The President's Take
In my second monthly column to accompany CrisisWatch, our unique conflict tracker, I look at how outside actors are now openly fighting not for Syria, but over it. I also note more bad news from Venezuela, and flag our upcoming report on how the outside world and regional governments can avert disaster there. Read more …
President & CEO
Yemen’s conflict escalated further, fuelling regional volatility and tensions. Following the launch by Huthi rebels of a ballistic missile at Saudi Arabia’s capital, Riyadh, Saudi forces increased airstrikes in Yemen and tightened their blockade. The missile strike came just after Saudi’s King Salman initiated mass arrests of senior figures on corruption charges. Egypt faced its worst terror attack and a hard-fisted response by security forces could lead to more bloodshed in December. In Africa, violence escalated in Cameroon’s Anglophone regions and Nigeria, while in Zimbabwe President Mugabe’s 37-year rule ended with a military coup. Sharply contested electoral results in Honduras triggered mass protests, while Cambodia’s opposition party was banned ahead of general elections next year. In a positive move, leaders from Moldova and its breakaway region Transdniestria made progress towards reaching a settlement.
In response to the Huthis’ foiled missile attack on Riyadh on 4 November, the Saudi-led coalition stepped up its bombing campaign in Yemen in areas controlled by Huthis and supporters of former President Saleh, including the capital Sanaa. Saudi Arabia blamed Iran and Lebanese militia Hizbollah for supporting the Yemeni rebels militarily. In a bid to stop alleged weapons shipments to the Huthis from Iran, Saudi temporarily closed all entry ports to Yemen. Tightening the blockade on Huthi/Saleh-controlled territories aggravated the already severe humanitarian crisis. Fighting between Huthis and pro-Saleh forces in Sanaa late month threatened further violence in December. As we have explained, Huthi rebels view their missile program as the best potential deterrent against Saudi-led coalition airstrikes and the best bargaining chip in future negotiations. While additional gains on the ground would be costly for all sides, absent the resumption of political talks, we should expect more missiles headed towards Riyadh and, sooner or later, a Saudi/U.S. response, whose target could be Yemen, Iran or Hizbollah.
The Huthi attack on Riyadh coincided with a major political upheaval inside Saudi Arabia, where some 200 senior political and business figures, including at least 38 former and current ministers and deputy ministers, were arrested for alleged corruption. Later in the month, neighbouring Egypt suffered its worst terror attack with jihadists killing more than 300 people in a North Sinai mosque. President Sisi’s demand that the military restore security in the region using “complete brutal violence” could lead to worse fighting between security forces and militants in December and more terror attacks.
In rapidly unfolding events in Zimbabwe, President Mugabe was ousted from power in a very peculiar coup and replaced by his long-standing ally, former Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa. Mugabe’s earlier expulsion of Mnangagwa from the ruling party ZANU-PF for “traits of disloyalty” was widely seen as an attempt to pave the way for his wife Grace to accede to the presidency, lifting the lid on growing discontent within the party and security forces.
In Nigeria, Boko Haram upped attacks in the north east causing a spike in civilian casualties and, as we had feared, tensions between mostly Fulani herders and farming communities worsened significantly. Frayed relations were strained by Benue state government’s new law banning unrestricted grazing and an attack by local vigilantes on herders’ settlements in Adamawa state that killed about 60 people, raising fears of reprisals. Cameroon’s year-long standoff between the government and minority Anglophones provoked worse violence in the western, English-speaking regions. Anglophone militants launched attacks on the military and police, killing at least ten. The government, meeting fire with fire, responded by raiding homes and issuing arrest warrants for secessionist leaders.
Sharply contested results from general elections in Honduras on 26 November triggered a crisis, as the Electoral Supreme Court postponed the final vote count and the left-wing opposition alliance candidate Salvador Nasralla, who had initially seemed on course to win, alleged fraud. Massive protests broke out in several parts of the country as it became apparent that the incumbent President Hernández would win by a small margin. At least one person was killed in clashes with police, amid fears that protests and violent clashes could continue in the coming days.
Cambodia’s Supreme Court dissolved the main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party on 16 November and banned more than a hundred of its members from politics for five years, ending party opposition to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party ahead of general elections scheduled next July.
The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe reported “substantial progress” in talks between leaders from Moldova and its breakaway region Transdniestria in Vienna on 27 November, aiming to find a settlement to end two and a half decades of stalemate. As well as solidifying recent agreements on issues including the reopening of a bridge linking the territories, the two sides committed to swiftly resolve remaining issues at the beginning of 2018.
Fourth round of Inter-Burundian dialogue began in Arusha, Tanzania 28 Nov, to continue till 8 Dec; govt sent representative but opposition coalition CNARED (National Council for the Respect of the Arusha Agreement, Restoration of the Rule of Law), to which govt refuses to talk, boycotted. After govt’s withdrawal from International Criminal Court (ICC) came into effect 27 Oct, ICC 9 Nov announced its decision to open investigation into crimes against humanity allegedly committed in Burundi between April 2015 and Oct 2017. ICC argued it has jurisdiction for crimes committed while Burundi was a member; govt rejected position. Presidents of Tanzania and Uganda condemned court’s move.
As standoff between govt and Anglophone minority persisted, violence increased significantly in Anglophone North West and South West regions. Anglophone militants carried out eight attacks against military and police during month, killing at least ten. In North West region, one gendarme killed in Jakiri and two more in regional capital, Bamenda 6-7 Nov; Dr Ayaba Cho Lucas, leader of putative Ambazonia Defence Force, 9 Nov claimed responsibility and later launched fundraising campaign to set up army for Anglophone regions. Unidentified assailants killed soldier near Nigerian border 9 Nov. In Bamenda, four bombings caused no casualties 14 Nov, and unidentified assailants shot dead policeman 19 Nov. In South West region, four soldiers killed in Aborkem 29 Nov and next day at least two policemen killed in Otu. Five schools in North West and one in South West region set on fire 31 Oct-30 Nov. In response to violence, security forces raided homes and seized weapons, killing at least two people. Govt issued arrest warrants for fifteen secessionist leaders 9 Nov. Main opposition party Social Democratic Front boycotted parliamentary session 14 Nov in protest against govt’s handling of Anglophone crisis and disturbed sessions 23-24 Nov and 29 Nov to call for dialogue on crisis. Opposition politicians and civil society in Bamenda 26 Nov called on govt to hold national dialogue, release prisoners and grant amnesty to Anglophones in exile. Boko Haram (BH) continued attacks in Far North: insurgents killed six people 2-5 Nov; killed four people, kidnapped six and burnt schools in Kerawa-Mafa, Talakachi, Igawa, Wawaride, Bornori and Vouzi 6-12 Nov. Suicide bombing killed four in Kolofata 20 Nov. BH attacked lorry on Maroua-Kousseri road and kidnapped three people 28 Nov. In two incidents Multinational Joint Task Force killed three BH 3 Nov and at least a dozen BH members surrendered during month. Cameroonian army captured senior fighter Abba Goroma.
Violence involving armed groups re-erupted in capital Bangui and continued in east, north and south. In Bangui, unidentified assailants threw grenade into crowd at peace concert 11 Nov killing four people; in response militias set up roadblocks and, in alleged retaliatory attacks, three Muslim motorbike drivers were killed. In east, anti-balaka militiamen attacked Mobaye, capital of Basse-Kotto province, held by ex-Seleka faction Union for Peace in the Central African Republic (UPC) 8 Nov, eleven combatants killed. In north, fighting continued early Nov between anti-balaka and ex-Seleka faction Central African Patriotic Movement (MPC) in Saragba and other villages near Batangafo, Ouham province, sixteen people reportedly killed since late-Oct. Unidentified assailants attacked International Committee of the Red Cross aid convoy killing driver east of Kaga Bandoro, Nana-Gribizi province 4 Nov. In south, anti-balaka killed UN peacekeeper 26 Nov in attack on convoy near Gambo. Ex-Seleka faction Popular Front for the Central African Renaissance (FPRC) 12 Nov withdrew from disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration process, suspended talks with govt and refused govt’s deployment of new préfets in northern provinces. Anti-balaka factions led by Maxime Mokhom and Edouard Patrice Ngaissona 5 Nov formed single movement called Self-defence Combatant Resistance Leaders. UN Security Council 15 Nov extended mandate of peacekeeping mission MINUSCA until Nov 2018 and increased its size by 900 military personnel, raising total to some 13,000 troops and police.
Some 2,000 people protested in capital N’Djamena 26 Nov against U.S. justice department’s accusations that President Déby involved in corruption. Judges mid-Nov ended three-week strike to demand election of High Council of the Judiciary and payment of allowances. Following arrest in Niger of three Chadian rebels early Oct, rebels’ lawyer 11 Nov said he would request protection for his clients from France, where two of them have refugee status.
Electoral commission (CENI) 5 Nov published electoral calendar scheduling national (presidential and legislative) and provincial polls for 23 Dec 2018, leading to swearing in of elected president in Jan 2019, over a year after deadline in 31 Dec 2016 agreement. Opposition and civil society unanimously rejected calendar. African Union 7 Nov, Catholic Church 24 Nov and UN Security Council 28 Nov insisted on ensuring no further postponements. Catholic Church 20 Nov published initial findings of voter registration assessment, identifying irregularities including double registration of voters, registration of minors, and registration in return for cash. Govt 20 Nov tabled in parliament amended electoral law; proposed draft stipulates that each constituency’s number of seats is to be based solely on number of registered voters, includes threshold percentage of votes party list must win in order to get any seats at national and provincial levels, and measure to restrict MPs leaving party to stand as independents or join other parties. Opposition coalition Rassemblement and civil society called for national strike, held on 15 Nov with limited adherence; protest-related violence reported in Goma in east and Lubumbashi in south east. Opposition staged additional protests in Beni, North Kivu 21 Nov and Kinshasa 28 Nov. Opposition’s call for protests went relatively unheeded in several cities 30 Nov, police dispersed protestors with tear gas and arrested two opposition leaders. Govt 20 Nov submitted for parliamentary approval 2018 budget of nearly $6bn, with 8.8% reserved for elections. On security front, situation remained volatile in Central Kasai, where voter registration continued. In North Kivu, presumed Allied Democratic Forces militia clashed with military throughout month mostly east and north east of Beni; other armed group activity reported in Lubero, Masisi and Rutshuru territories. In South Kivu, govt forces fought with Mai Mai-Yakutumba coalition for control of Kilembwe, Fizi territory 19-20 Nov, at least one killed; army 28 Nov regained control of Kilembwe.
Govt mid-Nov released from prison figures close to armed opposition leader Pasteur Ntumi including his spokesperson and Jean-Gustave Ntondo, sec gen of National Council of Republicans, Ntumi’s party, after being detained for several months.
Police reportedly dispersed crowd staging rare anti-govt protest in capital, Asmara, 31 Oct after Islamic school chairman arrested for opposing govt’s demands that school ban hijab and stop religious education; gunfire reported in several locations, activists said police killed 28 people and wounded 100, denied by govt. Authorities reportedly blocked internet in country following unrest and allegedly arrested hundreds of students in connection to protest.
Govt 25 Nov said it had arrested 103 people, mostly from Oromia state, in connection with recent violence between ethnic Oromo and Somalis along border of their ethnically-based states. State broadcaster 27 Nov reported over twenty people killed in renewed clashes between Oromo and Somalis in disputed border areas late Nov.
Opposition continued to reject President Kenyatta’s victory in presidential election re-run 26 Oct. Police 17 Nov fired on crowd cheering opposition leader Raila Odinga, five killed; rights groups condemned use of live ammunition. Supreme Court 20 Nov upheld re-run result, unanimously rejecting two petitions presented by opposition activists challenging vote. Kenyatta sworn in as president for second term 28 Nov. Odinga same day said he would be sworn in as president 12 Dec in parallel to official celebrations marking Independence Day.
Reports of mounting fighting between govt forces and Al-Shabaab in Middle and Lower Shabelle regions raised concerns of growing humanitarian impact; UN 23 Nov reported over 10,000 people newly displaced in those regions in Nov. U.S. significantly increased airstrikes against Al-Shabaab citing improved intelligence, conducting at least eight strikes in month including 21 Nov strike which killed over 100 militants in Bay region, 200km north west of capital Mogadishu. U.S. airstrikes also hit Islamic State (ISIS) targets in Somalia for first time 3, 12 and 27 Nov. African Union mission (AMISOM) head 7 Nov said 1,000 troops out of some 22,000 total would withdraw by end of 2017 in planned drawdown. Amid ongoing Gulf dispute with Qatar, President Farmajo late Nov visited United Arab Emirates in apparent attempt to align federal govt with Somali regional states, which support Saudi-led bloc.
Following presidential elections 13 Nov, Muse Bihi Abdi of ruling party Kulmiye declared winner 21 Nov with 55.1% of vote, beating nearest challenger Abdirahman Irro of main opposition party Waddani who gained 40.7%. Waddani’s claims of electoral fraud 16 Nov triggered clashes between opposition supporters and police in opposition strongholds, particularly Burco, at least five people killed. Irro accepted result 21 Nov but described it as “concocted”. Supreme Court 29 Nov upheld poll result.
Former army chief of staff General Paul Malong placed under house arrest 1 Nov; armed standoff between govt forces and his bodyguards continued until, following mediation by elders, he flew to Kenya 20 Nov. Armed members of Murle ethnic group reportedly killed eight people in attack on Dinka village in Jonglei region in east 27 Nov; next day attacked another Dinka village, reportedly killing 43 people. President Kiir met Sudanese President Bashir in Khartoum 1 Nov and made new oil and border security agreements. Horn of Africa grouping Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) continued consultations in preparation for peace process revitalisation forum, IGAD Council of Ministers to meet 14 Dec to set agenda. EU, forum’s main funder, 7 Nov threatened sanctions against any party blocking it. Little progress made in talks aimed at reunifying ruling party Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) held mid-Nov in Ugandan capital, Kampala, and Egyptian capital, Cairo. UN Security Council 15 Nov renewed mandate of peacekeeping force in Abyei (UNISFA) on border with Sudan, established new benchmarks for progress.
Govt and U.S. continued taking steps toward greater cooperation after Oct partial lifting of sanctions: U.S. Deputy Sec State Sullivan in Khartoum mid-Nov reportedly set out new roadmap for engagement; U.S. welcomed govt’s renewed commitment to sever ties with North Korea. Tensions between militias in Darfur increased throughout month after govt-backed Rapid Support Forces (RSF) late Oct forced Musa Hilal’s Border Guards from lucrative Jebel Amir mining district as part of govt disarmament campaign. Following heavy clashes between RSF and Border Guards, Hilal captured in Mistariah, North Darfur 27 Nov and taken to Khartoum.
Sudanese President Bashir mid-Nov made two-day visit to Uganda, despite International Criminal Court indictment requiring Uganda as signatory to Rome Statute to arrest him.
President Lourenço, elected in Aug, continued purge of top officials: 15 Nov sacked board of state oil company including its chair Isabel dos Santos, daughter of former President dos Santos, and 20 Nov replaced heads of police and intelligence.
Regional bloc Southern African Development Community early Nov reduced planned size of “contingency force” for Lesotho from 1,200 to 258 troops due to “budget constraints”; force intended to maintain stability following killing of army chief in Sept. After delays, force reportedly began deploying to Lesotho 25 Nov.
President Mugabe ousted in military coup 15 Nov and replaced by former VP Mnangagwa. Mugabe early Nov expelled from ruling party ZANU-PF senior officials, including Mnangagwa for “traits of disloyalty”, widely seen as attempt to pave way for wife Grace Mugabe to accede to presidency. After his expulsion, Mnangagwa 8 Nov said he had fled to South Africa due to death threats. Army chief Constantino Chiwenga 13 Nov condemned Mnangagwa’s removal and indicated military would step in if sackings did not stop. After tanks seen moving toward capital Harare 14 Nov, army units seized city 15 Nov in operation which army spokesman said in televised address targeted “criminals” around president; South African President Zuma same day said Mugabe was “confined to his home”. Influential War Veterans Association 18 Nov held anti-Mugabe rally in Harare and protesters demanded his resignation. ZANU-PF Central Committee 19 Nov replaced Mugabe with Mnangagwa as party leader, expelled Grace Mugabe and twenty senior members, and gave Mugabe till noon on 20 Nov to resign from presidency or face impeachment. Later that day Mugabe said he would preside over next ZANU-PF congress in Dec. During impeachment proceedings 21 Nov Mugabe resigned as president, reportedly in return for multi-million dollar pay-off and immunity. Mnangagwa sworn in as president 24 Nov promising reforms, protection of property rights and foreign investments, and compensation for dispossessed farmers. He was silent on electoral reform, but pledged to hold elections next year as planned. High Court same day ruled military intervention “constitutionally permissible” and annulled Mnangagwa’s sacking. Court 25 Nov charged with corruption Finance Minister Ignatius Chombo, initially detained 15 Nov and reportedly hospitalised 24 Nov after a week held incommunicado in military custody. Having been withdrawn by army, police 27 Nov resumed work in joint patrols with army. Mnangagwa 28 Nov announced three-month amnesty for return of public funds “illegally” held abroad.
Insecurity remained high in north. Security forces clashed with alleged members of jihadist group Ansarul Islam near Ariel, Soum province 9 Nov, army said it killed some ten jihadists. Unidentified gunmen killed six people including local official in Taouremba, Soum province 17 Nov and same day abducted two people close to village chief in Ariel and told villagers to leave within five days. In night 26-27 Nov, unidentified assailants killed local official in Baraboulé and teacher in Kain, both Soum province near Mali border. Joint force of Sahel G5 countries (Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad, Mauritania) conducted first operation in Burkina-Mali-Niger border area 27 Oct-11 Nov involving troops from three host countries. Constitutional committee 14 Nov handed over to President Kaboré draft constitution providing for semi-presidential regime, two-term presidential term limit and greater powers for parliament. Grenade attack on French troops in capital Ouagadougou wounded three civilians 27 Nov, day before visit by French President Macron.
President Ouattara and Assembly Speaker Guillaume Soro met 3 Nov in bid to ease tension between them; security services’ note leaked early Nov recommending that three men close to Soro be put under surveillance. Ethnic conflict over land persisted in west near Guiglo between local Wê people and, on other side, ethnic Baoulé and people from Burkina Faso: two youth leaders killed early Nov, govt 16 Nov said it would send 1,000 more security forces to area and expel illegal farmers. AU-EU summit held in Abidjan 29-30 Nov.
Twelve soldiers arrested between July and Nov charged with treason 17 Nov in court martial, military said soldiers had been talking about overthrowing President Barrow.
Artisanal miners reportedly clashed in Guinea-Mali border area 27 Nov leaving at least six dead.
Several thousand supporters of opposition coalition demonstrated in capital Bissau 16-17 Nov to demand implementation of Oct 2016 Conakry agreement and resignation of President Vaz, clashes with security forces left several injured.
After third-placed opposition Liberty Party claimed 10 Oct first-round presidential election was marred by irregularities, election commission 24 Nov rejected fraud allegations, saying irregularities did not alter result. Liberty Party 26 Nov said it would take its complaint to Supreme Court, potentially further delaying run-off vote initially scheduled for early Nov.
Ceasefire held in north between rebel Coalition of Azawad Movements (CMA) and pro-national unity Platform coalition initiated in Sept, but attacks on national and international forces continued in north and centre. Major attacks included: in north, unidentified gunmen 3 Nov attacked two army positions in Gao region, two assailants and six soldiers killed; one soldier killed when his vehicle triggered bomb in Timbuktu region 6 Nov. Jihadist coalition Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (GSIM) 8 Nov claimed recent attacks on UN mission (MINUSMA) in Timbuktu region in north and Mopti region in centre. Unidentified gunmen 9 Nov ambushed MINUSMA convoy in Mopti region, killing two peacekeepers. Attack claimed by GSIM on MINUSMA-army joint patrol in Indelimane, Ménaka region 24 Nov left three peacekeepers and one soldier dead. Another peacekeeper killed in attack near Douentza same day. UN said three MINUSMA camps in Aguelhok, Tessalit and Kidal cities in north came under rocket and mortar attack 28 Nov, no reported casualties. GSIM said French airstrike late Oct killed three jihadists and eleven Malian soldiers it had taken hostage; French officials said “hostages” had turned jihadist. Joint force of G5 Sahel countries (Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mauritania) deployed first mission “Hawbi” 27 Oct-11 Nov in Mali-Niger-Burkina border area between Ansongo (Mali) and Diori (Burkina Faso) involving troops from three host countries; mission 7 Nov arrested officer of rebel group National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (CMA coalition member) and seven other CMA gunmen near Tessit, Ansongo; 12 Nov released all eight men after CMA condemned “arbitrary arrest”. Govt 27 Nov said it would postpone regional elections due 17 Dec until April 2018 citing insecurity. Artisanal miners reportedly clashed in Guinea-Mali border area 27 Nov leaving at least six dead.
Joint force of Sahel G5 countries (Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad, Mauritania) conducted first operation in Burkina-Mali-Niger border area 27 Oct-11 Nov involving troops from three host countries. Govt 6 Nov said it would allow U.S. to use drones to conduct strikes on suspected militants. After protests against planned 2018 budget led to clashes between protestors and police 29 Oct, three leaders of civil society collective that organised protests faced sentences of five years in prison mid-Nov, charges dropped 24 Nov.
Boko Haram (BH) increased attacks in north east as herder-farmer tensions rose. In Borno state in north east, BH suicide bombings on outskirts of state capital Maiduguri and on displaced persons’ camp in Dikwa 7-18 Nov killed at least 33 people including thirteen bombers, most female. In Adamawa state, suicide bombing on mosque at Mubi killed about 60 people 21 Nov. BH 4 Nov attacked Ngoshe village, Borno state, killing one, kidnapping ten; govt troops 6 Nov repelled BH attack on Bakin Dutse village, Adamawa state, two killed including soldier; army 12 Nov said it had “neutralised” scores of insurgents while clearing hideouts in Sambisa forest, three soldiers also killed; BH fighters 15 Nov attacked Sabon Gari and Kafin Hausa villages, Adamawa state, killing livestock, looting and burning houses; 25 Nov attacked Magumeri town, Borno state, killed at least three soldiers. Tensions between mostly Fulani herders and farming communities rose significantly: law banning unrestricted cattle grazing took effect in Benue state 1 Nov prompting flight of many herders to neighbouring Nasarawa and Cross River states. Suspected herders in military uniforms 7 Nov killed eleven villagers in Rim, Plateau state; ethnic Bachama vigilantes attacked herders’ settlements near Numan, Adamawa state 20 Nov, killed 56, mostly women and children. In Niger Delta, three militant groups 16 Nov said they would resume attacks on oil and gas facilities in Akwa Ibom and Cross River states, demanding return of oil blocks allocated to northerners and Yoruba to indigenes of those two states; in Omoku, Rivers state, security operatives killed six militants 19 Nov and local vigilantes killed ten militants 23 Nov. President Buhari 14-15 Nov paid first-ever visit to Ebonyi and Anambra states in Igbo in south east, promised to address region’s demands for infrastructure development.
Protests against rule of President Gnassingbé continued 7-9 and 16-18 Nov in capital Lomé and other major cities, protestors clashed with security forces less frequently than previous two months. Govt 4 Nov lifted ban on weekday protests, introduced 10 Oct. Govt 6 Nov said it would release 42 people arrested for involvement in protests. Delegation from Ghana 14 Nov met with opposition in Lomé to mediate crisis, but did not prevent opposition marches. Gnassingbé 20 Nov said dialogue with opposition could take place “in a few weeks”.
Amnesty International 14 Nov reported that authorities in Xinjiang have detained up to 30 relatives of exiled Uighur leader Rebiya in recent months.
On sidelines of APEC Leaders’ Meeting in Vietnam 11 Nov, Japanese PM Abe and Chinese President Xi agreed to work more closely on North Korea and to hold trilateral summit with South Korea at earliest possible date; also agreed to speed up talks over communication mechanism between their militaries. Abe also met Chinese Premier Li Keqiang 13 Nov in Manila; both urged development of “strategic, mutually beneficial relationship”. During visit to Japan 5-7 Nov as part of Asia tour, U.S. President Trump said Japan had agreed to “massive” defence purchases from U.S., and Abe said Japan will deploy F-35A Lighting Joint Strike Fighter jets and Aegis Ashore missile defence system. U.S. media 31 Oct reported arrival of first two of twelve U.S. Air Force F-35s for six-month tour in Japan; Japanese, Indian and U.S. navies early Nov conducted three-day joint exercise in Sea of Japan. Abe 31 Oct met NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg; both expressed concern about situation in East China and South China seas, and reaffirmed opposition to unilateral action.
North Korea 29 Nov said it had fired new Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), its first ICBM test since Hwasong-14 launches in July, and first missile test since Sept; missile reportedly reached 4,500km altitude, highest of any previous missile, before landing 1,000km from launch site in Sea of Japan; experts say this suggests it could hit most mainland U.S. targets. Pyongyang said missile can carry “super-large heavy warhead” and marks “completion” of its rocket development program. In response, South Korea fired several missiles into sea; UN Security Council convened emergency meeting; U.S. President Trump threatened major sanctions. China and South Korea 31 Oct normalised bilateral relations after year of Chinese pressure over installation of U.S. THAAD missile system in South Korean territory; later agreed South Korean President Moon to visit China mid-Dec. U.S. President Trump held summit with South Korean president and addressed parliament during visit to Seoul 7-8 Nov. On sidelines of APEC Leaders’ Meeting in Vietnam, Japanese PM Abe and Chinese President Xi 11 Nov agreed to work more closely on North Korea and to hold trilateral summit at earliest possible date. During visit by senior Chinese official to Pyongyang 17-19 Nov, China and North Korea reiterated commitment to continue developing bilateral relations. U.S. 20 Nov relisted North Korea as state sponsor of terrorism, having removed it in 2008 as part of incentives linked to Six-Party Talks process; announcing decision, Trump accused Pyongyang of “assassinations on foreign soil” and Treasury sanctioned a number of Chinese companies for trading with Pyongyang. In phone call with Trump 29 Nov, Chinese President Xi reiterated desire for diplomatic resolution to crisis. U.S. and Chinese generals held low-profile talks in Washington 29 Nov on how to communicate in crisis situations. During trip to U.S. late-Oct-early Nov, high ranking North Korean defector Thae Yong-ho advocated policy of maximum pressure but also urged engagement and clearer messaging with DPRK; also noted that Kim Jong-un’s legitimacy rests on completion of nuclear deterrent, which precludes denuclearisation.
Chinese court 28 Nov sentenced Taiwanese human rights activist Li Ming-che to five years’ prison for subversion; Taipei called verdict “unacceptable”, said it “severely damaged cross-strait relations”. During visit to China by U.S. President Trump, Chinese President Xi 9 Nov told Trump that Taiwan is “most important, most sensitive core issue in China-U.S. relations”; Trump reportedly reiterated U.S. commitment to “one China” policy. President Tsai 29 Oct said Taiwan will increase its defence budget by 2% each year, which would take defence spending to 3% of GDP in 2018. Panama 16 Nov opened first embassy in China, five months after cutting ties with Taiwan.
With end of fighting season, month saw reduced fighting across country, with few major Taliban attacks, but increased Islamic State-Khorasan Province (IS-KP)-related casualties. Taliban 13-14 Nov attacked military positions in Kandahar (south) and Farah (west) provinces, killing scores. In Kabul, IS-KP suicide bombers 7 Nov stormed television station, killing at least two, and 16 Nov attacked gathering of Jamiat-e Islami supporters in north of city, killing fourteen, mostly police. IS-KP also expanded control in Nangarhar (east), Laghman (east) and Jawzjan (north) provinces disputed with Taliban during month, despite continued U.S. strikes on IS-KP positions. Local sources said U.S. airstrikes 3 Nov killed dozens of civilians in Kunduz’s Chardara district in north; U.S. military rejected reports, but UN mission (UNAMA) confirmed death of at least ten civilians. During visit to Afghanistan late Oct, U.S. Sec State Rex Tillerson pledged U.S. support to fight Taliban. Taliban and independent Afghan politicians postponed meeting scheduled early Nov in Dubai, after United Arab Emirates denied visas. Pakistan 13 Nov said Pakistani militants hiding in Afghanistan crossed border to attack army post in Pakistan’s Bajaur Agency, killing two soldiers; 15 Nov said it fired over 500 missiles into eastern Kunar province in retaliation, killing at least one civilian, displacing hundreds. Pakistan 14 Nov summoned Afghan ambassador in Islamabad and pressed govt to take action against Pakistani militants in Afghanistan, saying NATO and Afghan authorities should “do more” to eliminate terrorist sanctuaries; U.S. General Joseph Votel 16 Nov urged Islamabad to act against militant groups in Pakistan. President Ghani 15 Nov fired head of Independent Election Commission, criticised for being “incompetent” and “politicised”. Opposition accused govt of failing to deliver on promises, said govt unwilling to hold free and fair elections in 2018 (legislative) and 2019 (presidential). UN 15 Nov reported opium production increased by 87% from 2016, due in part to insecurity and increasing corruption. Long-awaited agreement signed in Turkmen capital Ashgabat 15 Nov to connect Afghanistan to Europe by road, rail and sea through Turkmenistan (see Turkmenistan).
Rohingya crisis continued to dominate, with more refugees entering Bangladesh from Myanmar including reported 1,500 in one day on 11 Nov; UN reported 624,000 arrivals between 25 Aug and 25 Nov. As Bangladesh continued call for international assistance to help deal with influx and resolve crisis, Myanmar govt 1 Nov claimed Bangladesh was delaying return of Rohingya to benefit from international aid. Govt 23 Nov signed deal with Myanmar stating repatriation should start within two months; observers criticised deal for lacking clear provisions. Foreign Minister Hassan Mahmood Ali 25 Nov said UN refugee agency will assist with returns under agreement, which he reportedly said would involve moving Rohingya from camps in Bangladesh to camps in Myanmar because their homes had been destroyed. Pope Francis visited Myanmar and Bangladesh 27 Nov-2 Dec (see Myanmar). Tensions between ruling Awami League (AL) and opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) remained high. BNP chief Khaleda Zia 12 Nov said party would only contest 2019 general election if conducted by non-partisan caretaker govt; ruling AL insists it will remain in office, in line with constitution. Amid tensions between executive and judiciary, Supreme Court Chief Justice Surendra Kumar Sinha resigned 11 Nov, reportedly under pressure from govt. Police 5 Nov arrested member of Ansarul Islam (affiliated with al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent) for Feb 2015 murder of secular blogger Avijit Roy; detainee said Roy’s murder was ordered by dismissed army Major Syed Ziaul Haque, group’s suspected military chief, and involved eight operatives. Police 19 Nov arrested another militant suspected in killing. In north, mob 10 Nov torched at least 30 Hindu homes in village in Rangpur (north) over alleged Facebook post “demeaning Islam”; police killed one person while dispersing mob with rubber bullets and tear gas.
Police 1 Nov reported four militants killed previous day in Kuti district, Jharkhand state. In Chhattisgarh state, police early Nov launched operation in multiple districts against Maoists: 8 Nov said they had recovered bodies of six militants in Narayanpur district; 12 Nov killed three Maoist militants in Bijapur district; one policeman killed by bomb in Sukma district 19 Nov. Several Maoist attacks reported late Nov in Dhanora Tahsil area of Gadchiroli district, Maharashtra state: insurgents 21 and 22 Nov killed three alleged police informers; Maoist bomb 24 Nov killed one policeman and injured another in Gadchiroli district; insurgent attack 26 Nov in Gadchiroli killed one policeman.
India reported numerous clashes with militants throughout month, including: 5 Nov Indian military reportedly killed two militants trying to infiltrate across Line of Control (LoC); 17 Nov clash killed one Indian policeman and one reported Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT) militant; 18 Nov military operation reportedly killed six LeT militants; 21 Nov Indian military reportedly killed three LeT militants; 22 Nov clash killed one army trooper and one militant. Five suspected militants and three civilians reported killed in two separate clashes 30 Nov; at least three protestors injured in clashes with security forces in subsequent protests. Indian police 7 Nov also killed Talha Rasheed in Pulwama district, nephew of Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar. Sporadic firing continued across LoC; both sides alleged ceasefire violations. Pakistan army 27 Oct claimed it shot down Indian drone on LoC; Pakistan govt same day protested sale of U.S. unarmed surveillance drones to India agreed in June. Pakistan PM Abbasi 10 Nov approved funds to build bunkers for civilians living alongside LoC; India also began building civilian bunkers. Indian and Pakistani officials early Nov agreed to resume travel and trade across Line of Control (LoC) after nearly four months. Pakistan Punjab Rangers delegation 10 Nov concluded biannual talks with India’s Border Security Force in New Delhi; both sides agreed on “need to revive the spirit of the 2003 ceasefire agreement”.
First phase of federal and provincial elections held across 32 districts 26 Nov marking first parliamentary polls since 1999 (previous two were to Constituent Assembly) and first elections under new federal state structure; voters electing representatives to seven provincial assemblies. All results to be announced after second phase on 7 Dec across remaining 43 districts. Pre-electoral period was marred by some violence, mostly IED attacks on election officials and candidates, including senior figures of ruling Nepali Congress (NC) and CPN (Maoist Center) in various districts. Attacks attributed to breakaway Maoist party led by Netra Bikram Chand; several cadres arrested late Nov; Nepal police claimed insufficient funds and personnel to manage electoral preparations; Nepal army began conducting aerial and ground patrols in response to attacks. NC and opposition UML-led leftist alliance cadres clashed in several districts prior to polls, further complicating security situation. Parties criticised for not meeting constitutional requirement to field 33% women candidates; Supreme Court 21 Nov summoned NC, UML, and CPN (Maoist Center) on issue. Chief Election Commissioner Ayodhee Prasad Yadav criticised international electoral observers, claimed they were not needed to certify polls following 24 Nov decision to bar two EU representatives for violating election code of conduct.
Some 3,000 Islamists led by new radical Barelvi party Tehreek-i-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah early Nov occupied bridge on Islamabad-Rawalpindi road, creating political and law and order crisis ahead of 2018 general elections. Sit-in demanded removal of law minister for his recent amendment to declaration required by electoral candidates. Protestors said change weakened part of declaration referencing finality of Prophet Muhammad and claimed it was made to appease minority Ahmadi sect. Parliament reversed change, describing it as “clerical error”, however blockade continued. Security forces 25 Nov attempted to clear protestors; six people reported killed and some 200 wounded in clashes. Protesters dispersed 27 Nov after reaching military-brokered deal with govt: law minister resigned and protestors were reportedly financially compensated. In Karachi, some leaders of Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) and rival Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP) 8 Nov announced plan to contest 2018 election as “one party”, though alliance collapsed almost immediately amid mutual criticism; both sides claimed merger resulted from military pressure. Members of defunct Islamist alliance Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) 9 Nov agreed in principle to revive coalition for elections, reportedly with military’s encouragement; hardline Islamist party Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Sami (JUI-S) and Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) 19 Nov launched joint electoral strategy. Conflict continued in Balochistan: suicide bombing claimed by Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) killed Quetta deputy police inspector general and two others 9 Nov; unidentified assailants 15 Nov killed acting Quetta police chief and family members. Bodies of fifteen non-Baloch labourers discovered near Iranian border 15 Nov, and another five found 18 Nov; military 17 Nov said it had killed senior commander of Balochistan Liberation Front (BLF), which it accuses of involvement in murders. Media 15 Nov reported prominent former TTP leader and tribal elders had formed “peace committee” in South Waziristan agency to run its affairs. Accountability court 15 Nov began hearings in three corruption cases against former PM Sharif and family members. Court 24 Nov released LeT leader Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, alleged mastermind behind 2008 Mumbai attacks, from house arrest.
Coalition govt faced major economic and human rights challenges during month. Associated Press 8 Nov reported over 50 recent cases of Tamil men abducted and tortured by military, some subject to sexual violence, on suspicion of involvement with Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE); most serious such allegation since 2015 change of govt. UN human rights chief said his office would investigate; senior foreign ministry official said incidents would be investigated and prosecuted. At 28th session of Universal Periodic Review at UN Human Rights Council in Geneva 15 Nov, Sri Lankan delegation renewed commitment to human rights including resolution to set up mechanisms to investigate wartime atrocities; accepted 177 of 230 recommendations but refused to repeal Prevention of Terrorism Act. Parliament 4-5 Nov debated draft of new constitution; parties divided on critical issues including power sharing. Suresh Premachandran of Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front, coalition member of Tamil National Alliance (TNA), 12 Nov left to form new political front with two other northern Tamil political groups; move follows increasing frustration in north over TNA’s engagement with govt. Fuel crisis early Nov prompted further criticism of govt on economic front. Finance minister 9 November presented new budget including chapter on reconciliation committing funds to conflict affected areas and for new Office of Mission Persons. Authorities 17 Nov deployed security forces and imposed curfew after Buddhist-Muslim violence in Gintota, southern Galle district; at least six injured, over 60 properties damaged, nineteen people arrested. PM Wickremasinge 20 Nov voluntarily appeared before Presidential Commission investigating irregularities in treasury bond sales at Central Bank.
Supreme Court 16 Nov dissolved opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) and banned more than 100 CNRP members from politics for five years, ending party opposition to PM Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) ahead of general election scheduled for July 2018. CPP-led govt filed suit in Oct alleging that CNRP attempted to overthrow govt in U.S.-backed plot. EU 16 Nov announced it will review Cambodia’s eligibility for preferential trade access under its “everything-but-arms” scheme; U.S. Senate unanimously passed resolution calling on Treasury and State departments to consider targeted sanctions on senior Cambodian officials. White House issued statement saying: “On current course, next year’s election will not be legitimate, free or fair” and announced end to U.S. support for Cambodian National Election Committee. Beijing 17 Nov said China supported Cambodia as it pursues its own development path. Interior ministry 20 Nov confirmed that some civil society groups and their members are being monitored. Hun Sen warned that Cambodian Center for Human Rights, founded by jailed former CNRP President Kem Sokha, should be closed down for “following foreigners”.
Philippine police 1 Nov arrested Muhammad Ilham Shaputra, Indonesian suspected to be among Islamic State (ISIS)-influenced militants who seized control of parts of Marawi City in May. Authorities 13 Nov arrested alleged terrorist suspected of planning to join ISIS in Marawi. Indonesian and Singaporean militaries 28 Nov conducted counter-terrorism table-top exercise to respond to scenarios such as bomb threats and gun attacks in public places.
Amid concerns about radicalisation of Malaysians in Syria and return to Malaysia, police 1 Nov reported 53 suspected Malaysian members of Islamic State (ISIS) hiding in no-man’s land in Syria following fall of Raqqa, including Mohd Rafi Udin, senior Malaysian ISIS leader in Syria. Counter-terrorism chief 22 Nov reported death of Mahmud Ahmad, said to have helped to fund and recruit for Marawi City siege in Philippines, are not confirmed. Authorities increased security along Thai border after some 20 Chinese Uighur Muslims broke out of immigration detention centre in southern Thailand 20 Nov. South East Asian countries and Australia 22 Nov established South East Asia Counter Terrorism Financing Working Group, targeting terrorist groups through disruption of regional financing flows.
Govt continued to resist concessions on key issues of international concern over Rohingya crisis, including humanitarian access, despite UN Security Council scrutiny and diplomatic pressure exerted at regional summits and Asia-Europe foreign ministers’ meeting in Naypyitaw 20-21 Nov. UN Security Council 6 Nov agreed Presidential Statement strongly condemning violence and displacement and expressing alarm at humanitarian situation; Myanmar representative rejected statement. UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict Pramila Patten 22 Nov said alleged atrocities by military against Rohingya women and girls may constitute war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. U.S. Sec State Tillerson 22 Nov called military operation against Rohingya “ethnic cleansing”, said U.S. will pursue possible targeted sanctions against individuals responsible. IOM 25 Nov estimated number of arrivals in Bangladesh since 25 Aug at 624,000. Myanmar and Bangladesh 23 Nov signed repatriation agreement; rights groups criticised deal for lacking clear provisions, and any repatriation is likely a distant prospect. Govt continues to rule out involvement of UN refugee agency in repatriation. Suu Kyi 2 Nov made her first trip to Rakhine state since taking power, meeting Rakhine and Rohingya communities. Military 13 Nov released results of internal investigation into its conduct during “clearance operations” in northern Rakhine since 25 Aug: denied allegations of rape, killing by soldiers, stated “not a single shot was fired” on civilians. Tens of thousands marched through Yangon 29 Oct in support of military. Sermon delivered by prominent monk Sitagu to military officers in Kayin state 30 Oct, in which he appeared to provide religious justification for mass killing of non-Buddhists, prompted considerable alarm internationally and by some in Myanmar in subsequent days. Pope Francis made first-ever papal visit to Myanmar 27-30 Nov meeting govt, military leaders, gave Mass for 150,000 from Catholic community; spoke of need for unity and respect for all, but did not refer directly to Rakhine crisis or use word “Rohingya”. Some 330 people reportedly fled fighting between military, Arakan Army in Paletwa, southern Chin state since 1 Nov.
Senate president 6 Nov filed Senate Bill 1608, a version of Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) different from that drafted by Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC). Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) panel chair Mohagher Iqbal described senate bill as “between a CAB [Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro]-compliant BBL and the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao law”. BTC, with support from MILF and Moro National Liberation Front Chairman Yusoph Jikiri, conducted Bangsamoro Assembly in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao 27 Nov; President Duterte pledged to address historical injustices suffered by the Bangsamoro and suggested special session in Congress to discuss BBL and other proposals. Despite Oct retaking of Marawi City and death of militant leaders including Isnilon Hapilon, authorities remained on high alert for possible attacks. Six soldiers killed 8 Nov in clash with Abu Sayyaf militants in Sumisip town, but MILF said it was a “misencounter” between soldiers and MILF fighters. Amid concerns about recruitment by remaining Islamic State (ISIS)-influenced groups, police 10 Nov arrested three Abu Sayyaf members suspected of planning to attack mid-Nov ASEAN summit in Manila. Police 6 Nov declared top Malaysian terrorist Sabahan Mohammad Amin Baco has succeeded Hapilon as ISIS regional leader, however military said Baco was killed during Marawi siege. Military 15 Nov launched airstrikes and ground operations against ISIS-linked Toraife faction of Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in Datu Unsay and Shariff Aguak. Airstrikes in both Maguindanao and North Cotabato provinces forced some 5,000 to flee. Amnesty International report 17 Nov said widespread rights abuses and war crimes committed by both Maute fighters and govt forces during Marawi siege. President Duterte 23 Nov signed proclamation ending peace talks with Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), National Democratic Front (NDF) and New People’s Army (NPA), which broke down in May, and called NPA a terrorist group; Duterte next day asked for rebels who were freed earlier in year when talks restarted to surrender. Military 28 Nov killed fourteen NPA rebels in Batangas, follow-up to 20 Nov operation that seized NPA base.
During Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders’ meeting in Vietnam, U.S. President Trump 10 Nov called China’s actions in South China Sea (SCS) “provocative”; tone contrasted to Trump’s remarks during state visit to China 8-9 Nov. Ahead of Trump’s China visit, Beijing said SCS not an issue between China and U.S., latter should not cause problems. Trump 12 Nov met Vietnamese President Quang in Hanoi and offered to mediate SCS disputes; offer received lukewarm response. Following meeting, U.S. and Vietnam announced $12bn in business deals and conclusion of three-year defence cooperation pact, which includes increased bilateral naval cooperation. Following 12 Nov state visit to Vietnam by President Xi, China and Vietnam jointly said they had “unanimously agreed” to play down tensions, maintain stability and implement the 2002 Declaration of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea; also signed twelve cooperation pacts. Philippines 7 Nov announced it was upgrading military facilities on disputed Thitu (Pag-asa) Island, but halted construction 9 Nov after reported standoff between Philippine and Chinese vessels. After meeting Chinese President Xi at APEC summit, Philippine President Duterte 12 Nov struck conciliatory tone and said two countries must remain “friends”, despite taking harder line on SCS militarisation early Nov. At East Asia Summit in Philippine capital Manila, Chinese Premier Li and ASEAN leaders 13 Nov agreed to begin negotiating text of Code of Conduct (CoC) in SCS, based on framework agreed in Aug; U.S. joint statement with Vietnam 13 Nov called for CoC to be legally binding. China 4 Nov launched Asia’s largest dredging vessel in SCS, raising concerns among claimant states. China 23 Nov said it had flown several planes over SCS during drills, and over two channels north-east and south of Taiwan.
Amid growing demand from politicians and others for end to ban on political activity and impatience with military rule, junta stepped up surveillance of regime opponents and granted greater authority to military-dominated Internal Security Operations Command. PM Prayuth Chan-ocha 8 Nov posed six questions to public, with answers to be collected by govt; questions allude to whether “same old political parties” will lead to reform, suggest politicians distorting information to discredit military govt. Defence minister mid-Nov ordered police and intelligence officers to monitor “high-risk political elements”. PM Prayuth 22 Nov exercised his sweeping authority under Article 44 to amend security law governing Internal Security Operations Command, giving it greater authority at provincial level, including power to second officials from other govt agencies. Several academics and politicians decried move as further political repression. Freedom House NGO 15 Nov branded Thailand’s internet as “not free”, ranking it among lowest in region. Month saw several incidents of violence in southern insurgency, including on 8 Nov joint police and military team killed two insurgents in shootout and arrested third in Pattani’s Sai Buri district. Border Patrol Police officer killed by IED 21 Nov in Bannang Satar district; authorities believe bombing was in retaliation for 8 Nov killing of two insurgents. No developments in the peace-dialogue process; PM led mobile cabinet meeting in Songkhla and Pattani 27-28 Nov. Protesters opposed to proposed coal-power plant in Thepa, Songkhla, scuffled with police while trying to deliver letter to Prayuth 27 Nov; sixteen arrested.
Violence broke out as govt 9 Nov began dismantling Australian detention centre on Manus Island, and attempted to remove some 600 asylums seekers who refused to be transferred to other centres after its 31 Oct closure; Supreme Court had declared centre, part of migration deal with Australia whereby PNG intercepts boats attempting to reach Australia for cash, illegal in April ruling. Detainees cited fears of violent reprisals from local population and remained in camp despite water, electricity and food supply cut-off. PM O’Neill 8 Nov said govt will apprehend those “causing unnecessary anxiety and violence”. Police 24 Nov forcibly evicted remaining 450 asylum seekers, ending standoff; use of force widely sparked outcry in Australia and internationally, and UN said violence “both shocking and inexcusable”.
Republika Srpska entity parliament 7 Nov voted to suspend July 2015 decision to hold referendum on powers of state judiciary. Following four-year trial, International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague, Netherlands, 22 Nov convicted former Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladić of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity for crimes committed during 1992-1995 war including July 1995 Srebrenica massacre. Former Bosnian Croat Commander Slobodan Praljak 29 Nov died after drinking poison in ICTY courtroom just after judge confirmed his twenty-year jail sentence for crimes including murder, persecution and deportation.
Conviction of several Kosovo citizens by Macedonian court early Nov over role in May 2015 deadly shootout in Kumanovo, Macedonia, in which eight security forces and fourteen suspected perpetrators were killed (see Macedonia), prompted protests claiming unfair treatment of ethnic Albanians; govt pledged over €200,000 to cover expenses for families of those convicted or killed during incident. Govt issued new National Strategy against Terrorism and Action Plan, citing threat posed by fighters returning from Middle East following collapse of Islamic State (ISIS). Police reported grenade attack on two homes belonging to ethnic Serb members of security forces in Mitrovica 26 Nov.
Parliament 15 Nov voted 66-41 in favour of bill extending official use of Albanian across country (rather than only in areas where ethnic Albanians constitute at least 20% of population) in its first reading; later in month postponed adoption of new law after EU reportedly called for it to focus on reforms required for membership talks. Skopje court 2 Nov convicted 33 ethnic Albanian men of plotting attacks and clashing with police, sentencing them to between twelve years and life jail terms over role in May 2015 shootout in Kumanovo in which eight security forces and fourteen suspected perpetrators were killed. Several of those convicted were Kosovo citizens, prompting protests in Pristina and elsewhere in Kosovo; Kosovo govt called for international investigation into incident and recalled its ambassador for consultations. Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias 5 Nov told Kathimerini newspaper that name dispute with Macedonia “must be settled within the first half of 2018”; UN mediator in name dispute, Matthew Nimetz, said fresh round of talks scheduled for 11-12 Dec in Brussels. Former PM Grueski 28 Nov led protest against arrest of 36 people including MPs from his VMRO DPMNE party accused of role in April unrest in parliament.
Defence ministry in late October proposed tougher policy on military service, making it harder for young men to avoid compulsory two years’ military service. Amendments, which would provide legal amnesty to those who have avoided army by staying outside country, prompted criticism from opposition and provoked days of student protests including some hunger strikes. Parliament 15 Nov adopted some of amendments in second final reading, president 29 Nov signed it into law. President Sargsyan met with Russian President Putin in Moscow 15 Nov, hailed bilateral cooperation. Following EU Eastern Partnership summit in Brussels, EU and Armenia 24 Nov signed Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement.
European Parliament 15 Nov passed resolution praising reforms in Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, said they could be considered for membership in future. EU Eastern Partnership Summit issued declaration saying summit participants “acknowledge the European aspirations” of partners concerned, as stated in Association Agreements. U.S. 17 Nov approved sale of Javelin anti-tank systems to Georgia. Ruling Georgian Dream party secured five out of six municipalities in 12 Nov run-off vote for local elections, having secured majority of seats in Oct first round. Authorities in Tbilisi 22 Nov conducted large-scale special operation to arrest individuals suspected of links to foreign terrorist groups: three gunmen died, one later identified by authorities as high-level Chechen Islamic State (ISIS) commander suspected of involvement in June 2016 attack on Istanbul airport in Turkey; one soldier died from injuries. President of Pacific island state Nauru, which has recognised breakaway republics, visited Abkhazia 12 Nov, next day met de facto South Ossetian leader in Moscow; Georgia condemned visit. De facto South Ossetia 26 Nov released one Georgian prisoner in exchange for one Abkhaz prisoner released from Georgian prison.
Intensified attempts by main mediators to restart Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) negotiation process continued. On Russian side, PM Medvedev visited Yerevan 24 Oct; President Putin mid-Nov met with Armenian President Sargsyan in Russia; and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov conducted shuttle diplomacy between Baku and Yerevan 20-21 Nov. Supportive of restarting talks, Lavrov cautioned both capitals that negotiations would take a long time. Ahead of planned meeting between Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers at margins of annual OSCE Ministerial Council in Vienna scheduled for late Dec, OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs met with both ministers to discuss agenda; issued statement 16 Nov saying sides are expected to finalise talks over expansion of the Office of the Personal Representative. During discussion at OSCE Permanent Council 9 Nov, both Russians and Americans called for increasing number of monitors in region. All sides and mediators made public announcements during Nov that all elements of a possible settlement plan are already on the table; agreed that any plan should include most controversial issues: status and land return. De facto NK authorities 22 Nov reported three fighters killed by land mine near line of contact previous day.
Seven people reported killed and at least six wounded in conflict-related clashes between police and militants in northern Caucasus during month. In Chechnya, two soldiers wounded by grenade during raid on militant hideout in Achkhoi-Martan district 1 Nov; two militants reported killed after attacking police checkpoint in Urus-Martan district 19 Nov. Security forces 13 Nov introduced counter-terrorism measures in Achkhoi-Martan district and were ordered to detain all men who left home after 11pm. Chechen head Ramzan Kadyrov 13 Nov stated that 41 women and children, including 34 Russian citizens, had been brought from Syria to Grozny; relatives of returning Chechen women claimed they had been permitted to return only after consenting to criminal prosecution. Kadyrov 26 Nov said time had come for him to step aside, however did not officially resign; Kremlin did not comment. Attack on police post left two militants and two policemen killed in Nazran district, Ingushetia 5 Nov. In Dagestan, authorities in Magaramkent district 23 Nov reported two men killed, including member of local district assembly during shootout. Assailant 26 Nov stabbed policeman in Kizilyurt district before being shot by another policeman. Security forces 3 Nov detained several residents of Rutul village, charging them with arson in administration building; relatives of detainees claimed drugs and ammunition were planted on them during detention. After Friday prayer 3 Nov, 25 mosque-goers were brought to police station in capital Makhachkala; before their release, police reportedly recorded their personal data and put them on prevention registration list which allegedly includes potential “extremists”. One person killed and six wounded in shootout in Moscow 17 Nov; two Dagestani suspects arrested.
Opposition leader Mikalay Statkevich, detained late Oct reportedly for participating in unsanctioned rally, released from jail 5 Nov. President Lukashenka 2 Nov met with his Ukrainian counterpart in United Arab Emirates, agreed on political cooperation.
OSCE reported “substantial progress” in 27 Nov talks on Transdniestrian settlement in Vienna in 5+2 format (OSCE, Russia, Ukraine, U.S., EU, Chisinau and Tiraspol). Sides confirmed and solidified progress on several social and economic issues, out of eight issues previously identified: includes early Nov agreement to reopen bridge over Dniestr river linking territories; plus issues of freedom of movement over river, Moldovan language schools in Transdniestria, and recognition of university diplomas in Moldova. Sides also made “clear commitment” to finalise remaining issues at beginning of 2018. European Parliament 15 Nov passed resolution praising reforms in Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia, said they could be considered for membership in future. EU Eastern Partnership Summit issued declaration saying summit participants “acknowledge the European aspirations” of partners concerned, as stated in Association Agreements. Constitutional Court 31 Oct approved draft amendment to constitution to change official name of country’s language to Romanian, from Moldovan; pro-Russian President Dodon said change should require referendum.
Security deteriorated in conflict zone; ceasefire violations rose from daily average of almost 150 late Oct to over 430 mid-Nov. Military and civilian casualties increased: defence ministry reported ten killed and at least 45 injured 24 Oct-19 Nov, five killed 23 Nov; one killed, two injured when police car hit anti-tank mine 15 Nov; de facto Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) reported six dead and five wounded. OSCE monitors (SMM) reported three civilians killed and six wounded; one child killed playing with unexploded ordinance in Donetsk city school playground. Kremlin announced 15 Nov that Putin spoke to separatists and urged full prisoner exchange with Kyiv. De facto Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) security minister and former Ukrainian security service agent Leonid Pasichnyk replaced Igor Plotnitsky after what appears to have been a coup 21-24 Nov; reports suggested involvement of DNR military and Russian mercenaries. Third meeting 13 Nov between U.S. Special Representative Kurt Volker and Russian representative Vladislav Surkov to discuss UN peacekeeping in Donbas brought little progress; Surkov rejected majority of U.S. proposals. U.S. National Security Council 14 Nov approved $47mn grant to Kyiv for U.S. weapons. European Parliament 15 Nov passed resolution praising reforms in Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia, and recognising future membership potential. EU Eastern Partnership Summit issued declaration saying summit participants “acknowledge the European aspirations” of partners concerned, as stated in Association Agreements. At 29 Nov Minsk Tripartite Contact Group meeting, Kyiv envoy announced plans to exchange 306 hostages by New Year. Continuing efforts to discredit National Anticorruption Bureau (NABU): prosecutor general 17 Nov opened criminal case against NABU Director Artem Sytnyk, accused of leaking evidence from ongoing case. Poroshenko 11 Nov approved 113 new Supreme Court judges, 25 previously denounced by anti-corruption NGO. Activists criticised new leadership of State Investigation Bureau as vulnerable to political influence. Erstwhile Georgian President and Odesa Governor Mikheil Saakashvili continues anti-Poroshenko protest outside parliament; 19 Nov told supporters he was ready to become PM. Masked people 17 Nov kidnapped four more Georgian associates of Saakashvili. Ukraine security service same day deported eight Georgians for “violating national security interests”.
Turkish Cypriot leader Akıncı 15 Nov said he remained open to creating new strategic settlement framework led by UN Secretary-General Guterres, subject to clear implementation timetable to reunify Cyprus; Greek Cypriot govt same day refused, said no solution framework is possible beyond those already presented. Turkish Cypriot parliament 13 Nov voted unanimously to hold early parliamentary elections 7 Jan 2018. Greek Cypriot presidential elections scheduled for 28 Jan 2018. Greek Cypriot leader Anastasiades, Egypt’s President Sisi and Greek PM Tsipras met in Nicosia 21 Nov vowing to broaden their “strategic cooperation” on energy and other areas.
Spanish judge 2 Nov ordered jailing of eight former members of Catalan govt, dismissed late Oct over region’s unilateral independence declaration; among them former regional President Carles Puigdemont, who fled to Belgium late Oct claiming Spanish justice system was politicised. Judge next day issued European arrest warrant for Puigdemont, who 5 Nov turned himself in to Belgian police along with four other leaders; court granted bail same day. Belgian court 17 Nov deferred decision on Spain’s extradition request for the five until 4 Dec, one day before campaigning begins for snap regional elections in Catalonia set for 21 Dec. Supreme Court 10 Nov granted six Catalan parliamentary officials bail; parliamentary Speaker Carme Forcadell told judge independence declaration had been symbolic. Hundreds of thousands reportedly joined protest in Barcelona 11 Nov against jailing of deposed regional govt officials. Spanish PM Rajoy 12 Nov called on voters to turn out and help “recover Catalonia from the havoc of separatism”.
Military operations in south east continued: clashes in Hakkari’s Şemdinli district 2 Nov between security forces and Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants reportedly crossing border from Iraq killed two village guards and six soldiers; President Erdoğan next day vowed to “smash all terrorist camps” threatening Turkey from Iraq and Syria. Turkish security forces reportedly seized bomb-laden drone allegedly belonging to PKK in Ağrı province early Nov. Govt 14 Nov announced death in Şırnak of high-ranking member of PKK’s senior council Hülya Eroğlu; chief prosecutor’s office 18 Nov filed criminal complaint against three Democratic People’s Party (HDP) MPs for attending Eroğlu’s funeral. Following Oct spat, U.S. embassy in Turkey 6 Nov announced plan to partially resume visa services; Turkey’s embassy in U.S. reciprocated same day. Visiting Washington 7-11 Nov, PM Yıldırım reiterated demands for extradition of Fethullah Gülen, alleged mastermind of July 2016 coup attempt, and called on U.S. to stop support for Kurdish People’s Protection Unit (YPG) in Syria; said Turkey’s defence cooperation with Russia did not undermine NATO alliance. Turkey, Russia and Iran 22 Nov held high-level summit in Sochi, Russia, to discuss future of Syria (see Syria). Turkish foreign minister 24 Nov announced that U.S. President Trump promised in phone call that U.S. will no longer provide weapons to YPG; however Pentagon 27 Nov said it was “reviewing pending adjustments to the military support”. Turkish military continued operation in Syria’s Idlib province. YPG 20 Nov reportedly launched five mortar attacks targeting Turkish military positions on Idlib-Afrin line. Turkey’s National Security Council 28 Nov discussed expanding Idlib operation to areas around Afrin and western Aleppo. Number of incidents between refugees and hosts decreased from Oct; some 200 people 4 Nov attacked Syrian homes and shops in Konya’s Karatay district, injuring one. EU 19 Nov announced €105mn cuts in pre-accession assistance to Turkey due to deterioration of democracy, rule of law and human rights. PM Yıldırım 27 Nov threatened to withdraw from EU refugee deal if YPG/PYD is given role in Syrian peace talks.
Foreign ministers of five Central Asian states 10 Nov signed Program on Mutual Cooperation for 2018-2019 outlining joint efforts on security, trade and economic cooperation during EU-Central Asia summit in Uzbekistan.
Bilateral tensions with Kazakhstan continued to mount following President Atambayev’s accusations that Kazakh President Nazarbayev was interfering in presidential elections. Deputy finance minister 10 Nov reported country lost some $200mn in revenue following Kazakhstan’s introduction of strict border regime, complained to World Trade Organization; Kazakhstan denied it was blockading border, saying controls were to combat smuggling and uphold standards. Atambayev 16 Nov signed into law bill denouncing 2014 agreement for Kazakhstan to provide $100mn aid to help meet Eurasian Economic Union standards; 20 Nov said his successor’s top priority will be to resolve border issue. Sooronbai Jeenbekov inaugurated as president 24 Nov; during late-Nov visit to Moscow stated his commitment to strengthening relations with Russia. Opposition leader Omurbek Babanov resigned as head of Respublika-Ata-Jurt party; prosecutor general’s office 4 Nov launched investigations into Babanov, currently outside country, regarding alleged attempts at “stoking ethnic, racial and religious hatred”. EU foreign policy chief Mogherini visited Kyrgyzstan 9 Nov, signed new bilateral agreement and reiterated support for electoral reform, rule of law and judicial reform; met with Jeenbekov. Foreign ministers of five Central Asian states 10 Nov signed Program on Mutual Cooperation for 2018-2019 outlining joint efforts on security, trade and economic cooperation during EU-Central Asia summit in Uzbekistan.
As Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) began last training exercise of 2017 in Tajikistan, Russian Ambassador Igor Lyakin-Frolov 14 Nov said situation in Afghanistan is worsening. Foreign ministers of five Central Asian states 10 Nov signed Program on Mutual Cooperation for 2018-2019 outlining joint efforts on security, trade and economic cooperation during EU-Central Asia summit in Uzbekistan.
President Berdymukhammedov signed thirteen cooperation documents including on trade, energy and transport with Tajik govt during 2-3 Nov visit to Dushanbe. Ashgabat 14-15 Nov hosted Seventh Regional Conference on Economic Partnership on Afghanistan; president lobbied for Turkmenistan’s gas pipeline projects and opening of railroad connection with Tajikistan though Afghanistan, while Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov said country ready to host Afghan peace talks and promised development aid. Foreign ministers of five Central Asian states 10 Nov signed Program on Mutual Cooperation for 2018-2019 outlining joint efforts on security, trade and economic cooperation during EU-Central Asia summit in Uzbekistan.
PM Abdulla Aripov and his Russian counterpart 2-3 Nov signed cooperation agreements on industry, finance, and peaceful research and utilisation of nuclear energy; also signed agreements on bilateral military technological cooperation, making Uzbekistan only non-Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) country allowed to purchase Russian arms at Russian domestic prices. Foreign ministers of five Central Asian states 10 Nov signed Program on Mutual Cooperation for 2018-2019 outlining joint efforts on security, trade and economic cooperation during EU-Central Asia summit in Uzbekistan. Ahead of summit, EU foreign policy chief Mogherini emphasised Central Asia’s strategic importance for EU, and latter’s concern for human rights in region. Uzbek, Kazakh and Turkmen foreign ministers same day signed agreement on border intersection point of three countries; enclaves and related issues not raised.
UN 8 Nov called upon all actors to respect bilateral ceasefire between govt and National Liberation Army (ELN), initiated 1 Oct, which has proceeded with limited violations, mostly by western war front. ELN 17 Nov admitted killing in Chocó at least one other civilian accused of being “paramilitary”. Govt and ELN conducted four rounds of public consultations with civil society organisations 30 Oct-16 Nov on social participation mechanisms for peace process with ELN. FARC dissident groups continued to carry out violent actions, especially in south west: in Tumaco, gunmen 13 Nov killed local community leader from Catholic church in Viento Libre neighbourhood; fighting 27 Nov between FARC dissident faction known as United Guerrillas of the Pacific (GUP) and ELN reportedly led to at least thirteen deaths and disappearances in south-western Nariño, including death of local community leader. Attacks by Gulf Clan remain minimal. Govt tried to pass final pieces of peace-related legislation through fast-track mechanism, which expired 30 Nov: Constitutional Court 14 Nov said bill establishing Special Jurisdiction for Peace (SJP) operating procedures was constitutional, despite violating international responsibility standards for human rights violations, which has prompted concern from FARC and others. Court also said politicians, civilians and other third-party actors can participate “voluntarily” in transitional justice process. Congress 30 Nov passed bill to create and regulate SJP; bill to create sixteen special constituencies in Lower House for areas affected by conflict failed to secure approval in Senate.
With economic collapse looming, President Maduro 2 Nov announced plan to restructure and refinance foreign debt, and created special commission to negotiate with bondholders; commission headed by VP Tareck el Aissami, who is on U.S. sanctions list due to alleged involvement in drug trafficking. Ratings agency Standard & Poor’s 13 Nov said govt was in “selective default” after it failed to issue $200mn in repayments for global bonds due Oct; govt same day met with bondholders, insisted it will continue to repay debt and negotiate for bond restructuring. Russia 15 Nov rescheduled over $3bn in bilateral debt. On political front, opposition Democratic Unity alliance (MUD) 31 Oct announced it would refuse to take part in long-delayed 10 Dec municipal elections. MUD 9 Nov announced new round of talks with govt scheduled 1-2 Dec 2018 in Dominican Republic to obtain guarantees for 2018 presidential election, prompting formal split of opposition camp into pro-dialogue MUD, largest group in parliament, and anti-dialogue Soy Venezuela group. Foreign ministers of all guarantor countries apart from Paraguay (Chile, Mexico, Nicaragua, Bolivia, and St. Vincent) expected to attend. Former Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma, leading member of anti-dialogue Soy Venezuela faction, 17 Nov escaped house arrest, travelled to Spain and met with Spanish PM Rajoy; 23 Nov announced global campaign for Venezuelan democracy.
Country continued to see high levels of violence, including four simultaneous armed attacks in Guatemala City attributed to street-gang extortion 10 Nov left four employees or service providers of Spanish telecommunications company Telefónica dead and two wounded. Hundreds of protesters 7 Nov blocked country’s main highways, demanding resignation of President Morales and members of Congress who mid-Sept tried to modify criminal code to avert prosecutions on corruption and illegal financing charges. National University Student’s Association 16 Nov staged peaceful march through Guatemala City, calling for clean-up of Congress. With support of International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), courts made progress on multiple anti-corruption cases: 27 Oct sent to trial 28 suspects, including former President Otto Pérez Molina and former VP Roxana Baldetti, for participating in 2015 “La Línea” customs fraud case; 7 Nov lifted immunity of congressional deputy Julio Júarez to be investigated for alleged role in 2015 murder of two journalists; 4 Nov indicted deputy Roberto Kestler for corruption in justice system; and 3 Nov indicted seventeen municipal authorities for corruption in first major case in Western Highlands.
Left-wing opposition alliance candidate and TV personality Salvador Nasralla 29 Nov refused to accept sharply contested results from 26 Nov general elections, amid allegations of fraud and massive protests from opposition supporters in several parts of country after Electoral Supreme Court decided to postpone final vote count until 1 Dec. At least one person was reported killed in clashes with police, with fears protests and violence could worsen; President Hernández expected to win by minimum margin after Nasralla had initially been on course for victory. Prior to election, opposition parties 23 Nov accused govt of launching “campaign of fear”, amid three alleged political killings, including National Party congressional candidate in Tegucigalpa murdered 5 Nov, and two political activists. Honduran Autonomous University 6 Nov announced 21.2% decrease in homicides in first six months of 2017, although violence against journalists continued, including late Oct killing of cameraman in Copán (west). Nasralla 14 Nov promised to revisit Hernández’s police reform process if he becomes president. International investigation team late Oct said March 2016 murder of environmental activist Berta Cáceres was product of coordinated plot with involvement by govt officials and international hydroelectric firm.
In response to growing homicides rates and surge in deaths of police officers, legislative assembly 1-15 Nov approved special ruling and penal code reforms to increase punishments for killing and intimidation of public officials; defence ministry 1 Nov deployed over 100 soldiers in west to support fight against criminal groups. Official homicide figures showed 452 for Oct, up on 435 for Sept. Newspaper La Prensa Gráfica 17 Nov reported controversial deal between govt and MS-13 gang leaders to reduce homicides in exchange for better conditions in jails; govt officials 18 Nov denied allegations. After two-day visit to El Salvador, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein 17 Nov questioned lack of spending on violence prevention.
Political situation remained troubled, with more street agitation 14-18 Nov to protest 2017-2018 budget law, govt corruption, and incarceration of demonstrators. President Moïse 13 Nov announced remobilisation of national army starting 18 Nov, abolished in 1995 due to involvement in multiple coups. Senate report published 10 Nov accused former govt officials, including two former PMs and several ex-ministers, of embezzling part of $2bn loan from Venezuela for Petrocaribe fund. U.S. 20 Nov announced that Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program benefiting 50,000 Haitians residing in U.S will officially end 22 July 2019, giving Haitians without permanent residency nineteen months to leave country. Dominican Republic reported it refused entry to or expelled some 11,000 Haitians in Oct.
Violence continued unabated, including, in Veracruz state (south), where group of at least 30 armed men 20 Nov murdered mayor-elect of Hidalgotitlan municipality; unidentified gunmen 24 Nov killed mayor of Ixhuatlan de Madero with four others near state capital Xalapa. Special Veracruz prosecutor investigating gender-based and sexual violence was murdered in Pánuco 27 Nov. In Baja California Sur, state ombudsman was murdered 20 Nov in city of La Paz; another 28 people were killed in city of Los Cabos previous weekend 18-20 Nov. University of Texas 6 Nov and El Colegio de Mexico 21 Nov released reports on Los Zetas cartel’s penetration of Coahuila and Veracruz state govts, including reports of bribery of former governors and army officers. National Commission on Human Rights 1 Nov said 150 overpopulated prisons in eight states are “time bombs” that could spark riots and major violence; commission next day called on federal govt to end impunity for crimes against journalists and provide additional resources for their protection. New report from Washington Office for Latin America (WOLA) 8 Nov revealed that only sixteen out of 505 open cases of alleged human rights violations by Mexican armed forces between 2012 and 2016 led to court sentences. President Peña Nieto 16 Nov signed into law new measures against enforced disappearances, including creation of national commission on disappearances and $25mn funding for search efforts. Media 2 Nov reported opposition dropped attempts to reinstate special prosecutor for electoral crimes, who was dismissed late Oct for publically discussing ongoing investigation of Peña Nieto’s electoral campaign members allegedly involved in corruption scandal.
In line with reconciliation deal between rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas signed 12 Oct, Hamas 1 Nov transferred control of Gaza’s border crossings to Fatah-led Palestinian Authority (PA) and stopped collecting taxes. Hamas said that despite deal PA had not lifted any sanctions imposed on Gaza over previous eight months. Fatah and Hamas discussed reconciliation deal in Cairo 21-22 Nov; agreed with other Palestinian factions to hold general elections by end of 2018. Palestinian PM Hamdallah 28 Nov told PA staff in Gaza who stopped working after Hamas’s 2007 takeover to resume work; Hamas criticised move and next day prevented staff’s return. Fatah’s chief negotiator 29 Nov said Hamas “not committed” to Cairo deal signed Oct. Hamas and Fatah 29 Nov agreed to delay by ten days Hamas’s full transfer of Gaza, originally planned for 1 Dec, to “finalise arrangements”. Egypt temporarily opened its border crossing with Gaza at Rafah 18-20 Nov for first time since PA assumed. PA President Abbas 8 Nov said PA had resumed security cooperation with Israel, formally frozen since violence at Holy Esplanade in July. Israel 30 Oct bombed inside its territory destroying tunnel connecting Gaza and Israel operated by radical group Islamic Jihad to launch attacks against Israel, twelve Palestinian militants killed. Israeli army early Nov conditioned its release of five militants’ bodies on Hamas releasing Israeli citizens and bodies of Israeli soldiers. Israel 12 Nov approved bill to retroactively legalise outposts in West Bank and 17 Nov handed out evacuation notices to all 300 residents of Bedouin village Jabal al-Baba, east of Jerusalem. U.S. 17 Nov threatened to close office of Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in Washington unless Palestinians enter talks with Israel; in response PLO said it would end communication with Trump administration; U.S. 24 Nov said office could remain open for at least 90 days.
U.S. and Russia 11 Nov announced details of ceasefire in south west Syria, first agreed between them and Jordan 7 July: non-jihadist Syrian opposition to maintain control of currently held areas and work with U.S. and Jordan to expel foreign fighters, and Russia to work with Syrian regime to end presence of non-Syrian, Iran-backed forces in 5km-wide belt along Jordanian border and opposition-held areas (see Syria).
PM Hariri 4 Nov announced his surprise resignation in televised address from Saudi capital, Riyadh, citing excessive influence of Hizbollah and Iran in Lebanon and assassination threats. After Yemeni Huthi rebels, whom Saudi Arabia accuses Hizbollah of training, launched missile toward Riyadh 4 Nov, Saudi govt 6 Nov said it considered Hizbollah “aggression” and its participation in Lebanese govt to be “declaration of war” by Lebanon against Saudi Arabia. Hizbollah 10 Nov said Saudi had “declared war on Lebanon” by detaining Hariri. President Aoun 15 Nov said Saudi Arabia was detaining Hariri and demanded his return. Following French mediation, Hariri 18 Nov left Riyadh for Paris and returned to Beirut 21 Nov. Next day he suspended his resignation at Aoun’s request. New Saudi ambassador to Lebanon arrived in Beirut 20 Nov after predecessor left Sept 2016. Hizbollah 20 Nov said it would wind down its engagement in Iraq.
U.S. and Russia 11 Nov announced details of ceasefire in south west, first agreed between them and Jordan 7 July, and reiterated commitment to resolving conflict through UN-led Geneva process. Under deal, non-jihadist opposition to maintain control of currently held areas and work with U.S. and Jordan to expel foreign fighters; Russia to work with regime to end presence of non-Syrian, Iran-backed forces in 5km-wide belt along Jordanian border and opposition-held areas. Russia 16 Nov vetoed UN Security Council resolution to extend mandate of UN investigative mechanism into use of chemical weapons, which late Oct found Syrian regime responsible for gas attack in April; mandate expired next day. In Deir el-Zour province in east, Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and govt-aligned forces continued race to seize territory from Islamic State (ISIS) on opposite sides of Euphrates River, mostly meeting little resistance: pro-regime forces 20 Nov completed capture from ISIS of al-Bukamal on border with Iraq, after offensive reportedly coordinated with Iraqi govt forces on Iraqi side. In capital Damascus, rebel offensive by groups not party to Eastern Ghouta de-escalation deal made initial gains against pro-regime forces mid-Nov, and spurred major increase in regime strikes against rebel-held areas. In Idlib province in north west, Islamist group Hei’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) early Nov facilitated formation of “salvation govt”, to which it delegated administration of areas it controls. Russian airstrikes increased in Idlib as govt-aligned forces pushed against rebel positions from east and south. Islamist group Noureddine al-Zenki 10 Nov declared “defensive war” against HTS; truce mediated between sides mid-Nov. Russian President Putin met Assad in Sochi, Russia, 20 Nov. Putin hosted Iranian President Rouhani and Turkish President Erdoğan at summit on Syrian conflict in Sochi 22 Nov; presidents jointly invited Syrian govt and moderate opposition to attend future congress in Sochi, without specifying date. Ahead of eighth round of UN-backed Geneva talks, opposition appointed new chief negotiator during summit in Saudi capital, Riyadh 24 Nov; talks began 28 Nov amid low expectations.
Govt said explosion 10 Nov at main oil pipeline 10km south west of capital, Manama, was act of “terrorism” carried out at Iran’s instruction, which Iran denied. Govt 15 Nov also blamed Iran for 2 Oct attack on police bus, which killed one. Appeals court 22 Nov upheld two-year prison sentence against human rights activist Nabil Rajab, passed 10 July, for “spreading false news”.
Tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia heightened after Yemen’s Huthi rebels 4 Nov fired ballistic missile which reached Riyadh, and Saudi and U.S. accused Tehran of supplying missile; Revolutionary Guards denied involvement. After Lebanese PM Hariri 4 Nov resigned in statement aired from Saudi Arabia denouncing Iran’s influence in Lebanon, Iran said it hoped PM Hariri would stay in office. Russian President Putin hosted President Rouhani and Turkish President Erdoğan at summit on Syrian conflict in Sochi, Russia, 22 Nov; presidents jointly invited Syrian govt and moderate opposition to attend congress in Sochi, without specifying date. International Atomic Energy Agency 13 Nov issued ninth quarterly report, confirming Iran’s compliance with nuclear commitments set by July 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). U.S. Senate bill to unilaterally amend nuclear deal on President Trump’s request failed to attract bi-partisan support. EU and UK FMs 6-7 Nov met with members of U.S. Congress in Washington and continued to press for preservation of nuclear deal.
Federal govt continued to pressure Kurdistan Regional Govt (KRG) after seizing Kirkuk and other disputed areas in Oct. Kurdish President Barzani resigned 1 Nov under pressure from domestic Kurdish opposition. Federal govt 1 Nov threatened to resume military operations to capture Kurdish-held areas along borders with Syria, Turkey and Iran if Kurds did not hand them over; 2 Nov announced plans to place all oil exports from Kurdish area and Kirkuk province to Turkey under control of federal-run oil company; 6 Nov proposed reducing KRG’s share of federal budget from 17% to 12.6% based on population size; and reiterated refusal to enter political negotiations unless KRG rescinds 25 Sept independence referendum result. Supreme Court 20 Nov declared referendum unconstitutional and its result void. State security forces and Shia Popular Mobilisation Units (PMU) continued to make gains against Islamic State (ISIS), retaking al-Qaim 3 Nov and Rawa 17 Nov both in Anbar province near Syrian border. PM Abadi 21 Nov said ISIS had been militarily defeated in Iraq with just remnants in desert; army and PMUs 23 Nov began operation to clear remaining fighters in desert areas along border with Syria. Suicide lorry bombing 20 Nov killed at least 23 people in city of Tuz Khormato, 190km north of Baghdad; attack unclaimed. Turkey claimed that its 27 Nov airstrike in northern Iraq killed 80 militants reportedly belonging to Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Saudi Arabia-led bloc maintained diplomatic and trade blockade on Qatar for alleged support of “terrorism”; blockading countries 22 Nov added two Islamic organisations and eleven individuals to terror blacklist, claiming they are backed by Qatar.
Mass arrests of political and business figures raised uncertainty at home, as tensions heightened with Iran and its allies in Lebanon and Yemen. King Salman 4 Nov announced creation of corruption probe and initiated arrests of some 200 senior political and business figures, including at least 38 former and current ministers and deputy ministers. Salman also sacked National Guard and economy ministers. Lebanese PM Hariri 4 Nov announced surprise resignation in televised address from Saudi capital, Riyadh, citing excessive influence of Hizbollah and Iran in Lebanon and assassination threats. Same day, Huthi rebels in Yemen launched missile that reached Saudi capital, Riyadh; Saudi military intercepted and destroyed it before it reached airport. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman 7 Nov accused Iran of supplying rockets to Yemeni rebels and said strike was “direct military aggression” which could be considered “an act of war” by Tehran. Saudi govt, which accuses Lebanese militia Hizbollah of training Huthis, 6 Nov said it considered Hizbollah’s “aggression” and its participation in Lebanese govt to be “declaration of war” by Lebanon against Saudi Arabia; Hizbollah 10 Nov said Saudis had “declared war on Lebanon” by detaining Hariri. Following French mediation, Hariri 18 Nov left Riyadh for Paris and returned to Lebanese capital, Beirut 21 Nov. Next day he suspended his resignation at Lebanese President Aoun’s request. Military 30 Nov reportedly shot down another Huthi missile fired from Yemen over Khamis Mushait city in south west.
Following Huthi missile strike on Riyadh, Saudi-led coalition escalated bombing in Yemen and tightened blockade and fighting between Huthis and pro-Saleh forces threatened to continue in Dec. Huthi rebels 4 Nov fired ballistic missile at Saudi capital, Riyadh which Saudi military intercepted and destroyed over city; launch followed Saudi airstrikes in Huthis’ home governorate of Saada that reportedly killed 38 people early Nov. In response, Saudi Arabia increased airstrikes in areas controlled by Huthis and supporters of former President Saleh, including capital Sanaa, and 6 Nov announced temporary closure of all entry ports to Yemen in bid to stop alleged Iranian weapons shipments to Huthis. Saudi Arabia 13 Nov started lifting restrictions on airports and ports nominally controlled by President Hadi’s govt, but tightened blockade on Huthi/Saleh-controlled territories, with grave humanitarian consequences. International Committee of the Red Cross 17 Nov said that three cities had run out of clean water due to blockade, as fuel needed for pumping and sanitation insufficient. Huthis 30 Nov vowed to retaliate for blockade and same day launched missile targeting Saudi city of Khamis Mushait in south west, which Saudi military intercepted and destroyed without casualties. International criticism of war and its humanitarian toll rose, with U.S. House of Representatives 13 Nov passing non-binding resolution stating that Congress never authorised U.S. assistance to Saudi’s intervention in Yemen. UN 16 Nov called on Saudi-led coalition to lift blockade, accusing it of threatening lives of “millions of vulnerable children and families”. Saudi-led coalition 25 Nov began easing restrictions on rebel-held areas, allowing plane carrying vaccines and aid workers to land in Sanaa. Flour shipment arrived to Hodeida port 25 Nov, next day vessel carrying wheat docked at Saleef port. UN 27 Nov called on coalition to fully open ports to commercial and humanitarian goods. Fighting broke out 29 Nov between fighters loyal to former President Saleh and Huthis around Saleh mosque in Sanaa, killing at least four, and continued 30 Nov. Tensions remain high within uncomfortable Huthi-Saleh alliance. Hadi-appointed governor in southern city of Aden 17 Nov resigned citing his inability to perform role due to govt corruption. Islamic State (ISIS) intensified attacks on pro-govt security forces in Aden 5-14 Nov, killing at least 56. ISIS-claimed attack on finance ministry building in Aden 29 Nov killed five. U.S. drone attack on suspected al-Qaeda members 26 Nov on road between Shabwa and Bayda provinces killed seven. Unidentified gunmen 28 Nov ambushed Hadi forces patrol near Ataq in central Shabwa province, killing five.
In process criticised for irregularities, local elections took place 23 Nov; ruling party National Liberation Front (FLN) won majority of local and regional council seats but significantly fewer than in 2012 poll, municipalities under its control fell from over 1,000 to 603. National Rally for Democracy (RND), FLN’s partner in ruling coalition supporting President Bouteflika, came second. After series of operations end Oct, security forces arrested armed Islamist militant in Algiers 6 Nov and killed two militants and seized weapons in Bouira, east of capital Algiers 7 Nov. Govt 29 Nov said security forces had arrested five suspected terrorists in Jijel province in east. Director of El Fadjr daily newspaper 13 Nov started hunger strike to denounce authorities’ attempts to stifle publication.
Following country’s deadliest terror attack, Egypt faces risk of worse fighting between security forces and militants in Sinai and further terror attacks in Dec. Jihadist militants 24 Nov detonated bomb and opened fire at mosque in Bir al-Abed village, west of Arish city, North Sinai, killing 305 people, including 27 children, and injuring 128. President Sisi 29 Nov instructed police and army to restore security in Sinai within three months and use “complete brutal violence”. Al-Qaeda-affiliated jihadist group Ansar al-Islam 3 Nov claimed responsibility for 21 Oct attack on police forces at al-Wahat, some 135km south west of Cairo. Another al-Qaeda-affiliated group Jund al-Islam 11 Nov claimed late Oct ambush on Islamic State (ISIS) unit in North Sinai. Military 11 Nov said that its jets had destroyed ten vehicles carrying weapons, ammunition and smuggled goods near Libyan border. Security forces 16 Nov said they had killed three suspected militants and arrested 74 others in North Sinai in recent days. Security forces killed eleven suspected militants in shootout in Ismailia province in east bordering Sinai 28 Nov. Leftist politician Khaled Ali 6 Nov announced he would run for presidency in May 2018 elections. Former Mubarak-era PM and 2012 presidential candidate Ahmed Shafiq 29 Nov also said he would run and shortly return from four-year exile in United Arab Emirates, same day said he was being prevented from leaving country for unknown reasons.
UN Envoy Ghassan Salamé continued negotiations to amend parts of 2015 Libyan Political Agreement, 16 Nov told UN Security Council he was confident consensus was close on remaining issues and preparations were underway for National Conference in Feb 2018 as per his action plan. Osama Juwaili, head of Military Council in western city of Zintan and Govt of National Accord (GNA)-appointed commander of western region military zone, formed coalition of militias, early Nov launched “anti-crime” military operation and after six-day operation 8 Nov took control of Aziziya, 41km south west of capital Tripoli, stronghold of Warshefana tribe. Faraj Ghaim, GNA deputy interior minister, after surviving car bombing 5 Nov in Benghazi in east, 10 Nov gave armed groups loyal to east-based strongman General Haftar 48 hours to leave Benghazi. Armed groups led by Haftar’s sons, and Sahawat fighters, reacted by pre-emptively seizing Ghaim’s camps in Benghazi. UN Secretary-General Guterres 20 Nov said he was “horrified” after CNN 15 Nov reported African migrants were being auctioned as slaves in Libya and said he had asked relevant UN actors to investigate. East-based parliament House of Representatives 21 Nov approved Salamé-proposed action plan, but Tripoli-based advisory body State Council demanded further changes.
New parliamentary opposition group Front Parlementaire Centriste formed 13 Nov included dissidents from majority coalition seeking to form unified opposition. In reaction, new parliamentary alliance between parties in governing coalition (Nida Tounes and An-Nahda) and Free Patriotic Union created 13 Nov, increasing ruling coalition’s parliamentary majority to 136 seats of 217. Parliament 14 Nov voted Mohamed Tlili Mansiri to head of Independent High Electoral Commission, which is to organise municipal elections in 2018 (after four postponements) and presidential and legislative elections by end-2019. Jihadist militant 1 Nov attacked security patrol next to parliament, killing one policeman.
Court run by armed independence movement Polisario Front 1 Nov sentenced nineteen Moroccans charged with drug trafficking to prison sentences ranging from fifteen to seventeen years. King of Morocco 7 Nov reiterated his backing for Moroccan proposal that Western Sahara have “autonomy” under Moroccan rule. Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) attended African Union-European Union summit in Côte d’Ivoire 29-30 Nov.