The President's Take
In my March/April column to accompany CrisisWatch, our unique conflict tracker, I ask if it is time to include the United States on our list and flag escalating crises in Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Yemen and Israel-Palestine. Read more …
President & CEO
November saw violence escalate again in Syria, Myanmar, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Cameroon. Attacks by pro-regime forces on rebel strongholds in Syria resumed, causing significant civilian casualties. In Myanmar’s Rakhine state intensifying violence displaced tens of thousands of Rohingya Muslims, while a major attack by armed groups near the Chinese border threatened to undermine the country’s fragile ethnic peace process. In DRC, violence rose in the east and the regime continued to repress dissent, underscoring the risk that renewed protests, likely in December when President Kabila’s second term officially ends, could turn violent. In Cameroon, Boko Haram stepped up its attacks in the Far North and minority English-speakers clashed with security forces in the North West region. The victory of Donald Trump in the U.S. presidential election on 8 November created uncertainty about possible shifts in future U.S. foreign policy priorities and positions, including on a number of conflicts and prominent geostrategic arenas – among them the future of the historic multilateral nuclear accord with Iran.
CameroonDemocratic Republic of CongoMyanmarSyria
Democratic Republic of Congo
Violence escalated for a second consecutive month in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine state as military sweeps pursuing the perpetrators of the 9 October attack on security bases continued, with further allegations – rejected by the government – of serious human rights violations by security forces. Humanitarian access to Rakhine state, where some 150,000 are in need of assistance, remains largely blocked since the October attacks, and tens of thousands of Rohingya Muslims have fled within Myanmar or across the border into Bangladesh. The UN Security Council on 17 November called for an international investigation into alleged abuses and restoration of humanitarian access. Myanmar’s ethnic peace process also saw a considerable setback with a major joint attack on the military by four armed groups in northern Shan state, near the border with China, starting on 20 November.
In DRC, violence spiked in North Kivu province in the east as the army fought local militias to recapture territory and, in the worst attack in a series of clashes between ethnic Nande and Hutu, the Nande Mai Mai Mazembe militia killed some 35 Hutu civilians in one village. Meanwhile, the government continued to crack down on protests and squeezed national and international media, jamming both Radio France International and UN-sponsored Radio Okapi. Its intolerance of dissent risks further violence come 19 December when Kabila’s second and, according to the constitution, final term runs out. If opposition supporters take to the streets to protest his extended rule, they could clash once again with security forces.
In Cameroon, Boko Haram Islamist insurgents based mainly in Nigeria stepped up attacks on civilians and the security forces in the Far North region underlining the need for the government to shift from a purely military approach to a long-term development-focused strategy. As Crisis Group’s report “Cameroon: Confronting Boko Haram” explains, reviving trade and creating jobs for young people are key to the region’s long-term resilience against groups like Boko Haram. Meanwhile, lawyers and teachers in the country’s only two English-speaking regions, the North West and South West, went on strike against the perceived encroaching of French in their courts and schools. Other minority English-speakers swelled anti-government protests especially in Bamenda, the North West’s capital, which security forces repressed with tear gas and live bullets; at least one person was killed. The violence has revived longstanding grievances and even calls for a federal administration.
In Syria, pro-regime forces re-escalated attacks on rebel strongholds in east Aleppo, west of the city and across Syria starting 15 November, including full-scale aerial bombardments causing significant civilian casualties and damage. As pro-regime forces including Iran-backed militias and supported by Russian airstrikes made significant gains in Aleppo at the end of the month, taking more than a third of rebel-held territory in the city’s besieged east, tens of thousands were forced to flee. The humanitarian situation looks increasingly dire, while earlier in the month the UN reiterated its warning that all sides may be committing war crimes. The U.S. election victory of Donald Trump, who during his campaign voiced scepticism of U.S. support for Syrian rebels, respect for Russian President Putin, and a desire to intensify efforts against the Islamic State, introduced new uncertainty over the conflict’s external players.
President-Elect Trump’s campaign rhetoric has also cast doubt on the future of the multilateral nuclear accord with Iran. Crisis Group warned on 23 November that its demise would risk reigniting “a crisis that could dominate his presidency, deepen tensions in a tumultuous region and deal a hard-to-reverse blow to multilateral diplomacy”. We called on other states, in particular the other P5+1 members (China, France, Germany, Russia and the UK), to step in and help shore up the deal.
Senate 9 Nov requested govt launch census in administration to verify ethnic balance. Govt 14 Nov requested UN withdraw Special Envoy Jamal Benomar without giving reason. Human rights NGO Iteka warned 15 Nov that “criteria and conditions” for genocide were in place. Cabinet began constitutional review process 16 Nov by discussing creation of commission to prepare constitutional amendments. Parliament 21 Nov elected ally of President Nkurunziza former Interior Minister Edouard Nduwimana as ombudsman. UN Human Rights Council 22 Nov appointed new members of Commission of Inquiry on Burundi; govt 25 Nov said it would not cooperate with commission and next day held protest against it, govt said 13,000 people took part in demonstrations. Presidential adviser Willy Nyamitwe survived attempted assassination 28 Nov, bodyguard killed; police 29 Nov said Rwanda behind attack in collusion with military personnel, soldier arrested 29 Nov for suspected involvement. AU 11 Nov rejected EU decision to pay Burundian troops deployed in AU peacekeeping mission in Somalia (AMISOM) directly following govt’s failure to pass on wages to soldiers.
Boko Haram (BH) stepped up attacks against civilians and military in Far North region and crowds protesting perceived govt marginalisation of minority English-speakers clashed with security forces in North West region. In Logone and Chari department, Far North, BH clashed with army in Gassama 6 Nov and Zigue, Waza district 20 Nov; killed two displaced people in Waza 17 Nov; some 60 BH fighters killed six soldiers and local vigilante chief in Darak 21 Nov. In Mayo Sava department, Far North IED injured three soldiers on Wambashé-Limani axis, Mora district 7 Nov; nineteen BH killed in clashes with army in Sandawadjiri, Kolofata district 9 Nov; two girls detonated suicide bombs in Kolofata 21 Nov. IED injured eight soldiers in Zamga, Mayo Tsanaga department, Far North 22 Nov. Ethnic Kotokos clashed with Arab Choas 27 Nov in Makary, Logone and Chari department, Far North. Govt reopened border with Nigeria for pedestrians at most crossings and for vehicles also at Fotokol-Gambaru. In North West and South West regions (country’s English-speaking areas) strikes escalated into clashes between protesters and security forces: lawyers continued strike begun in Oct protesting use of French language and legal codes including Organization for the Harmonization of Business Law in Africa (OHADA) instead of Common Law. Police 8 Nov used tear gas and force to disperse lawyers marching in Bamenda, capital of North West region. Teachers went on strike 21 Nov in North West and South West protesting French-speaking teachers in English-speaking schools; thousands joined strikers to protest govt’s perceived marginalisation of English-speakers; security forces reportedly fired tear gas and live bullets to disperse protests in Bamenda 21-22 Nov, one protestor reportedly killed and several injured.
Donors at Brussels Conference for CAR 17 Nov pledged $2.2 bn to support govt recovery plan. After armed groups broke into their offices and harassed staff in Batangafo, Ouham prefecture, four international NGOs suspended operations 14-21 Nov to protest insecurity and called for more MINUSCA peacekeepers in area. Ex-Seleka rebel factions Union for Peace in the Central African Republic (UPC) and Popular Front for the Central African Renaissance (FPRC) clashed late Nov in Bria, Haute-Kotto prefecture in east, over 85 rebels and civilians killed and 11,000 displaced; FPRC reportedly targeted ethnic Fulanis who make up most of UPC.
Strikes protesting govt austerity measures continued. Parliament 17 Nov failed to reach quorum of MPs needed for planned vote on its confidence in govt. Police 17 Nov cracked down on opposition protest that defied govt ban. Opposition coalition called for general strike 22 Nov which it said was widely respected. PM Padacké 24 Nov requested that main unions refrain from striking for twelve months, unions rejected request. In N’Djamena clashes between ethnic Zaghawa and Kreda 25 Nov killed five; suspected jihadist shot at police outside U.S. embassy 30 Nov, no casualties. Chadians continued to leave Boko Haram movement in Lake Chad area pushing total of defectors to over 1,000 in three months.
Violence intensified in N Kivu province in east and absence of consensual political agreement on electoral timetable risks renewed violent protests in run-up to official end of President Kabila’s mandate 19 Dec. Implementation of 18 Oct agreement between ruling coalition and some opposition began: PM Matata and govt resigned 14 Nov; Kabila 17 Nov appointed opposition party Union of Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) dissident Samy Badibanga as PM. Despite ongoing mediation by Catholic Church (CENCO), govt continued to repress dissent and cracked down on media: began jamming Radio France International (RFI) 4 Nov after it reported on planned opposition protests; blocked UN-sponsored Radio Okapi 5 Nov for several days. Authorities detained two TV journalists in Kolwezi, Lualaba province 7-8 Nov for broadcasting interview with ex-Katanga governor and opposition leader Moïse Katumbi. Police 5 Nov used tear gas to disperse UDPS protesters in Kinshasa. Clashes between police and students protesting tuition fees hike 9-10 Nov in Kinshasa injured about twenty students. Govt 12 Nov put new restrictions on foreign-owned media. Police 19 Nov blocked access to venues where main opposition coalition Rassemblement planned protests; 26 Nov blocked anti-govt protest march organised by youth movement Lutte pour le Changement in Kinshasa. UDPS Sec Gen 28 Nov called for inclusive political dialogue between govt, opposition and CENCO. Violence intensified in east: in N Kivu province, Mai Mai groups (including Mai Mai Muduhu and Body of Christ) continued to clash with armed forces (FARDC) and police in and near Butembo, Beni territory. Suspected Mai Mai killed eight people in Butalika village, N Kivu 7 Nov. Unclaimed IED blast in Goma outskirts killed seven-year-old girl and injured 32 UN peacekeepers 8 Nov. FARDC 23 Nov recaptured Butuhe and Rwaha villages from Mai Mai and Union of Congolese Patriots (UPLC) militias. Nande and Hutu communities clashed several times including: some 35 Hutu civilians and one rebel killed 27 Nov in attack reportedly by Mai Mai Mazembe on displaced persons’ site near Luhanga, Lubero territory, N Kivu. Attacks attributed to pygmies in Muswaki, Tanganyika province 20-21 Nov killed at least 33.
PM Desalegn announced new cabinet 1 Nov including fifteen new ministers, most from Amhara and Oromo communities. Govt 8 Nov lifted ban on diplomats’ movements within 40km of capital Addis Ababa. State of Emergency Inquiry Board 12 Nov said over 11,000 people detained for inciting violence and destroying property since state of emergency imposed 9 Oct in response to anti-govt protests and vandalism. Govt 29 Nov reportedly arrested ethnic Oromo opposition politician Merera Gudina for violating state of emergency restrictions after he denounced govt’s crackdown on anti-govt protests at European Parliament hearing 9 Nov. Govt 26 Nov said over 100 members of Ginbot-7 armed opposition group entered W Tigray region from Eritrea, residents and militias reportedly shot dead fifteen and captured 73.
Inter-clan clashes in Wajir county in NE over constituency boundaries and access to water and pasture killed ten people and injured seven during Nov. Samburu and Turkana communities clashed repeatedly in Rumuruti area, Laikipia county over access to pasture early Nov, seven killed 8 Nov. Armed tit-for-tat livestock raids resumed between Pokot and Turkana in Turkana county: in four incidents in Kapelibok and Lomelo areas 23-28 Nov fifteen people including eight children killed.
Al-Shabaab continued to attack military and civilians across Somalia and, with parliamentary vote incomplete, electoral committee postponed presidential election planned for 30 Nov, set no new date. Suspected Al-Shabaab attacks included: suicide car bombing on Somali National Army (SNA) convoy in Mogadishu 5 Nov killed two soldiers; mortar attack in Mogadishu 16 Nov killed police officer; bomb blast near restaurant in Kismayo, Lower Juba 19 Nov injured five; car bomb 24 Nov in Mogadishu killed senior security official; car bomb at Mogadishu market 26 Nov killed at least twenty; roadside bombing in Galgala hills, Puntland 29 Nov killed four Puntland soldiers. Fighting in Galmudug state 28 Nov between Al-Shabaab and armed residents over tax dispute killed at least ten people. UAE-brokered ceasefire that began 1 Nov between Puntland and Galmudug Interim Administration (GIA) collapsed 6 Nov, and renewed fighting in Galkayo 7 Nov killed at least 40, injured hundreds and displaced thousands; Puntland and GIA signed peace agreement 17 Nov. Auditor General 19 Nov reported vote-buying and voter intimidation in federal parliamentary elections, which started late Oct.
Insurgency continued in Greater Equatoria region in south provoking Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) reprisals against rebels and civilians; rebels continued targeting civilian transport and Dinka civilians. SPLA 17 Nov clashed with rebels loyal to former first VP Riek Machar in former Unity state. U.S. 18 Nov proposed draft UNSC resolution including arms embargo and targeted sanctions on Machar, army chief Paul Malong and Information Minister Michael Makuei. President Kiir and Sudan President Bashir 23 Nov agreed again to expel each other’s rebels from territories but S Sudan has not taken action (see Sudan). UN 1 Nov criticised peacekeeping mission’s failure to protect civilians in Juba during July violence and next day sacked Kenyan Force Commander; Kenya 3 Nov said it would withdraw over 1,000 Kenyan peacekeepers (over 200 withdrew 9 Nov) and not contribute to Regional Protection Force as planned; will remain involved in peace process.
Around 80 defectors from Darfuri rebel group Sudan Liberation Movement-Abdel Wahid (SLM-AW) including field commander El Amin Toro signed peace deal with Central Darfur state govt 6 Nov. Unidentified gunmen kidnapped three UNHCR staff (one Sudanese, two Nepalese) 27 Nov in Geneina, capital of W Darfur state. Armed and unarmed opposition criticised govt’s 3 Nov decision to cut fuel and other subsidies to prevent inflation and small protests broke out in several places; authorities detained 21 members of opposition Sudanese Congress Party including chairman for allegedly inciting citizens to overturn regime and other opposition party members. Political activists called for mass civil disobedience 27-29 Nov to protest cuts; strikes reported in some Khartoum neighbourhoods and universities, police 30 Nov fired tear gas at some 300 protesters in Omdurman; govt cracked down on media critical of austerity measures. President Bashir and S Sudan President Kiir 23 Nov agreed again to expel each other’s rebels from territories, Sudan took no action.
President Museveni 1 Nov ordered Makerere University to close after staff went on strike 25 Oct protesting pay arrears and students joined protests, police 2 Nov arrested 50 protesters. Security forces clashed with local militias in Kasese District, Rwenzori region (west) 26-27 Nov reportedly after suspected royal guards of Rwenzori traditional leader Charles Wesley Mumbere attacked police and army patrols; at least 87 killed (46 royal guards and sixteen police officers) and 149 arrested, police detained Mumbere 27 Nov, accused him of trying to create new state, charged him with murder of police officer March 2016. Refugees from S Sudan continued to cross into Uganda: EU 11 Nov granted €30 million to govt to assist refugees.
Indirect peace talks resumed 14 Nov: govt and armed opposition Renamo delegations 14 Nov submitted responses to international mediation’s proposal on decentralisation. Unidentified gunmen shot and wounded Renamo official 2 Nov in Mocuba, Zambezia province in centre. Crowd 7 Nov burnt down office of Renamo’s civilian wing in Muatalala suburb of Nampula city in north reportedly protesting insecurity. Renamo reportedly fired shots at train in Malema district, Nampula province 8 Nov but caused no damage.
Security forces and ruling party ZANU-PF supporters reportedly continued harassment and intimidation of opposition supporters. Unidentified men, some reportedly wearing riot police uniform, 18 Nov assaulted six anti-govt activists in Harare outskirts. Reserve Bank began issuing “bond notes” 28 Nov to ease cash shortages but, under pressure from public fearing new currency would trigger hyperinflation, continued to issue U.S. dollars; police fired water cannon to disperse protest against notes in Harare 30 Nov.
Terrorist and criminal activity continued in Sahel region bordering Mali and Niger: two plainclothes police robbed on Djibo-Baraboulé road 2 Nov; Muslim preacher and municipal councillor shot dead 12 Nov in Djibo and Petega respectively, another councillor same day survived attempted killing in Soboulé. Tensions rose between Koglweogo civilian self-defence group and police 6 Nov in Ouagadougou when their vehicles collided. Koglweogo general assembly 12 Nov expressed scepticism at govt’s will to integrate them into planned community police. Traditional chiefs in west 21 Nov again refused to allow Koglweogo to operate in their region. Three members of former presidential guard accused of plotting against state extradited from Côte d’Ivoire 25 Nov.
President Ouattara 8 Nov enacted new constitution after 93.42% voted in favour of it in 30 Oct referendum. Opposition early Nov rejected results, in particular official turnout figure of 42.42%, and claimed vote rigged. Govt 3 Nov said legislative elections will be held 18 Dec. Gendarmes early Nov briefly arrested some opposition leaders including Mamadou Koulibaly and Abudramane Sangaré allegedly for calling for referendum boycott. Unidentified men 5 Nov attacked opposition supporters at meeting in Abidjan. Court 16 Nov said former First Lady Simone Gbagbo’s trial will continue in her absence after she refused to appear in court protesting its refusal to hear some witnesses. Gendarmes and civilians clashed 16 Nov in Namoin (north), two gendarmes and two civilians killed. Youths and security forces clashed 17 Nov in capital, Yamoussoukro (centre) after death of arrested man.
Police in Bissau fired tear gas to disperse protesters calling for new general elections 5 Nov; protests continued 11 Nov. In accordance with Oct agreement with opposition, President Vaz 14 Nov dissolved PM Djá’s govt. Vaz 18 Nov appointed general and former presidential adviser Umaro Sissoco Embalo as PM; opposition African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC) 19 Nov rejected appointment citing lack of consensus, 27 Nov said it would refuse to participate in govt if invited.
Tensions remained high between armed group signatories to June 2015 peace agreement. Main separatist rebel alliance Coalition of Azawad Movements (CMA) splinter groups Movement for the Salvation of Azawad (MSA), Coalition of Azawad People (CPA), Congress for Justice in Azawad (CJA) and CMA member Coordination of Patriotic Resistance Movements and Forces (CMFPR2) 10 Nov rejected CMA’s proposed list of transitional authorities for north. CMA 11 Nov criticised govt’s decision to hold 20 Nov local elections before transitional authorities in place. Local elections marred by CMA boycott, low voter turnout and violence including attacks on security forces protecting ballot boxes, reportedly killing at least five. No elections held in Kidal, Taoudeni and Ménaka regions in north, partial elections held in Gao, Timbuktu and Mopti. Jihadist groups continued to attack national and international forces in Gao, Timbuktu and Kidal regions in north and Koulikoro region in centre including ambushing convoys, laying IEDs and attacking prison; jihadist groups Ansar Dine and al-Murabitun’s branch that joined al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb claimed some attacks; at least seven soldiers and five civilians killed. Suicide attack at Gao airport 29 Nov only killed attacker. Trial of 2012 coup and former junta leader Amadou Haya Sanogo began 30 Nov in Sikasso (south).
Boko Haram (BH) insurgents decreased attacks but remained present in SE. BH fighters early Nov reportedly crossed from Nigeria to Niger, leading regional Multinational Joint Task Force to increase border patrols and raise alert level. Alleged BH insurgents 18-19 Nov killed at least three civilians in Bosso. Jihadists from Mali maintained pressure on security forces in west: alleged jihadists 8 Nov attacked military outpost in Bani Bangou near Malian border killing five soldiers, four others reported missing. Fulani herdsmen killed Hausa farmer in Bangui, Tahoua region in south 1 Nov sparking intercommunal fighting that killed twenty including women, children and elders; interior minister 2 Nov met Hausa and Fulani community leaders in Bangui to ease tensions. In following days, 38 people reportedly arrested for alleged involvement in killings.
Boko Haram (BH) continued attacks against military and civilians in Borno state in NE as violence spiked in NW and continued in Niger Delta, SE. BH attacked army 4 Nov in Mallam Fatori, 7 Nov in Kangarwa, 14 Nov and 15 Nov on Bita-Piridang axis killing eight soldiers; thirteen insurgents killed. BH attacks on villages killed more than two dozen, including in two villages near Monguno 14-15 Nov, three villages near Askira 23 Nov. 30 BH killed in attack on govt convoy near Bama 26 Nov, seven reportedly killed 19 Nov during encounter with troops in Kangarwa. BH stepped up suicide bombing in state capital Maiduguri: eight suspected BH blew themselves up at military checkpoint 2 Nov; two suicide bombings 18 Nov killed at least six people. Security situation in NW deteriorated. Violence erupted as police tried to break up annual trek by Shia Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) in Kano 14 Nov, one policeman and nineteen IMN members killed; at least thirteen, mostly IMN members, killed in further violence in Funtua, Kaduna and Sokoto cities same day. Zamfara state governor 21 Nov reported bandits and cattle rustlers had killed 155 people and kidnapped over 50 in state in Nov. Cattle-rustling gang 16 Nov killed six men and stole over 700 cows in Kukoki, Niger state. Herder-farmer violence continued including: herdsmen attacked five villages in Kaura LGA, Kaduna state 13 Nov, at least 43 killed; unidentified gunmen attacked village in Tafan district, Kaduna state 25 Nov killing four. Federal govt began talks with Niger Delta leaders but attacks on oil facilities continued. Pan Niger Delta Forum ethnic and political leaders urged President Buhari in 1 Nov talks to withdraw army from region, order oil firms to relocate HQs to Delta and invest more in development. Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) blew up three pipelines in Nembe, Bayelsa state 15 Nov. NDA and Niger Delta Greenland Justice Mandate (NDGJM) conditioned talks on govt withdrawing troops from region. Gunmen 21 Nov killed four members of paramilitary Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps at oil facility in Rivers state. Unidentified group reportedly blew up oil pipeline in Delta state 27 Nov.
China’s National People’s Congress Standing Committee 7 Nov for the first time issued interpretation of Hong Kong’s basic law before judgment by a local court, requiring Hong Kong legislators to “accurately, completely and solemnly” swear scripted oath of allegiance. Ruling came after two newly-elected pro-independence legislators deviated from regular oath-taking to enter legislature 12 Oct, pledging allegiance to “Hong Kong Nation” and using derogatory term for China. Hong Kong High Court 15 Nov disqualified the two legislators-elect from taking office; said ruling independent of Beijing’s interpretation.
Following mid-Oct reports of new Chinese drilling activities in East China Sea (ECS), Japanese FM Fumio Kishida 1 Nov said govt had evidence of Chinese “mobile oil prospecting ship” spotted near disputed gas fields. Japan 1 Nov lodged protest with Beijing; Chinese FM said all drilling activities were in Chinese waters, urged Japan to stop “making inappropriate comments”. Chinese President Xi and Japanese PM Abe 20 Nov met briefly on sidelines of Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Peru, agreed on importance of improving bilateral relations by resolving longstanding disputes. Japanese Deputy FM Takeo Akiba and Chinese Assistant FM Kong Xuanyou 28 Nov met in Beijing, in first security dialogue since March 2015: reportedly discussed ECS disputes and North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs. Akiba called dialogue “indispensable”; Kong said China hopes talks will enhance “momentum of improving ties between the two countries”.
Responding to North Korea’s (DPRK) Sept nuclear test, UNSC 30 Nov unanimously passed resolution approving new sanctions on DPRK, capping coal exports at 7.5mn metric tonnes (less than half previous level), banning exports of several metals, and blacklisting eleven people and ten entities. Resolution also clarified that use of “livelihood” exemption, which Beijing previously cited in response to U.S. criticism of China’s ongoing coal trade with DPRK, should exclusively intend for livelihoods of DPRK nationals and not involve individuals or entities related to DPRK weapon programmes. South Korea (ROK) and Japan 23 Nov signed General Security of Military Information Agreement to share intelligence on DPRK’s nuclear activities. ROK opposition parties resistant to closer ties with Japan criticised deal, saying it enforces “Japan’s military rise”. Pyongyang strongly criticised agreement. Beijing said deal reflected “deeply entrenched Cold War mentality” and would “only worsen the confrontation”. Commander of U.S. forces in ROK 4 Nov announced planned deployment of Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system within eight to ten months. Chinese and U.S. presidents 19 Nov met on sidelines of Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Peru; President Obama said both countries committed to intensify efforts toward de-nuclearisation of Korean peninsula. Japan 24 Nov announced plans to study deployment of THAAD system on its soil, dedicated panel to deliberate measures to strengthen missile defence system by summer 2017. Beijing urged Tokyo to adhere to political and diplomatic means “instead of making use of” tensions on peninsula.
Meeting on sidelines of APEC summit in Peru 19 Nov, Japanese PM Abe and Russian President Putin agreed to hold talks mid-Dec on long-standing Kuril Islands/Northern Territories territorial dispute; Putin said they were ready to “move forward in the development of bilateral relations”. Abe called subsequent reports that Russia had deployed advanced anti-ship missile systems on two of the islands “regrettable”.
Onset of winter saw a decline in Taliban attacks on Afghan security forces though high profile attacks against international targets increased. Bombing of German consulate in Mazar-i-Sharif 10 Nov killed at least four people, wounded over 100; Taliban claimed responsibility, claiming retaliation for 3 Nov NATO airstrike in Kunduz that killed over 30 civilians, half of them children. Alleged Taliban bomb attack at Bagram U.S. military base 12 Nov killed two American soldiers and two civilian consultants. Islamic State (IS) reportedly continued attacks in Kabul, claiming responsibility for 21 Nov bombing of Shia mosque which killed 30, and 16 Nov suicide attack on govt vehicle killing at least six. Defence Ministry 19 Nov said top IS commander Mullah Bozkorg killed in 18 Nov U.S. drone strike in Kot district, Nangarhar; at least seven other IS members reportedly killed 27 Nov in further airstrikes in Nangarhar. Security forces 22 Nov reportedly killed prominent Taliban leader Majid Zarqawi and two other militants during operation in Laghman province. As National Unity Government (NUG) continued to struggle with internal rivalries and waning public confidence, parliament’s lower house 12-16 Nov dismissed seven ministers, mostly allies of Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, exacerbating longstanding tensions with executive and within NUG. Both Abdullah and President Ghani condemned move as politically motivated and sought Supreme Court’s interpretation of parliament’s authority. Returns from Pakistan and Iran continued, though fewer than previous month as weather grew colder, bringing 2016 total until end-Nov to over a million. Germany 17 Nov announced plans to keep 980 soldiers in Afghanistan through 2017 as part of NATO-led Resolute Support mission, encouraging other countries to make similar commitments.
Police and paramilitary Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) raids on suspected Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) hideouts continued. RAB 17 Nov claimed to have arrested five JMB and al-Qaeda-linked Ansarul Islam members in Dhaka allegedly involved in 1 July Gulshan attack. Police 6 Nov charged eight JMB operatives with 23 April murder of Rajshahi University professor A.F.M. Rezaul Karim. Amid widespread reports of increasing human rights violations connected to counter-terrorism operations, Supreme Court 10 Nov published final verdict of 24 May ruling ordering govt to amend two sections of criminal procedure code relating to arrests without warrant and interrogation in custody; verdict established guidelines to ensure due process in arrests as well as accountability procedures in cases of torture and custodial death. Political tensions between ruling Awami League (AL) and opposition Bangladesh National Party (BNP) continued. BNP 17 Nov announced it would contest Narayanganj district mayoral elections 22 Dec, however maintained plans to boycott local council elections, alleging rigging. BNP leader Khaleda Zia 18 Nov proposed deployment of military personnel during mayoral elections, as well as granting military magisterial powers. BNP also proposed new process requiring president to consult all 40 registered political parties on candidates for next Election Commission to oversee parliamentary elections, scheduled to be held by 2019. Information Minister Hasanul Haq Inu called Zia’s proposals “illogical, unrealistic, anti-constitutional and abnormal”. AL sec gen Obaidul Quader also rejected proposals. Following 30 Oct attacks on Hindu community in Brahmanbaria district in which over 100 homes and five temples were vandalised, at least ten similar attacks occurred early Nov, including several houses set on fire 4 Nov in Upazila town; wave of anti-Hindu attacks were reportedly sparked by alleged comment on social media. Bangladesh Coast Guard and Border Guard 19 Nov reportedly prevented some 125 Myanmar ethnic Rohingyas, including women and children, from crossing Naf river as they fled military crackdown in Myanmar’s Rakhine state (see Myanmar); Bangladesh officials 28 Nov said over 1,000 Rohingyas had been turned away at border in last two weeks of Nov.
Security forces reportedly increased anti-Maoist operations throughout month, killing over a dozen alleged rebels including six gunned down 23 Nov in clash in Jharkhand’s Latehar district. Local media reported growing success of counter insurgency operations, citing surrenders of several hundred Maoists in Odisha state following 24 Oct Malkangiri operation.
India and Pakistan continued exchanges of fire across Line of Control (LoC) throughout month, leaving scores dead and injured, mainly combatants. Indian artillery shelling 23 Nov hit passenger bus traveling toward Muzaffarabad in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, killing at least nine civilians. Pakistan PM Sharif condemned India for “naked aggression”; Indian military expressed “grief” over civilian casualties, but insisted shelling was “retaliatory” and initiated by Pakistan. Armed militants reportedly disguised as police 29 Nov attacked Indian army unit in Nagrota, Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir, killing seven soldiers. Pakistan-administered Kashmir PM Raja Farooq Haider 15 Nov said 8,000 people had been evacuated from villages near border due to escalating violence after seven soldiers were killed 14 Nov in cross-border exchange of fire. India reportedly relocated some 10,000 civilians from border regions in Oct. Clashes between Indian security personnel and protesters in Indian-administered Kashmir continued, including 2 Nov clashes in Soura, on Srinagar’s outskirts, which injured over 100, mainly civilians. Fresh protests broke out 14 Nov in Srinagar and elsewhere throughout Kashmir after young boy died of injuries sustained from being hit by armoured Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) vehicle during previous week’s clashes. Kashmiri separatist groups 16 Nov announced two-day relaxation of shutdown 19-20 Nov, first formal pause in shutdown since wave of protests began in July. Following 27 Oct expulsion of Pakistani diplomat from India, mutual accusations of espionage and withdrawal of diplomats continued. Pakistan 2 Nov withdrew six officials from Delhi; 3 Nov accused eight Indian diplomats of espionage, charging them with “coordinating terrorist and subversive activities in Pakistan under the garb of diplomatic assignments” and supporting attacks by Pakistani Taliban and Baloch separatist groups. Pakistan navy 18 Nov claimed it had blocked Indian submarine from entering Pakistan’s territorial waters two days earlier; Indian navy denied claim. Pakistan foreign affairs advisor Sartaj Aziz 15 Nov said he would attend Heart of Asia regional conference on Afghanistan in India in Dec.
Cabinet 29 Nov approved constitution amendment proposal to partially address demands of dissenting Madhesi parties. Proposal alters new provinces’ borders with two provinces comprising only districts in southern Tarai plains — previously agreed model had one such province. Five contested Tarai districts in Eastern and Far-western regions remain attached to mainly hill provinces. Representation in upper house to be based partly on share of population, another demand of Madhesi parties. Proposal grants naturalised citizenship to non-Nepali women who marry Nepali men, significant for Madhesi parties as many Madhesi men marry women from India; no parallel provision for non-Nepali men who marry Nepalis. Proposal represents first major effort by CPN (Maoist Center)-led govt to address unresolved constitutional disputes. However, not all ruling coalition member Nepali Congress MPs support process. Opposition UML, parliament’s second largest party with 30% of seats, said proposal harmed national interests, threatened street protests and obstructions in parliament. Constitutional amendments require two-thirds parliamentary majority; govt now needs support from all smaller parties. Madhesi parties’ alliance could back proposal, though one member criticised lack of prior consultation. Protests held in five Western region districts 30 Nov against their inclusion in a plains-only province.
Suicide attack on Sufi shrine in Balochistan’s Khuzdar district 12 Nov left at least 52 dead, over 100 wounded. Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility; Balochistan Home Minister refuted IS claim, alleging instead that Sunni extremist Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) Al-Alami was responsible for attack; also suggested Indian involvement. LeJ Al-Alami did not confirm or deny involvement in attack, but said it was cooperating with IS. Following 29 Oct attack on Shia gathering in Karachi that left five dead, series of possibly retaliatory sectarian attacks throughout Karachi 4 Nov killed six, including members of Deobandi and anti-Shia Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, the banned and renamed Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP). Sporadic violence in Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) left several dead, including one soldier killed 7 Nov in landmine blast in Khyber Agency’s Tirah Valley and soldier killed 1 Nov in bombing during search operation in Wana marketplace, S Waziristan. Military 4 Nov reportedly destroyed market building in Wana. PM Sharif 26 Nov appointed Qamar Javed Bajwa to replace outgoing Army chief Raheel Sharif, superseding four senior generals; Bajwa took over army command 29 Nov.
Despite progress on constitutional reform, unity govt faced increasing strains. 2017 budget passed 18 Nov on second reading with more than two-thirds majority, yet relations between United National Party (UNP) and Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) remained tense after parliamentary Committee on Public Enterprise (COPE) 28 Oct issued report directly implicating former Central Bank Governor and ally of PM Wickremesinghe in allegedly illegal bond issue. Amid growing reports of corruption among UNP ministers, President Sirisena promised investigation into treasury bonds; PM referred report to Attorney General. Parliament constitutional assembly sub-committee reports published; extensive proposals for reform include bill of rights and expanded provincial powers; full assembly debate in Jan. Doubts on govt commitment to transitional justice and human rights reforms deepened. President Sirisena 26 Nov announced he was writing to U.S. president-elect Trump with request to free country of accusations of military war crimes. UN experts, foreign ministry officials expressed serious human rights concerns on draft Counter Terrorism Act (CTA) law during discussions with govt 9-10 Nov. UN Committee Against Terrorism 15-16 Nov challenged govt delegation on lack of action against torture. Following 25 Oct sword attack on two police officers, claimed by previously unknown “Aava” group, security officials reportedly arrested over two dozen people under contentious Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA); govt 17 Nov reiterated promise to cease arrests under PTA. Ethnic and religious tensions rose with upsurge of activity of militant Buddhist groups. Colombo police 15 Nov arrested Sinhala Buddhist activist for publicly threatening to bomb Muslims; police 16 Nov arrested outspoken leader of Salafist Sri Lanka Tawheed Jamaat (SLTJ), following threats by militant Buddhist group Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) leader Gnanasara Thera to kill Colombo Muslims if SLTJ secretary not arrested. BBS 19 Nov held largest rally in over a year to denounce “Muslim threat”. Justice Minister 22 Nov held surprise meeting with BBS leaders to discuss measures to avoid religious tensions.
Over 100,000 protesters, reportedly led by Islamist group Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), marched on presidential palace in Jakarta 4 Nov calling for removal and arrest of city’s Chinese-descent Christian governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, for alleged blasphemy. One reported dead and several injured in clashes with police. President Widodo blamed unrest on “political actors” seeking to influence local elections planned for Feb 2017; other national politicians largely silent on ethnically, religiously charged tenor of protests. Police 16 Nov opened investigation into blasphemy allegations, formally questioned Purnama 22 Nov. Several organisations pledged further protests 2 Dec, with at least one indicating they will proceed despite National Police Chief announcing ban. Police 30 Nov reportedly detained several dozen protesters from Papua following demonstrations in Jakarta calling for independent West Papuan state.
Violence in Rakhine state intensified following 9 Oct attacks, with scores of civilians reported killed in 12 Nov escalation, and humanitarian situation in area becoming more dire. Efforts to maintain momentum on ethnic peace process also faced major setback following joint attacks by four armed groups since 20 Nov. Escalation in Rakhine came as military column was surrounded in Muslim village by group of attackers joined by several hundred villagers 12 Nov, killing senior Myanmar military officer; military mobilised attack helicopters to fire on local villages, killing scores (69 from 9-14 Nov alone, according to military); dead allegedly include women and children. UN special advisor on prevention of genocide Adama Dieng 29 Nov said allegations must be verified “as a matter of urgency”, called for govt to allow access. Mission comprising govt ministers, UN Resident Coordinator and nine ambassadors visited N Rakhine 2-3 Nov; UN and diplomats called for credible, independent investigation into Oct attacks and subsequent events. UNSC discussed situation 17 Nov, with calls for international investigation and restoration of humanitarian access. With exception of one-time World Food Program (WFP) delivery to four villages, humanitarian access remains blocked, including emergency food deliveries and other aid for 150,000 people in N Maungdaw. Estimated 15,000 have fled to Bangladesh and many thousands more internally displaced. Efforts to maintain momentum on ethnic peace process weakened by major joint attacks by Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO), Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), and Arakan Army (AA) in Shan State from 20 Nov, representing rare attacks on urban areas, key trade zone on Chinese border, and blocking highway to China, country’s biggest trade route; at least 3,000 local residents have fled to China. Events considerably set back prospects for Aung San Suu Kyi’s (ASSK) 28 Oct call for non-signatories of Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) to sign it as soon as possible, and puts into question possibility for success of next Panglong-21 peace conference in Feb 2017. Non-signatories have been reluctant to sign NCA, against backdrop of escalating offensives by govt forces in Kachin and N Shan states in recent months which have eroded trust between armed groups and govt/military. Several incidents of journalists being dismissed or arrested following critical reporting of govt/military raised concerns over whether press freedom and free speech are under threat, particularly in relation to Rakhine violence.
President Duterte 7 Nov signed Executive Order expanding Bangsamoro Transition Council (BTC), but Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) founder Nur Misuari said MNLF would not participate with “traitor” Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF); suggested separate MNLF-govt talks. Duterte and Misuari met after 27 Oct court decision temporarily suspended charges against Misuari for role in 2013 Zamboanga City siege. Govt said MNLF-MILF tensions hindered peace process. National Democratic Front (NDFP) communist rebel alliance including Communist Party of Philippines (CPP) expressed scepticism of govt’s commitment to peace negotiations, rebooted in Aug, after missed 27 Oct deadline for “unified bilateral ceasefire agreement”. NDFP negotiator also accused military of ceasefire violations especially in eastern Mindanao; military reiterated commitment to process. Govt pledged quick release of political prisoners following NDFP complaints. Govt-CPP tensions increased after Supreme Court 8 Nov upheld Duterte order to re-inter former dictator Ferdinand Marcos’s remains in Manila’s Cemetery of Heroes; burial occurred 18 Nov amid widespread opposition and protests. Abu Sayyaf kidnappings continued, including tourists and fishermen off Malaysia and Philippines coasts. Duterte and Malaysian PM Najib Razak 10 Nov agreed to increase maritime security cooperation. Indonesian Defence Minister 17 Nov announced Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines anti-Abu Sayyaf taskforce. Armed forces 19 Nov reported ten Abu Sayyaf militants and four soldiers killed in 18 Nov gun battle in Patikul, Sulu province. Military 30 Nov reported 61 members of Islamic State (IS)-affiliated Maute Group killed in five-day operation 25-30 Nov in Lanao del Sur province. Authorities said Maute Group suspected of responsibility for bomb diffused outside U.S. embassy in Manila 28 Nov. (See also South China Sea).
During six-day visit to Beijing, Malaysian PM Najib 1 Nov signed Malaysia’s first defence cooperation agreement with China; following signing, Najib said ties with China set to “reach new highs”, longstanding disputes in South China Sea (SCS) would be “managed calmly and rationally”. One month after their landmark meeting in Oct, Philippines President Duterte and China President Xi met again 20 Nov during Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Peru, discussed “maritime arrangements” including joint Coast Guard patrols in Scarborough Shoal. Following China’s late Oct decision to allow Philippines fishing access to Scarborough Shoal, Duterte 20 Nov called on China to join him in declaring maritime sanctuary near portion of shoal; 22 Nov issued unilateral executive order banning fishing in region. Beijing has not responded directly. Senior govt advisor Wu Shicun 25 Nov said Beijing was considering package agreement on fishery cooperation with Manila, potentially covering Scarborough Shoal area. Australian FM 1 Nov said Australia and Indonesia were considering joint patrols in SCS. Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies 15 Nov reported new satellite images showing construction of hangars and significant lengthening of Vietnam’s only runway in disputed Spratly Islands; suggested runway had been extended to over 1.2km, enabling deployment of Vietnamese maritime surveillance aircrafts to Spratlys for first time. China foreign ministry 18 Nov called on Hanoi to “immediately stop its illegal occupation and construction” in Spratlys; Vietnam called report “inaccurate”.
Appointed legislature 29 Nov invited Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn to become king. Ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) submitted draft of new constitution for royal approval early Nov; king/regent has 90 days to endorse it. Deputy PM Prawit Wongsuwan 25 Nov warned parliamentary elections scheduled for late 2017 may be delayed if new laws not ready in time. NCPO late Oct rolled out subsidy scheme of grants and loans to rice farmers amid slumping prices and threats of protests; subsidy plan set to cost at least $1.3bn. Former PM Yingluck 18 Nov appeared in Supreme Court for seventh hearing in trial for dereliction of duty for failing to heed bureaucrats’ warnings about alleged corruption in her govt’s 2011-2013 rice subsidy scheme. Violence in southernmost provinces continued, including wave of arson, bombing and shooting attacks by suspected militants in some twenty locations across Narathiwat, Pattani, Songkhla and Yala provinces 2-3 Nov, killing three people, coinciding with visit to region of “forward command”, established by govt in Oct to coordinate counter-insurgency. IED wounded two assistant village headmen in Khok Pho, Pattani 14 Nov, hours before Crown Prince arrived for visit to neighbouring Muang district. Gunmen killed pregnant Buddhist woman in Panare district, Pattani, on 26 Nov, sparking anti-violence demonstrations by Buddhist and Muslim groups.
Self-Determination (Vetevendosje) party member Astrit Dehari, incarcerated since Aug for allegedly launching grenade in parliament, died in Prizren prison 5 Nov, prompting protest in Pristina 14 Nov demanding international independent investigation. Prizren Chief Prosecutor 18 Nov ruled death suicide by asphyxiation. Kosovo Serb govt coalition partner boycotted govt over law passed in Oct transferring ownership of disputed Trepca to govt, in face of protests from Serbia. Police 4-16 Nov arrested nineteen suspected Islamic State militants reportedly planning simultaneous attacks in Kosovo and Albania.
Govt 2 Nov reported agreement signed with Iran to increase imports of Iranian natural gas. New Defence Minister 14 Nov announced fund to compensate soldiers injured or killed in combat operations at Nagorno-Karabakh Line of Contact (LoC) and official border with Azerbaijan. FM 17 Nov said new accord with EU to be signed in 2017.
EU FMs meeting 14 Nov approved mandate for EU foreign policy chief Mogherini to negotiate new “comprehensive agreement” to deepen ties with Azerbaijan, intended to replace 1996 Partnership and Cooperation Agreement.
Recently-elected Parliament 27 Nov voted new govt into office: PM Kvirikashvili kept his seat along with thirteen out of eighteen ministers, including Defence, Interior, Foreign Affairs and Reconciliation with breakaway regions. Russian President Putin 21 Nov signed into law agreement with breakaway Abkhazia allowing for Russia to develop military base in de facto republic and giving Russian defence ministry control over force in war time; U.S. strongly criticised deal, said it “does not constitute a valid international agreement”. De facto President of South Ossetia Leonid Tibilov 25 Nov stated he would run for presidential election scheduled for April 2017.
Ahead of possible meeting of Armenian and Azerbaijani FMs with OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs 10 Dec, little optimism on prospects of agreement on peace monitoring mechanisms proposed following escalation of conflict in April and intended to prevent future flare-ups and advance solution. Armenia’s FM 16 Nov said Azerbaijan did not want to agree on introduction of investigation mechanism for Line of Contact (LoC) incidents. Spokesperson for Azerbaijan’s FM 22 Nov said there would be no need for investigation mechanism if Armenia would withdraw its army from NK. Azerbaijani President Aliyev made several statements on need to return control over NK, by force if needed, including during 12 Nov trip to southern part of frontline. Intensified exchange of fire in northern and NE sections of LoC 10-12 Nov, with grenade launchers and guns reportedly used by both sides. At least two soldiers reported dead by both sides during month. De facto NK authorities 8 Nov revealed draft of new Constitution, which enables current leadership to stay in power for next thirteen years, overriding long-time efforts in NK to introduce some form of democratic de facto governance. De facto President to become sole leader of de facto republic with symbolic control of local parliament; position of PM abolished. More than $15bn raised for NK during annual charity event by Hayastan All-Armenian Fund, with significant donations from U.S.- and Russia-based Armenian diaspora.
Conflict-related violence continued to plague NC. Four suspected militants killed in operation in Dagestani city Khasavyurt 4 Nov. Two special forces and two suspected militants reported killed in clash in Nazran, Ingushetia 24 Nov. At least fourteen militants killed during Counter Terrorist Operations (CTOs) since late Oct include members of Khasavyurt, Tsumada and Southern terrorist groups, plus several whose affiliations are unknown. Several Islamic State (IS) members and loyalists apprehended throughout Russia: three individuals allegedly part of radical Islamist cell “October Jamaat” arrested in Volograd 7 Nov for suspected terrorist financing; seven individuals associated with terrorist group Hizb ut-Tahrir arrested in St. Petersburg 8 Nov; ten natives of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan affiliated with IS arrested 12 Nov for planning attacks in Moscow and St. Petersburg; five individuals who had pledged loyalty to IS arrested 15 Nov, reported to have been planning attacks in Moscow and Ingushetia. Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov 31 Oct said 2017 draft budget for Chechnya, significantly reduced from previous years, is “unacceptable”, claiming it provided insufficient funds for development of republic; President Putin said he would “reassess” financial allocation. Kadyrov visited Saudi Arabia 27 Nov to apologise for Aug 2016 Islamic conference in Grozny which produced fatwa calling Salafi Muslims misguided and appeal to President Putin to ban Salafism; told Crown Prince that Salafis are not misguided and are “true Muslims”.
Pro-Russian Socialist Party leader Igor Dodon won 52.3% of vote in second round of presidential election 13 Nov, defeating pro-Europe candidate Maia Sandu with 47.7%; turnout reported at 53.3%. Lawyer for Sandu late month said she would appeal result at Supreme Court, claiming election commission violated voting rights of Moldovans living outside country. Dodon 15 Nov said he would not scrap 2014 Association Agreement between Moldova and EU, despite his campaign pledges to reverse country’s European integration.
OSCE and Ukraine 11 Nov reported increased clashes in east; came after Russian detention of several alleged Ukrainian saboteurs in Crimea early month; Kyiv said allegations fabricated. Ukraine 20 Nov detained two Russian servicemen it said had crossed into Ukrainian-controlled territory from Crimea, in move described by Russia as “illegitimate provocation”. Ukraine late Nov notified Russia of air-to-air combat missile test over Russian-occupied Crimea region planned for 1-2 Dec; Russia condemned planned test, Kyiv said it will be conducted in Ukrainian airspace. FMs of Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France met in Minsk 29 Nov to discuss implementation of Feb 2015 Minsk Agreement, and Minsk roadmap; no progress. Thousands joined demonstrations in Kyiv 21 Nov marking three years since start of Euromaidan protests that culminated in ouster of former president Yanukovych and Russian annexation of Crimea; some clashes with security forces reported. Hundreds protested over economic hardship 15 Nov. Former Georgian President Saakashvili, now a Ukrainian citizen who PM Poroshenko appointed to be governor of Odessa region in May 2015, resigned 7 Nov, citing top level govt corruption and failure to enact reforms. Subsequently launched New Forces political movement, called for early parliamentary elections, reportedly attracting 1,000 supporters at rally in Kyiv 27 Nov. Visiting IMF mission 18 Nov reported signs of economic recovery but said it depends on ambitious reforms, particularly to fight corruption. U.S. electoral victory of Donald Trump, who previously suggested he may take more conciliatory approach to Russia and recognise its 2014 annexation of Crimea, raised deep concerns in Ukraine; Poroshenko spoke with Trump mid-month, 24 Nov claimed Ukraine has strong bipartisan support in U.S.. EU foreign policy chief Mogherini 13 Nov said EU will not change its stance on Russia’s annexation of Crimea. European Commission President Juncker speaking at EU-Ukraine summit 24 Nov said final deal on visa liberalisation for Ukraine likely by year-end. EU and U.S. both imposed sanctions during Nov on six additional Russian state duma deputies from Crimea.
Two rounds of intense UN-brokered reunification talks in Switzerland between Greek Cypriot President Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Akıncı failed to agree on “land for peace” territory issues and internal boundaries of future federation needed to proceed to final phase of talks, dashing hopes for settlement in 2016. Opening 7-11 Nov talks, UNSG Ban said peace deal “within reach”, subsequently reported “significant progress”. Talks resumed 2o Nov but ended 22 Nov with leaders unable to agree on percentage of island remaining under Turkish Cypriot administration (Akıncı reportedly proposing 29.2% and Anastasiades 28.2%) and map of internal boundaries; and on how many Greek Cypriots could reclaim homes and property lost during 1974 invasion (Akıncı calling for less than 70,000 vs Anastasiades’ 90,000, reduced from 100,000). Ban 23 Nov urged leaders to resume talks, “not let this historic opportunity slip” and build on “substantial achievements”; Anastasiades said he was “determined” to continue dialogue. UN Special Envoy Eide 28 Nov met with leaders on both sides, said negotiations would continue.
Govt continued to prosecute political representatives of Kurdish political movement, with arrest of ten Kurdish parliamentarians including Democratic People’s Party (HDP) co-chairs Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ 4 Nov after they did not appear in court to give testimony over terror charges for alleged ties to Kurdish PKK insurgency. Democratic Regions Party (DBP) co-chair 31 Oct announced 700 party officials under arrest, with 42 DBP municipal co-chairs arrested between Sept and 28 Nov. HDP announced it would halt legislative efforts but will not withdraw from parliament. Fighting between state security forces and PKK militants continued with clashes and attacks resulting in death of 19 state security force members, at least 44 PKK/PKK affiliated militants, and 14 civilians during month. Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK) claimed responsibility for attack in Diyarbakır in SE 4 Nov in which vehicle bomb explosion killed eleven people and injured over 100. Vehicle-borne explosion outside governor’s office in southern Adana province 24 Nov killed two and injured 33; govt attributed attack to PKK. Interior Ministry 11 Nov shut down 370 associations with alleged links to PKK and other groups state defines as “terrorist”, prompting criticism from rights groups and liberals. Turkey’s Euphrates Shield joint operation with Syrian rebels made progress towards al-Bab city held by Islamic State (IS) (see Syria). U.S. and Turkish military chiefs meeting in Ankara 6 Nov reportedly discussed Turkish concerns over new operation by Kurdish People’s Protection Unit (YPG)-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to recapture IS-held Raqqa. Turkey increased military build-up along its Iraqi border early Nov reportedly in response to advances by Iraqi Shia militias on IS-held Mosul in Iraq since late Oct. Turkish military crackdown on IS cells in Turkey continued. Relations between Turkey and the EU further deteriorated amid EU criticism of crackdown on political opposition including arrest of HDP MPs. President Erdoğan rejected criticisms, accused EU of not supporting Turkey enough in fight against terrorism. European Commission 9 Nov released 2016 progress report on Turkey, most negative to date; European Parliament 24 Nov voted to freeze membership talks with Turkey over post-coup crackdown; Erdoğan responded 25 Nov threatening to open up flow of estimated 3 million refugees into Europe.
Businessman Tokhtar Tuleshov sentenced to 21 years’ prison 7 Nov after being found guilty of extremism, illegal weapons possession and attempting to overthrow govt. Tuleshov arrested Jan 2016 along with others including former deputy prosecutor-general and former police chief. National Security Committee accused Tuleshov, known for links with Russia, of preparing to overthrow govt in wake of Islamic State-inspired attack in Aktobe in June, and financing nationwide protests against proposed amendments to land code in April and May. Atyrau court 28 Nov convicted two men of inciting social unrest and other charges over role in land reform protests. Following year in which long-held grievances were aired against govt in unprecedented way, and as concerns about transition of power mount, lawmakers 23 Nov passed declaration suggesting renaming capital Astana after President Nazarbayev, ahead of 25th anniversary of independence; Nazarbayev said “no need” to rename capital. Gunman convicted of July attack in Almaty in which six people were killed was sentenced to death for murder, terrorism 2 Nov; Aktobe court 28 Nov convicted 29 men of terrorism and other charges.
Following late Oct collapse of govt coalition due to tensions over 11 Dec referendum on controversial amendments to constitution, new coalition formed 3 Nov including pro-presidential Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan (SDPK), Kyrgyzstan, and Bir Bol parties. PM Sooronbai Jeenbekov retained position, being mooted by some analysts as SDPK’s candidate for presidency in 2017 elections.
Construction of controversial Rogun hydroelectric power plant, strongly opposed by Uzbekistan over fears of water shortages, began 31 Oct with President Rahmon personally opening site; completion scheduled 2029. Law went into effect 8 Nov criminalising insult or slander of President Rahmon, punishable with fines or up to five years’ prison. Came days after independent newspaper Nigoh suspended operations due to “lack of appropriate conditions”. Govt late month revoked accreditation of six Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty journalists, reportedly over story about president Rahmon’s daughter being appointed to senior govt position.
President Berdymukhamedov met with Russian President Putin in Sochi 1 Nov, marking his first visit to Russia since 2011. According to official reports they discussed broad agenda of cooperation, Berdymukhamedov described Russian foreign policy as “peace loving”. Some observers speculated that Turkmen President was seeking to negotiate new loans from Russia in face of struggling economy, evinced by shortages of basic goods. Turkmengaz and Gazprom 7 Nov resolved months-long dispute over pricing; details of agreement unknown. President’s only son Serdar Berdymukhamedov became member of parliament 20 Nov.
Acting President Mirziyoyev’s efforts to repair relations with Uzbekistan’s neighbors continued with progress on demarcation along Uzbek-Kyrgyz border, and optimism regarding Uzbek-Tajik border. Following meeting between Tajikistan’s ambassador to Uzbekistan, and Uzbekistan’s foreign ministry 14 Nov, both sides committed to negotiations over disputed areas; Tajik media reported sides’ intention to complete demarcation by end of 2016. Foreign Ministry 13 Nov reported Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan have reached provisional agreement on 56 disputed areas along their shared border since 2010. Mirziyoyev 14 Nov congratulated Kyrgyz PM Sooronbai Jeenbekov on his re-appointment and expressed “enormous optimism” about border negotiations. Former MP Samandar Qoqonov, known as country’s longest-held political prisoner, released after 23 years’ imprisonment. Preparations underway for 4 Dec presidential election.
New peace agreement between govt and FARC announced 12 Nov: adopts various opposition proposals and contains numerous changes, including clear connection between transitional and ordinary judicial systems; definition of “effective restriction of liberty”; FARC commitment to provide reparations for victims; but no changes regarding FARC political participation. Govt and FARC presented agreement as definitive, angering opposition leaders who had hoped to review and revise new deal; 24 Nov signed deal, which was submitted to congress for approval 25 Nov. Senate 29 Nov approved deal by 75-0 votes, and House of Representatives next day by 130-0 votes; former president Uribe’s Democratic Centre party left Senate floor in protest during vote. Month saw FARC dissident activity and ceasefire violations. Two FARC fighters killed and one arrested in Bolívar department15 Nov by army, who reported fighters were 69 km from pre-grouping zone and extorting locals; UN mission and Tripartite Verification mechanism investigating. Human Rights Ombudsman warned of activity by FARC dissidents in Vaupés in east, while fighting within FARC involving dissident group in Tumaco continued. Peace talks with country’s second largest guerrilla group ELN scheduled for early Nov failed to begin after group continued to hold hostage politician Odín Sánchez, demanding on 7 Nov that govt first name two jailed ELN members as peace facilitators and release two other ELN prisoners. ELN increased military activity late Oct/early Nov, including attacks in Nariño, Cúcuta and Arauca, prompting govt negotiator to publicly question ELN’s willingness to negotiate. Remnants of Popular Liberation Army (EPL), guerrilla group mostly demobilised in 1991, stepped up attacks in Norte de Santander department, including sniper attack killing one soldier reported 7 Nov; attacks on military bases; bomb packed with explosives blocking main road in Catatumbo region 12 Nov.
Start of tentative “National Dialogue” between govt and parts of opposition, facilitated by Vatican and UNASUR, reduced immediate threat of violence, however govt failed to give clear signs it intends to honour commitments. Dialogue set up four working groups on conflict of powers; human rights and political prisoners; economy; and electoral timetable and confidence-building measures. Also agreed on release of some political prisoners. MUD negotiators claimed to have achieved some initial goals at second dialogue meeting 11-12 Nov, including: govt pledge to release more political prisoners (described in official communiqué as “detained persons”); commitment to fresh elections and recognition of rights of National Assembly (NA) in exchange for three opposition legislators from Amazonas state, who govt claims were elected fraudulently, standing down; and two members of National Electoral Council (CNE) board whose terms expire in Dec being replaced by mutual agreement, in move intended to restore balance to body which is currently dominated by govt. Measures greeted with widespread hostility even on part of many opposition moderates, who also criticised absence of reference in communiqué to recall referendum or any form of early presidential election. MUD’s ex-presidential candidate Henrique Capriles said next meeting should only deal with this issue and talks should end if no agreement. Although the three Amazonas legislators stood down 15 Nov, govt yet to fulfil any commitments except for release of six prisoners; Supreme Court continued to act on basis that NA was “in contempt” and all its actions null and void, and produced rulings further restricting parliament’s rights. Opposition 13-14 Nov said it would return to street protests and resume debate in parliament over measures against president. Dialogue process received blessing of U.S. State Dept, and of OAS Permanent Council. Black market value of Venezuelan currency plunged 60% during second half of Nov. Ten military officers arrested for their suspected part in massacre of twelve civilians seized in state of Miranda 15 Oct, whose mutilated bodies were found 25-26 Nov.
Congress 8 Nov elected new governing board for 2017, to be headed by Deputy Oscar Chinchilla of Commitment, Renovation and Order (CREO) party, defeating incumbent Mario Taracena of National Unity of Hope (UNE) party, who during his tenure implemented initiatives to increase transparency and fight corruption within Congress. New board attracted criticism by observers for its purported aim of establishing “impunity pact” to stop campaign against corruption in Guatemala. U.S. electoral victory of Donald Trump, who promised to deport millions of undocumented migrants, followed by reports that human traffickers are exploiting uncertainty to extract more money from migrants, stirred anxiety in region. Presidents of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras 15 Nov officially launched operations of “Tri-national Force against Organised Crime”.
Delayed first round of repeat presidential and parliamentarian elections held 20 Nov, despite doubts over conditions for free and fair elections due to hurricane-related damage to polling stations and public infrastructure, and many still lacking identification documents. Campaign characterised by exploitation by candidates and political parties of politicised aid deliveries. Provisional Electoral Council criticised former President Aristide after he called on supporters to resort to “shock treatment” if elections further delayed. Tensions and clashes continued in week following vote as results were counted, including shots fired outside presidential palace 21 Nov as some candidates claimed victory, and clashes between protesters and police. Violent protests erupted 29 Nov after preliminary results indicated Jovenel Moïse victor with 55.67 %: losing candidates rejected results, which Aristide’s Fanmi Lavalas party called “electoral coup”. Voter turnout reportedly 21%. Late Oct breakout of 172 inmates from jail north of capital Port-au-Prince further complicated security conditions. Authorities 8 Nov discovered shipment loaded with weapons and ammunition 20 km north of capital. UN reported 1.4 million people still in need of humanitarian assistance, 806,000 in state of urgent food insecurity. Of $139mn aid requested by UN, only 46% pledged by end Nov. Several deaths reported as security forces responded to looting of aid transports, attacks on businesses and warehouses; some aid deliveries not made due to fears of looting. Heavy rain early Nov led to renewed flooding and landslides in 15 municipalities, killing at least ten and hindering aid delivery.
Amid state debt crisis, Veracruz state legislature 8 Nov occupied by some 50 city mayors demanding funds, while city administrations remained closed. Further violent incidents reported in several states including Veracruz, Mexico City, and in cities including Ciudad Juárez, Tijuana and Acapulco. In Tijuana, Jalisco New Generation Cartel 3 Nov hung dead body of presumed Sinaloa Cartel member off bridge and warned of more such killings. Victory of Donald Trump in U.S. presidential election prompted acute public, political and business fears, in part due to Trump’s campaign pledges to tax Mexican imports and remittances sent to Mexico and rewrite NAFTA free trade agreement, and deport illegal immigrants; peso fell to its lowest value since 1994.
Israel’s Ministerial Committee for Legislation 16 Nov voted on controversial draft law to retroactively legalise settlements on private (Palestinian) lands in West Bank; law, which was previously called unconstitutional by govt’s legal advisor, was criticised by France and U.S. for endangering two-state solution. Bill was promoted by national-religious Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who declared opportunity to discard two-state solution following U.S. presidential electoral victory of Donald Trump. PM Netanyahu 13 Nov backed another controversial draft law to ban loudspeakers from mosques, prompting mass demonstrations in West Bank and Gaza 18 Nov, while Palestinian leaders called it a declaration of religious war; Jordan announced law could not apply to Jerusalem. Arab members of Knesset publically admitted defying Israeli ban on Knesset member visits to Jerusalem’s Holy Esplanade. U.S. electoral outcome also increased uncertainty regarding Israeli-Palestinian diplomatic process; Palestinian Authority (PA) officials continued supporting UNSC resolution condemning settlement construction and planned Paris international peace conference, however French President Hollande 17 Nov said Trump victory decreases likelihood France will convene conference before end of year. Israel 7 Nov formally declined invitation to conference. In West Bank, Fatah held Seventh Conference 29 Nov, re-elected PA President Abbas as leader. Israeli troops 18 Nov shot dead Palestinian and wounded two others during protest near Gaza-Israel border; another Palestinian shot dead 22 Nov by Israeli security guard near Qalandiya checkpoint. In letter to UNSC, Israel 22 Nov accused Hizbollah and Iran of using commercial flights to transport arms to Lebanon. Israel launched two missiles into Syria 30 Nov, landing west of Damascus; no casualties reported. Israeli military 27 Nov reported it killed four Syrian militiamen allied with Islamic State after they attacked Israeli troops in Golan Heights.
Following his 31 Oct election by parliament as president, Michel Aoun nominated Sunni-backed Saad Hariri, whose endorsement of Christian Aoun was critical in breaking deadlock, as PM after consultations with lawmakers. Hariri’s efforts to form new cabinet ongoing. Hizbollah 11 Nov celebrated “Martyr’s Day” with unprecedented military parade in Syrian town al-Qusayr, site of its first victory in Syria in 2013, showcasing heavy weaponry including tanks, anti-aircraft missiles and armoured vehicles. Lebanese Army 25 Nov arrested eleven alleged Islamic State members including local commander in military operation in outskirts of Arsal.
Pro-regime camp 15 Nov re-escalated attacks on rebel strongholds in E Aleppo, west of city and across Syria, causing significant civilian casualties and damage and making significant gains against rebels late month. Escalation followed pause which began late Oct, during which Russia withheld airstrikes in and around Aleppo city and joined regime calls – largely unheeded – for fighters and civilians inside rebel areas to flee. Russia simultaneously began bringing additional naval assets into Mediterranean to strengthen its attack arsenal, in its largest naval operation since Cold War. First half of Nov saw rebel forces led by Jabhat Fateh al-Sham continue late Oct assault on W Aleppo; regime and Iran-backed militias successfully repelled rebel counter-attack. UN reiterated warning that all sides may be committing war crimes, causing large numbers of civilian casualties. Resumption of attacks 15 Nov saw return of full-scale aerial bombardment of E Aleppo. Regime-backed forces took around a third of rebel-held E Aleppo since 26 Nov, prompting tens of thousands of civilians to flee; some 500 men reportedly seized by regime-backed forces. UN Humanitarian Coordinator Jan Egeland 24 Nov reported increasingly dire humanitarian situation in E Aleppo. To the east of Aleppo city, Turkish-backed forces and Kurdish People’s Protection Unit (YPG) forces clashed 22 Nov as both advanced toward IS-held al-Bab (See Turkey). YPG-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) 6 Nov announced U.S.-backed campaign to seize Raqqa from Islamic State (IS). U.S. soldier killed by IED north of Raqqa 24 Nov. U.S. election victory of Donald Trump, who during his campaign voiced scepticism of U.S. support for rebels, desire for conciliatory approach with Russian President Putin, and intensification of efforts against IS, introduced new uncertainty over conflict’s external players; Russia’s 15 Nov offensive initiated hours after Putin spoke to Trump by phone. U.S. House of Representatives passed bill 15 Nov sanctioning Syrian regime and its backers.
Election of Donald Trump as U.S. president 8 Nov raised concerns over U.S. commitment to uphold and implement July 2015 nuclear accord between Iran and P5+1 (E3+3) countries. Outgoing CIA chief 30 Nov said scrapping deal would be “folly”. International Atomic Energy Agency 9 Nov said Iran had in storage 100kg more heavy water than allowed under nuclear deal; by 21 Nov govt had reportedly shipped surplus heavy water to Oman for sale. U.S. House of Representatives 15 Nov re-authorised Iran Sanctions Act for ten years, to become law act needs Senate to approve it and President Obama’s signature; Supreme Leader Khamenei 23 Nov said move, if approved, would breach nuclear deal and Tehran would retaliate. U.S. 22 Nov said it had issued second licence to France’s Airbus to sell planes to Iran Air.
U.S.-backed govt forces and allied militias continued campaign to retake Mosul in north from Islamic State (IS); Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Service pushed westward from eastern suburbs, capturing media office used by IS 21 Nov; Shia Popular Mobilisation Units (PMU) took control of Tal Afar airport west of Mosul late month and main road connecting Tal Afar with Mount Sinjar on border with Syria. Fighting around Mosul displaced 8,000 people 3-4 Nov, largest spike since offensive began 17 Oct, pushing total to some 30,000. IS blew up govt buildings in Anah, Anbar province 3 Nov; IS-claimed suicide car bombing 17 Nov reportedly killed at least 30 in wedding at Amiriyat Fallujah, Anbar province. Parliament 26 Nov passed law recognising PMU militias as part of armed forces with full legal status answering to PM.
Yemen’s Huthi rebels 20 Nov launched rockets into Saudi Arabia’s southern Najran province which they said targeted military base. Saudi-led coalition carried out airstrikes in N Yemen despite both sides agreeing to 48-hour ceasefire 19-21 Nov.
President Bouteflika hospitalised in France 7-15 Nov. Relations between ruling National Liberation Front (FLN) and its junior member in ruling coalition National Rally for Democracy improved following end-Oct replacement of FLN Sec Gen Amar Saidani with Djamel Ould Abbes. Army 1 Nov arrested two people suspected of supporting terrorist groups in Boumerdes (north) and Tebessa (east) provinces and destroyed twelve militant shelters in Jijel province (north); destroyed two shelters 7 Nov and six 14 Nov, also in Jijel. Two suspected Islamist militants surrendered to military in Tamanrasset (south) 16 Nov.
Islamic State (IS) continued attacks on military and civilians in Sinai Peninsula provoking military response. Suspected militants reportedly killed seventeen soldiers including one general, one police officer and two civilians during month. IS-affiliate Sinai Province (SP) mid-Nov said it had beheaded Sufi sheikh and top cleric. Army reportedly killed over 90 suspected militants in N Sinai during month. Highest court of appeal 15 Nov overturned death sentence of former President Morsi, ordered retrial on charge of escaping prison in 2011; 22 Nov overturned his life sentence and that of fifteen other Muslim Brotherhood officials, ordered retrial on charge of espionage. Judge who tried Morsi in 2015 reportedly survived attempted killing 4 Nov. Govt 28 Nov appealed June court ruling that annulled transfer of two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia. Central Bank 3 Nov floated currency allowing devaluation against dollar fulfilling requirement for IMF bailout; IMF 11 Nov approved $12bn loan to govt.
Peace process continued to unravel. U.S. Sec State Kerry 31 Oct-1 Nov convened members of UN-backed Presidency Council (PC), Central Bank of Libya, Tripoli-based Audit Bureau and National Oil Corporation in London to pressure them to agree on new mechanisms to disburse funds to Govt of National Accord (GNA); parties agreed PM-designate Serraj would appoint finance minister to liaise with Central Bank. Serraj 13 Nov appointed Osama Saleh as finance minister and other deputy ministers without consulting eastern Tobruk-based House of Representatives (HoR). At follow-up conference in Rome 18 Nov same stakeholders agreed to increase oil production and sales, support dinar and prioritise public services in 2017 budget. Several Islamic State (IS) members 22 Nov reportedly surrendered to forces loyal to PC following clashes in Sirte that killed at least five soldiers. In east, two commanders in General Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) abducted and killed early Nov; GNA Defence Minister Al-Barghathi 6 Nov accused Haftar of orchestrating killings. LNA 17 Nov said it had taken control of Guwarsha district in Benghazi in east from Islamist-led militias. Car bombing outside hospital in Benghazi 21 Nov killed at least three. Serraj 15 Nov urged armed groups in Jufra in centre to refrain from launching offensive against Haftar’s LNA forces. Monkey belonging to ethnic Gaddadfa shopkeeper 17 Nov attacked girl in Sabha (south) sparking retaliation by Awlad Suleiman tribe and four-day clashes that killed at least sixteen.
Appeals court 18 Nov overturned convictions of three anti-slavery activists and reduced jail terms of ten others accused of rioting after forced eviction of ethnic Haratin, many of them former slaves, in Nouakchott.
Security forces 4 Nov arrested five suspected members of Islamic State-affiliated cell in Tétouan (north) allegedly planning attacks in country.
Islamic State (IS) claimed 5 Nov killing of soldier and 14 Nov landmine blast that wounded six soldiers in NW. Govt 8 Nov said security forces killed prominent figure of IS-linked group Jund al-Khilafa in central region. President Essebsi 7 Nov signed new national counter-terrorism strategy; 22 Nov said U.S. surveillance drones flying over Tunisian-Libyan border to ward off IS attacks. PM Chahed 4 Nov sacked religious affairs minister after latter said Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabism behind “terrorism and extremism”. First public hearings of victims of human rights violations under former Ben Ali regime (1987-2011) took place in Tunis 17-18 Nov, also televised.
Head of armed independence movement Polisario Front and President of self-proclaimed Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic Brahim Ghali reportedly cancelled 18-19 Nov trip to Spain after court there reopened case against him mid-Nov on charges of “genocide and crimes against humanity”.