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May saw an alarming rise in tensions between Iran and both the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, and an escalation in Yemen’s war, which could intensify further in June. Pro-government forces in Syria stepped up bombing in Idlib, and fighting worsened in and around Libya’s capital, Tripoli. Relations between Somalia’s federal government and regions deteriorated and Al-Shabaab upped attacks, boding ill for June. Sudan’s military council resisted demands to hand over power to civilians and is already stepping up repression of protesters. Militia violence rose in north-western Central African Republic, intercommunal raids left dozens dead in eastern Chad, and in western Niger suspected jihadists ramped up attacks. Benin’s security forces cracked down on opposition protesters, constitutional reforms that could give Togo’s president two more terms worsened tensions, and Guinea-Bissau’s political stalemate could trigger unrest in coming weeks. Anti-Muslim violence rose in Sri Lanka, and tensions spiked within Kosovo and between Kosovo and Serbia. In Honduras, violence broke out as the government faced large protests against planned reforms. In Nicaragua, talks between the government and opposition stalled fuelling concerns they could falter in June, further deepening the country’s political crisis.
In his introduction to this month's edition of CrisisWatch, Crisis Group's conflict tracker, our President Robert Malley reflects on South Sudan, Ethiopia, Venezuela and the rising risk of a war between the U.S. and Iran.
As we have warned, a marked rise in tensions between Iran and the U.S. could lead to a military confrontation – direct or by proxy – unless both parties and outside actors take greater steps to de-escalate. The U.S. tightened its economic stranglehold on Iran, revoking waivers that allowed countries to import Iranian oil, and announced it would bolster military assets in the Middle East. Tehran responded by downgrading its compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal and threatened to step up uranium enrichment if the accord’s other parties (the UK, France, Russia, China and Germany) failed to protect Iran’s oil and banking sectors from sanctions within 60 days. Unclaimed attacks on four oil tankers off the United Arab Emirates – which Washington claimed Tehran directed – and drone attacks on a pipeline in Saudi Arabia added fuel to the fire. The latter strikes were claimed by Huthi forces in Yemen, but Saudi Arabia accused Iran of guiding the Huthis’ actions. In apparent retaliation, the Saudi-led coalition launched airstrikes in Yemen’s capital Sanaa causing civilian deaths. Fighting also escalated on several fronts across Yemen, raising fears of more violence on Yemeni soil and more Huthi attacks on Saudi and Emirati assets in coming weeks.
In Libya, hundreds were killed in and around the capital Tripoli as fighting intensified between Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s forces and those nominally loyal to the UN-backed government. To prevent a protracted regional conflict, the warring parties and their external backers should agree an immediate ceasefire, including a partial withdrawal of Haftar’s forces, and give the UN a chance to restart talks. Pro-government forces in Syria intensified a bombing campaign against jihadists in Idlib province in the north west, with hundreds reportedly killed, many of them civilians.
In Somalia, already fraught relations between the federal government in Mogadishu and the regional states soured further, raising the risk of greater political turmoil and insecurity, just as Al-Shabaab ramped up attacks in the capital and rural areas. After talks between President Farmajo and regional leaders collapsed with no agreement on critical issues from the electoral process to resource sharing, two regions suspended cooperation with the centre. Hope for a peaceful transition in Sudan after President Bashir’s ouster is fading fast. In May, the ruling military council resisted pressure to hand over authority to civilians and soldiers twice reportedly opened fire on protesters. Violence could rise in June; already clashes erupted when security forces tried to clear a sit-in protest from outside the defence ministry in Khartoum. In neighbouring Chad, inter-ethnic attacks spiked in the east, and militia violence rose in the Central African Republic.
Suspected jihadists ramped up attacks in western Niger near the border with Mali and Burkina Faso, killing several civilians and dozens of soldiers. After disputed elections in Benin, security forces clashed with opposition protesters in the economic capital Cotonou, reportedly leaving at least seven dead. Both the government and opposition hardened their positions, prompting fears that violence could worsen in June. Neighbouring Togo’s parliament voted through constitutional changes that could see President Gnassingbé, in power since 2005, stay until 2030, much to the opposition’s ire. In Guinea-Bissau, President Vaz continued to resist pressure from the ruling party to name a new Prime Minister after the March elections and allow the formation of a government. Thousands took to the streets to protest, and there are fears security forces could forcibly suppress further protests, especially around the end of Vaz’s term on 23 June.
In Sri Lanka, the fallout from the Easter Sunday terror attacks continued as intercommunal tensions and anti-Muslim violence increased, with hundreds of Muslim businesses, homes and mosques damaged or burned during attacks by Sinhala Buddhist extremist groups. In Europe, tensions rose within Kosovo and between Kosovo and Serbia after a police raid on organised crime suspects in the Serb-majority north.
In Honduras, political tensions flared as protests continued against the government's planned health and education reforms, leading to violent clashes between protesters and the police. Talks between Nicaragua’s government and opposition stalled, with fears that the political crisis could worsen in June as the agreed deadline for the government to release political prisoners expires, and the country faces expulsion from the Organization of American States.
Jihadist attacks, intercommunal violence and banditry continued especially in north and east, as growing number of attacks against Christians raised fears they would stir inter-religious tensions. Unidentified gunmen 12 May attacked church in Dablo in Centre-North region, killing six including priest; suspected jihadists 13 May attacked Catholic Christians in procession between villages of Singa and Kayon in Centre-North region, killing four civilians; 26 May attacked church in Toulfé in North region, four killed. Unidentified assailants 13 May abducted and killed imam and his son in Seno, Sahel region in north. Army vehicle ambushed 23 May near Wamou forest in east, one forest warden killed. Health worker abducted 6 May in Nafo in Centre-East, released next day. French military carried out operation in north with support of Burkinabè and Beninese forces 10 May freeing four abductees, including two French tourists kidnapped in northern Benin 1 May, reportedly by Islamist group Ansarul Islam; two French soldiers killed during operation. President Kaboré early May replaced governors of East, North, Centre-North, Sahel and Centre-South regions. Army 11 May launched Operation Ndoufou to counter spread of militant groups in Sahel, Centre-North and North regions. Former general and PM under Michel Kafando’s transitional govt Yacouba Isaac Zida early May said he would come back from exile and run for office in 2020 presidential elections.
Appointment of new broad-based govt divided opposition, while violence continued in centre and north. After consultations with political and religious leaders and civil society, PM Cissé 5 May formed 38-member cabinet, including three opposition members. But major opposition parties Union for the Republic and Democracy (URD) and African Solidarity for Democracy and Independence (SADI) refused to join, citing lack of agreement over power-sharing. Railway workers 13 May ended strike after govt agreed to pay wage arrears. Teachers’ union 20 May ended five-month strike after govt agreed to satisfy eight of ten demands. New govt kick-started discussions with several parties over implementation of 2015 peace agreement, continuation of political dialogue and organisation of legislative elections. Insecurity persisted in centre, particularly Gourma area. Suspected jihadists staged ambush near Mondoro 11 May, eighteen reportedly killed, mostly civilians. Suspected jihadists ambushed and killed four soldiers in Diafarabé, Mopti region 16 May. UN mission (MINUSMA)’s 3 May report on Ogossagou massacre that killed at least 160 Fulanis in March pointed to responsibility of Dozos (Dogon militants). Violence also continued in north. Ex-rebel Coalition of Azawad Movements and former ally Movement for the Salvation of Azawad clashed several times 3-12 May in Talataye, Ménaka region over control of districts and key trafficking routes, death toll unknown. MINUSMA vehicle hit explosive device near Tessalit, Kidal region 18 May, three Chadian peacekeepers injured. Unidentified assailants 18 May killed Nigerian peacekeeper in Timbuktu city.
Suspected jihadists ramped up attacks in Tillabery region in west bordering Mali and Burkina Faso, killing dozens of soldiers, and insecurity persisted in Diffa region in south east. In Tillabery region, Islamic State in the Greater Sahara claimed attacks against high security prison at Koutoukale in which national guard officer killed and against church at Dolbel both 13 May; same day a hundred militants reportedly ambushed security forces in Baley Beri area as they pursued perpetrators of attacks, killing at least 28 soldiers. Also in Tillabery, explosive device killed six civilians near Inates 3 May. UN and NGO Doctors Without Borders (MSF) early May suspended humanitarian operations in parts of Tillabery and Diffa regions after several incidents: militants reportedly linked to Boko Haram attacked MSF office in Maine Soroa, Diffa region night of 25-26 April; in Tillabery region armed assailants 2 May stole two MSF vehicles and unidentified individuals 7 May stole two vehicles from refugee camp of Tabarey Barey. General Salou Djibo, who led 2010 coup and presided over peaceful transition, mid-May requested and was granted his retirement, sparking speculations that he may run for president in 2021.
Govt continued crackdown on opposition, targeting in particular members of opposition party National Congress for Freedom (CNL) led by Agathon Rwasa. Police 3 May arrested six CNL members including local leader in Kirundo, Kirundo province; 8 May arrested and reportedly assaulted three CNL youth members in Muha commune of capital Bujumbura; same day arrested politician from FRODEBU opposition party in Butihinda, Muyinga province; 11 May arrested three CNL members in Bugarama, Rumonge province; 15 May arrested four CNL members in Rumonge, Rumonge province. Imbonerakure youth wing of ruling party CNDD-FDD 11 May forced local population including CNL members to take part in CNDD-FDD meeting in Nyamurenza, Ngozi province and beat 25 relatives of CNL members who refused. Internal and overseas-based opposition groups met in Ugandan capital, Kampala 3-5 May and discussed whether to take part in 2020 elections, but reached no conclusion; opposition parties Movement for Solidarity and Democracy (MSD) and FRODEBU notably absent. For first time, Tanzanian police 15 May arrested two Burundian National Intelligence Service (SNR) agents in Burundian refugee camp at Nduta, Tanzania. Southern Africa Development Community 27 May said it had rejected Burundi’s application to join regional bloc for the second time due to country’s unresolved democratic process.
Anglophone separatists continued to clash with security forces in Anglophone areas (Northwest and Southwest regions) and Boko Haram (BH) factions continued attacks in Far North. In Northwest region, violence reportedly left two soldiers, seventeen Anglophone separatists and three civilians dead 15-27 May. On National Day 20 May, separatists and two opposition parties boycotted processions in Anglophone areas; in Southwest region, fighting between separatists and military in Muyuka, Ndian department 20 May left four-month-old baby dead. In Far North, BH militants launched at least seven attacks on civilians and security forces mostly in Logone-et-Chari department, but also Mayo Tsanaga and Mayo Sava, killing three soldiers and seven civilians 11-27 May; notably grenade explosion attributed to BH in Far North region capital, Maroua 19 May left two dead. Fighting over land in Mokolo, Mayo Tsanaga 7 May left six dead. Opposition leader Maurice Kamto, imprisoned since Jan, 6 May called for peaceful demonstrations across country 1 and 8 June; authorities 1 June arrested several hundred protesters including vice president of Kamto’s party Movement for the Renaissance of Cameroon (MRC). UN Security Council 13 May held first meeting on humanitarian crisis in Cameroon; participants also addressed Anglophone crisis. U.S. Assistant Sec State for African Affairs 16 May expressed discontent with President Biya’s management of crisis and said economic sanctions were possible. In Paris (France), thousands of Cameroonians 18 May protested to demand govt free Kamto and denounce killings in Anglophone regions and France’s President Emmanuel Macron’s support to Biya.
Attacks on civilians spiked in north west leaving scores killed, as parties made some progress in implementing Feb peace agreement. In north west, fighters of Return, Restitution and Rehabilitation (3R) armed group 10-12 May killed two civilians in Ouham-Pendé prefecture. In most deadly attacks since Feb peace agreement, 3R 21 May attacked four villages in Ouham-Pendé prefecture leaving 54 dead. Interior minister 31 May said 3R pledged to disarm within two weeks. Unidentified assailants 21 May killed two civilians in Batangafo, Ouham prefecture. In centre, members of rebel group Patriotic Movement for the Central African Republic (MPC) 5 May reportedly killed two civilians in Yagarandji, Nana-Grébizi prefecture. In south east, members of rebel group Union for Peace in Central African Republic (UPC) 22 May abducted seven people in Obo, Haut-Mbomou prefecture. In south west, beheaded body of French-Spanish nun found in Nola, Sangha-Mbaere prefecture 20 May. Govt made some progress in redeployment of army to provinces begun some four months ago. UN mission (MINUSCA) 5 May helped deploy around 40 troops to Kaga-Bandoro in north, but MPC leader objected, forcing army units to leave town hours later; 106 troops deployed to Kaga-Bandoro 18 May with MINUSCA support. President Touadéra 15 May launched executive implementation committee tasked with implementing Feb peace agreement. Consultative committee on disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) 17 May said ten of fourteen armed groups had submitted lists of combatants to be reintegrated into civilian life; reintegration to start in June with rebels in west.
Intercommunal violence intensified in east leaving at least 34 people dead, Boko Haram (BH) continued attacks in west and govt took steps to avert protests over high cost of living. In east, Arab nomadic herders and ethnic Ouaddaï sedentary farmers clashed: Arab herders 16 May attacked Ouaddaï farmers in Katafa, leaving nine Ouaddaï and three Arabs dead; herders raided and burned villages of Amkaroka, Amsabarna and Amsiriye in Dar Sila province 19-20 May, leaving 22 people dead from both sides. In Lake Chad province in west, BH militants 16 May attacked Ceilia village, killing thirteen people. BH militants 25 May attacked army base in Ngouboua, leaving 23 BH combatants and at least one soldier dead; convoy travelling to scene of attack same day detonated mine, killing four soldiers and one journalist. One month after protests over high cost of living led to ouster of Sudanese President al-Bashir, Chadian govt 10 May removed import taxes on staple foods including rice, flour, cooking oil and dates to reduce prices and calm growing anger over high cost of living. Chair of National Framework for Political Dialogue (CNDP) Mahamat Zene Bada 13 May informed diplomats that legislative elections, initially scheduled for May 2019, would take place later this year without specifying exact date.
President Tshisekedi took further steps to open political space and improve regional and international relations, but insecurity persisted, especially in east. Moïse Katumbi, coordinator of opposition platform Lamuka and former Katanga governor, 20 May returned from three-year exile after court overturned conviction and prosecutors dropped investigation against him initiated by govt of former President Kabila. Ne Muanda Nsemi, leader of politico-religious movement Bundu Dia Mayala whom Kabila govt imprisoned but who escaped and disappeared in 2017, reappeared in Kinshasa 6 May, arrested 9 May but released next day at Tshisekedi’s request. Body of Tshisekedi’s father Etienne, opposition leader who died in Belgium in Feb 2017, repatriated 30 May, move previously blocked by Kabila. After months of negotiations between Tshisekedi and Kabila camps, Tshisekedi 20 May appointed Sylvestre Ilunga Ilunkamba, member of Kabila’s party, as PM. Martin Fayulu, Lamuka’s losing presidential candidate, continued to contest results and 15 May threatened to mobilise protests if Tshisekedi did not resign within weeks. Kabila’s Common Front for Congo (FCC) coalition took four of five posts in North Kivu province’s parliamentary bureau 14 May and won with significant margins in delayed senatorial elections in North Kivu and Mai-Ndombe provinces 18 May; FCC now has 86 of 109 senate seats. Tshisekedi continued to strengthen relations with regional and international partners: notably he received Rwandan army chief 10 May; Belgian political and security delegation 12 May; Ethiopian President Sahle-Work 18 May; and French FM 20 May, who promised €300mn for education, health and security sectors. In North Kivu, clashes between army and militia Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) caused displacement in Rutshuru territory, 2 May left eight dead; in Masisi territory, Nduma Defence of Congo-Renovated (NDC-R) militia continued to take ground from rival groups Alliance of Patriots for a Free and Sovereign Congo (APCLS) and Force for the Defence of Human Rights/Nyatura; in Beni territory, attack attributed to Allied Democratic Forces militia 17 May left at least five civilians and one soldier dead. In Ituri province, assailants attacked market on Lake Albert killing nineteen.
President Sassou-Nguesso met Russian President Putin in Moscow 23 May and signed agreement to strengthen military cooperation including Russian training of Congolese troops and inspection of previously delivered Russian-made military equipment.
Relations between Rwanda and Uganda continued to fray. Rwandan soldiers 24 May crossed into Uganda in pursuit of suspected smuggler, and shot dead one Rwandan and one Ugandan. Ugandan authorities 28 May arrested two Rwandans for allegedly entering country to gather intelligence.
Govt early May increased security forces in capital Asmara without giving explanation and temporarily shut down Facebook and messaging apps. U.S. removed Eritrea from updated list of countries not cooperating with its counter-terrorism efforts 29 May.
Intercommunal fighting continued, in north west and north east, and federal authorities sought to bring former officials to justice. In north west, after violence against ethnic Amhara in Metekel zone, Benishangul-Gumuz region 26-28 April left eighteen dead, allegedly retaliatory attacks against ethnic Gumuz in Agi Agew zone of neighbouring Amhara region 3 May reportedly caused over 200 deaths. Ministry of Peace said it would investigate violence. In north east, unidentified assailants reportedly killed eleven ethnic Somalis in Siti zone, Somali region 3 May; amid allegations that state police from neighbouring Afar region were responsible, Somali regional state withdrew from 2014 agreement with Afar region that allows latter to administer three disputed border areas. In south, fatal violence reported in Oromia region between security forces and rebel group Oromo Liberation Front, and ethnic Wolayta 17 May rallied in Sodo pressing claim for their own regional state. Executive Committee of ruling coalition Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) 16 May recognised danger of rising ethnic nationalism. Federal Attorney-General 7 May charged in absentia former head of National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) Getachew Assefa and 25 other NISS officials on 46 counts of human rights violations including torture, forced confessions, rape, and arbitrary detention; Tigray regional govt reportedly continued to shield from arrest Getachew, adviser to Tigray region president and senior official in Tigray People’s Liberation Front, one of four parties in ruling EPRDF coalition. Authorities in Somalia late May arrested and deported to Ethiopia Hassan Ismail Ibrahim, former commander of Jijiga Central Prison in Ethiopia’s Somali region where he is accused of overseeing serious human rights violations. New party, Ethiopian Citizens for Social Justice Party, created in Addis Ababa 9-10 May uniting seven opposition groups; veteran opposition figure Berhanu Nega elected leader.
Al-Shabaab kept up attacks in north east and east, ethnic violence continued in north, and relations between Kenya and Somalia remained sour. In north east, Al-Shabaab fighters 4 May raided Hareri Hosle village in Mandera county, near border with Somalia, one police reservist injured in firefight; Al-Shabaab ambush on patrol in Gumarey area, Wajir county 7 May left three officers injured. In east, suspected Al-Shabaab 5 May attacked camp of special police unit in Ishakani, Lamu county, nobody hurt. Police 15 May issued security alert of possible Al-Shabaab attacks during Ramadan (early May to early June) and announced extra security measures. In north, ethnic Borana attacked ethnic Gabra killing eleven in Marsabit county near Ethiopian border 6 May. Five people killed in two subsequent attacks involving same ethnic groups in Boru Haro and Shaba Manyatta Jillo, Marsabit county 23 and 24 May. Kenya 10 May suspended direct flights between Somali capital Mogadishu and Kenyan capital Nairobi until at least 9 Aug; flights are expected to land in Wajir in northern Kenya for security checks before proceeding to Nairobi. Kenyan authorities at Nairobi airport denied entry to three Somali officials travelling on diplomatic passports 20 May saying that after change in rules Somalis needed to obtain visa at Kenyan mission in Mogadishu.
Relations between federal govt and federal member states deteriorated sharply raising risk of further instability in June, and Al-Shabaab stepped up attacks in capital Mogadishu and rural areas. President Farmajo and PM Khayre held talks with heads of federal member states in Garowe, Puntland 5-9 May, but failed to agree on way forward on critical issues including reform of electoral law and management of oil and gas. Puntland 27 May said it would stop cooperating with federal govt on matters of constitutional review, federal elections and national security and Galmudug state 30 May severed ties with federal govt. Govt 13 May cancelled ongoing national high school exams citing discovery of cheating racket, prompting thousands of students to protest in capital. In Mogadishu, Al-Shabaab 12 May detonated car bomb, killing Turkish citizen; suicide car bombing near president’s residence killed four civilians 14 May; car bombing at security checkpoint 22 May killed at least nine including former FM Hussein Elabe Fahiye. In Middle Shabelle region in south, Al-Shabaab militants 6 May ambushed security forces killing four and clashes between security forces and Al-Shabaab militants 11 May left fifteen militants dead. Al-Shabaab 14 May kidnapped two local aid workers in Gedo region, Jubaland state; 16 May clashed with Somali forces in Gedo region, leaving at least seven militants and two soldiers dead. Fighting between Al-Shabaab and security forces in Middle Shabelle region 28 May left five militants dead. Senior Al-Shabaab leader Sidow Abdi Gedi 18 May contacted govt forces in Kismayo, Jubaland requesting to surrender. U.S. claimed its airstrikes killed eleven Al-Shabaab militants and nineteen Islamic State (ISIS)-Somalia militants 5-26 May. Relations between Somalia and Kenya continued to sour following flare-up over disputed maritime border; Kenya 10 May suspended direct flights between Mogadishu and Kenyan capital Nairobi until 9 Aug and 20 May denied entry to three Somali govt officials who travelled to Kenya on diplomatic passports. UN Sec-Gen Guterres 30 May appointed U.S. diplomat James Swan as new UN envoy to Somalia. UN Security Council 31 May renewed for one year mandate of African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).
President Bihi called for resumption of Somaliland-Somalia talks on Independence Day 18 May. Somaliland and Puntland forces clashed in disputed Sanaag region 21 May, leaving unconfirmed number of soldiers dead.
Parties to Sept 2018 peace agreement agreed to six-month extension of pre-transitional period to Nov, allowing more time to carry out preliminary reforms before forming transitional govt. Parties convened in Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa 2-3 May under auspices of regional bloc Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and agreed on six-month extension, as requested by main rebel leader Riek Machar in April. President Kiir 8 May publicly expressed doubt that parties would be able to form unity govt within six months, suggesting necessary security reforms would take one year. Security forces 10 May deployed in large numbers in capital Juba to prevent anti-govt protests that youth called for 16 May. Kiir 15 May warned that any attempt to seize power would be met with “violent resistance”; protests did not materialise. In south west, fighting reportedly resumed between govt forces and rebel group National Salvation Front (NAS) led by Thomas Cirillo in Yei River state 26-27 May. UN Security Council 30 May renewed for one year sanctions on govt officials and militia groups including arms embargo; govt described renewal as “anti-peace”.
Tensions rose as military council continued to resist opposition demands for civilian leadership and security forces reportedly attacked protesters, raising risk of more intense clashes in June. After talks between Transitional Military Council (TMC) and opposition coalition Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC) were suspended late April, security forces fired gunshots and tear gas to disperse protesters in Nyala, South Darfur 4 May. TMC 7 May said it wanted Sharia law to guide legislation during transition. FFC 12 May called for civilian-headed transitional structure and escalation of protests; protesters expanded checkpoints outside army HQ in capital Khartoum, site of sit-in protest. Armed actors wearing uniforms of paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) 13 May opened fire on protesters in Khartoum, reportedly killing five; TMC and RSF denied responsibility. Talks resumed same day and by 15 May two sides agreed that transitional period before elections would last three years and agreed on duties of sovereign, executive and legislative councils, but failed to agree on composition and control of sovereign council. Security forces in RSF uniforms again shot at protesters 15 May; TMC head General Abdel-Fattah Burhan suspended talks until protesters removed barricades around sit-in. Talks resumed 19 May but made no breakthrough, and FFC called for two-day general strike. Thousands of public and private sector workers heeded call 28-29 May; in solidarity with protesters, workers at several key institutions including central bank, Port Sudan and oil ministry refused to work and flights out of Khartoum’s main airport were suspended 28 May. Tens of thousands protested in Khartoum 30 May and military called protesters’ sit-in a threat to stability. Egypt, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia continued to give TMC strong support: General Burhan visited Cairo 25 May and Abu Dhabi 26 May and his deputy General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, RSF head, met Saudi Crown Prince in Jeddah 24 May.
Abduction of well-known opposition activist fuelled concerns for shrinking political space. Unidentified gunmen 4 May abducted Mdude Nyagali, high-profile member of main opposition party Chadema; Chadema 5 May accused security forces of kidnap, authorities dismissed allegation. Villagers 8 May found Mdude Nyagali in bush in Mbeya region in south west, he was unconscious and showing signs of torture. In capital Dodoma, authorities early May detained for one night Chadema MP Paschal Haonga after he reported Nyagali’s abduction. Group of 38 international NGOs and regional organisations 13 May denounced deterioration of human rights in early 2019, called for action at forthcoming UN Human Rights Council 24 June-12 July.
Relations between Uganda and Rwanda continued to fray. Rwandan soldiers 24 May crossed south west border into Uganda in pursuit of suspected smuggler, and shot dead one Rwandan and one Ugandan. Ugandan authorities 28 May arrested two Rwandans for allegedly entering country to gather intelligence. Govt 9 May said it planned to evict remaining residents of Apaa region, which govt seeks to turn into game reserve despite resistance by bordering Amuru and Adjumani districts. Following protests, President Museveni appointed new committee to seek solution to boundary dispute which has periodically erupted in violence. Opposition politicians Robert Kyagulanyi, known as Bobi Wine, and Kizza Besigye 8 May pledged concerted action ahead of 2021 polls. Zimbabwean authorities 25 May temporarily detained Bobi Wine at Harare airport when he visited to attend opposition congress.
Armed separatist movement Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda (FLEC) early May said Angolan soldiers had deployed several times in western DR Congo late April claiming to be looking for FLEC militants; FLEC denied presence of any of its militants in Congo.
Legislative elections held peacefully 27 May; results expected mid-June.
President Mutharika was re-elected 27 May to second five-year term amid allegations of electoral fraud. Following allegations of vote-rigging in 21 May presidential elections, main opposition party Malawi Congress Party (MCP) 25 May obtained High Court injunction to delay announcement of final results; High Court 27 May lifted injunction and electoral commission same day announced results. Runner-up opposition candidate Lazarus Chakwera 31 May petitioned High Court to nullify results and called for protests; United Transformation Movement (UTM) leader and former VP Saulos Chilima same day also filed petition to have results annulled.
Suspected Islamist militants continued attacks in Cabo Delgado province in far north, disrupting voter registration for Oct general elections and prompting locals to hunt down suspected militants. Militants 3 May attacked voter registration post in Nacate, Macomia district, killing six people, vandalising equipment and burning several houses. Militants 5 May attacked Minhanha in Meluco district, killing three people and burning some 100 houses, leading to closure of five of 38 registration posts in Meluco. Militants 17 May attacked Ngalonga in Nangade district, burning 113 houses and disrupting registration. Villagers in Macomia district 4-5 May reportedly hunted down group of suspected militants, killing four. MPs from ruling Frelimo party 16 May demanded former armed opposition movement Renamo demobilise and disarm before Oct elections. In reversal of South African court’s April ruling, South African justice minister 21 May ruled that former Mozambican Finance Minister Manuel Chang would be extradited to Mozambique instead of U.S., where he is wanted for alleged involvement in Mozambique govt’s undisclosed $2bn loan that U.S. says was fraudulent.
Amid economic crisis, govt continued attempts to initiate political dialogue. Main opposition party Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) 5 May said it was ready to engage in dialogue with govt if process was credible, calling for neutral external mediator. President Mnangagwa 17 May launched Political Actors Dialogue at ceremony in capital Harare, in which MDC refused to take part; at launch, South African ambassador urged govt to look for external mediator. High court 8 May declared Nelson Chamisa’s position as MDC president illegitimate, ordering party to convene congress to choose new leader within one month; MDC appealed decision and elected Chamisa as permanent leader at pre-planned party congress in Gweru 24-26 May. Security forces at Harare airport 25 May temporarily detained Ugandan opposition leader Robert Kyagulanyi, known as Bobi Wine, and sec gen of Kenyan opposition Orange Democratic Movement, both visiting country to attend MDC congress. Govt 20-27 May arrested seven Zimbabwean activists at Harare airport after they attended workshop in Maldives on non-violent protest tactics and accused them of plotting to overthrow Mnangagwa. As economic situation continued to deteriorate, govt 21 May announced around 46% increase in fuel prices, raising concerns of future unrest.
After 28 April parliamentary elections from which govt banned opposition parties, security forces clashed with opposition protesters early May, raising risk of more intense clashes in June. In economic capital Cotonou, military 1 May deployed in Cadjéhoun district to break up protesters’ barricades. Next day security forces twice stormed residence of opposition leader and former President Boni Yayi, reportedly shooting at crowd. Opposition leaders visited Boni Yayi 4 May and in joint statement called for military’s withdrawal from Cadjéhoun, return of bodies to families and stop to arrests. Opposition 10 May said at least seven killed in violence. 83 MPs – all from factions supporting President Talon – took office 16 May amid heightened security; opposition refused to recognise parliament. Talon 20 May defended electoral process and reform of party system, accusing opposition of “lack of wisdom”; opposition 22 May rejected govt’s offer of dialogue and called for new vote. In north near border with Burkina Faso, suspected jihadists 4 May kidnapped two French tourists and killed guide; French military 10 May said it had freed both captives in operation in Burkina Faso.
Parties and coalitions continued efforts to strengthen positions ahead of 2020 presidential elections and ethnic violence flared in centre. Thirteen MPs from ruling coalition Rally of Houphouëtists for Democracy and Peace (RHDP) 8 May launched Synergie 2020 movement to support President Ouattara’s candidacy, which next day started tour in Hambol region in north, where former National Assembly Speaker and now opposition leader Guillaume Soro recently toured. RHDP continued to poach Soro’s supporters and those of opposition Democratic Party of Côte d’Ivoire (PDCI)’s leader Henri Konan Bédié. PDCI delegation mandated by Bédié 8 May met former President Gbagbo – on conditional release from International Criminal Court (ICC) – in Brussels (Belgium) to discuss joint action for “return of a lasting peace in Côte d’Ivoire”, recognising Gbagbo’s leading role in party he founded Popular Ivorian Front (FPI) and of which he has been trying to regain control; Gbagbo reportedly agreed in principle to join Bédié’s opposition platform. In response, FPI’s legally-recognised President Pascal Affi N’Guessan 8 May said he was party’s one and only president. Indigenous (Baoulé) and non-indigenous (Malinké) populations 16 May clashed in town of Beoumi in centre allegedly after altercation between Malinké taxi driver and Baoulé motorbike taxi driver, eleven reportedly killed and more than 100 injured.
Security forces 10 May dispersed demonstration in capital Banjul against alleged attempts by President Barrow and his allies to retract election promise he made in 2016 to step down after 36 months in office. Govt 11 May said fifteen demonstrators had been charged as protest lacked authorisation. Court martial 27 May sentenced seven former soldiers to nine years in jail and another to three years for plotting to overthrow Barrow in 2017 with help of his ousted predecessor Jammeh.
Ahead of 2020 presidential elections, presidential camp’s project to amend constitution and enable President Condé to run for third term faced growing opposition, and authorities along with Condé supporters upped violent repression of opposition. Let’s Save Guinea movement created 10 May to increase youth and women’s participation in decision-making bodies and fight against constitutional reform enabling third term. Members of National Front for the Defence of the Constitution (FNDC) – coalition launched in April by leading opposition and civil society figures to oppose constitutional reform – demonstrated in Kindia in west 4 May during President Condé’s visit, seven arrested. Court in Kindia 7 May sentenced them to three months’ in prison for “obstructing freedom to demonstrate” and “disturbing public order”; Appeal Court of Conakry acquitted them 13 May. Supporters of presidential party and opposition reportedly clashed in Kouroussa 3 May. Women and youth 9 May blocked traffic in Conakry’s Matam neighbourhood to protest power cuts, lack of drinking water and Condé’s possible third term. During general assembly 18 May, ruling party Rally for the Guinean People (RPG) confirmed project to draft new constitution and submit it to referendum.
After ruling party won 10 March legislative elections, tensions persisted as President Vaz resisted pressure, including protests organised by ruling party, to name PM to form new govt; further protests could face violent repression in coming weeks especially around end of Vaz’s term 23 June. Ruling African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC) and opposition continued to contest appointment of two vice presidents of parliament, which Vaz made a precondition for him to name new PM and cabinet. In capital Bissau, thousands of PAIGC supporters protested 14, 22 and 25 May calling on Vaz to name party leader Domingos Simoes Pereira as PM. Supreme court 15 May rejected appeal by two opposition parties allied to Vaz, Movement for a Democratic Alternative G-15 (MADEM G-15) and Party for Social Renewal (PRS), against PAIGC’s alleged attempts to block their nominees for first and second vice presidents of parliament, opening way for nomination of parliament’s bureau and govt. PAIGC leader Pereira 30 May insisted President Vaz nominate PM before end of his presidential term 23 June. P5 group that comprises African Union, Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries, ECOWAS, EU and UN 27 May called for immediate nomination of PM and formation of govt. Public and utilities sector workers 22 May started new three-day strike over unpaid wages and poor working conditions.
Coalition of opposition parties Council of Patriots called for protest 7 June to demand that President Weah “resign or find a solution to the appalling economic situation”. Weah 14 May met with Council of Patriots’ leaders, no compromise reached. UN envoy for West Africa Mohamed Ibn Chambas visited capital Monrovia 24-25 May to try to mediate.
Serious security challenges persisted including Boko Haram (BH) insurgency in north east, bandit violence in north west, and herder-farmer tensions in north central, which altogether killed over 200. In north east, army 10 May reported it killed at least seven BH militants in Gulwa area, Borno state; air force reported strikes killed scores of insurgents. BH continued attacks on civilians, killing at least 31 mainly in Borno state but also Adamawa 7-27 May. Insurgents, mostly from BH faction Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP), also continued to target military: notably militants killed fifteen soldiers at base in Magumeri area, Borno state 3 May; Islamic State (ISIS) 11 May said ISWAP killed eleven soldiers in Gajiganna, Borno state 10 May, army denied. ISWAP 20 May attacked base in Gubio, killing at least three soldiers; ISIS 22 May said twenty soldiers killed. In north west, security forces stepped up ground and air operations against bandits, including air strikes on Kamuku forest, Kaduna state 10 May and Doumbourou forest, Zamfara state 25 May, killing scores. But bandits continued attacks in Zamfara, Katsina and Sokoto states, killing over 130 people. Notably, in Zamfara state, attacks left over 50 killed in several villages 3-4 May; at least eighteen killed in three places 18-19 May; at least 23 killed in Tunga and Kabaje 28 May. In Katsina state, bandits killed at least 34 people 20-21 May. In Sokoto state, bandits 3 May raided home of former state governor in Bafarawa, killed security guard; 7 May killed district head in Balle. In north centre, herder-farmer clashes and communal violence killed over 30 people in Kogi, Plateau and Kaduna states. In Kogi state, clashes in several areas 18-19 May left fifteen herders dead. In Plateau state, communal clash in state capital Jos 26 May killed seven. In Kaduna state, gunmen kidnapped seventeen including pastor at Dankade 19 May.
High Court 31 May revoked parliamentary seats of ten MPs from main opposition party All People’s Congress (APC) for breaches of electoral law during March 2018 legislative elections. Same day police clashed with APC supporters protesting outside party offices in capital Freetown, firing tear gas into offices, injuring several people and arresting dozens, including senior party executives and former ministers.
Parliament passed law approving constitutional changes that could see President Gnassingbé stay in power until 2030, and military conducted joint military operation with neighbours to prevent jihadist insurgency spreading south from Sahel. MPs 8 May voted in favour of constitutional reform that limits presidential mandate to two five-year terms, but does not count three terms Gnassingbé has already served, thereby allowing him to run in two more elections in 2020 and 2025 and potentially stay in power until 2030; C14 opposition coalition 10 May denounced reform. Electoral commission late April announced local elections would be held 30 June for first time in 32 years; after boycott of Dec 2018 legislative elections C14 14 May announced it would take part in June elections. Militaries of Togo, Burkina Faso, Benin and Ghana conducted joint military operation in border areas 15-18 May and arrested some 200 suspected jihadists, of which 95 Togolese.
Further signs of improving relations between China and Japan ahead of planned visit by Chinese President Xi to Osaka for G2 summit in June. China’s top foreign policy official, State Councillor for foreign affairs Yang Jiechi, visited Tokyo 16-18 May; meeting with PM Abe called for the two countries to “strengthen coordination and collaboration”. Japanese and Chinese officials resumed disarmament talks in Beijing 21 May, marking first bilateral security meeting in eight years. Japan, Australia, South Korea and U.S. held first “Pacific Vanguard” naval training exercise in Western Pacific late May. Visiting Japan late May, U.S. President Trump discussed military cooperation with PM Abe; Trump reported Japan agreed to purchase 105 F-35 fighter jets from U.S.
Amid stalemate in denuclearisation negotiations between U.S. and North Korea, tensions mounted as Pyongyang launched two short-range ballistic missiles 4 May (from south east) and 9 May (from north west), first missile launches in any form since Dec 2017. U.S. President Trump downplayed significance of launches, saying he remains hopeful of a deal with North Korea; U.S. Sec State Mike Pompeo noted that tests did not break North Korea’s testing moratorium, which he said only covers intercontinental ballistic missiles – prompting speculation that Pyongyang may proceed with a mid-range ballistic missile launch. U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton 24 May said there is “no doubt” that launches violate UN Security Council resolutions. Pyongyang same day stated it will not resume negotiations with Washington unless U.S. changes its stance on sequencing of concessions in negotiations. Amid stalled talks, U.S. 9 May legally seized North Korea’s second-largest cargo vessel pursuant to civil asset forfeiture case filed in New York over accusations of involvement in money laundering transactions; North Korea demanded return of vessel, which had been physically held for a year, and convened rare press conference at UN 21 May to denounce U.S. over case. Inter-Korean tensions also on display; Pyongyang did not join South Korea in late April celebrations of first anniversary of 2018 Panmunjom inter-Korean summit, and North Korean state media 25 May accused South Korea of participating in military exercise in U.S. in Nov 2018.
China and Taiwan both held live-fire drills across Taiwan Strait, while ongoing U.S. support to Taipei prompted criticism from China. China 5-10 May conducted exercises north of Taiwan Strait; Taiwan 22 May held major live-fire drills off its east coast, followed by annual military exercise across country 27-31 May including live fire drills and F-16 fighter jets. President Tsai after speech to national security agencies 10 May told reporters China is stepping up infiltration efforts in Taiwan and accused Beijing of “destroying the status quo across the Taiwan Strait”. Annual U.S. Defence Department report released 2 May noted China is capable of “amphibious operations short of a full-scale invasion of Taiwan”, including use of missile and precision airstrikes to “degrade Taiwan’s defenses”. U.S. opened new compound of its American Institute in Taiwan 6 May. U.S. House of Representatives 7 May unanimously approved “Taiwan Assurance Act of 2019” reaffirming U.S. commitment to Taiwan and encouraging U.S. sales of military equipment to support Taipei’s self-defence capabilities, prompting China to lodge “stern representations” with Washington. Taiwan foreign ministry 25 May confirmed its national security chief David Lee met with U.S. counterpart John Bolton during visit to Washington mid-May, marking first meeting between national security advisors in four decades. U.S. military sent two navy ships through Taiwan Strait 22 May, prompting Chinese protest.
Govt-sponsored assembly on peace process failed to push the process forward and U.S.-Taliban talks continued, while Taliban launched attack on civilian targets in Kabul. President Ghani 29 April-3 May met with 3,200 delegates in national assembly (Loya Jirga) seeking common approach on peace talks with Taliban; notable opposition figures did not join and Taliban rejected process. Jirga declaration called on all sides to agree on ceasefire and prisoner exchange. U.S. Special Envoy Khalilzad met with Taliban representatives for sixth round of talks in Doha 1-9 May; Taliban called discussions on full withdrawal of foreign forces “positive”; Khalilzad noted “steady but slow progress”; Doha talks followed late April trilateral meeting between Khalilzad and Russian and Chinese counterparts, agreeing on goal of withdrawing foreign forces and “inclusive Afghan-led” peace process. In Moscow, intra-Afghan talks 28-30 May failed to reach breakthrough, despite Taliban saying “decent progress” had been made with senior Afghan politicians. Taliban 8 May launched attack on Kabul office of NGO Counterpart International, killing nine including three civilians, in group’s first major attack in capital in over a year. Taliban stepped up military operations: 4-7 May killed at least 28 security forces in attacks in Bagdhis, Baghlan and Takhar provinces. Taliban 15 May captured Shamulzayi district centre in southern Zabul province, killing at least thirteen soldiers and overrunning govt intelligence agency offices; 27-28 May killed some 56 soldiers in attacks in Farah, Khost, Sari Pul, Ghor and Samangan provinces. Near Lashkar Gah, Helmand province, media reported U.S. airstrike 17 May mistakenly killed seventeen Afghan security forces. Security operations continued to exert toll on civilians: in Bakwa district, Farah province, coalition airstrikes targeting Taliban drug labs reportedly killed at least 45 civilian workers and eighteen insurgents; UN 23 May reported fourteen civilians dead in coalition airstrikes in Helmand and Kunar provinces; in Nangarhar province, governor’s spokesman said security forces 24 May “mistakenly” killed six civilians during raid targeting Taliban forces. Domestic political tensions remained high: coalition of opposition candidates 22 May said it would lead protests countrywide following end of Ghani’s legal mandate.
Following govt order to intensify anti-militancy operations in wake of terror attacks in Sri Lanka, security forces 5 May arrested Islamic State (ISIS) militant who had returned to Bangladesh after attempting to join fighting in Syria, and 9 May arrested suspected recruiter of banned Hizb ut-Tahrir in Dhaka. Minister of Home Affairs 5 May said govt would provide security to civil society members threatened by militants following reports of potential attacks against activists and journalists. Police Inspector General 16 May denied foreign militant groups such as ISIS were active in Bangladesh but said they may have “communicated their ideology” to homegrown groups. In continued political tensions, Bangladesh Jatiya Party 6 May quit opposition alliance Jatiya Oikya Front (United National Front, led by Bangladesh National Party (BNP)); move came after BNP late April ended parliamentary boycott, held since Dec general elections, reportedly in effort to secure bail for imprisoned BNP leader Khaleda Zia. Ruling Awami League continued crackdown on media and political dissidents, arresting journalist Henry Sawpon 15 May and lawyer Imtiaz Mahmood 16 May. In Cox’s Bazar in south east, police 14 May reportedly clashed with suspected smugglers attempting to traffic Myanmar Rohingya refugees to Malaysia, killing two traffickers.
Maoist insurgents continued attacks around general election which ended 19 May. In Gadchiroli district in Maharashtra state, suspected Maoist landmine 1 May killed fifteen police and one civilian. In Chhattisgarh state, Dantewada police killed Maoist commander Madavi Muiya, suspected of involvement in 9 April assassination of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) politician Bhima Mandavi and four police. In north-eastern Arunachal Pradesh state, suspected National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) militants 20 May killed eleven people in ambush, including state legislator Tirong Aboh.
Exchanges of fire between Indian and Pakistani forces continued along Line of Control (LoC, dividing Pakistan and Indian-administered Kashmir) and separatists clashed with security forces in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), while international pressure increased on Pakistan to crack down on terrorist groups. UN 1267 Sanctions Committee 1 May placed Masood Azhar, leader of Jaish-e-Mohammad (Jaish which claimed Feb Pulwama attack) on global terrorist blacklist after China withdrew its objections to his inclusion; U.S. welcomed addition, and appealed for “further and sustained actions” from Pakistan against militant and terrorist groups on its territory. Pakistan 11 May banned eleven groups under Anti-Terrorism Act, due to affiliation with UN-sanctioned jihadist organisations like Jaish and Jamaat-ud-Dawa (formerly Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT)). In cross-LoC clashes, Islamabad claimed Indian cross-border fire killed one civilian 2 May and two others 6 May. In J&K, separatists launched attacks and security forces stepped up counter-terrorism efforts, as final phase of voting for general elections began 6 May. In Anantnag district, militants 6 May killed local leader of Bharatiya Janata Party. In southern Shopian district, police 10 May claimed to have killed militant belonging to Islamic State in Jammu and Kashmir; 12 May killed two LeT militants; police also reported eight people killed in two separate clashes 16 May in Shopian and Pulwama, including six Jaish militants. In capital Srinagar, thousands protested during funeral procession of Al-Qaeda-affiliated rebel commander Zakir Musa, killed by security forces in Pulwama district 23 May.
Four Communist Party of Nepal (CPN) cadres killed in Kathmandu 26 May during accidental explosions while rigging IEDs; two further individuals injured during another IED explosion in Nawalparasi district same day. Explosions preceded 27 May CPN-called nationwide strike which caused partial shutdown of schools and transportation, with several IEDs defused in a number of districts during strike; security experts pointed to intelligence failure in govt’s response to CPN’s series of IED attacks since Feb; PM KP Oli called the party a terrorist group following explosions; human rights experts criticised Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa for terming deceased CPN cadres as “non-citizens.” Nepal Communist Party (NCP) govt widely criticised for new legislation tabled in parliament 10 May which would replace existing media regulatory body with new entity staffed by political appointees; critics claimed govt attempting to undermine media regulatory body’s autonomy, notably with proposed fines and termination of journalists’ credentials if found in violation of regulations. Several civil society experts described legislation as latest govt attempt to curtail civil liberties and weaken key state institutions.
Militant groups carried out high-profile terror attacks and authorities focused on countering dissent. Suicide bomber from Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) 8 May killed at least thirteen at major Sufi shrine in Punjab provincial capital Lahore; in Balochistan’s capital Quetta, TTP claimed 13 May attack killing four police officers guarding mosque. Unknown assailants killed polio worker in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Bajaur tribal district in north west 5 May. International pressure grew on govt to crack down on terrorist groups. India 2 May called on Financial Action Task Force (FATF) to blacklist Pakistan for failing to combat terrorist financing, prompting Pakistan to accuse India of politicising FATF; Pakistan 11 May banned eleven groups under Anti-Terrorism Act, due to affiliation with UN-sanctioned jihadist organisations (see also Kashmir). Five people killed in attack claimed by Balochistan Liberation Army on luxury hotel in Gwadar 11 May; earlier, Baloch separatists 9 May killed three security personnel and two coal miners in Harnai district. In Islamabad, govt focused on countering Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM), civil rights movement from former Federally Administered Tribal Areas: FM Mahmood 4 May reiterated accusation that group is being funded by hostile regional intelligence agencies. Authorities 5 May brought charges against PTM’s former co-leader and member of National Assembly Ali Wazir for instigating mutiny and anti-military activities; Peshawar High Court 9 May dismissed case. In North Waziristan, military 26 May killed at least eight Pashtun protestors, led by PTM-affiliated MPs Wazir and Mohsin Dawar; authorities arrested Wazir; Dawar 29 May accused military of firing indiscriminately and denied attacking checkpoint, saying he was in hiding due to “extreme danger”. National Assembly 13 May unanimously approved 26th constitutional amendment, tabled by PTM-affiliated MP Dawar, increasing number of seats for former FATA from six to twelve in National Assembly and from sixteen to 24 in KPK’s provincial assembly. Afghan-Pakistan relations saw some improvement following 25 April Pakistan’s statement pledging neutrality, although tensions increased after 2 May attack in North Waziristan by militants across Afghan border killing three soldiers. Khan 5 May spoke with Afghan President Ghani, both vowing to work together to restore peace in Afghanistan.
Fallout from country’s deadliest terror attack 21 April continued as intercommunal tensions and anti-Muslim violence rose. Sinhala Buddhist extremist groups 13-14 May launched major attack on Muslim businesses, homes and mosques in Minuwangoda and other towns in Northwest Province, burning or damaging hundreds of buildings in riots killing one; govt imposed nationwide curfew and arrested some 70 people, although security forces initially failed to prevent Sinhalese attackers and in some cases reportedly assisted rioters. Earlier, Catholics and Muslims clashed in Negombo (north west) 5 May, with Muslim-owned shops and houses damaged. Govt continued securitised response to April attacks; Chief of Defence Staff presented five-point plan to tackle “violent extremism” 7 May, including: “restoring security and intelligence services”; “regulating religious space to prevent radical preachers”; managing online extremist content and holding service providers accountable; “deradicalisation” efforts; and ending religiously-based schools. Security forces 23-26 May carried out raids in Colombo and other major towns, arresting over 100 and discovering multiple caches of weapons and equipment. Former defence secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, declaring his candidacy for Nov presidential elections, used series of interviews to promise improved security and “eradication” of terrorism, accusing govt of contributing to April attacks by “dismantling” intelligence networks Gotabaya built as defence secretary. Army Commander 16 May defended decision to reinstate senior army intelligence official – one of some three dozen intelligence operatives suspended following arrest on suspicion of involvement in abductions and murders during govt of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa – to assist with investigations into April attacks. President Sirisena 22 May pardoned Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara, leader of radical Buddhist organisation Bodu Bala Sena, who rights activists previously accused of inciting anti-Muslim violence; Gnanasara had served nine months of six-year sentence for contempt of court.
Reports emerged of renewed crackdown by authorities against individuals linked with banned opposition party Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), including calling 25 former party officials to appear for questioning at Battambang provincial court, accused of violating 2017 Supreme Court ruling dissolving party. Rights groups called for investigation into death in police custody of son of a CNRP activist in April.
Several people killed in protests against victory of incumbent President Widodo in presidential elections, which were also overshadowed by threats of terrorist attacks. After Election Commission 22 May proclaimed President Widodo winner with 55% of vote, supporters of failed candidate Prabowo Subianto, who continued to declare himself rightful winner, took to streets in protests that turned violent as police pushed them back with tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons. Eight reported killed and hundreds injured; police reported over 250 arrests; authorities launched investigation into deaths. Chief security minister 22 May announced partial block on social media to prevent “spread of fake news”. Defence Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu warned of more riots in June as Constitutional Court hears case lodged by Subianto to annul Widodo’s victory; court scheduled to issue ruling on annulment 28 June. Govt 17 May claimed it foiled terrorist plot to detonate explosives during election results announcement; police arrested several suspects in raids in Java early-to-mid May, believed to be members of Islamic State (ISIS)-linked Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD); several reportedly returned from fighting in Syria. Police reported anti-terrorism squad had killed two suspected JAD members 4 May during raid in West Java. Violence continued in Papua province, where military reported one soldier killed in clashes with some 20 members of West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB) in Nduga regency 13 May.
Significant clashes between Arakan Army (AA) and Myanmar military in Rakhine state continued and spread further south. AA claimed to have clashed 33 times with military 1-12 May, including 12 May ambush of military convoy near Western Command headquarters in Ann township. Tensions in Rakhine increased following deaths of civilians in military custody, after army rounded up some 275 Rakhine men and boys aged 15-50 in Buthidaung township (north) 30 April, and 2 May shot dead six and wounded eight. Local villagers disputed military’s claim that men were attempting to riot; military announced internal investigation into incident and released some of those detained, but 83 still under interrogation or facing prosecution for links to AA; UN Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed concern for their safety. NGO Amnesty International 29 May released report detailing Myanmar military “war crimes” in Rakhine since Jan, also finding evidence of AA abuses against civilians. Malaysian police 13 May said they had disrupted Islamic State (ISIS) cell plotting attacks in Malaysia and other countries, with two Rohingya among those arrested, one reportedly a supporter of militant group Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) intending to target Myanmar embassy and targets in Rakhine state. Following talks between govt’s peace team and Northern Alliance of ethnic armed groups, military 30 April declared two-month extension to unilateral ceasefire in Kachin and Shan States originally announced in Dec 2018. UN Fact-Finding Mission 14 May urged international community to cut off all financial and other support to military in effort to hold army accountable for “atrocities against many of the ethnic groups living within borders of Myanmar”. Govt 7 May released on humanitarian grounds two Reuters journalists, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, jailed in 2017 for breaking Official Secrets Act in their reporting on massacre of Rohingya men, as part of presidential amnesty; civil society groups welcomed decision but warned of ongoing media restrictions. EU late April announced extension of sanctions until 30 April 2020, including arms embargo as well as visa bans and asset freezes for fourteen members of police and military associated with human rights violations.
Legislative and local elections accompanied by some incidents of violence in Mindanao and elsewhere, while clashes involving militant groups and communist rebels continued. NGO International Alert 22 May reported 144 election-related incidents involving violence in Mindanao 11-13 May, most involving rival clans, including use of grenades and IEDs as well as fights between rival supporters, although with less gun violence than past; warned of potential for revenge killings. Nationally, police reported overall significant decline in election-related violence compared with previous votes, citing shift to vote-buying by rival candidates; police reported 33 election-related killings nationwide between mid-April and 13 May; in results, President Duterte secured firm majority in Senate and held lower house. Govt and MILF implementing panels 21 May handed over Proposed Transition Plan (PTP) to Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA), including codes for BTA to legislate on electoral, local govt, education, administrative, revenue and civil services procedures; BTA chief Murad Ebrahim called handover another milestone in Bangsamoro peace process. Clashes continued between military and Abu Sayyaf in Sulu where military killed one suspected militant 5 May; six militants killed and fifteen wounded on 26 May in fighting in Patikul; two children killed and six civilians wounded in clash. Military said Dutch national held captive for over seven years by Abu Sayyaf was killed by militant group 31 May while trying to escape. Military reported continued fighting between govt troops and New People’s Army leading to several suspected rebels killed, including: one in Las Navas, Northern Samar (north) 5 May; five in Caraga region (north east) 19 May; at least three in Occidental Mindoro province (centre) 22 May.
Amid ongoing U.S.-China tensions, U.S. navy conducted two freedom of navigation operations in South China Sea (SCS) and U.S. Senate proposed SCS-related sanctions targeted at China. Two U.S. missile destroyers sailed near Gaven and Johnson Reefs in contested Spratly Islands 6 May, prompting China to accuse U.S. of violating its sovereignty. Later in month, U.S. warship 20 May sailed near contested Scarborough Shoal claimed by China and Philippines, passing within twelve nautical miles of Scarborough Reef; China called move “provocative”. U.S. Senate submitted legislation 23 May to sanction Chinese individuals and entities involved in “illegal and dangerous” activities in SCS and East China Sea, prompting rebuke from Chinese foreign ministry. Following request from Washington that its Pacific allies boost their presence in SCS, U.S., India, Japan and Philippines held joint naval exercises through SCS 2-8 May. U.S. coast guard accompanied Philippine coast guard vessels in joint exercise 14 May in Luzon island in Philippines. Month after flare-up in confrontation between Philippines and China over Beijing’s deployment of vessels near disputed islands, Philippines Supreme Court 3 May ordered govt take steps to protect environment in disputed areas of SCS, after petitioners alleged govt inaction over illegal activities by China; spokesman of President Duterte 6 May said he will enforce ruling. Senior officials from China and ASEAN member states met 18 May to discuss implementation of Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the SCS, and consultation on Code of Conduct for SCS.
Govt formation underway after officials 9 May released controversial final results of 24 March general election, while violence in Deep South continued. Final results of constituency and party-list seats put anti-junta coalition at 246 seats, and pro-junta coalition 147 seats; followed Election Commission’s change in allocation of party-list seats helping eleven small pro-junta parties each gain one gain seat, cutting anti-junta coalition’s lead. PM Prayuth Chan-ocha 27 May invited Democrat Party (53 seats) and Bhumjai Thai Party (51 seats) to join new govt; negotiations ongoing, but both parties expected to join. Ruling National Council for Peace and Order continued efforts to disqualify anti-junta Future Forward Party leader. Govt published names of 250-member junta-appointed Senate 14 May. Letter from UN to govt surfaced early May expressing concern about abduction, killing and disappearance of Thais living in Laos who had expressed republican political views; reports also emerged of arrests of activists in Vietnam and Malaysia. Insurgent violence continued in southernmost provinces: in Pattani province, police killed suspected insurgent in Nong Chik district 2 May; IED attack wounded five border patrol police in Thepha district, Songkhla province 5 May; bomb at security checkpoint in Chana district, Songkhla, killed one police officer and wounded three others and a civilian on 27 May; same day, gunmen shot and killed two rangers at market in Bacho district, Narathiwat. Bomb hidden in motorcycle exploded at market in Nong Chik district, Pattani, 28 May, killing two civilians and wounding 23. MARA Patani chief negotiator Sukri Hari resigned 17 May, reportedly for health reasons.
Political tensions continued amid opposition’s successful attempts to oust PM O’Neill. Opposition 6 May launched no confidence vote after finance minister James Marape and other senior ministers resigned from govt citing lack of trust in O’Neill, including alleged lack of consultation over controversial $16bn gas deal signed in April. Three days ahead of scheduled no confidence vote, O’Neill 26 May announced resignation citing “need for change”, but did not formally resign and next day appealed to Supreme Court to block vote. PM’s supporters and opponents physically clashed in parliament 28 May. O’Neill 29 May formally resigned in front of parliament; MPs elected Marape as new PM next day.
Briefing UN Security Council 8 May, Office of the High Representative, international overseer of implementation of 1995 peace agreement, expressed concern over continuing deadlock over appointments to state-level and federal govt posts seven months after Oct 2018 elections, and criticised Republika Srpska (RS) authorities’ rejection of judgements of state and constitutional courts. Bosnian Serb member of presidency Milorad Dodik during ceremony in RS capital Banja Luka 12 May suggested that Serb regiment in Bosnian army should wear uniform of wartime Bosnian Serb Army at future ceremony, prompting condemnation from other members of state presidency.
Tensions within Kosovo and with Serbia spiked after police 28 May conducted raid on organised crime suspects in ethnic Serb-dominated part of Mitrovica in north, detaining more than two dozen people including local police, and prompting Serbia to put its army on alert. Two UN officials among those arrested during raid, including Russian national who was released same day and later declared persona non grata; UN expressed “great concern”. Belgrade accused Pristina of aiming to intimidate and provoke panic; President Vučić put Serbian army on “combat alert” near border to protect Serbs, while Russia called Kosovo’s actions “provocation”. Kosovo police reported five officers and six civilians injured as police attempted to break through barricade constructed by local Serbs to obstruct operation. Hundreds of Serbs protested in north Mitrovica against raids 29 May. UN and EU called for calm. Amid tensions, Pristina 30 May banned Serbian PM for life from entering Kosovo due to “racist comments toward Albanians” previous day. Vučić 27 May told Serbian parliament that Serbia has lost control of Kosovo and suggested “a possible compromise solution in a referendum”. Snap local elections in four Serb-majority municipalities in northern Kosovo 19 May won by Srpska Lista, the only Serb party contesting polls, reportedly gaining more than 90% of vote, with voter turnout 42%; Western embassies expressed concern over “restricted electoral competition” and reports of “intimidation”. U.S. embassy 14 May expressed concern over series of recent controversial govt appointments of allegedly unqualified senior officials “including individuals convicted of war crimes”. Parliament 16 May approved resolution condemning crimes committed by Serbian forces during 1998-99 war, and calling on govt to criminalise denial of genocide in Kosovo.
In second round of presidential election, pro-Western candidate Stevo Pendarovski, backed by ruling Social Democrats, won with 51.7% of the vote, beating opposition-backed Gordana Siljanovska-Davkova; turnout reported at 46.6%. European Commission in annual enlargement report 29 May again recommended launch of EU accession talks with North Macedonia.
PM Pashinyan faced growing criticism from current and former de facto Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) officials, and clashed with judiciary over court case against former president. Pashinyan 10 May warned against possible counter-revolutionary developments in NK, and 20 May accused “former corrupt [political] system” of developing conspiracies and provoking Karabakh; de facto NK leader Bako Sahakyan denied “treason” and problems with Yerevan. Court 18 May ordered release from pre-trial custody of Robert Kocharyan, country’s second president who is facing criminal charges for overturning constitutional order in 2008 in case he says is politically motivated, after current and former NK de facto leaders vouched for him; state prosecutors appealed Kocharyan’s pre-trial release at constitutional court. PM Pashinyan criticised court’s decision and called for protests in front of court offices all around country. Media reported over 1,000 protesters blocked courts 20 May in response to call by Pashinyan, who later asked demonstrators to restore access. Human rights ombudsman 19 May denounced Pashinyan’s actions as “dangerous for the security and stability of the country’s legal system”. Pashinyan 20 May announced five-step plan for reform of judicial system, including “vetting” of judges; promised open parliamentary investigation into circumstances of four-day fighting in April 2016. Head of EU Delegation to Armenia and President of Venice Commission proposed support to judicial reform.
NGOs Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International criticised country’s poor human rights record ahead of Baku hosting prominent Europa League football final 29 May. Yerevan and Baku exchanged harsh statements around decision by Armenian football player Henrikh Mkhitaryan not to play in Europa League final in Baku, citing concerns over his safety despite guarantees from Azerbaijani authorities.
De facto leadership of breakaway region Abkhazia 21 May reached agreement with opposition to postpone presidential elections from 21 July to 25 Aug, after opposition mobilised two days of street protests with demand to postpone until Nov and current leadership to resign. De facto authorities deployed riot police for first time in recent history against protesters. Crisis came after opposition late April accused leadership of poisoning one of its candidates who was hospitalised along with two bodyguards and transferred to Moscow after sudden respiratory and heart problems; presidential administration denied accusations.
Dialogue continued between Azerbaijan and Armenian leaderships despite ongoing incidents along front lines, while visit by Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group mediators late month included discussions of possible support to recently agreed humanitarian and security measures. Armenian and Azerbaijani leadership continued dialogue with another brief informal meeting in Brussels 13 May during EU Eastern Partnership Summit; Armenian side reported that they discussed two incidents at countries’ state border and in southern direction of Line of Contact (LoC) in Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) conflict zone that left two Armenian soldiers wounded 30 April and 4 May. Both sides allegedly preparing to implement commitments made at March meeting of leaders in Vienna and April meeting of FMs in Moscow. OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs late May visited Yerevan, Stepanakert and Baku to discuss possible support to humanitarian and security measures agreed by sides during Vienna and Moscow meetings; reciprocal visits by journalists; also reportedly discussed support to relatives of detainees kept by parties to conflict. Co-chairs’ 30 May statement announced upcoming meeting of the two countries’ foreign ministers. On last day of co-chairs’ visit, Azerbaijan 30 May reported one soldier killed at central location of LoC; Armenian side denied responsibility. With both leaderships continuing to face domestic public criticism over their contacts with other side, including growing criticism by de facto NK leadership of Armenia’s PM Pashinyan, latter’s spokesperson 6 May produced rare media comment on details of communication with Baku over recent incidents along front lines.
Authorities in Ingushetia continued to detain activists involved in March protests over controversial Sept 2018 border delineation deal between Ingushetia and Chechnya, including two activists deported from Belarus at Moscow’s request. Court in Kabardino-Balkaria regional capital Nalchik 22 May reportedly extended arrest of five Inguish activists. Security operations against militants continued; security forces clashed with militants in Dagestan’s Kizilyurt District 24 May, reportedly killing three suspected militants and finding automatic weapons and munitions. Human Rights Watch early May reported police in Chechnya engaged in renewed campaign of “unlawful detentions, beatings, and humiliation of men they presume to be gay or bisexual”, citing alleged detention of four men Dec 2018-Jan 2019. Following reports, U.S. Treasury Department 16 May announced new financial sanctions on Chechen law enforcement agency linked to abuse; Russian embassy said it would implement reciprocal measures. Russian national 24 May lodged official complaint with European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) over alleged abduction and torture by police in Chechnya.
President Zelensky’s call for snap parliamentary elections and sweeping changes to administration caused stir, while fighting continued in conflict zone. During his 20 May inauguration speech, Zelensky announced he was disbanding parliament and calling snap elections, anticipated 21 July. Zelensky requested resignation of prosecutor general, defence minister and head of security services (SBU), and urged other key officials to quit; resignations included PM and FM. Appointments included Ivan Bakanov, who heads Zelensky’s comedy studio and political party, as SBU deputy head; and lawyer Andriy Bogdan as head of presidential administration; Bogdan signalled possible referendum on whether to negotiate with Moscow to end Donbas conflict. Zelensky signed decree returning Ukrainian citizenship to former Georgian President Saakashvili 28 May. Zelensky and deputy from outgoing President Poroshenko’s party both submitted to parliament separate draft laws outlining impeachment procedures 29 May. Reported casualties in conflict zone 1-31 May included eleven Ukrainian military, at least 22 armed group fighters, and three civilians; over 50 combatants and six civilians reportedly injured. Ukrainian military 22 May reported eight soldiers who unintentionally entered separatist-held territory in Donbas had been detained by Russian-backed forces. Several civilians reported wounded by shelling and explosives, including in Horlivka and Pervomaisk (controlled by armed groups); two elderly men died crossing line of separation 10 and 22 May; one man killed by explosive in Velyka Novosilka (govt-controlled) 4 May. Zelensky visited Donbas war zone 27 May. Poroshenko 7 May appointed 75 new Supreme Court judges, including fifteen previously vetoed by Public Integrity Council. Hamburg-based International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea 25 May announced decision on lawsuit that Ukraine filed against Russia regarding 24 Ukrainian sailors captured in Kerch Strait in Nov 2018, ordering Russia to “immediately” release sailors; Russia announced it will not carry out judgment.
Tensions rose between Republic of Cyprus and Turkey over hydrocarbon explorations in East Mediterranean, with escalating rhetoric from Greek Cypriots, new Turkish naval manoeuvres, and 9 May breakdown of de facto Turkish Cypriot coalition govt. Following April announcement of imminent Turkish offshore drilling, Greek Cypriot President Anastasiades 6 May likened Ankara’s actions to “second invasion”. Greek Cypriot media same day reported Nicosia had sought international arrest warrant for crew of Turkish vessel preparing to drill in Republic of Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ); 10 May reported Nicosia had granted new concession for France’s Total and Italy’s ENI to expand hydrocarbon exploration in EEZ. Turkey 13-25 May carried out “Denizkurdu-2019” naval exercise in East Mediterranean; Turkish FM Çavuşoğlu 20 May said Ankara would exercise its “sovereign right” to drill for hydrocarbon resources off coast of northern Cyprus. U.S. State Department 5 May said Turkey’s intention to drill was highly provocative; EU Council President Tusk 9 May said EU “stands united” behind Republic of Cyprus; Ankara dismissed statement. Turkey’s National Security Council 30 May reaffirmed determination to protect rights and interests of Turkey, “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” and Turkish Cypriots, warned against “provocative acts” and “irresponsible statements”, and said Turkey will continue activities in line with international law and not allow faits accomplis in East Mediterranean.
Military operations against Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and cross-border air raids against targets in northern Iraq continued, electoral board ordered re-run of Istanbul local election in which ruling party had been defeated, and U.S.-Turkey relations remained strained over purchase of Russian missiles. Fatalities from security operations against PKK in south east increased slightly. Authorities allowed jailed PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan to meet his lawyers for first time in eight years 2 May; Öcalan released statement calling for thousands of Kurdish movement supporters on hunger strike to end strike, which they did. Authorities 16 May lifted ban on lawyer and family visits to Öcalan. Turkish military 27 May launched “Operation Claw” carrying out land and air raids against PKK targets in northern Iraq’s Hakurk region. High Election Board 6 May cancelled 31 March mayoral polls in Istanbul and ordered re-run on 23 June due to alleged irregularities, annulling victory of opposition Republican People’s Party’s (CHP); caused small-scale protests in various districts of Istanbul. Ankara’s purchase of Russian S-400 air defence missile system continued to strain relations with Washington. President Erdoğan 18 May proposed to Russia co-production of S-500s once delivery of S-400s is complete. Authorities 17-18 May detained eleven suspected Islamic State (ISIS) members in Konya and Mersin, and arrested nine suspected ISIS members in Şanlıurfa 27 May.
Police 9 May arrested dozens of protesters in capital Nur-Sultan and in Almaty staging anti-govt demonstrations ahead of 9 June snap presidential elections and demanding release of political prisoners; social-media apps and news websites reportedly not accessible same day. Govt reported it had repatriated 231 citizens linked to Islamic State (ISIS) including 156 children from Syria early May. European Council President Donald Tusk 31 May met interim President Toqayev, called Kazakhstan “important and stable partner”.
President Jeenbekov 16 May ratified legislation under which former presidents can be prosecuted if suspected of “serious crimes”, amid ongoing tensions between Jeenbekov and former President Atambayev; law came into force 27 May. Atambayev stepped down from opposition Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan 25 May. Military Prosecutor’s Office 30 May launched probe into claims by Atambayev that his office was bugged by State Committee for National Security, which denied claim.
Govt late April repatriated from Iraq 84 children of women jailed on charges of belonging to Islamic State (ISIS). 29 prisoners and three guards killed in Vahdat prison riot 19 May, including two members of banned opposition Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), and son of late former police commander-turned-ISIS war minister Gulmurod Khalimov; IRPT said death toll higher. President Rahmon discussed military cooperation with visiting Russian Defence Minister 28 May, and 29 May discussed regional and bilateral cooperation with European Council President Donald Tusk, starting his four-day tour of Central Asia.
Head of Information and Mass Communication Agency 10 May reported govt had restored local access to a dozen major news and human rights websites which had been blocked for years. During three-day visit late May, German President Steinmeier met President Mirziyoyev, discussed enhancing bilateral cooperation.
Political tensions continued over role of transitional justice mechanism of 2016 peace deal with Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), while violence between armed groups led to mass displacement. Special Jurisdiction for Peace (SJP), created under peace deal to handle cases deriving from govt-FARC conflict, 15 May ruled against imprisonment and extradition to U.S. of ex-FARC commander Jesús Santrich, arrested on drug trafficking charges in joint U.S.-Colombia operation April 2018; SJP ruled evidence did not establish that Santrich had committed trafficking crimes after 1 Dec 2016, date FARC demobilisation began. Police 17 May re-arrested Santrich immediately after his release following attorney general’s office distribution of video allegedly showing Santrich committing crimes post-demobilisation date. Santrich released 30 May on Supreme Court’s order. Attorney general, deputy attorney general and justice minister resigned in protest at SJP’s decision to not extradite Santrich. Constitutional Court 29 May ruled Congress had rejected President Duque’s objections against SJP, obliging him to sign law regarding functioning of SJP. Duque 24 May announced appointment of independent commission to review military orders and operational instructions following New York Times report 18 May alleging military leaders had set targets for army including number of deaths or surrenders of enemy combatants. Conflicts between armed groups displaced or confined over 2,000 during month. FARC dissident groups 2 May clashed in Nariño (south west), displacing over 200 and putting Dec truce between various dissident groups under strain. In Juradó, Chocó (west), fighting between Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia (AGC, country’s main drug trafficking group) and National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla group displaced over 900 people and confined 800 within their communities between late April and mid May. Other violence continued; unknown attackers 14 May attacked judicial commission in Tibú, Norte de Santander (north east), killing two members of commission and wounding five policemen. Attacks on activists increased with almost ten killed during month, mainly in Putumayo (south west), Bolívar (north), Antioquia (north west) and Arauca (east) departments.
Political crisis continued as govt cracked down on opposition in wake of failed April uprisings, while divisions in opposition resurfaced over whether to negotiate with govt. Following opposition leader and “interim President” Juan Guaidó’s unsuccessful 30 April appeal to security forces to remove President Maduro, opposition supporters 1 May held further anti-govt demonstrations in Caracas and elsewhere; demonstrators clashed with security forces, with one woman shot dead and dozens injured. Guaidó promised further protests and series of strikes. State security (Sebin) 8 May detained deputy president of opposition controlled-National Assembly. Pro-govt National Constituent Assembly (ANC) revoked parliamentary immunity of at least fourteen MPs; four MPs took refuge in embassies, one fled country and four allegedly went into hiding; govt suppression has led to arrest, flight or refuge in foreign embassies of 15 of opposition’s 112 MPs since 30 April uprising. Maduro 20 May announced plan to bring forward parliamentary (AN) elections, previously due Dec 2020; govt same day extended ANC’s two-year term until 31 Dec 2020. In efforts to open negotiations to end crisis, govt and opposition representations met in Oslo for confidential talks facilitated by Norway mid-May; talks ended 29 May, reportedly without agreement. Some in opposition criticised talks after details were leaked. Guaidó admitted authorising delegation but insisted there would be no negotiations unless Maduro stepped down. International Contact Group, headed by EU and Uruguay, extended its mandate beyond original 90-day deadline during meeting in Costa Rica 6-7 May, and visited Caracas 16-17 May, meeting with Maduro and Guaidó. Effect of U.S. sanctions and economic crisis continued to be felt with severe petrol shortages in much of country mid-May, including in Caracas.
Political manoeuvring and hostilities continued ahead of 16 June presidential election with cancellation of numerous candidacies, amid fears of political violence and attacks on candidates. In most prominent series of rulings widely believed to be politically motivated, constitutional court (CC) 15 May rejected Movimiento Semilla party’s appeal to allow former attorney general and anti-corruption figure Thelma Aldana to stand as its candidate in presidential elections, following contested legal ruling revoking her candidacy in April. Aldana late April revealed U.S. intelligence had informed her of plot to assassinate her, raising concerns over potential political violence around election. CC 17 May provisionally suspended court ruling that rejected prosecutors’ request to lift immunity of presidential candidate for Unidad Nacional de la Esperanza (UNE) party Sandra Torres, who leads pre-election polls, over allegations of illicit electoral financing in 2015; however Torres allowed to continue campaigning until CC reaches definitive resolution, raising concerns over alleged institutional effort to block challenges against her. Interior Ministry 6 May revealed several mayoral and federal candidates requested police protection after receiving death threats.
Political tensions flared as protesters led demonstrations and strikes throughout month against govt’s planned reforms. Following April unrest in response to reforms to health and education systems that could potentially lead to mass dismissals, protests continued 1 May; police and protesters clashed, leaving dozens injured. Govt 6 May announced it would not suspend ten executive decrees as health and education unions demanded, called instead for dialogue; protests and clashes continued including protesters setting alight entrance to U.S. embassy in Tegucigalpa 31 May. Govt 15 May renewed Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) judges’ mandate; opposition Libre party criticised move as TSE accused of electoral fraud in 2017 and two electoral bodies, created as part of UN-led dialogue in 2018 to oversee electoral cycles and settle election related disputes, remained non-operational; Libre members 21 May protested govt decisions on mandate as well as decrees on health and education in Congress, prompting scuffles between members of Congress. Police reported 305 murders 1-26 May, compared to 241 same period in 2018. Amid continued regional focus on migration, U.S. border patrol early May revealed it had detained since Oct 2018 133,258 Honduran nationals who had attempted to enter U.S.
Gang-related violence remained high amid continuing anti-gang and anti-corruption operations. National Police 20 May reported 1,236 homicides since start of year, 13% less than same period in 2018, however homicide rate on rise since April. Gang attacks on police increased including police officer killed in San Juan Nonualco, La Paz (centre) 17 May, 19th police officer killed in 2019. In ongoing anti-gang operations, Attorney General 16 May issued 274 arrest warrants in attempts to attack criminal groups’ structures, including targeting collaborators in police and judicial institutions. Legislative Assembly 27 May resumed debate on controversial National Reconciliation bill with input from civil society; critics allege new law would entail amnesty for war crimes during 1980-1992 civil war.
Govt and opposition talks stalled, fuelling concerns over deterioration in political situation in June, as deadline for govt’s release of political prisoners expires and govt faces possible further international isolation and sanctions. Amid govt intransigence over release of 242 political prisoners on govt and opposition lists, opposition platform Blue and White National Unity 7 May called on Civic Alliance to withdraw from talks. Political prisoner Eddy Montes died during prison riot 16 May; Civic Alliance called for impartial investigation with international involvement, while Organization of American States (OAS) Permanent Council 21 May convened to discuss Nicaragua following death. Civic Alliance 20 May withdrew from talks until release of all prisoners and called for national strike, though govt same day released 100 political prisoners; 90-day window for release of prisoners expires 18 June, raising concerns over possible end to dialogue. Repression continued with flawed trials of opposition protesters resuming 2 May; Permanent Commission on Human Rights 8 May denounced re-arrest of at least twelve protesters who had been released, while human rights association Nicaragua Nunca+ 6 May reported cases of torture of political prisoners, including electrocution and nail extraction. OAS General Assembly due to meet 26 June in Colombia, amid reports that Nicaragua may be expelled from organisation. UN Human Rights Council 15 May discussed Nicaragua and presented 259 recommendations, which govt rejected. Amid ongoing deterioration in economic situation, U.S. Sec State Pompeo due to report to Congress with suggestions for further sanctions 20 June.
Amid worsening economic situation and continued allegations of corruption, Progressive Opposition Forces (FOP) alliance 6 May announced new campaign to oust President Moïse and establish interim govt which would coordinate national dialogue and appoint new head of state; opposition also critical of new PM Lapin’s cabinet for including six members from heavily-criticised previous cabinet. Gang insecurity remained high with reports of collusion between govt figures and organised crime groups; in Artibonite department (centre), police 13 May arrested 53 members of gang led by Arnel Joseph, reported to have links to numerous state officials including a senator and former PM Céant. Police also alleged two senior officials – former mayor of Port-au-Prince and executive director of Interior Ministry – partly planned Nov 2018 mass killing in La Saline neighbourhood of capital.
Amid high levels of violence and concerns over militarisation of public security, National Guard (NG), controversial main instrument of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO)’s security plan, commenced operations. Govt deployed NG in municipalities of Minatitlán and Coatzacoalcos in Veracruz state (Gulf Coast), Salina Cruz in Oaxaca (south), Tijuana in Baja California (north) and Cancún in Quintana Roo (south east), amid reports of lack of cooperation between municipal, state and federal forces. NG due to be composed of army, navy and federal police, but navy and police rejected 10 May transfers of their officers citing lack of legal basis. Public security secretary Alfonso Durazo 17 May said deployment of NG would combine with investment in local and state police. Criminal group-related violence remained high; in Veracruz, armed attack on market in Coatepec killed five 17 May. As govt continued operations to curb oil siphoning, suspected siphoners 4 May killed one navy officer and injured three in attack in Xicotepec, Puebla (centre). Journalist Telésforo Santiago Enríquez murdered in San Agustín, Oaxaca 2 May and journalist Franciso Romero murdered in Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo 16 May; eleven media professionals murdered since AMLO’s term began Dec 2018. Targeted killings of activists continued; indigenous activists José Lucio Bartolo Faustino and Modesto Verales Sebastián murdered in Chilapa, Guerrero (south) 5 May, and environmental activist Leonel Díaz Urbano murdered in Zacapoaxtla, Puebla 10 May. AMLO 7 May announced he would ask for U.S. payments to combat drug trafficking and organised crime to be rechannelled toward regional development to address root causes of insecurity and migration; U.S. President Trump 30 May announced 5% tariff on all goods from Mexico rising 5% each month until country curbs illegal migration.
Violence between Israeli security forces and Palestinians in Gaza flared early May, killing 25 Palestinians and four Israelis. Israeli soldiers at Israel-Gaza fence began shooting at Palestinian protesters’ head and chest areas 2 May, prompting retaliation. Palestinian factions fired 700 rockets and projectiles into Israel and Israelis carried out 320 airstrikes in Gaza 3-6 May. Israel claimed responsibility for 5 May killing of Hamas member whom it said had been transferring money from Iran to militant groups in Gaza. Israel 4 May closed Erez and Kerem Shalom border crossings and banned fishing off Gazan coast. Hamas and Islamic Jihad delegations in Cairo 5 May agreed to Egyptian-mediated ceasefire, which came into effect 6 May. As part of ceasefire agreement, Israel 12 May reopened border crossings and allowed fishing up to twelve nautical miles offshore, only to reduce fishing zone to up to five nautical miles offshore 16 May, citing Hamas’s use of incendiary balloons. Qatar 7 May pledged $480mn to West Bank and Gaza: $180mn for humanitarian aid and electricity in Gaza, $50mn grant to Palestinian Authority (PA) and $250mn loan to PA over twelve months. Following his April electoral victory, PM Netanyahu failed to form governing coalition in allotted time, instead he passed bill 29 May to dissolve parliament and hold new election 17 Sept. U.S. 19 May announced that as first phase of Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative it would convene “Peace to Prosperity” economic conference in Bahrain 25-26 June; Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) 20 May said it would not attend. Israel 27 May announced it had agreed to take part in U.S.-mediated talks with Lebanon on disputed maritime border.
Govt’s draft 2019 budget described by PM Hariri as one of “the most austere in the history of Lebanon’’ led to strikes and protests in capital Beirut and elsewhere. Leaks that draft budget could target public wages, services and social benefits led to wave of discontent. In Beirut, central bank employees went on strike 6 May. Veterans 10 May protested against possible cuts in pensions and benefits. Veterans 13 May blocked roads in Beirut and throughout country. Anti-austerity protesters in Beirut 20 May attempted to storm Grand Serail, PM’s headquarters, which led to clashes with police, leaving two policemen and one civilian wounded. U.S. officials 15 May met President Aoun, FM Gebran Bassil, PM Hariri and other officials to discuss Israel-Lebanon maritime border dispute.
Pro-govt forces intensified bombing in Idlib province in north west. Syrian and Russian warplanes ramped up bombardment of Idlib province largely controlled by jihadist coalition Hei’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS); UN confirmed over 160 people killed, while Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported at least 313 civilians killed 30 April-31 May. Pro-govt forces 6-9 May seized strategic towns of Tal Othman, Kafr Nabudah and Qalaat al-Madiq; offensive seemingly aimed at recapturing strategic highways that cross Idlib. UN 17 May reported airstrikes on civilian targets throughout Idlib, damaging hospitals and schools; govt forces allegedly used chlorine gas 19 May. HTS retaliated: 2-19 May launched rocket attacks on Russian Hmeimim base near Latakia city; 21 May recaptured Kafr Nabudah before withdrawing again amid govt counter-offensive 26 May. Govt offensive on Idlib strained Russian-Turkish Dec de-escalation agreement: Turkish President Erdoğan in phone call with Russian President Putin 13 May accused Damascus of sabotaging deal; Russian and Turkish defence ministers 14 May met to discuss de-escalation measures; Russia 19 May announced unilateral ceasefire, but Russian airstrikes in Kafranbel same day killed ten. In east, amid ongoing Islamic State (ISIS) insurgency, Arab tribes continued protests – launched late April – against Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which took back territory from ISIS, citing poor service provision, forced conscriptions, arbitrary detentions, as well as SDF’s oil shipments to govt-controlled territories; protests petered out by end month. In south, pro-govt media 17-18 May reported govt forces had allegedly intercepted Israeli missiles from Golan Heights, targeting Iranian positions near capital; govt 27 May said Israel carried out attack in Quneitra in retaliation to anti-aircraft fire on Israeli warplane same day.
Govt 19 May said it would host U.S.-led Palestine investment meeting in Manama 25-26 June, as first part of upcoming U.S.-developed Israeli-Palestinian peace plan; United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia 22 May, and Qatar 25 May, said they would take part.
Tension between Iran and U.S. increased markedly. Citing “troubling and escalatory indications and warnings” from Iran, U.S. 5 and 10 May announced it would bolster military assets in Middle East, including naval and air forces and missile defence systems. U.S. 24 May announced additional deployment of 1,500 troops, a dozen fighter jets and drones to Middle East. U.S. Sec State Pompeo 7 May visited Iraq to meet senior officials, referring to indications of imminent attacks on U.S. assets. Tension rose further following unclaimed attacks on four oil tankers (two Saudi, one Emirati, one Norwegian) off United Arab Emirates coast 12 May and drone attacks on pipeline in Saudi Arabia 14 May claimed by Huthi forces in Yemen; Saudi officials accused Iran of guiding Huthis’ actions. U.S. 15 May ordered non-essential U.S. personnel to leave Iraq. In Iraq, rocket landed in Baghdad’s Green Zone about a mile from U.S. embassy 19 May causing no casualties. President Trump 19 May tweeted that “If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran”. U.S. waivers allowing countries to import Iranian oil expired 2 May. U.S. revoked nuclear-related waivers 3 May, no longer permitting countries to purchase Iran’s surplus heavy water and low enriched uranium (LEU). Tehran 8 May responded by downgrading compliance with LEU and heavy water limits in Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and also threatened to step up uranium enrichment if P4+1 (UK, France, Russia, China and Germany) failed to protect Iran’s oil and banking sectors from sanctions within 60 days; U.S. same day announced restrictions on Iran’s metal industries. EU/E3 (France, Germany and UK) 9 May said they rejected any Iranian ultimatums but underscored their commitment to JCPOA.
Govt continued to stay neutral amid intense U.S.-Iran rivalry, Islamic State (ISIS) continued low-intensity insurgency and Turkey clashed with Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in north. U.S. 6 May approved deployment of aircraft carrier and bomber task force to Persian Gulf in response to “Iranian threats”. U.S. Sec State Pompeo 7 May made surprise visit to Baghdad and reportedly warned Iraqi leaders of their responsibility to protect U.S. troops and citizens against possible attacks by Iranian-backed militia. President Salih 8 May reiterated govt’s neutral stance in U.S.-Iran standoff and PM Mahdi 15 May de