Feb carried out extrajudicial killing of three Palestinians in car in Nablus in first such operation since Second Intifada; dozens in Gaza and West Bank next day protested killings. Israeli forces 14-15 Feb killed two Palestinians during clashes in Silat al-Harithiya and Nabi Saleh villages. In first meeting since 2018, Palestinian Central Council (PCC) 6-7 Feb appointed members close to Palestinian President Abbas to Executive Committee; Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, second largest Palestinian faction after Fatah, and other smaller factions boycotted meeting, accusing Abbas of stocking Palestine Liberation Organization leadership with loyalists. PCC 9 Feb announced suspension of security cooperation with Israel and recognition of Israeli state until latter recognises Palestinian sovereignty and halts settler activities; similar statements in 2018 and 2015 had not been implemented. NGO Amnesty International 1 Feb published report accusing Israel of apartheid against Palestinians; Israeli govt and allies, including U.S., UK and Germany, rejected findings. Syria 9 Feb fired anti-aircraft missile toward Israel in response to alleged Israeli attack on Syrian capital Damascus that killed one soldier and injured five; Israel same day carried out airstrike on Syrian missile batteries. Syrian state media 16 Feb reported Israeli shelling targeting Zakiya town. On Lebanese border, tensions rose with Hizbollah (see Lebanon).

Lebanon

Govt held talks with International Monetary Fund (IMF), political infighting continued among political elite, and tensions surfaced between Hizbollah and Israel. Govt and Central Bank representatives 11 Feb concluded talks with IMF, which said “progress was made in agreeing on these necessary reform areas” but “more work is needed to translate them into concrete policies”, likely indicating that there is long way to go before deal is concluded; meanwhile, Central Bank continued attempts to stabilise exchange rate of Lebanese lira by injecting hundreds of millions of U.S. dollars into exchange market, further depleting country’s reserves. On political front, judge considered close to President Aoun 15 Feb requested Central Bank Governor Riyadh Salameh be brought in for questioning in investigation over alleged fraud; in sign of divisions among branches of security sector, Internal Security Forces (thought to be loyal to former PM Saad Hariri) reportedly prevented State Security (headed by Aoun’s ally) officers from entering residency where Salameh was present, raising spectre of clashes between branches owing to tensions between political leaders. After Kuwaiti FM Ahmad Nasser al-Mohammad al-Sabah late Jan transmitted list of 12 demands from Gulf countries to restore relations between govt and Gulf, which inter alia reportedly called for Hizbollah’s disarmament, Hizbollah 15 Feb hosted public event of main Bahraini Shiite opposition group Al-Wefaq in capital Beirut, likely intended to signal defiance. On regional front, Hizbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah 16 Feb claimed group was producing drones domestically and would soon have capacity to turn rockets into precision-guided missiles. Israel 17 Feb reportedly downed Hizbollah drone violating its airspace. Hizbollah 18 Feb flew drone into Israeli airspace to undertake significant reconnaissance mission before drone returned; Israel confirmed foreign aircraft entered airspace and next day conducted overflights and staged mock raids above Beirut. U.S. senior official 8 Feb began new talks on demarcation of maritime border between Lebanon and Israel; FM Abdallah Bouhabib 18 Feb expressed positive position on new proposals.

Syria

U.S. military raid in Idlib led to death of Islamic State (ISIS) leader, ceasefire in Idlib held, and Turkey launched airstrikes against Kurdish militants. U.S. special forces 3 Feb carried out overnight raid in Atma town in Idlib province targeting ISIS leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, who reportedly detonated explosives that killed himself and family members; operation also killed several civilians and ISIS fighters. Raid raises concerns that Idlib could remain ISIS hideout, providing pretext for Russia and govt to attack area. Elsewhere in province, March 2020 ceasefire held despite violations; notably, govt shelling 12 Feb killed six civilians in Maraat al-Naasan village. Russia during month deployed long-range nuclear-capable bombers and hypersonic missiles at its Hmeimim airbase, likely to bolster presence along NATO’s southern flank; fears rose that war in Ukraine may have knock-on effects in Idlib, as Turkish support for Ukraine may provoke ire of Russia and fuel tensions between Moscow and Ankara (see Ukraine). ISIS attacks increased in north east following last month’s Ghwaryan prison clashes; notably, ISIS sleeper cell 9 Feb attacked SDF military point in Shuhail, Deir ez-Zor province, killing two SDF members. In north east, Turkey early month launched new military campaign Operation Winter Eagle against Kurdish militants, with dozens of warplanes carrying out air raids in Hasakah and Raqqah provinces. In Turkish factions-controlled area in north west, Kurdish group People’s Defence Units (YPG) 15 Feb killed four civilians and injured 12 in Azaz, Aleppo province, with rockets fired from Tal Rifaat city; Turkish-backed forces responded by shelling YPG in Tal Rifaat. In rare protest in govt-controlled area, hundreds 11 Feb demonstrated against worsening economic conditions in Druze-majority city As-Suwayda (south west). Syria 9 Feb fired anti-aircraft missile toward Israel in response to alleged Israeli attack on capital Damascus that killed one soldier and injured five; Israel same day carried out airstrike on Syrian missile batteries. According to Syrian state media, Israeli attack 24 Feb killed three soldiers near Damascus.

Iran

Marathon negotiations involving Iran, U.S. and other world powers reached inflection point that will determine whether 2015 nuclear deal is revived or collapses. Eighth round of talks in Austrian capital Vienna 8 Feb resumed after short hiatus beginning late Jan. Iran’s lead negotiator 16 Feb asserted that “we are closer than ever” to deal, but remarks from FM Hossein Amirabollahian published same day underscored that closer does not necessarily mean close; Iran continued emphasising U.S. guarantees against future withdrawal from nuclear deal and insistence on “total lifting” of Trump-era sanctions designations, both of which have been consistent Iranian terms since negotiations began and neither of which is likely to be attainable. Iran’s lead negotiator 23 Feb left Vienna for consultations in Tehran that could determine whether talks yield breakthrough or breakdown; while gaps between parties have narrowed, remaining areas of disagreement are significant enough to scupper breakthrough. Meanwhile, U.S. 4 Feb issued sanctions waivers, which Trump administration had issued after U.S. 2018 withdrawal from deal but revoked in 2020, on 2015 nuclear deal-linked nuclear cooperation project; U.S. asserted that decision was “designed to facilitate discussions” in Vienna and “serve U.S. non-proliferation and nuclear safety interests”; E3 (France, Germany and UK) next day welcomed announcement, while Iranian FM posited that “what happens on paper is good, but not enough”. South Korean officials 15-16 Feb held consultations with Iranian counterparts regarding Iran’s frozen assets, with Seoul noting that “sanctions-related issues, including the transfer of frozen funds, would be resolved when a deal is reached” in Vienna. Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps 9 Feb revealed new solid fuel-powered ballistic missile, with purported range of 1,450km; military chief of staff asserted that missile development would proceed “quantitively and qualitatively”.

Iraq

Parliament failed to elect new president, stalling govt formation and leading country into uncharted constitutional waters, while Turkey launched new military campaign in northern Iraq. Govt formation came to unprecedented standstill after parliament 7 Feb failed to reach necessary two-thirds quorum to elect new president within constitutional deadline. Unsure of obtaining two-thirds of votes for their Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) presidential candidate Hoshyar Zebari, tripartite alliance – comprising Sunni parties, KDP and Shiite Sadrist movement and led by Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr – boycotted session. Supreme Court 13 Feb invalidated Zebari’s candidacy over corruption charges. Fearing Sadr could form govt excluding rival Shiite Coordination Framework, Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps commander 8 Feb visited Iraq to meet Sadr who maintained intention to form majority govt. Lack of precedent for deadlock fuelled uncertainty, which may eventually force new elections. In move likely to raise tensions between Baghdad and Erbil and possibly cause rift within tripartite alliance, Supreme Court 15 Feb ruled Kurdistan regional govt’s law regulating region’s independent oil industry unconstitutional. Meanwhile, Turkey early Feb launched new military campaign Operation Winter Eagle against Kurdish militants, constituting most significant escalation in airstrikes since Aug 2021. Turkish air force 1 Feb conducted over 20 airstrikes in Sinjar district, Nineveh governorate, and Makhmur district, Erbil governorate, killing ten Yazidi Resistance Units (YBS) and Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) members. In following days, YBS protested in Sinjar, raising tensions with military who banned protests. Previously unknown Ahrar Sinjar group – likely front for pro-Iran Shiite group Asaib Ahl al-Haq – claimed 2 Feb rocket attack on Turkish military base in Sinjar. Group deemed to be front for pro-Iran faction Alwiat al-Wa’ad al-Haqq claimed responsibility for three drones target-ing United Arab Emirates on 2 Feb. In Maysan governorate, PM Al-Kadhimi 7 Feb established new operations command amid insecurity; notably, unidentified gunmen 9 Feb assassinated member of Sadrist militia Saraya al-Salam in Amara city, latest in series of killings involving Sadrists and Asaib Ahl al-Haq, raising fears of more clashes between groups. Anti-Islamic State operations continued throughout month.

Saudi Arabia