CrisisWatch is our global conflict tracker, a tool designed to help decision-makers prevent deadly violence by keeping them up-to-date with developments in over 70 conflicts and crises, identifying trends and alerting them to risks of escalation and opportunities to advance peace.
Democratic Republic of Congo
Central African Republic
In November, Yemen’s brutal war continued to threaten its people with famine, while talks planned for early December offer a glimmer of hope for reprieve. Boko Haram’s insurgency in north east Nigeria gained intensity, as suspected jihadist groups stepped up attacks in Burkina Faso’s north and east and across the border in south west Niger, and in Mozambique’s far north. In Somalia, Al-Shabaab upped its campaign of violence, while territorial clashes flared between the country’s semi-autonomous Puntland region and Somaliland. In the Central African Republic, fighting between armed groups and violence targeting civilians and peacekeepers surged, and clashes erupted in northern Chad. Fears grew over possible violence around upcoming elections in DR Congo, and troops from neighbouring Burundi attacked a Congo-based Burundian rebel group. Protests turned violent in Haiti and Guinea, while in Bangladesh, election-related violence could increase in coming weeks. In Europe, relations deteriorated between Kosovo and Serbia, while further east tensions spiked following an incident involving Russian and Ukrainian naval vessels in the Azov Sea.
In his foreword to the November/December 2018 instalment of CrisisWatch, our monthly conflict tracker, our President Rob Malley sees inflection points drawing near in two of the world's hottest wars – Yemen and Afghanistan – as well as crucial elections approaching in DR Congo and Nigeria.
In Yemen, the war raged on with local forces backed by the United Arab Emirates advancing into the eastern part of Hodeida city, still controlled by the Huthis. A battle for Hodeida port and city – a lifeline for some two thirds of the population – would likely plunge millions of Yemenis into famine. Amid recent U.S. Senate moves to end its involvement in the war, December offers a glimmer of hope; UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths is expected to hold peace talks, which could resume efforts toward a political settlement and help avert the slide into a catastrophic man-made disaster.
Jihadist groups stepped up attacks in multiple theatres across Africa. In Nigeria’s north east, the Boko Haram faction calling itself Islamic State West Africa Province upped its raids on security forces, taxing an already over-stretched military ahead of the February 2019 polls. In the Sahel, jihadist attacks continued to rise in Burkina Faso’s north and east and a new hot spot emerged across the border in south-western Niger. Al-Shabaab in Somalia intensified attacks in Mogadishu and elsewhere, while separately, forces from Somalia’s semi-autonomous Puntland fought a new bout with those of Somaliland over contested territory. Further down the coast in northern Mozambique, suspected Islamist militants renewed their brutal targeting of civilians.
In the Central African Republic, violence once again surged, especially in the north and centre, as factions of the former rebel Seleka coalition that temporarily took power in 2013 fought anti-balaka community-based militias. Armed groups also targeted civilians, UN peacekeepers and humanitarian facilities. Meanwhile, the rivalry between Russian and African Union-led mediation processes continued to stymie progress toward a political settlement. A new front opened in Chad’s north as a local defence force formed to resist army operations which it believes are aimed at taking control of the area’s gold mines.
DR Congo’s long-delayed general elections set for 23 December could trigger violence. The opposition’s failure to unite behind a single candidate put wind in the sails of President Kabila’s favoured successor, while concerns about the credibility and fairness of the process could lead losers to dispute the results. Burundi’s political crisis turned more kinetic as the army attacked camps of an armed opposition group based in DR Congo’s east. In Guinea, several people were killed as opposition supporters contesting the results of the February 2018 local elections clashed with security forces.
In an atmosphere of political acrimony and mistrust, fears grew over the potential for violence around Bangladesh’s general elections on 30 December. Clashes continued between police and supporters of the opposition, whose call to postpone the polls by a month, and create a caretaker government to oversee them, the government rejected. At least nine people were killed in a renewed wave of violence in Haiti as anti-corruption protests gripped the country.
Relations between Kosovo and Serbia took a turn for the worse as Kosovo introduced a 100 per cent tariff on imports from Bosnia and Serbia, which it said was retaliation for their “negative behaviour” and diplomatic efforts to undermine Kosovo’s international position. The tariff also raised tensions within Kosovo as ethnic Serbs expressed their anger at the move. A confrontation involving Russian and Ukrainian naval vessels in the Azov Sea resulted in the Russian capture of three Ukrainian vessels and 24 servicemen, in what is believed to constitute Russia’s first overt and uncontested use of force against Ukraine since its 2014 annexation of Crimea; both sides accused each other of provocation.
Security forces continued operations in east to curb irregular artisanal diamond mining; NGO Human Rights Watch 14 Nov urged govt to halt mass deportations from east and investigate alleged abuses by security forces after estimated over 400,000 migrants mainly from DR Congo forced to flee back across border.
Jihadist militants ramped up attacks in north and east mainly against security forces, as protests and strikes continued. In East region, suspected members of jihadist group Ansarul Islam 2 Nov attacked gendarmerie in Soudougui, Koulpélogo province; security forces 12 Nov reportedly repelled attack by unidentified gunmen against gendarmerie in Partiaga, Tapoa province. Roadside bomb and gun attack against police convoy near town of Boungou in east 30 Nov killed five including four police officers. In Centre North region, suspected Ansarul Islam 8 Nov attacked gendarmerie in Namsiguia, Bam province, wounding gendarme. In Centre West region, unidentified gunmen 8 Nov attacked gendarmerie in Silly, Sissilli province, wounding police commissioner. In Sahel region in north, unidentified gunmen 21 Nov attacked police station in Tongomayel, Soum province, wounding police officer. More schools shut down across country as jihadist militants continued intimidation. Suspected members of jihadist group Islamic State in Greater Sahara (ISGS) 5 Nov forcibly closed school in Kletafades, Sahel region in north. Schools in Gayeri, East region were shut down 12 Nov after teachers received death threats from suspected Ansarul Islam militants. Unidentified assailants same day reportedly whipped teachers in Toulfé, North region; other teachers in area closed schools in fear of attack. Residents in Fada-Ngourma, East region 1 Nov protested against terrorism and violence. Prison security guards on strike to demand better working conditions same day raided residence of Justice Minister René Bagoro in capital Ouagadougou. Employees at court in Fada-Ngourma 5 Nov closed court due to insecurity, with court security guards on strike since 25 Oct. Several thousand people 29 Nov demonstrated in capital Ouagadougou as part of nationwide strike over higher fuel prices. NGO Human Rights Watch 19 Nov said army 16 Nov allegedly killed fourteen men detained in Gassel Liddji, Soum province, Sahel region.
Military launched reprisal attacks against armed opposition group in eastern DR Congo (DRC) and President Nkurunziza refused to meet visiting African Union (AU) official and attend regional summit. Following attacks by armed opposition group RED-TABARA based in eastern DRC on military position in west late Oct, army launched attacks in DRC 1-2 Nov reportedly damaging rebels’ camps and forcing them to flee. Govt denied incursion into DRC. Congolese security forces arrested Burundian soldier at Sange, in DRC’s South Kivu province and reportedly handed him over to Burundian army on border 6 Nov, and arrested three other Burundian soldiers for secretly entering Lusenda refugee camp, which shelters Burundian refugees. After govt, ruling party and allied parties late Oct boycotted fifth and final round of inter-Burundian dialogue aimed at resolving political crisis triggered by Nkurunziza’s 2015 decision to stand for third term, facilitator former Tanzanian President Mkapa said he had concluded his mission and reported to mediator Ugandan President Museveni. Govt rejected raft of reforms proposed by opposition parties who attended dialogue. Opposition and civil society called on AU and UN to take over process. AU Commissioner for Peace and Security Smaël Chergui and former CAR President Samba Panza met govt officials in Bujumbura 5-7 Nov to encourage authorities to take part in inclusive dialogue; Nkurunziza refused to meet them, citing busy agenda. Govt did not attend East African Community (EAC) ministerial meeting 28 Nov and Nkurunziza refused to attend or send representative to EAC heads of state summit planned for 30 Nov-1 Dec; summit postponed sine die as Burundi’s absence meant quorum not reached. Govt 8 Nov rejected Sept application by main in-country opposition leader Agathon Rwasa to create new party, citing latter’s intention to use acronyms, emblem and motto of existing party. Govt 5 Nov said it had re-registered 25 NGOs following National Security Council’s late Sept suspension of all NGOs.
Opposition leaders continued to reject President Biya’s win in Oct poll, in west Anglophone separatists continued to attack state representatives and kidnap students as military pursued deadly counter offensive, and in Far North Boko Haram (BH) attacks continued at low ebb. Maurice Kamto, official runner-up in Oct presidential vote, continued to claim victory. He and his supporters attempted to protest in capital Yaoundé 6 Nov, day of Biya’s inauguration for seventh term, but authorities arrested him and supporters, releasing them hours later. Kamto 26 Nov called on Francophones to observe general strikes every Monday afternoon in solidarity with Anglophones, threatening to extend strikes to all day if govt does not resolve Anglophone crisis by end of 2018. In Anglophone areas, separatists 5 Nov kidnapped 79 students and two staff from school in Nkwen, Northwest region; following international condemnation militants released students 48 hours later. Military reportedly killed about 30 separatists in Mayo-Binka, Northwest 12-13 Nov. Separatists 14 Nov killed Mayor of Nwa, Northwest. Military 16 Nov killed at least ten separatists in Belo, Northwest, including local head of Ambazonian Self-Defence Council (ASC), military wing of separatist group Ambazonia Interim Govt. Separatists 20 Nov kidnapped nine students and teacher from school in Kumba, Southwest; next day military attacked separatists’ camps, freeing captives and killing at least two. Separatists 27 Nov kidnapped Anglophone lawyer, released him next day. Cardinal Christian Tumi 14 Nov said Simon Munzu, head of organising committee of Anglophone General Conference, had resigned citing death threats from separatists. Organisers of conference scheduled for 21-22 Nov postponed it for second time until govt gives authorisation. In Far North region, BH killed four people in Igawa, Mayo-Sava department 1 Nov and one in Baljoel, Mayo-Tsanaga 2 Nov. Military 14 Nov arrested BH militant in Gouzoudou, Mayo-Sava. Biya 30 Nov signed decree creating committee to oversee Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration of BH defectors and Anglophone militants.
Fighting between armed groups and attacks on civilians and peacekeepers surged, especially in north and centre. In Batangafo in north, anti-balaka community defence groups and ex-Seleka militants fought each other, attacked civilians, UN peacekeepers and humanitarian workers and pillaged humanitarian facilities end Oct-early Nov, leaving several people dead; fire started during fighting destroyed three camps for displaced people leaving over 30,000 people without shelter. UN deployed more peacekeepers. In Bambari in centre, militants of ex-Seleka faction Union for Peace in the Central African Republic (UPC) 13 Nov forced people out of their homes and occupied them. In Alindao in centre, fighting between UPC militants and anti-balaka 15 Nov left at least 60 people dead including two priests; Catholic church used as shelter for displaced people burned down. In Gbabia, near Berberati in west, Siriri armed group 16 Nov attacked UN base killing peacekeeper. Two parallel mediation processes – one led by African Union (AU), another by Russia and Sudan – continued to compete for buy-in. French FM Le Drian visited capital Bangui 1-2 Nov, encouraged President Touadéra to engage with AU-led mediation rather than process led by Russia and Sudan; he pledged 1,400 rifles for army and €24mn to help pay civil servant salaries and pensions and build infrastructure. Coalition of political parties and civil society groups 12 Nov signed memorandum asking for inclusive AU-led dialogue. UN Security Council 15 Nov extended mandate of UN mission (MINUSCA) for one month to allow more time for negotiations over new twelve-month mandate; U.S. expressed reservations over France’s proposed expansion of mandate due to resource implications and Russia objected to proposed language on primacy of AU-led mediation. International Criminal Court 11 Nov issued arrest warrant for MP and former anti-balaka leader Alfred Yekatom Rombhot, known as Rambo, for war crimes and crimes against humanity; Rombhot arrested late Oct after he fired shots in national assembly, taken to Netherlands 17 Nov and 23 Nov made his first appearance at court in The Hague.
Clashes erupted in north between army and ethnic Tebu defence forces, as army continued operations against Libya-based armed groups in north and Boko Haram in west. Army operations in Miski area in north, which it said were aimed at driving out illegal gold miners, arms traffickers and slave traders, escalated early Nov into confrontation with local Tebu community intent on retaining control of area and its resources. Some army veterans, civilians and former rebels early Nov formed Tebu Self-Defence Committee to prevent what it sees as “Déby’s clan” exploiting Tibesti gold mines. Govt 17 Nov claimed army had dislodged “the enemy” from Miski, which Tebu Self-Defence Committee denied, claiming 20 Nov that it had driven out army. Ground operations and airstrikes reportedly caused many casualties in army and among local forces. Opposition leader 22 Nov called on President Déby to open national dialogue on far north. Parliamentary opposition 28 Nov appealed for cessation of hostilities and parliamentary visit to north to listen to population and then discuss its demands with govt to find solution. Clashes continued between army and Libya-based armed groups around Kouri Bougoudi in north. Déby 9 Nov replaced defence minister with former head of gendarmerie and replaced security minister with Mahamat Abba Ali Salah, a Tebu. U.S. 16 Nov donated six boats and six vehicles worth $1.3mn to military brigade carrying out operations against Boko Haram in Lake Chad area. Govt and African Development Bank 14 Nov initiated program that aims to provide govt $21mn in budgetary support to boost economic recovery. National Framework for Political Dialogue 12 Nov said legislative elections, already postponed to Nov, would again be pushed back to May 2019. Déby 25-27 Nov visited Israel and met PM Netanyahu and President Rivlin, restoring diplomatic relations cut off since 1972; two countries have maintained trade relationship.
After clashes in Oct between security forces and protesters rejecting results of July referendum that extended presidential terms and stopped rotation of presidency between three main islands, parliament speaker 24 Nov called off vote on President Assoumani’s proposal that he pass laws by presidential decree for three months; 21 of 33 MPs opposed move.
Tensions persisted over results of 13 Oct regional and municipal elections. Supreme Court examined 102 appeals for annulment, 23 Nov annulled vote in Guémon and Loh Djibouahtwo regions and Port Bouët and Lakota communes; 30 Nov annulled vote in four other communes of Bingerville, Rubino, Boko and Grand-Bassam. New votes to be organised in next three months. Opposition parties including Democratic Party of Côte d’Ivoire (PDCI) and Popular Ivorian Front (FPI) continued to denounce alleged overrepresentation of govt in electoral commission and reiterated calls for reform. PDCI continued efforts to gather opposition parties in united front to counter growing influence of ruling coalition Rally of Houphouëtists for Democracy and Peace (RHDP). Three NGOs 15 Nov said they had lodged appeal 5 Oct against amnesty granted early Aug by President Ouattara to some 800 people accused or convicted of crimes linked to 2010-2011 post-election crisis, including former first lady Simone Gbagbo.
Violence could escalate or break out in new areas around 23 Dec general elections; in Nov opposition failed to unite behind single candidate and armed group violence continued in east. Seven opposition leaders created Lamuka coalition in Geneva 11 Nov, strongly criticising voters’ roll and use of voting machines, agreeing that, if coalition wins, fresh elections would be held after two years in which members Jean-Pierre Bemba and Moïse Katumbi could run, and naming Martin Fayulu as opposition’s single presidential candidate. Next day, two main opposition candidates, Felix Tshisekedi and subsequently Vital Kamerhe, pulled out of agreement citing pressure from political bases. Latter two leaders formed alliance between their parties in Kenyan capital Nairobi 23 Nov, with Tshisekedi as its presidential candidate. Electoral commission 21 Nov opened month-long campaigning period. In North Kivu province in east, armed groups including Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) kept up attacks on civilians in north of province, preventing effective response to Ebola outbreak. Suspected ADF 5 Nov launched attacks on Mangboko, killing seven civilians, and Oicha, killing civilian. Assailants 10 Nov killed woman and kidnapped five others at Mayi-Moya, and killed six civilians in Beni 10-11 Nov. UN mission and army 13 Nov launched joint operation against ADF militants, seven peacekeepers and at least twelve soldiers killed. Suspected ADF attack on Oicha 15 Nov left five civilians dead. Shell hit house in Beni 16 Nov forcing sixteen World Health Organization staff to evacuate. ADF 18 Nov killed three travellers on road between Oicha and Eringeti. In Kasai province in centre, military operation against Kamuina Nsapu armed group killed seventeen militants 7 Nov. Three campaigners for member of ruling coalition disappeared, suspected killed, 17 Nov near Dibaya. Arrival in Kasai provinces of most of estimated 362,000 Congolese forcefully evicted from Angola by armed forces Oct-Nov put added strain on resources. In South Kivu province in east, Burundian military attacked bases of Burundian RED-TABARA rebels 1-2 Nov reportedly forcing them to flee; Burundi denied incursion. Congolese security forces arrested Burundian soldier at Sange and reportedly handed him over to Burundian army 6 Nov, and arrested three other Burundian soldiers for entering Lusenda refugee camp, which shelters Burundian refugees.
Emirati port operator DP World, from which govt seized control of Doraleh port in Feb and ownership of Doraleh Container Terminal in Sept, 6 Nov filed lawsuit with High Court of Hong Kong accusing China of building free zone in disputed port and pressuring govt into cancelling agreement with DP World; govt denied Chinese firm induced it to breach agreements with DP World. President Guelleh met Ethiopian PM Abiy in Addis Ababa 17 Nov; expressed readiness to take part in regional integration and support for UN’s 14 Nov lifting of sanctions against Eritrea. UN had placed sanctions on Eritrea partly because latter had not withdrawn its forces from disputed area on border with Djibouti following clashes with Djibouti in June 2008.
UN Security Council 14 Nov lifted sanctions it imposed on Eritrea in 2009 because latter had not withdrawn troops from disputed area on border with Djibouti and for alleged funding of armed groups in Somalia. President Afwerki met Ethiopian PM Abiy and Somali President Farmajo in Ethiopia 9 Nov; all agreed to strengthen tripartite cooperation. Sudanese President Bashir 28 Oct expressed willingness to normalise relations with Eritrea.
Govt launched crackdown on corruption in govt and military and continued to foster cooperation with neighbours, but ethnic violence and criminality continued. In crackdown against corrupt officials, govt 10-11 Nov arrested 79 people, including senior military officials and head of military-run Metals and Engineering Corporation (METEC); company accused of mismanaging mega-projects including Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. Tigray regional state President Debretsion Gebremichael 19 Nov said crackdown discriminated against ethnic Tigrayans, who dominated in govt before PM Abiy’s election. Ethnic Oromo militias 14 Nov reportedly killed at least ten Somalis in Moyale, on border with Kenya. Ethnic Oromo armed groups 29 Nov reportedly attacked civilians and Oromia state police in East Wollega zone and areas adjacent to Benishangul Regional State killing dozens of civilians and seventeen police officers. Armed group Oromo Liberation Front 14 Nov reached cooperation agreement with political party Oromo Democratic Party, urging supporters to refrain from violence and abide by rule of law. Former opposition figure Birtukan Mideska named head of electoral board 22 Nov. PM Abiy 9 Nov received Somali President Farmajo and Eritrean President Afwerki to discuss how to develop ties, 17 Nov addressed African Union at 11th extraordinary session in Addis Ababa, highlighting need to reform and strengthen union.
President Bongo 24 Oct reportedly suffered stroke and was hospitalised in Saudi Arabian capital Riyadh, where he was attending conference; 29 Nov travelled from Riyadh to Moroccan capital, Rabat to continue recovery. In response to call by VP Moussavou, constitutional court 14 Nov ruled head of state was “temporarily unavailable” and amended constitution to give VP and PM power to carry out certain presidential functions; VP to chair cabinet. Opposition condemned move as attempt to consolidate power in hands of Bongo clan and African Union 17 Nov urged govt to respect constitutional order.
Tensions continued to escalate between govt and opposition over results of municipal elections in Feb. Opposition 7 Nov clashed with security forces during demonstration in Wanindara neighbourhood of capital Conakry, two civilians reportedly killed and two others wounded. Opposition supporters next day reportedly beat policeman to death in same neighbourhood. Security forces cracked down on opposition march 22 Nov in Conakry, several demonstrators reportedly wounded. Security forces dispersed teachers’ sit-ins 22 Nov in capital and elsewhere, three demonstrators reportedly wounded and ten others arrested.
Govt 19 Nov announced new extension of voter census by fifteen days until 5 Dec, likely delaying legislative elections initially scheduled for 18 Nov until 2019. Teachers’ unions 1 Nov launched new 30-day strike over unpaid salaries and poor working conditions. Students demonstrating in capital Bissau 8 Nov to denounce paralysis of education sector clashed with police, at least eight wounded and five others arrested.
Al-Shabaab continued attacks in east, as intercommunal clashes persisted in north. In east, Al-Shabaab militants 10 Nov shot at international NGO vehicle on Masalani-Ijara road, Garissa county, wounding one female staff-member. Unidentified gunmen 20 Nov attacked orphanage at Chakama village, 60km west of Malindi on coast, wounding five people and kidnapping Italian volunteer; no group claimed responsibility. In north, intercommunal clashes persisted in several counties. In Marsabit county, tit-for-tat attacks between ethnic Borana and Gabra over disputed boundaries continued, killing three. In protracted feud over border between Garissa and Isiolo counties, Borana and Somali communities clashed 6 Nov, leaving three dead in Modogashe area. In Wajir county, attack by Gelible sub-clan and reprisal by Matan sub-clan 7-8 Nov left four dead.
Violence marred campaign for 20 Nov senatorial by-elections in Montserrado district thirteen and Sinoe County. Supporters of ruling Coalition for Democratic Change and opposition Unity Party 17 Nov clashed in Montserrado’s thirteenth district, one reportedly killed; police 18 Nov said incidents left four wounded and no one killed. Electoral commission 23 Nov said independent candidate Edward Papay Flomo had won by-elections in Montserrado district; same day delayed release of final results for Sinoe county due to allegations of ballot stuffing; 26 Nov said ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) candidate Augustine Chea had won vote in Sinoe county.
In 7 Nov presidential elections, no candidate won more than 50% of vote needed for victory in first round; candidates who won most votes, former presidents Andry Rajoelina (39.19%) and Marc Ravalomanana (35.29%), to compete in run-off vote set for 19 Dec. Incumbent President Rajaonarimampianina won 8.84%. Rajoelina and Ravalomanana alleged fraud and malpractice by election authorities. Independent National Electoral Commission and monitoring missions of regional bloc South African Development Community and European Union rejected allegations, saying no major irregularities took place.
Govt launched disarmament and reintegration of combatants in north, as communal conflict and jihadist attacks continued in centre and north. In response to criticisms of govt’s proposed bill to reform administrative divisions (leaked in Oct) – including that it would favour nomadic groups and that govt drafted bill unilaterally – govt held consultations with opposition leaders and conferences throughout country. But main opposition leader Soumaïla Cissé 8 Nov declined PM Maïga’s invitation to discuss reforms, citing President Keïta’s lack of legitimacy, and opponents of draft bill in Gao in north prevented organisation of conference there. As envisaged in 2015 Algiers peace agreement, govt launched Accelerated Disarmament, Demobilisation, Reinsertion and Integration (A-DDR-I) program in Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu 6, 9 and 12 Nov respectively aimed at integrating some 1,600 combatants from various armed groups into security forces. Some of those fighters refused to hand over all weapons citing various issues, including their desire to keep same ranks as they held in armed groups. Jihadists kept up attacks in north and centre as French forces continued strikes targeting leaders. Al-Qaeda-linked jihadist coalition Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (GSIM) 9 Nov released video in which Amadou Kouffa, Fulani leader of GSIM member Macina Liberation Front, called on Fulani across West Africa to join jihad, in contrast with past calls addressed to all Muslims. French operation in Gourma area 11-12 Nov killed seven jihadists, including GSIM faction leader al-Mansour Ag Alkassim. Jihadists 12 Nov attacked UN contractors in Gao near UN base, killing three civilians, and suspected jihadists 19 Nov killed Arab officer in mixed army-armed group force in Timbuktu. France 23 Nov said raid by French forces in Mopti region night of 22-23 Nov “put out of action” about 30 jihadist militants, possibly including Kouffa; govt 24 Nov said Kouffa killed. In centre, communal conflict continued. Gunmen 3 Nov attacked five villages in Bankass area reportedly home to ethnic Dogon. Dogon militia Dan Nan Ambassagou 21 Nov said militia, which announced unilateral ceasefire in Oct, had rejected ceasefire with Fulani herders to protect Dogon after several killed by army. Local authorities 22 Nov said about a dozen Fulani herders had been killed in recent days in town of Ouenkoro in Mopti region and accused Dogon hunters.
Suspected Islamist militants stepped up attacks in Cabo Delgado province in far north. Militants 14 Nov executed village chief in Macomia district and 23 Nov attacked village in Nangane district, killing twelve and causing thousands to flee across border into Tanzania. Same night assailants ambushed and killed truck driver on border between Cabo Delgado and Niassa provinces. Militants attacked Nacotuco village, Macomia district 27 Nov, killing one person. Authorities 26-28 Nov arrested over 200 people suspected of belonging to Islamist militant group. Constitutional Council 14 Nov validated results of 10 Oct municipal elections except for in Marromeu municipality, in central province of Sofala, where ruling Frelimo party won 22 Nov re-run.
Suspected jihadist groups stepped up attacks in south west near borders with Burkina Faso and Mali and suspected Boko Haram continued attacks in south east near border with Nigeria. Govt 3 Nov said army had destroyed several camps of alleged jihadists in south west in previous week. Unidentified assailants 17 Nov attacked gendarmerie post near Makalondi, 10km from Burkina Faso border in Tillabery region, killing two gendarmes before retreating across border. Armed assailants 30 Nov attacked police post in Tera town in south west, killing customs officer. Govt same day declared state of emergency in departments of Say, Torodi and Tera in Tillabery region in south west. In south east, suspected Boko Haram militants 22 Nov attacked French drilling company Foraco’s well site in Toumour, Diffa region, eight people killed; local authorities 24 Nov said suspected Boko Haram gunmen had kidnapped fifteen girls overnight in village near Toumour, Diffa region. U.S. media early Nov reported that U.S. military sent letters of reprimand to six personnel, including Air Force two-star general, for their roles in Oct 2017 operation near Tongo Tongo in which four American and four Nigerien soldiers were killed.
Ahead of Feb 2019 elections, Boko Haram (BH), especially Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) faction, stepped up attacks on security forces and civilians in north east and security forces reported over 135 bandits and militia men killed in north west and Middle Belt. About 25 gunmen 14 Nov attacked rally of opposition People’s Democratic Party in Ipo, Rivers state, several reportedly wounded. BH 14 Nov attacked Mammanti village, killing one villager; 16 Nov attacked Kekeno village, number of casualties unknown; 17 Nov attacked army base in Mainok, killing one soldier; ISWAP 18 Nov attacked army base in Matele, reportedly killing at least 43 soldiers including commander (army 28 Nov said 23 soldiers killed); BH same day attacked army base in Gajiram, casualties unknown; 19 Nov killed nine farmers and abducted twelve others outside Mammanti village. ISWAP 27 Nov attacked military base in Cross-Kauwa, three soldiers reportedly killed; 29 Nov attacked army near Gamboru, reportedly killing eight soldiers; ISWAP 30 Nov attacked military in Arege village, killing at least one soldier. Military 18 Nov said it had killed ISWAP’s spokesman Ahmed Saleh, also known as Baban Hassan. Army 17 Nov said it had identified new insurgent sect in north east, Jama’atu Nus’ratul-Islami Wal-Muslimina, led by Abul-Fadl Gali. Insecurity continued in Middle Belt: in Plateau state, unidentified gunmen 11 Nov killed two civilians in Nding village; state govt committee 11 Nov reported “recent” violence had killed 1,801 people and displaced 50,212 persons across state. In north west, violence involving bandits, community defence groups and security forces continued. Army 19 Nov said it had killed fourteen bandits, cattle rustlers and kidnappers in Kaduna and Niger states; 20 Nov said continuing airstrikes had killed unspecified number of bandits and destroyed their camps; police 30 Nov reported 104 bandits killed in major anti-rustling operation in Birnin Mogaji, Zurmi local govt area, Zamfara state. In north central, army 23 Nov reported seventeen militia men killed in Benue, Nasarawa and Taraba states. Communal violence reported elsewhere. In Cross River state, six communities early Nov clashed in Odukpani area, reportedly part of long-running land disputes, at least twelve killed. In Bauchi state, fighting in state capital Bauchi 18 Nov left eight people dead.
Al-Shabaab stepped up attacks in capital Mogadishu and elsewhere and militia fighting broke out in Galmudug state. In Mogadishu, Al-Shabaab car bomb attack 8 Nov killed Hirshabelle regional state MP Abdiwali Mohamed and two others; militants 9 Nov carried out three car bomb attacks: two targeted Sahafi hotel, killing around 52 civilians, five Al-Shabaab militants killed in ensuing gunfight. U.S. airstrikes on Al-Shabaab strongholds continued; airstrikes near Debatscile 19 Nov killed 37 militants; airstrike in Quy Cad Mudug region 20 Nov killed seven militants; airstrike near Lebede, Bay region 30 Nov killed nine militants. Al-Shabaab 16 Nov launched assault against Sufi paramilitary group Ahlul Sunnah Waa-Jama’a (ASWJ) in Guriceel district in Galgaduud province, ASWJ retained control of district. In Galkayo in north, Al-Shabaab 26 Nov attacked compound of Sufi cleric killing him and at least seventeen of his followers. Fighting erupted in Galmudug 19 Nov between two militias from Marehan and Ceyr clans; federal and regional govts sent military to stop fighting. Islamic State (ISIS) intensified operations in Mogadishu and southern Somalia; extorted business leaders in Mogadishu, killed those who refused to pay taxes to ISIS. Al-Shabaab 13 Nov executed six of its members in Sakow, Middle Juba region in south for pledging support to ISIS leader Abdulqadir Mumin. Regional elections postponed to 5 Dec. President Farmajo met Ethiopian PM Abiy and Eritrean President Afwerki in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia 9 Nov, all agreed to strengthen tripartite cooperation.
Somalia’s semi-autonomous region Puntland and Somaliland forces 4 Nov clashed in Tukaraq, reigniting conflict over disputed territories of Sool and Sanaag.
UN undersecretary-general for peacekeeping operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, 16 Nov reportedly said UN might support deployment of forces from regional bloc Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) countries to support implementation of peace plan, but suggested extra troops would need to join UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). Troika on South Sudan – U.S., UK and Norway – 16 Nov offered cautious support for deployment, but said UN Security Council would need to approve any additional troops. IGAD 16 Nov urged govt to devote more resources to implement peace deal and directed its special envoy to reach out to warring groups who have not signed agreement. South Sudan National Dialogue, unilaterally launched by Kiir in 2017, late Oct put forward proposal to revert to colonial three-province system that would decentralise power. NGO Doctors Without Borders reported that gunmen 19-29 Nov raped 125 women in Bentiu, Northern Liech state; govt denied report. UN “extremely concerned” about dramatic increase of conflict-related sexual violence, despite peace deal signed in Sept.
U.S. media mid-Nov reported that U.S. State Department had signalled to Sudanese officials that U.S. was open to dropping Sudan’s designation as “state sponsor of terrorism” if latter made progress in six areas, including expanding counter-terrorism efforts, ceasing fighting with rebels and working toward peace talks, and severing ties with North Korea. In south Darfur, fighting renewed between paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and rebels of Sudanese Liberation Army faction led by Abdel Wahid (SLA-AW) in Jebel Marra region; several civilians reportedly killed 13 Nov in RSF attacks in Deribat area, SLM-AW 25 Nov claimed that it killed eighteen RSF troops when it repelled attack led by govt forces in Feina area. Sudan and Egypt 25 Nov agreed to set up joint military patrols on their borders with Libya.
Main opposition coalition 26 Nov said it would boycott 20 Dec general elections, alleging polls would be “fraudulent”, and held protest 29 Nov in main towns against irregularities in election process and called for further protest 1 Dec. Security Minister General Yark Damehame previous week warned against acts of violence seeking to upset campaigns and voting.
Following international criticism of govt for arrest of popular politician and singer Robert Kyagulanyi, crackdown on protesters, political opposition and journalists continued at lower levels. President Museveni 7 Nov ordered deployment of army across capital Kampala to patrol streets and set up roadblocks. Museveni 15 Nov said military and police would deploy to guard Chinese investors, following spate of attacks and robberies. Police 26 Nov arrested fifteen opposition supporters at gathering of opposition party Forum for Democratic Change in south-western Rukungiri, home of party leader, Kizza Besigye. Amid rising tensions on Lake Albert that straddles DR Congo-Uganda border, Congolese militiamen 18 Nov shot dead seven Ugandan fishermen. Increased cross-border attacks by Ugandan rebel group Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) based in DRC 18 Nov prompted army to deploy more troops along Uganda-DRC border.
Amid ongoing economic crisis that has led to hike in prices of goods including food, drinks and clothes and caused fuel shortages, govt statistics agency Zimstat 13 Nov released data showing inflation soared in Oct to highest level since 2008. Main opposition party Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) held demonstrations in capital Harare 29 Nov to protest worsening economic conditions among other issues, demanding national dialogue and power-sharing transitional administration. MDC leader Nelson Chamisa 26 Nov testified before Commission of Inquiry probing 1 Aug post-election violence, saying his party had not incited supporters to take to streets. Commission concluded hearings and said it would deliver final report to President Mnangagwa 1 Dec.
Taliban made further territorial gains and launched large-scale attacks on previously peaceful areas of Ghazni province, and govt forces suffered heavy casualties in Farah province. Major incidents included Taliban assaults 6-7 Nov and again from 20 Nov on Jaghori district (Ghazni province), overrunning govt positions and reportedly killing at least 30 soldiers; Taliban 28 Nov attacked British security firm, killing six including one Briton. Taliban roadside bomb 26 Nov killed three U.S. soldiers in Ghazni, worst loss of life for U.S. military so far in 2018 in Afghanistan. At least six killed in suicide attack on a demonstration in Kabul 12 Nov claimed by Islamic State-Khorasan Province (IS-KP). In Farah province, Taliban early Nov assaulted govt positions in Pusht-i Kuh, Khok-i Safed and Baka Bluk districts, killing dozens; and 26 Nov killed at least twenty police in ambush near Lash wa Juwayn district. Defence and interior ministers 14 Nov acknowledged serious threats in Ghazni, Ghor, Farah, Uruzgan and Kunduz provinces. Arrest of Hazara militia commander 25 Nov prompted further violent protests in Kabul, forcing govt to release him two days later. Suicide attacker 20 Nov killed at least 50 at gathering of religious scholars near Kabul Airport; Taliban condemned attack. IS-KP claimed responsibility for 23 Nov explosion in mosque in Afghan army base in eastern Khost province, killing at least 26. U.S. airstrike 27 Nov reportedly killed at least 23 civilians in Garmsir district (Helmland province). Delegations from Taliban and Afghanistan’s High Peace Council participated in international peace conference in Moscow 9 Nov, but reported no progress; Afghan delegation restated offer for unconditional direct peace talks with Taliban, while Taliban called intra-Afghan talks premature as long as Taliban are negotiating withdrawal of U.S. forces. U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad held talks with Taliban representatives in Doha 14-16 Nov; Taliban described meetings as “preliminary talks”, said “no agreement was reached on any issue”. President Ghani 28 Nov announced roadmap to peace with Taliban that he said would take at least five years. Complaints about alleged fraud and disenfranchisement during Oct parliamentary elections continued; full preliminary results delayed until 1 Dec.
Fears heightened over potential for election-related violence in atmosphere of political acrimony and mistrust, amid continuing clashes between opposition supporters and police. Ruling Awami League 8 Nov announced general election for 23 Dec, but four days later moved election date to 30 Dec ostensibly in response to demands from Bangladesh National Party (BNP)-led opposition alliance Jatiya Oikya Front (United National Front, UNF); govt rejected opposition demands to postpone polls by one month and create independent caretaker govt to oversee election. UNF 11 Nov agreed to participate in election “despite prevailing unfavourable conditions” (including continued imprisonment of BNP leader Khaleda Zia) “as part of its movement to restore democracy”. BNP supporters and police clashed in Dhaka 14 Nov, with some 40 people wounded; BNP 11 Nov claimed thousands of its supporters have been arrested since mid-2018 in ongoing govt crackdown. Court 15 Nov granted bail to photographer and activist Shahidul Alam, arrested under internet laws in Aug for criticising govt’s crackdown on student demonstrators. Following late Oct agreement with Myanmar on repatriation of Rohingya refugees (see Myanmar) govt 14 Nov announced voluntary repatriation would begin next day, with 2,260 people scheduled to return in groups of 150 per day; amid refugee protests, disappearance into hiding of many of those due to be repatriated, and international criticism, FM next day said “there is no question of forcible repatriation”, and govt subsequently said it would wait until after elections to decide course on repatriation.
Further reports emerged describing extensive growth of political re-education camps used for mass detention of Muslims in Xinjiang region. Jamestown Foundation report 5 Nov cited evidence of dramatic increases in Xinjiang local govt budgets for construction of security facilities, prisons and detention centres in areas with high concentration of ethnic minorities. China 6 Nov faced Universal Periodic Review by UN Human Rights Council; thirteen mostly Western countries expressed concern over China’s treatment of minorities, calling on Beijing to release those arbitrarily detained and close camps; China rejected criticism and did not respond to requests to allow independent UN observers into region. Six UN officials 12 Nov penned letter to Beijing describing Xinjiang regulations and justifications for re-education centres as contrary to international human rights law, while group of fifteen Western ambassadors, spearheaded by Canada, co-signed letter to Xinjiang Party Secretary requesting meeting to discuss alleged human rights abuses against ethnic Uighurs; foreign ministry dismissed letter as interference in China’s internal affairs. Coalition of 278 scholars issued statement 26 Nov calling on states and institutions to demand Beijing end detentions and impose sanctions. China’s state media continued to frame camps as necessary and effective response to terrorism and extremism. China’s ambassador to U.S. said any sanctions would draw “proportionate retaliation”, Reuters reported 27 Nov. Chinese state media late Nov reported that authorities in Ningxia province, home to Hui Muslim minority, signed “cooperation anti-terrorism agreement” with officials in Xinjiang, prompting concerns among rights groups of possible spread of crackdown.
Chinese lieutenant-general led military officers responsible for East China Sea on visit to Japan 18-22 Nov; most senior delegation to visit since 2010, showing improving ties. U.S. and Japan held biennial “Keen Sword” Pacific maritime military exercises near Japan 29 Oct-8 Nov, joined by Canada for first time. PM Abe and U.S. VP Pence during 13 Nov meeting in Tokyo announced combined $70bn infrastructure development commitment to Indo-Pacific region, seen as response to China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Japanese media 27 Nov reported govt is considering upgrading Japan’s two Izumo-class helicopter carriers to enable them to carry F-35B Lighting fighter jets; plans to acquire more jets; and may build a third such vessel.
Govt deployed 100,000 armed police to secure two-phase Chhattisgarh assembly election 12 and 20 Nov; polls saw 76% turnout despite Maoist boycott and threats. In Chhattisgarh state, four civilians and several security forces and suspected Maoist rebels were killed in clashes during month; group of 62 Maoists 6 Nov surrendered in Narayanpur district. Security forces 5 Nov shot dead five suspected Maoists, including two women, in Malkangiri district, Odisha state. Two suspected female Maoist rebels killed Nov 19 in encounter with security forces in Gadchiroli district, Maharashtra state.
Jammu and Kashmir Governor Satya Pal Malik 21 Nov dissolved state legislative assembly, citing “impossibility of forming a stable government by the coming together of political parties with opposing ideologies”. Election Commission next day said new elections to be held within next six months. Violence in region continued; Indian security forces 30 Oct reported they killed two militants in Tral district, including nephew of Pakistan-based jihadist Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar; 1 Nov killed two suspected militants in Budgam district; 6 Nov killed two suspected militants and 25 Nov killed at least six suspected militants and one civilian youth in Shopian district; six militants killed 23 Nov in gun battle with security forces in Anantnag district. Authorities imposed curfew 2 Nov to forestall religious violence after armed men killed Anil Parihar, ruling BJP’s state secretary and his brother in Kishtwar town previous day. Reported death toll for 2018 – 400 according to Indian army figures – worst in a decade. Pakistani officials said cross-Line of Control (LoC) firing by Indian troops claimed several lives in Azad Jammu and Kashmir bordering villages including one woman killed 2 Nov, and 10 Nov critically injured five civilians. In wake of ceasefire violations in recent months, Indian and Pakistan armies 23 Nov held brigade commander-level meeting at Poonch-Rawlakote border crossing to recommit to 2003 ceasefire agreement. India 22 Nov approved building of new border entry point and road connecting northern State of Punjab to border with Pakistan, making it easier for Sikh pilgrims to visit holy site. India 23 Nov protested harassment and denial of access to their Islamabad-based High Commission officials at two centres of worship near Lahore to meet Indian pilgrims visiting Pakistan under 1974 Bilateral Protocol.
Month saw further reports of clashes between military and pro-independence movement West Papua Liberation Army in Papua province’s Highlands; two Liberation Army fighters reported killed in clash with police and soldiers in Lanny Jaya district 3 Nov, after shooting dead a man they believed was spying for military. Police reportedly arbitrarily arrested over peaceful 100 pro-independence activists in Jayapura 19 Nov, releasing them next day. National Intelligence Agency reported findings that imams at dozens of mosques, including some in Jakarta attended by civil servants, were expressing support or sympathy for Islamic State (ISIS) and encouraging congregants to fight for it; also noted signs of radicalisation at university campuses.
Talks between U.S. and North Korea almost ground to a halt with cancellation by North Korea of 7 Nov planned meeting in New York between U.S. Sec State Mike Pompeo and North Korean counterpart Kim Yong-chol. Cancellation of talks followed statement from regime-linked North Korean think-tank floating idea that Pyongyang could restart nuclear activities if sanctions relief is not forthcoming. In interview with U.S. broadcaster 15 Nov, U.S. VP Mike Pence reaffirmed sanctions would stay in place until establishment of roadmap for North Korean denuclearisation, but avoided putting preconditions on holding of second U.S.-North Korea summit, declaring “it is imperative in this next summit that we come away with a plan for identifying all of the weapons … all the development sites, allowing for inspections of those sites and a plan for dismantling the nuclear weapons”. New U.S.-South Korea working group on North Korean issues meeting for first time 20 Nov coordinated UN Security Council waiver allowing joint survey to assess state of rail links between two Koreas; breaking with previous position, U.S. reportedly “expressed full and strong support” for joint survey; according to Sept Pyongyang Declaration, road and rail reconnection work should begin end-Nov/early Dec. U.S. 21 Nov announced planned Foal Eagle military exercise with South Korea early 2019 will be scaled down “to keep it at a level that will not be harmful to diplomacy”. U.S. think-tank CSIS 12 Nov released satellite photos reportedly showing that Pyongyang is maintaining over a dozen missile launch sites.
During his swearing in ceremony 17 Nov, President Solih vowed to end corruption, investigate human rights violations allegedly committed under former President Yameen and restore justice.
Concerns continued over possible forced repatriation of Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh, while ethnic peace process appeared to enter fragile stage ahead of dry season with spike in fighting and all sides losing confidence in the current peace process. Fighting among ethnic armed organisations spiked in Shan state, specifically between Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) and Shan State Army North (SSA-N), and between RCSS and Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA); two largest armed groups’ suspension of participation in ethnic peace process (Karen National Union late Oct and RCSS 2 Nov) dealt significant blow. Following 30 Oct agreement between Myanmar and Bangladesh to proceed with limited repatriation of Rohingya refugees, planned return of some 2,260 scheduled to begin 15 Nov did not proceed after no one was willing to return; Bangladesh stated it will not proceed with repatriations until after its elections 30 Dec (see Bangladesh). UN and aid organisations had strongly criticised plan. Several reports emerged of refugees, fearful of forced returns, resuming dangerous boat journeys across Bay of Bengal, possibly aided by organised smuggling operations. On sidelines of ASEAN summit 11-15 Nov, Malaysian PM Mahathir Mohamad again criticised State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and govt’s oppression of Rohingya; summit outcome statement 15 Nov stated need for accountability and creation of conditions in Rakhine state conducive for refugee returns. In 14 Nov meeting with Suu Kyi, U.S. VP Mike Pence called for progress on accountability for violence against Rohingya and for pardon of two Reuters journalists jailed in 2017. Govt criticised UN General Assembly’s 16 Nov resolution which endorsed UN Fact-Finding Mission’s report and establishment of Independent Mechanism to prepare prosecutorial files. With possibility of end to EU’s Everything But Arms preferential trade scheme and pursuant uncertainty over future of garment industry reportedly having serious effect on business and investor sentiment, EU delegation visited early Nov to assess human rights environment.
Criticism of Nepal Communist Party (NCP)-led govt continued to grow over its slow performance and increasing lack of transparency. Govt widely criticised for violating working procedure and not disclosing decisions taken in 11 Nov Council of Ministers meeting; media representatives described move as latest in effort to curb press freedom. PM K.P. Oli also initiated performance evaluation of his cabinet amid calls for a reshuffle. Oli was criticised for glorifying himself in bid to highlight govt’s progress with full front-page advertisements featuring his photo across most major newspapers 27 Nov to roll out new Social Security policy; policy was first announced in 2009. Concerns raised by reports that govt is considering broadening National Intelligence Department mandate to allow intelligence-gathering on cabinet members, constitutional bodies, and non-state agencies. Senior NCP leaders frustrated with delays in holding meeting of party’s Standing Committee to address increasing internal dissent, which grew over lack of consultation on recent ambassadorial appointments. Rift between federal and provincial govts regarding devolution of power widened following 4 Nov circular that new civil service staff for provincial and local govt would be recruited at federal level. Human rights activists called on govt to press Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi to ensure safe return of Rohingya refugees during 29-30 Nov visit to Kathmandu for Asia Pacific Summit; Nepal one of 26 countries to abstain from voting on 16 Nov UN General Assembly resolution condemning human rights violations in Myanmar including against Rohingya Muslims.
Supreme Court’s 31 Oct acquittal of Aasia Masih “Bibi”, Christian woman sentenced to death in 2010 for blasphemy, prompted violent protests countrywide by Islamist groups, spearheaded by Tehreek-i-Labaik Pakistan (TLP), political front of hardline Barelvi Tehreek-i-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah. Protests ended 2 Nov after ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) struck deal with TLP, pledging to prevent Bibi from leaving Pakistan, not oppose review petition against Supreme Court judgment, and reportedly release religious activists detained for violent acts; perceived govt capitulation raised concerns that radical Islamist parties and groups would be further emboldened. Police arrested TLP leader Khadim Hussain Rizvi 13 Nov to “safeguard public life, property and order” after he refused to withdraw call for further protests; over 300 Rizvi supporters arrested in violent clashes with police. Amid ongoing economic downturn govt continued to seek external support including assistance from China and International Monetary Fund bailout package; 20 Nov received $1bn from Saudi Arabia, part of controversial support package agreed in Oct. Relations with U.S. worsened as President Trump in 18 Nov interview accused Pakistan of doing “nothing” for U.S. and assisting Afghan Taliban, prompting Khan to accuse U.S. of using Pakistan as “scapegoat for their failures” in Afghanistan. Several security personnel killed in ongoing attacks including in North Waziristan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK). Pakistani cleric and mentor of Afghan Taliban, Maulana Samiul Haq, killed in Rawalpindi, Punjab 2 Nov. Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for 17 Nov killing of ex-deputy inspector general of police in Quetta, Balochistan. Police 23 Nov killed three suspected suicide bombers attempting to attack Chinese consulate in Karachi; two police and two Pakistani civilians also killed in attack, claimed by separatist Balochistan Liberation Army; PM Khan ordered inquiry, calling attack “conspiracy” against strategic China-Pakistan cooperation. Explosion at market in Kalaya, Orakzai district shortly after killed at least 35; Islamic State (ISIS) claimed responsibility.
At 1 Nov meeting Australian and PNG PMs agreed on joint redevelopment plan for Lombrum Naval Base on Manus Island; U.S. 17 Nov said it will support redevelopment. On sidelines of 17-18 Nov APEC summit in Papua New Guinea, both Australian and Chinese leaders hosted meetings with Pacific Island nation leaders.
Preparations continued for Jan plebiscite on Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL), while violence involving Islamic State (ISIS)-linked groups and New People’s Army (NPA) persisted. Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) leader Murad Ebrahim visited national army HQ 19 Nov, reciprocating Oct visit by army chief of staff to MILF camp; during visit, MILF and military leaders discussed security preparations for 21 Jan plebiscite on creation of new Bangsamoro region through ratification of BOL, campaigning for which starts 7 Dec. Earlier, Moro National Liberation Front in 29 Oct meeting with Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza reiterated support for BOL and pledged to conduct information, education and communications campaign in their communities to support yes vote. Local officials in Maguindanao 8 Nov pledged support for joint security plan signed by police and army late Oct to tackle bomb attacks by ISIS-linked groups in region, which continued to clash with military during month; military late Nov announced operations to target militants ahead of plebiscite. As attacks blamed on communist NPA insurgent group continued, and peace talks remain stalled, govt 22 Nov authorised deployment of more police and military personnel in central provinces of Samar, Negros Oriental and Negros Occidental and Bicol Region; later clarified order was not a prelude to declaration of martial law. Philippines Commission on Human Rights warned move could worsen situation and govt “should address the roots of violence and crime” to stop cycle of violence. Clashes with NPA also reported in Quezon and Aurora (north), Misamis Occidental (Mindanao), Iloilo (centre). Presidential palace 1 Nov announced creation of national task force to address communist insurgency. Discussion over whether to extend martial law in Mindanao beyond 31 Dec continued, with military recommending extension, citing ongoing threat from terrorism and NPA and support from some local govt officials. Presidential Peace Adviser Dureza resigned 27 Nov following corruption allegations against two officials in his office. Govt 20 Nov signed bilateral cooperation agreement with China.
U.S.-China rivalry and South China Sea (SCS) territorial disputes kept tensions high at Asia-Pacific meetings during month, while military exercises continued, and China signed bilateral cooperation agreements with Brunei and Philippines. U.S. Sec Defense James Mattis 9 Nov for first time publicly called on China to “withdraw its missile systems from disputed features” during U.S.-China Diplomatic and Security Dialogue in Washington, said there would be no lessening of freedom of navigation operations (FONOPs); Chinese official criticised FONOPs as “excuse to pursue military actions” and described China’s island bases as necessary response to threat; in rare positive note, both committed to improve communication, including developing military-to-military Crisis Deconfliction and Communication Framework. At ASEAN summit in Singapore mid-Nov, Chinese Premier Li called for “non-littoral countries” to respect China-ASEAN efforts for peace and stability; U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton 13 Nov said U.S. would oppose any agreements limiting free passage in SCS. U.S. Navy cruiser 26 Nov sailed through Paracel Islands, drawing complaint from China over challenge to its maritime claims. China 1 Nov confirmed it is operating weather stations on features it controls in disputed Spratly archipelago; rival claimant Vietnam lodged formal protest. Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative 20 Nov released satellite imagery showing new Chinese platform at Bombay Reef in Paracel Islands, also claimed by Taiwan and Vietnam. Japan’s PM Abe continued efforts to balance China’s regional influence, including agreeing to $1.8bn bond deal assisting Malaysia and strengthening economic and security cooperation with Australia, Japan, U.S. and India (see China-Japan). U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission 14 Nov report warned of China’s “expansionist strategy” and accelerated capacity to contest U.S. militarily. Head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command expressed similar concerns, called for larger navy and shifting ballistic missile defence systems onshore to free up capacity. U.S. conducted naval exercises with Brunei in SCS; announced “complex warfare operations” by two U.S. warships in Philippine Sea 15 Nov; flew B-52 bombers near SCS 19 Nov. China reportedly launched project to build unmanned deep-sea submarine science and defence base in SCS. Xi and Trump met at G20 summit in Argentina 30 Nov-1 Dec.
Month saw continued political paralysis and volatility amid strong resistance to President Sirisena’s unexpected and unconstitutional late Oct move to sack PM Wickremesinghe and install ex-president Mahinda Rajapaksa as PM. With Rajapaksa unable to secure parliamentary majority, Sirisena 9 Nov announced dissolution of parliament and called new parliamentary elections 5 Jan, violating constitutional provisions. More than a dozen petitioners challenged Sirisena’s decision in Supreme Court, which 13 Nov placed interim stay on dissolution and called further hearings early Dec. Parliament reconvened 14 Nov, passing no confidence motion against Rajapaksa by voice vote after pro-Rajapaksa United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) MPs prevented roll-call vote; Rajapaksa and Sirisena rejected vote’s validity. United National Party (UNP) 15 Nov proposed second no confidence motion; UPFA MPs again disrupted proceedings and forced early adjournment. Violence broke out 16 Nov as Rajapaksa supporters threw chairs, cushions, books and chilli-laced water at speaker and police protecting him; majority of MPs rejected Rajapaksa in another voice-vote, again rejected by Rajapaksa and Sirisena. UPFA 18 Nov agreed to roll-call vote but next day refused to honour agreement. With UPFA boycotting, parliament 29 Nov passed UNP motion to deny funding to PM’s office as long as Rajapaksa holds office without parliamentary majority. Popular protests continued with tens of thousands marching in support of Rajapaksa 6 Nov, large pro-UNP rally 15 Nov. Amid warnings of long-term economic damage, rupee fell to record low and ratings agencies 20 Nov downgraded country’s credit. Foreign governments increased pressure on govt: EU ambassador told reporters 1 Nov GSP+ trade benefits, restored in 2017, were at risk if constitution not respected; Japan announced suspension of large development assistance package; and U.S. announced $500mn aid was on hold; International Monetary Fund suspended ongoing currency support program pending political clarity.
Commissioning two former U.S. warships for Taiwan’s navy 8 Nov, President Tsai said Taipei “will not retreat an inch” despite warnings from China over deepening defence ties with U.S.. U.S. VP Mike Pence 17 Nov in rare meeting with Taiwan’s representative at APEC said Trump administration will continue to uphold Taiwan Relations Act and “One-China Policy”. Taiwan officials early Nov accused China of trying to influence local elections. Ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) suffered major defeat in 24 Nov local elections, losing key cities to China-friendly opposition Kuomintang (KMT). In response, President Tsai resigned as DPP chair. In 24 Nov referendum, voters rejected proposal to compete as “Taiwan” rather than “Chinese Taipei” at Olympics; name change could have become obstacle to participation. U.S. Navy 29 Nov sent two ships through Taiwan Strait for third time this year, stepping up demonstrations of support for Taipei.
Violence continued in Deep South and uncertainty continued over date for general election. In Deep South, attackers 17 Nov fired grenades and small arms rounds at Ranger base in Nong Chik district, Pattani; no casualties. Two motorcycle-borne gunmen shot dead man at tea shop in Bannang Sata district, Yala 18 Nov. On 25 Nov, two defence volunteers and assistant village head were killed in gun attack at a market in Thepa district, Songkhla; bomb attack on ranger patrol in Yaha district, Yala, injured one; and six attackers shot at rangers and defence volunteers in Rangae district, Narathiwat, no injuries. Southern Border Provinces Administrative Centre 23 Oct reported that violent incidents in southernmost provinces have declined by 70% since 2011, with only 140 incidents to date in 2018 compared to 619 in 2011. National Security Council 20 Nov announced lifting of state of emergency – in effect in most districts in Deep South since 2005 – in Narathiwat province’s Sukhirin district, and imposition of 2008 Internal Security Act, in view of improved security situation. Govt yet to declare official date for general election, widely presumed to be 24 Feb 2019. PM Prayuth Chan-ocha 17 Nov invoked Article 44 of 2014 Interim Constitution to give Electoral Commission (EC) power to redraw constituency boundaries, amid complaints over lack of public consultation and EC’s perceived lack of independence, seen as likely to benefit pro-regime parties. New constituency boundaries published in Royal Gazette 29 Nov.
Parliament dissolved 1 Nov ahead of snap parliamentary elections to take place 9 Dec. Tensions increased with Belarus, which proposed taking chairmanship of Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) ahead of schedule after Armenia recalled its official who has been charged with overthrowing constitutional order in 2008, part of ongoing criminal investigations into post-election crackdown. CSTO members were unable to reach final decision on candidacy of the next chair at 8 Nov meeting, to continue discussion at 6 Dec session.
Security forces 4 Nov killed two alleged religious extremists in shootout in second-largest city, Ganja, who were alleged to be planning terrorist attack. Police 17 Nov detained 52 and arrested eleven members of opposition Popular Front Party for holding unsanctioned political march; eight of the eleven were released with administrative fines two days later, three sentenced to twenty-day administrative arrests.