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 80 conflicts and crises, identifying trends and alerting them to risks of escalation and opportunities to advance peace.
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In October, a resurgent Taliban heavily disrupted Afghanistan’s parliamentary elections, and a constitutional crisis in Sri Lanka could trigger violence. A new initiative to start peace talks among Yemen’s warring parties offers hope for November. One of the protagonists, Saudi Arabia, drew fire after the tragic murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Political tension mounted in Guinea, Zimbabwe and Cameroon, where presidential elections deepened societal fractures. Deadly violence rose in neighbouring Chad, where the fight against Boko Haram intensified, eastern DR Congo, north east Angola, the Comoros Islands, in a territory disputed between Somaliland and Somalia, and at the Gaza-Israel border. In East Asia, criticism grew over China’s detention of mostly Uighur Muslims in mass internment camps, and strategic competition between the U.S. and China stepped up – while relations between Japan and China improved. Honduras faced more political instability. Hostilities worsened in the conflict zone in eastern Ukraine, and tensions grew in the Western Balkans and Russia’s North Caucasus. On a positive note, Armenia and Azerbaijan’s new communication channel to manage incidents on their border and in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone started operating.
Our President Robert Malley's monthly column to accompany the CrisisWatch conflict tracker for October/November 2018 looks at how, amid growing tensions around the globe, there are new hopes for breakthroughs to peace in Yemen and between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
In Asia, President Sirisena’s unexpected decision on 26 October to form a new government with controversial former President Rajapaksa without following established legal procedures plunged Sri Lanka into a constitutional crisis, provoking unrest and concerns over the progress of reforms and ethnic reconciliation. As we have stressed, to avert further violence and political unrest, the U.S., European Union, India and other international actors should continue to urge Sirisena to reconvene parliament to select a prime minister through legal channels. In Afghanistan, the Taliban’s killing of powerful Kandahar police chief General Abdul Raziq two days before parliamentary elections on 20 October showed rising Taliban strength, prompting concerns for security in the southern region and casting a shadow on the idea of peace talks.
With Sino-U.S. tensions at their worst in decades, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence’s hawkish speech on 4 October containing a litany of complaints about Chinese activities across economic, political, security and human rights dimensions, and portraying China’s strategy of militarisation in the South China Sea, was a clear signal of intensified U.S.-China strategic competition. China and Japan continued measures to improve their relations with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s “historic” visit to China in late October. Amid growing global censure of reports that China has forcibly detained hundreds of thousands of mostly Uighur Muslims in mass internment camps, new details emerged about the scale and conditions of these camps, along with news that the Xinjiang regional legislature has revised its anti-extremism regulations, retroactively authorizing their existence.
In Africa, while Cameroon’s hazardous presidential elections took place largely peacefully on 7 October, the legitimacy of the vote was called into question as most Anglophones boycotted it – the official turnout in the English-speaking Northwest and Southwest regions was 5.36% and 15.94% respectively – and the opposition rejected President Biya’s win, claiming fraud. The shrinking political space nationwide and heavy security response to the Anglophone crisis deepened societal divisions.
In neighbouring Chad, the fight against Boko Haram intensified. Militia attacks increased in and around Beni in eastern DR Congo, triggering riots in the city, in turn throwing up more obstacles for those trying to contain the Ebola outbreak. In the name of cracking down on irregular diamond mining, security forces and locals in north east Angola assaulted and looted Congolese, killing at least six and forcing some 330,000 to flee into Congo. Zimbabwe’s political and economic crisis deepened and on Anjouan, one of the Comoros Islands, the military clashed with armed protesters, who rejected the results of the July referendum that ended rotation of the presidency around the three main islands.
The opposition in Guinea organised a series of protest marches in the capital Conakry, which degenerated into battles with security forces and left three protesters dead. In Sool region, a territory claimed by both Somaliland and Somalia’s Puntland, fighting between rival clan militias left close to 100 dead.
In the Middle East, United Arab Emirates-backed forces in Yemen pursued a campaign to strangle the Huthi-held port city of Hodeida, risking awful humanitarian consequences. Fighting around the city and on other frontlines could escalate in coming weeks, but November also offers an opportunity to stem the country’s ruin, as the UN envoy prepared a new initiative aimed at setting up a framework for talks, and the U.S. put pressure on warring parties to announce a ceasefire.
The alleged murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul sparked criticism of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who some suspect ordered the killing, weakening his hand at home and abroad. Turkish authorities said that audio and video recordings from inside the consulate prove the journalist was tortured, murdered and dismembered there. Deadly clashes escalated between Palestinian protesters and Israeli security forces at the Gaza-Israel border, leaving at least seventeen Palestinians dead, while rocket fire from Gaza and Israeli bombing raids there intensified.
In Central America, Honduras experienced its worst crisis since the disputed November 2017 general elections after thousands of Hondurans started a “migrant caravan” toward the U.S., which threatened to cut off all bilateral aid.
In Europe, hostilities worsened in the conflict zone in eastern Ukraine, while tensions between Kyiv and Moscow continued to rise over the Azov Sea and the proposed establishment of a self-governing Ukrainian Orthodox Church. In the Western Balkans, Kosovo’s moves to transform its security force into a national army raised tensions with Serbia, and Bosnia’s flawed electoral process, and the victory of a hardline nationalist who has called for the break-up of the country, were cause for concern. In Russia’s North Caucasus, a controversial border demarcation deal with Chechnya triggered a political crisis in Ingushetia.
Finally, on a positive note, the communication channel between Armenia and Azerbaijan, which they agreed in late September to help prevent incidents on their state border and in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone, started operating.
Persistent militant attacks in north and east, mainly against security forces, continued to provoke popular frustration and spur regional cooperation. In north, suspected Islamist militants attacked gendarmerie post in Lanfiera, Sourou province night of 1-2 Oct, injuring three gendarmes. Unidentified gunmen 3 Oct attacked security post at Inata gold mine, Soum province, killing one gendarme; in response French Operation Barkhane night of 3-4 Oct launched its first airstrike in Burkina Faso, reportedly killing seven assailants. Homemade mine 5 Oct killed six gendarmes on Sollé-Titao axis, Louroum province. Unidentified assailants 18 Oct attacked gendarmerie in Djibo, Soum province, injuring several members of security forces. In east, military vehicle 4 Oct detonated mine near Gayeri, Komondjari province, six soldiers killed. Military vehicle 6 Oct triggered mine near Kabonga, Kompienga province, one soldier killed. Barkhane same day launched airstrikes in support of Burkinabe military in Pama region. Defence, security and foreign affairs ministers of Burkina Faso, Niger, Benin and Togo met in capital Ouagadougou 16 Oct to work out common strategy to counter rising insecurity in eastern Burkina. Fifteen civil society organisations organised rally 31 Oct to protest rising insecurity and mark fourth anniversary of 2014 popular uprising. Paris Court of appeals 10 Oct postponed to 5 Dec legal deliberations required to process request to extradite François Compaoré, brother of deposed President Blaise Compaoré, prosecuted for alleged involvement in assassination of journalist Norbert Zongo and three others in 1998.
Signatories of 2015 Algiers peace agreement recommitted to implement deal, as intercommunal violence and attacks on security forces continued in centre, north and east. Govt and head of UN mission (MINUSMA) 15 Oct signed “pact for peace”, recommended by UN, renewing commitment to accelerated implementation of 2015 deal. Other signatories, former rebel Coalition of Azawad Movements (CMA) and pro-national unity Platform coalition, committed to pact separately. Draft bill to redraw administrative boundaries – reform included in 2015 deal – leaked 10 Oct, triggering criticism; proposed division of territory into twenty regions instead of current ten and creation of dozens of new local administrative areas (cercles) would seem to favour nomadic communities, particularly Tuareg and Arabs, by giving them more seats in parliament and local councils. In centre, unidentified gunmen 15 Oct attacked Telly village, Mopti region, reportedly targeting ethnic Fulani, at least eleven civilians killed. Military vehicle hit explosive device night of 10-11 Oct between Djoungani and Koro in Mopti region, three soldiers killed. Explosive device 27 Oct injured four UN peacekeepers in Konna, Mopti region. PM Maïga in Mopti city 2 Oct expressed support for dialogue initiatives between ethnic Fulani, Bambara and Dogon communities by NGO Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue and urged communal militias to take part. Having declared unilateral ceasefire, ethnic Dogon militia Dan Nan Ambassagou early Oct said it would lay down weapons. Maïga also visited Tenenkou town in centre 13 Oct in show of state authority. In north, explosive device reportedly injured five UN peacekeepers 3 Oct near Kidal city. Unidentified assailants 27 Oct attacked UN base in Ber, Timbuktu region, two UN peacekeepers killed; claimed by jihadist Group to Support Islam and Muslims (JNIM) 29 Oct. In east, army, French Barkhane force and local allies mainly ethnic Dossaak Movement for the Salvation of Azawad (MSA) and Platform coalition member Self-Defence Group of Imrad Tuareg and Allies (GATIA) continued operations in Mali-Niger-Burkina Faso border area; army supported by Barkhane aircraft 16 Oct destroyed jihadist base in Ndaki, near Burkina Faso border. Landmine reportedly killed civilian 16 Oct near Ménaka. Dozens of opposition parties and associations, including party of main opposition leader Soumaïla Cissé, 6 Oct created new coalition, Front for the Salvation of Democracy (FSD). Constitutional court 16 Oct postponed legislative elections, initially scheduled for Oct, sine die, extending mandate of MPs to June 2019.
Security forces responded to rising banditry in Niger-Nigeria border area. Interior Minister Mohamed Bazoum 10 Oct announced creation of Niger-Nigeria joint battalion at Madarounfa, Maradi region in south to counter insecurity in border area; Bazoum 16 Oct said that in three-week operation joint forces had killed 30 “bandits”, arrested a dozen and dismantled twelve bases. Govt 17 Oct renewed for three months state of emergency in Diffa region in south east and Tahoua and Tillabery regions in west bordering Mali. General Abu Tarka, head of govt’s High Authority for Consolidating Peace, 9 Oct said militants linked to jihadist groups were returning from Mali and asking to reintegrate into local communities. About 4,000 people demonstrated 6 Oct in capital Niamey against 2019 budget adopted by ministerial council in Sept. Authorities 5 Oct released three civil society leaders arrested in April during unauthorised gathering against fiscal measures. Govt and opposition early Oct agreed to revise electoral law.
Govt, ruling party and allied parties boycotted fifth round of inter-Burundian dialogue aimed at resolving political crisis triggered by President Nkurunziza’s 2015 decision to stand for third term. African Union (AU) Peace and Security Council 2 Oct reaffirmed support for East African Community (EAC) team facilitating talks, said AU would reduce number of human rights observers and military experts in Burundi and called on EU to lift sanctions. Govt supported facilitation team’s proposed agenda, focused exclusively on preparations for 2020 elections, while opposition expressed desire to include other issues including fallout from Nkurunziza’s decision to stand for third term. Eleven nominally opposition but in reality pro-govt parties 15 Oct conditioned their participation on strict respect for agenda. Opposition party Sahwanya FRODEBU 19 Oct withdrew from coalition of opposition parties in exile CNARED. Govt boycotted fifth round of talks 25-29 Oct in Arusha, Tanzania reiterating that it would not take part in dialogue including those accused of plotting 2015 failed coup. EU 25 Oct extended travel bans and asset freezes against four govt officials until 31 Oct 2019 citing lack of progress in resolving stalemate. National Security Council late Sept suspended foreign NGOs for three months starting 1 Oct on grounds that they failed to respect Jan 2017 law on foreign NGOs, but gave no details on violations. Govt 2 Oct said to be able to resume work NGOs must deposit third of budget in Central Bank, sign agreement with foreign affairs ministry, agree to support national development plan and adhere to ethnic quotas for employees. Three International Rescue Committee staff arrested in Muyinga 10 Oct for violating ban. Unidentified armed group night of 7-8 Oct attacked Murwi commune, killing two; local authorities blamed Rwanda.
Opposition’s rejection of President Biya’s win in 7 Oct presidential poll citing fraud further intensified political polarisation and intercommunal antagonism, as violence continued in Anglophone areas and Boko Haram continued attacks in Far North. Opposition candidate Akere Muna 5 Oct withdrew from race and joined Maurice Kamto’s party, but electoral commission refused to pull his ballot papers citing lack of legal guidance. Vote took place largely peacefully 7 Oct, but Anglophones’ mass boycott saw official turnout of 5.36% in Northwest and 15.94% in Southwest. Kamto 8 Oct proclaimed himself winner, raising tensions between his ethnic Bamileke and Biya’s Beti. Citing lack of evidence Constitutional Council rejected opposition’s eighteen petitions denouncing fraud and demanding annulment of some or all votes. Security forces 21 Oct blocked planned opposition protest, briefly arresting supporters. Constitutional Council 22 Oct announced Biya winner with 71.28%, Kamto second with 14.23%; Kamto rejected results and again claimed victory. U.S., UK and African Union (AU) accepted results but urged reform. Kamto 24 Oct released plan to contest results with protests in Cameroon and at embassies in Europe and U.S.. Kamto’s supporters 27-28 Oct staged small-scale protests in Douala and capital Yaoundé; authorities 27 Oct briefly detained Kamto’s lawyer and dozens of protesters. Presidential candidate Cabral Libii, officially placed third, 29 Oct claimed he had won, said he would petition AU and UN. In Anglophone regions, military reinforcements as well as govt and separatists’ restrictions on movement and public gatherings kept violence down on national day 1 Oct and during presidential poll. Separatists raised flag of self-proclaimed Anglophone state Ambazonia in several places 1 Oct. In response, military burnt many houses in Ekona and Maumu in Southwest. On voting day, separatists attacked security forces around polling station in Bamunka-Ndop and exchanged fire with military in Bamenda, both Northwest, at least three separatists killed. After elections, military launched operations focused on Baba 2, Northwest and on Ekombe-Mundongo axis, Southwest, killing over ten separatists. Suspected Anglophones attacked school in Penda-Mboko, Littoral region 29 Oct. U.S. missionary killed between Bambili and Bamenda, Northwest 30 Oct during exchange of fire between separatists and military. In Far North, Boko Haram killed two people in Doublé, Mayo-Sava department 5 Oct; abducted eight women and one child in Vourkaza, Mayo-Moskota department 21 Oct; killed two people in Amchidé, Mayo-Sava 25 Oct.
MPs’ vote to sack national assembly president, a Muslim, stirred sectarian tensions, as armed groups repositioned themselves vis-à-vis parallel mediation processes. After 95 of 140 MPs 17 Oct signed petition demanding removal of National Assembly President Karim Meckassoua, several hundred people 23 Oct demonstrated in support of Meckassoua in PK5, mainly Muslim neighbourhood where he was elected MP. Meckassoua stepped down 26 Oct after 98 of 140 MPs voted in favour of his dismissal; Meckassoua 28 Oct said he would challenge decision in courts. During parliamentary session to elect new speaker 29 Oct, former anti-balaka militia leader and MP Alfred Yekatom fired shots in parliament following altercation. After pause in proceedings, MPs elected Laurent Ngon-Baba as new assembly president. Leaders of three ex-Seleka armed groups who signed provisional agreement in Sudanese capital Khartoum 28 Aug said they were only willing to take part in African Union-led mediation process: Abdoulaye Hissene of Popular Front for the Central African Renaissance (FPRC) and Ali Darassa of Union for Peace in the Central African Republic (UPC) made statement 19 Oct and Mahamat al-Khatim of Patriotic Movement for the Central African Republic (MPC) took same position 22 Oct. In north west, five armed groups – 3R, anti-balaka faction, Democratic Front of the Central African People (FDPC) and two rival factions of Justice and Revolution Movement – signed ceasefire agreement at Koui 22 Oct; contents remained undisclosed. Russia 19 Oct said it would send more military equipment and 60 additional civilian instructors to CAR. Special Criminal Court to try suspected crimes against humanity since 2003 held inaugural session 22 Oct.
Boko Haram (BH) attacks on security forces and counteroffensives intensified near Lake Chad in west, as fighting between army and Libya-based rebels resumed in north. BH mortar attack on military camp at Litri, near Nigerian border night of 4-5 Oct reportedly killed one soldier. BH fighters 9 Oct attacked army positions in Kaiga-Kindjiria, Lake Chad region, killing eight soldiers; in retaliatory offensive military claimed to have killed 48 militants. Following 17 Oct visit to Kaiga-Kindjiria, President Déby ordered command centre for counter-BH operations to move there and troops to rotate. Clashes between army and Libya-based Chadian rebel group Military Command Council for the Salvation of the Republic (CCMSR) erupted 24 Oct in Miski gold mining area in far north; fighting continued end Oct, number of casualties unknown. Fighting flared in southern Libya mid-Oct reportedly between Libyan National Army (LNA) of Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, de facto leader in eastern Libya, and its auxiliaries on one side and gunmen whom LNA claimed were Chadian armed groups on other (see Libya). Haftar discussed insecurity in border area with Déby in N’Djamena 16 Oct. In east, sedentary farmers and nomadic herders 19 Oct clashed in Djiré, Ouaddai region, at least five people killed. Govt and trade unions 27 Oct signed agreement, ending five-month public sector strike. (Updated 1 Nov)
Militia attacks escalated in and around Beni in east, sparking local protests and obstructing Ebola response, while political parties continued to debate core electoral issues, including use of voting machines, ahead of Dec general elections. In Beni territory, North Kivu province, armed assailants, most suspected to belong to Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) armed group, upped attacks, leaving dozens of civilians and soldiers dead. Suspected ADF militants 4 Oct attacked army post, killing at least four soldiers and two civilians; ambushed car between Beni and Ituri province killing five people 9 Oct; attacked Beni city 20 Oct killing at least twelve people and abducting at least eight. Violence fuelled growing popular frustration: teachers went on strike, students protested, rioters 21 Oct set fire to govt buildings in Beni city. Violence and community protests in Beni complicated response to Ebola outbreak. Elsewhere, unidentified assailants killed at least 21 civilians near Rubaya, North Kivu 6 Oct. During 4-8 Oct visit, UN Security Council delegation called for consensus on voting machines and voter roll. Unidentified assailants night of 21-22 Oct attacked with grenades home of André-Alain Atundu, spokesperson of ruling coalition, nobody hurt. Govt cancelled opposition rally in Lubumbashi in south planned for 14 Oct. Seven major opposition platforms met in South Africa 23-25 Oct and said they would designate joint candidate by 15 Nov. Opposition held protests 26 Oct in several cities, including capital Kinshasa, Goma and Bukavu against use of voting machines and calling for cleaning of voter roll; opposition party Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) of Félix Tshisekedi did not take part. Supreme Court 10 Oct suspended trial of exiled opposition leader Moïse Katumbi for alleged recruitment of mercenaries as judges refused to hear lawyers in absence of defendants. Tensions between govt and Angola rose after Angolan security forces and locals in Lucapa, Lunda Norte province in north east Angola 3-5 Oct assaulted and looted Congolese, forcing some 330,000 to flee across border into DR Congo, at least six killed (see Angola).
President Afwerki 13-14 Oct visited Ethiopia, including opening of sugar factory. Human rights groups criticised UN General Assembly’s 12 Oct election of Eritrea to UN Human Rights Council for 2019-2021 alongside seventeen other countries on grounds that govt is “unqualified” due to its rights violations.
Govt and Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), group fighting for secession of Somali region which declared unilateral ceasefire in Aug, signed framework agreement in Eritrean capital Asmara 21 Oct and agreed to set up joint committee to continue to address root causes of conflict. About 300 soldiers 10 Oct held protest march through capital Addis Ababa to PM Abiy’s office and demanded to speak to him; once disarmed and admitted, they expressed grievances relating to salary and other benefits. Army chief of staff 14 Oct said high-ranking officers behind protest had been arrested. Abiy 18 Oct described march as attempt to derail reforms. Govt 10 Oct demanded remaining armed fighters of rebel group Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), which signed reconciliation agreement with govt in Aug, to hand over weapons; 1,300 fighters have reportedly already disarmed. OLF fighters reportedly clashed with security forces in Qelem district of Wolega 28-29 Oct. In ethnic Tigray region in north, Raya people protested, demanding that they be recognised as belonging to wider Amhara community; security forces 21 Oct forcibly dispersed crowds, killing at least three. During congress of ruling coalition Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), PM Abiy and Deputy PM Demeke Mekonnen elected as Chairman and Vice-Chairman 3 Oct until next congress. Govt 16 Oct announced new cabinet of twenty ministers (down from 28), including ten women. Parliament 25 Oct approved Sahle-Work Zewde as country’s first female president, replacing Mulatu Teshome, who resigned unexpectedly previous day.
In north east, Al-Shabaab fighters attacked school in Mandera East constituency about 1km from Somalia border, killing two Christian non-local teachers. Military vehicle 16 Oct detonated mine in Kamor Bahawa, Mandera East; security forces responded with search operation, reportedly torching houses nearby. In north, intercommunal attacks rose in Marsabit county. In longstanding conflict between ethnic Borana and Gabra over disputed boundaries, attackers killed four people in Shurr 12 Oct and ethnic militia attacked village in Jaldesa area 17 Oct killing two. Police 22 Oct arrested two MPs from Marsabit for incitement.
Galmudug state’s political crisis continued, regional state leaders remained at loggerheads with federal govt and Al-Shabaab maintained attacks. Galmudug MPs in Cadaado city 20 Oct elected new state president, claiming to have overthrown state President Ahmed Geele “Xaaf”; Xaaf rejected vote and said “Mogadishu will not be safe if Galmudug is destabilised”. Presidents of regional states that severed ties with federal govt in Sept met in Garowe, Puntland 20-23 Oct, discussed relations with federal govt and affirmed support for President Xaaf. U.S. airstrike in village near Haradheere, Galmudug state 12 Oct killed 60 Al-Shabaab militants; deadliest U.S. airstrike in 2018. Al-Shabaab militants near Balcad, Middle Shabelle region 1 Oct killed prominent leader of Ma’awisley civilian movement resisting Al-Shabaab in Hiraan and Middle Shabelle regions. Clashes between rival clan militias in Dhumay village, near Somaliland-controlled Las Canod in Sool region (claimed by both Somaliland and Puntland) erupted 22 Oct. Fighting continued at lower intensity end Oct, as elders called for ceasefire; close to 100 people killed.
In Sool region, claimed by both Somaliland and Puntland, deadly clashes between rival clan militias in Dhumay village, near Somaliland-controlled Las Canod erupted 22 Oct. Fighting continued at lower intensity end Oct, with elders calling for ceasefire; close to 100 people killed.
Rebel leader Riek Machar and Sudanese President Bashir were among high-profile delegates who visited capital Juba 31 Oct for “peace celebration” following signing in Sept of Revitalised Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan (R-ARCSS). Some rebel and opposition groups continued to reject new peace agreement. Clashes broke out in Yei River state in south between rebel groups National Salvation Front, which did not sign R-ARCSS, and Sudan People’s Liberation Army-In Opposition (SPLA-IO), which did sign; both groups accused each other of launching initial attacks. Despite cessation of hostilities, ceasefire monitors also identified hotspots for conflict at frontlines south west of Wau in west and in former Unity state in north. UN Security Council 11 Oct extended mandate of UN peacekeeping mission in disputed Abyei region (UNISFA) on Sudan-South Sudan border until 15 April 2019 and conditioned extension beyond that date on neighbours making progress on border demarcation among other measures.
Following meeting between Presidential Assistant Faisal Ibrahim and Thabo Mbeki, head of African Union High-Level Implementation Panel on Sudan, govt 17 Oct expressed readiness to resume repeatedly stalled negotiations with political opposition and armed rebels.
As part of govt’s “continuous operation” in Mtwara region in south east bordering Mozambique, police late Oct said it had arrested 104 alleged Islamist militants, whom it claims were planning to set up bases in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province, site of Islamist insurgency since Oct 2017; Mozambique police 23 Oct said number arrested had risen to 132.
Amid govt crackdown on irregular artisanal diamond mining in east, security forces and locals in Lucapa, Lunda Norte province in north east 3-5 Oct attacked and looted Congolese, forcing hundreds of thousands to flee across border into DR Congo; at least six killed. DR Congo 16 Oct condemned what it called Angola’s violent expulsion of Congolese. UN 26 Oct said 330,000 people had reportedly crossed border and that security forces on both sides had committed human rights violations. Angolan govt denied accusations, claiming 380,000 people had left over previous month, most voluntarily.
Following controversial July referendum that extended presidential terms and stopped rotation of presidency between three main islands, protesters clashed with security forces, temporarily seizing part of Mutsamudu city, capital of autonomous Anjouan island which had been due to take up presidency in 2021. In Mutsamudu, armed protesters barricaded roads and clashed with soldiers 15 Oct. Some 50 protesters took control of old quarter and held it for six days until military regained control 20 Oct; gunfights between protesters and security forces left at least three dead. Military imposed curfew and cut off water and electricity supply. Rebels have sought asylum in French-controlled Mayotte island. UN and African Union 18 Oct called on govt to resume Inter-Comorian dialogue which was started in Sept but suspended 2 Oct. Govt and opposition Juwa party 20 Oct signed deal including arms amnesty. Police 21 Oct arrested Anjouan governor, who opposed President Assoumani’s measures, and charged him with complicity in anti-govt insurrection and murder.
After opposition parties suspended their involvement in security and constitutional reform process backed by regional bloc Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) in Sept, SADC sent facilitation team to attempt to revive process 8-9 and 15-16 Oct. Govt and opposition 16 Oct signed agreement to continue reforms.
Campaigning for 7 Nov presidential elections officially began 8 Oct. 36 candidates competing, including former Presidents Ravalomanana and Rajoelina whom incumbent President Rajaonarimampianina unsuccessfully attempted to block from running in April-May 2018. Unidentified groups 10 and 12 Oct tried to disrupt Rajaonarimampianina’s rallies. African Union 23 Oct said it would send election observers.
Govt 3 Oct put on trial 189 people suspected of belonging to Islamist militant group active in Cabo Delgado province in far north near Tanzanian border, suspects reportedly include 29 Tanzanians and three Somalis. Tanzanian police late Oct said it had arrested 104 people in Tanzania, whom it claims were planning to set up bases in Cabo Delgado; Mozambique police 23 Oct said number arrested had risen to 132. In local elections 10 Oct, ruling Frelimo party won 44 of 53 municipalities (down from 49) with 57% of total vote, while main opposition party Renamo – contesting local elections for first time in a decade – won eight municipalities with 36.5% of vote. Renamo claimed its victory was stolen in five further municipalities. Renamo and civil society groups accused Frelimo of ballot stuffing and spoiling and highlighted irregularities in counting. U.S. embassy called elections “largely free and fair”. In run-up to vote, Frelimo and Renamo supporters clashed in western city of Tete 7 Oct, twelve arrested; police 8 Oct used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse parade of Renamo members and supporters in central province of Zambezia. President Nyusi 6 Oct launched initiative to disarm and reintegrate Renamo’s military wing; some Renamo fighters to be integrated into army and police. Renamo 24 Oct said peace talks with govt on hold due to alleged election fraud.
Imposition of new tax and extreme shortages of cash, food and fuel exacerbated widespread anger at govt following disputed and violent July polls. Opposition continued to contest results of July presidential and parliamentary elections as deepening economic crisis fuelled protests. EU observer mission 10 Oct released final report on July elections saying they “fell short of international standards” and electoral commission “lacked full independence”; next day, ruling ZANU-PF dismissed report as “script” of opposition party Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) Alliance. In attempt to address currency shortages and struggling economy, govt 1 Oct imposed 2% tax on electronic transactions. Collapse in value of bond notes and electronic bank balances led to spike in prices of goods such as fuel, food and medicine. Congress of Trade Unions 9 Oct called for protests against new tax in capital Harare, Mutare and Masvingo to be held 11 Oct. Police 11 Oct arrested dozens of would-be demonstrators, citing ban on public gatherings in capital Harare, imposed in Sept following cholera outbreak. Price rises triggered panic buying and shortages of fuel and basic goods. In response, govt 23 Oct lifted ban on import of basic goods and food. MDC leader Nelson Chamisa 23 Oct called for creation of national transitional govt to resolve political and economic crisis, calls which President Mnangagwa dismissed 25 Oct. Commission of Inquiry on post-election violence chaired by former South African President Kgalema Motlanthe began public hearings 16 Oct: opposition vowed not to take part claiming that commission comprised ZANU-PF supporters, protests disrupted hearings in Bulawayo 26 Oct.
President Ouattara’s ruling coalition Rally of Houphouëtists for Democracy and Peace (RHDP) won regional and municipal elections 13 Oct, polling day marked by several violent incidents. RHDP won eighteen of 31 regions and 92 of 201 communes. Former President Henri Konan Bédié’s Democratic Party of Côte d’Ivoire (PDCI) won six regions and 50 communes. Turnout was low at 36.2% for municipal polls and 46.3% for regional ones. Govt 17 Oct said five people killed in violence around polling day: clash between supporters of opposed parties left one dead in Bédiala in west 6 Oct, two people killed in clashes between supporters of defeated candidate and security forces in Seguela city in centre 14 Oct, and attack by Dozo hunters in Issia in centre 17 Oct left two dead. Electoral commission annulled results from several places due to suspected fraud or security incidents, including Facobly department (Guémon region in west) and Port-Bouët (district of Abidjan); electoral commission has one month to organise new polls in these areas.
Security forces and opposition protesters clashed several times in capital Conakry and elsewhere, reportedly leaving three protesters dead. Opposition, led by Cellou Dalein Diallo’s party Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea, 15-16 Oct held general strikes in capital Conakry and several other cities to protest ruling party Rally for the Guinean People (RPG)’s alleged appointment of loyalists in local administrative positions, which it said violated 8 Aug agreement between opposition and govt; security forces reportedly shot dead protester 16 Oct. More protests in Conakry 23 Oct led to clashes between protesters and security forces, eighteen-year-old youth reportedly killed and Diallo claimed that security forces shot his car; Diallo accused President Condé of assassination attempt. Protesters 24 Oct clashed with security forces in Labe, Diallo’s hometown 400km north of Conakry, at least 30 protesters wounded. Opposition launched general strike in Conakry 29 Oct in support of teachers asking for salary rise. Renewed protests in Conakry 30 Oct led to more clashes; one opposition supporter killed and security forces prevented Diallo from leaving his home. Following dismissal of Constitutional Court President Kèlèfa Sall in Sept, President Condé 3 Oct confirmed that Constitutional Court VP Mohamed Lamine Bangoura would replace him; Bangoura took office 8 Oct.
Teachers’ unions 1 Oct launched 30-day strike over unpaid salaries and poor working conditions after govt failed to implement deal that unions made with govt in 2017. Thousands protested in capital Bissau 21 Oct against lack of transparency and irregularities in voter registration process ahead of legislative elections scheduled for 18 Nov. Govt 22 Oct announced extension of voter census by one month until 20 Nov, likely delaying vote.
Boko Haram (BH)-related violence continued in north east as intercommunal attacks persisted in centre. In Borno state in north east, troops and Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF) vigilantes 5 Oct killed five insurgents in Gara; army 6 Oct repelled militants’ attack on Ngala displaced persons’ camp, killing three; troops and CJTF 7 Oct killed militant in Mairari; BH 8 Oct attacked military base in Metele, killing at least seven soldiers; troops 12 Oct repelled BH attack on Arege base, reportedly killing several militants; troops and vigilantes 10 Oct reportedly killed three militants in Kaltunbare; Air Force 11 Oct destroyed BH training camp in Malkonory; militants 20 Oct attacked farmers near Kalle, killing at least twelve. Suspected BH 20 Oct attacked Mairari and Femari, killing at least one. BH 22 Oct attacked Mifa, killing at least two. BH 27-28 Oct attacked military base in Gashigar, killing one soldier. Air Force 23 Oct destroyed BH base in Abadam, reportedly killing several militants. Troops 25 Oct killed two BH in Konduga. Hardline commanders in BH faction led by al-Barnawi, Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), 27 Sept reportedly killed fellow commander Ali Gaga, allegedly planning to surrender. Govt 15 Oct said ISWAP had killed second of three female aid workers abducted 1 March in Rann. Intercommunal violence in Middle Belt, especially in Plateau and Kaduna states, left at least 146 dead. In Plateau state, suspected Fulani herders attacked Berom community in Jol 2 Oct, at least thirteen killed; suspected Fulani herdsmen 3 Oct attacked Ariri, killing nineteen; attack on Nkiendoro village 4 Oct left at least four dead, including military unit commander. In Kaduna state, rival Muslim Hausa and Christian Adara youth 18 Oct clashed in Kasuwan Magani, police said 55 killed but toll may be up to 100. Suspected herdsmen 25 Oct killed three in Guma, Benue state. Troops 21 Oct killed thirteen Gana gang members in Ukum, Benue state. Attacks caused 23 deaths in Kaduna state 21 Oct, nine deaths in Udu, Delta state 22 Oct, “dozens” of deaths in Lamurde, Adamawa state 23 Oct. Nnamdi Kanu, leader of Biafran secessionist group who disappeared in Sept 2017, 19 Oct appeared in Israel and called for boycott of elections until after referendum on Biafra’s independence. Military late Oct clashed with followers of Shia Islamic Movement of Nigeria demanding release of cleric Ibrahim Zakzaky in Abuja; three followers shot dead 27 Oct and at least three killed 29 Oct. Parties elected candidates for 2019 general elections: ruling All Progressives Congress 6 Oct chose President Buhari and main opposition People’s Democratic Party 7 Oct chose Atiku Abubakar. Electoral commission 26 Oct confirmed 79 candidates, including Buhari, will contest Feb 2019 presidential poll.
Amid growing global concern and criticism about reports of mass detentions of hundreds of thousands of Muslims (mainly Uighurs but also ethnic Kazakhs), Xinjiang regional legislature 9 Oct revised its 2017 anti-extremism regulations, retroactively authorising existence of political re-education and detention centres, which officials say are aimed at countering terrorism and religious extremism and achieving social stability and security. Regulations state that so-called “vocational training centres” will “carry out national common language, laws, regulations, and vocational skills education and training, organise and carry out anti-extremist ideological education, psychological correction, [and] behaviour correction”. Radio Free Asia 2 Oct reported Chinese authorities moving large number of Uighur detainees out of Xinjiang to facilities across country due to “overflow of inmates”. Using satellite imagery, BBC 24 Oct reported more than doubling in size of camps and security facilities since 2017 to total 440 hectares across 44 sites; AFP investigation 25 Oct cited Chinese govt documents indicating at least 181 camps exist and local govt departments in charge of such facilities may have procured police batons, cattle prods and handcuffs. UK foreign minister said diplomats who visited Xinjiang confirmed reports of mass internment camps were “broadly true”.
Japanese PM Abe 25-27 Oct made first visit to China since 2011, touted by both sides as “historic” in improving state relations. China and Japan agreed on currency swap mechanism, discussed bilateral trade and investment, and infrastructure cooperation in third countries. Business representatives signed agreements valued at $18bn. Japan and U.S. continued joint military exercises flying B-52 bombers over East China Sea and Sea of Japan 10 Oct and holding “training for operations to retake control of enemy-held remote islands” 14 Oct.
North and South Korea 15 Oct held high-level talks at border village Panmunjom, agreeing on steps toward implementing April Panmunjom Declaration, including general-level military talks on de-escalation and demilitarisation of demilitarised zone, or DMZ (26 Oct), sub-committee meeting on forestry cooperation (22 Oct), and groundbreaking ceremony for connection and modernisation of railways and roads across border scheduled to take place late Nov/early Dec. South Korean media 31 Oct reported National Intelligence Service had observed North Korea preparing for international inspections at its Punggye-ri nuclear test site. U.S. Sec State Mike Pompeo’s fourth visit to Pyongyang 7-8 Oct included reportedly “good and productive” talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un; sides discussed implementation of June Singapore Joint Declaration and plans for second U.S.-DPRK summit, expected to take place early 2019. Pompeo also visited Japan and South Korea, after which he tweeted that he looked forward to ensuring “progress on inter-Korean relations is in lockstep with progress on denuclearization”. After trilateral consultation with South Korea and Japan, U.S. 19 Oct suspended large joint air defence military exercise with South Korea planned for Dec “to give the diplomatic process every opportunity to continue”. During mid-Oct Europe trip, South Korean President Moon met with French, UK and German leaders, asking them to play a role in future UN sanctions relief on North Korea if and when it denuclearises; Moon met with resistance and cautions against pursuing sanctions relief until Pyongyang takes concrete steps toward denuclearisation. South Korean opposition voiced objection to Moon administration’s 23 Oct decision to ratify inter-Korean military agreement without National Assembly approval, branding it unconstitutional.
President Tsai in 10 Oct National Day Address said “China’s unilateral diplomatic offensive and military coercion” harms cross-strait relations. U.S. VP Mike Pence in 4 Oct speech criticised China for actions “that threaten the stability of the Taiwan Strait” (see South China Sea). Taiwan 4 Oct complained China was blocking its proposals at Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum; 22-23 Oct accused China of meddling in its upcoming local elections. Several thousand demonstrators held pro-independence rally in Taipei 20 Oct, called for referendum. Taiwan held joint air, sea and land military exercises 9 and 16-17 Oct, simulating defending against Chinese People’s Liberation Army attacks on its bases. Two U.S. warships sailed through Taiwan Strait 22 Oct, sparking Chinese complaints. China’s defence minister 25 Oct warned against challenging China’s sovereignty over Taiwan. Beijing 31 Oct warned Taipei against official exchanges or military contacts with U.S. and “consequences” from “colluding with foreign forces to damage peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait”; de facto U.S. ambassador to Taiwan told reporters that efforts to decide Taiwan's future by anything “other than peaceful means” are “grave concern” to U.S..
Hostilities and attacks intensified ahead of 20 Oct parliamentary elections, which were marred by insecurity and organisational and technical problems, while Taliban killing of powerful Kandahar police chief prompted concerns for security in southern region and cast shadow on idea of peace talks. Ten candidates killed in run-up to elections (various dates); Taliban claimed 407 attacks on election day, including suicide bombing near polling centre in Kabul killing at least fifteen and blocked roads; govt reported 193 security incidents. Preliminary figures indicated about four million votes cast (out of nine million registered voters) in 32 of 34 provinces; vote postponed for security reasons in Ghazni and Kandahar provinces (taking place in latter 27 Oct), while polls failed to open in many districts elsewhere. Observers anticipating further political tensions and turbulence when results are announced, expected for 20 Nov. In attack claimed by Taliban, gunman 18 Oct shot dead Kandahar provincial police chief Gen Abdul Raziq, provincial chief of National Directorate of Security, and TV cameraman, in governor’s palace in Kandahar city, also injuring several including provincial governor, two Afghan and one U.S. military commanders, and U.S. civilian and translator; top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan Gen Austin Miller narrowly escaped. Govt claimed increase in offensive operations ahead of election including in Farah, Kandahar, Faryab and Maidan Wardak provinces. Taliban claimed to have overrun at least four districts in Maidan Wardak, Paktika and Ghazni provinces. Taliban 3 Oct claimed to have removed Islamic State-Khorasan Province (IS-KP) from half of Wazir Tangi in Khogyani, Nangarhar province. Month saw apparent decrease in IS-KP activity, with group claiming suicide attack 2 Oct on office of election candidate in Kama district, Nangarhar province, killing over a dozen; and 29 Oct suicide bombing targeting election commission HQ in Kabul, killing staff member and police officer. New U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad 12 Oct reportedly led delegation talking to Taliban in Qatar; Taliban said they discussed “ending occupation” and working toward peaceful resolution to Afghan conflict. Reports emerged that U.S. did not fully inform Afghan govt; several non-Taliban political factions voiced concerns of potential U.S. appeasement of Taliban.
Court cases involving leading opposition figures, including Bangladesh National Party (BNP) leader Khaleda Zia, continued ahead of general elections planned for Dec 2018 or Jan 2019. Court 10 Oct handed down death sentence to nineteen out of 49 defendants convicted of involvement in 2004 grenade attack on rally of PM Hasina (leader of then-opposition Awami League, AL) which killed some 24 and wounded 300; those sentenced include former minister from then-ruling, now opposition BNP Lutfuzzaman Babar; Tarique Rahman, self-exiled son of imprisoned BNP leader Zia, given life sentence in absentia. BNP condemned verdict as “manifestation of political vengeance” by ruling AL and announced countrywide protests. Court 29 Oct sentenced Zia – jailed in Feb for five years – to further seven years jail on corruption charges. BNP 13 Oct formed Jatiya Oikya Front (United National Front) alliance with other opposition parties to contest upcoming general elections, naming former foreign minister and veteran of various govts Kamal Hossain as leader. Editors of sixteen newspapers 15 Oct protested newly-passed Digital Security Act in Dhaka, claiming act would curb press freedom and demanding removal of various sections; govt dismissed concerns. Govt 30 Oct agreed to start repatriation of Rohingya refugees back to Myanmar mid Nov following bilateral meeting in Dhaka.
In Chhattisgarh state, several members of security forces and suspected Maoist rebels killed in clashes during month; in Dantewada district, suspected Maoists 28 Oct attacked Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader, leaving him severely injured. Security forces 18 Oct killed female suspected Maoist leader and captured four other suspected Maoists including three women near border between Andhra and Odisha states.
In Indian-administered Kashmir, first of four rounds of local elections in Jammu and Kashmir state – first since 2005 – began 8 Oct amid boycott by two mainstream parties and violence between militants and govt. Ruling Bharatiya Janata Party made some advances, winning around 100 wards in valley: Congress won 175; both benefited from National Conference and People’s Democratic Party boycott of the polls over govt’s “lack of clarity” on legal challenge to Article 35-A of Constitution, which provides special rights and privileges to Jammu and Kashmir’s permanent residents. Tensions rose in valley after security forces 11 Oct reportedly killed high profile Hizbul Mujahideen militant Manan Wani in Hardwara, Kupwara district (north west); separatists organised complete shut-down next day. Police 21 Oct killed three suspected militants during overnight fighting in Laroo village, Kulgam district (south); unexploded shell from clashes detonated later same day, killing seven civilians and leading to mass protests throughout south Kashmir; separatists held second complete shutdown 22 Oct. Clashes between militants and police left two alleged Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT) militants, one civilian and one policeman dead in capital Srinagar 17 Oct. Army claimed to have killed three militants who were trying to cross Line of Control (LoC, dividing Pakistan and Indian-administered Kashmir) in Baramulla district (north west) 18 Oct. Security forces 25 Oct claimed to have killed four militants in clash in Anantnag district (south) and two in Baramulla district (west). Tensions between Pakistan and India remained high following India’s late Sept cancellation of bilateral meeting on sidelines of UN General Assembly; Pakistani PM Khan 21 Oct condemned “cycle of killings of innocent Kashmiris” by Indian security forces; Indian govt said Pakistan should “address its own issues”.
Following his defeat in Sept presidential elections, outgoing President Yameen 10 Oct filed challenge to results in Supreme Court (SC), alleging vote rigging; SC 21 Oct unanimously rejected challenge citing lack of evidence, finding no basis to overturn result. SC 30 Oct overturned exiled former President Nasheed’s prison sentence for terrorism.
Internal dissent within ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) continued to raise concerns about stability of govt. Senior NCP leaders criticised PM KP Oli for monopolising party decisions, including on appointments of provincial-level leaders; widespread censure by NCP members’ senior and rank-and-file members toward an eventually scrapped but haphazard plan to elect senior leader Bamdev Gautam into parliament after having a sitting MP resign also stoked internal discord. Govt’s sluggish performance and failure to empower provincial authorities in line with 2015 constitution also hampering governance and creating tensions between federal and provincial govts. NCP Co-chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal warned Province 2 (the only province out of seven in total composed of Tarai-only districts) to not “overtake” the federal govt after it endorsed provincial-level police act 13 Oct; Dahal argued the act contravened the constitution and undermined transition to federalism. Province 2 govt deferred threats to further adopt new legislation on civil service and a public service commission for a month following federal govt assurance it would enact necessary laws within that time; federal govt also claimed it would authorise provinces to handle internal security matters until a federal police act is issued.
Govt faced growing internal challenges with signs of more robust opposition and worsening economic crisis, as well as tensions with neighbouring countries and international partners. Days before 14 Oct by-elections for several national and provincial assembly constituencies, National Accountability Bureau (NAB) 5 Oct arrested leader of parliamentary opposition and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) president Shahbaz Sharif on corruption charges. Shahbaz – released on parole for 17 Oct special parliamentary session – denounced “unholy alliance” between Ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and NAB; PTI claimed it had no role in arrest. PML-N and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP, whose co-chair, former President Zardari, also faces corruption investigations) cooperated in some constituencies; PML-N won four parliamentary seats, PTI lost three. Amid worsening economic downturn, finance minister and central bank governor 11 Oct met International Monetary Fund (IMF) director reportedly seeking $8bn in loans; IMF insisted on greater transparency about Pakistan’s debts. Govt 23 Oct announced loans of $6bn from Saudi Arabia following Khan’s visit to Saudi economic conference in Riyadh 22-23 Oct. Govt 1 Oct reportedly reduced Chinese loans under China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) for rail projects from $8.2bn to $6.2bn, potentially straining relations with Beijing. Tensions also increased with Iran and Afghanistan over border incidents, as Iranian Sunni militant group Jaish al-Adl – reportedly based in Balochistan – 16 Oct kidnapped fourteen Iranian border guards close to border, and Pakistani and Afghan border forces 15 Oct clashed near city of Chaman in Balochistan (south west). FM Shah Mahmood Qureshi 2 Oct met with his U.S. counterpart Mike Pompeo and U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton to discuss Pakistan’s role in bringing Afghan Taliban to peace talks and U.S. suspension of financial assistance to Pakistani military over alleged Pakistani assistance to Afghan Taliban. Militant attacks continued, including roadside bombs killing three paramilitaries in Balochistan 2 Oct and three soldiers in South Waziristan (north west) 11 Oct. Financial Action Task Force visited Pakistan 7-18 Oct and expressed concern at govt’s lack of progress in improving anti-money laundering and counter-terror financing laws. PTI 12 Oct withdrew legislation to amend blasphemy law under apparent pressure from Islamist hardliners.
President Sirisena’s 26 Oct decision to withdraw his United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) from national govt and form new govt with controversial former president Mahinda Rajapaksa as new PM plunged country into constitutional crisis, provoking unrest and prompting concerns over progress of reforms and ethnic reconciliation. Sitting PM Ranil Wickremesinghe and his United National Party (UNP) rejected Rajapaksa’s appointment as violating constitutional procedures and called for vote in parliament to test what Wickremesinghe claimed was his majority support. Sirisena 27 Oct prorogued parliament until 16 Nov, giving time to Rajapaksa to win over UNP parliamentarians needed to gain majority. Sirisena 29 Oct appointed first dozen ministers to his new cabinet, including crossovers from UNP, and named new senior officials to ministries and govt departments. Parliament Speaker Karu Jayasuriya 28 Oct affirmed Wickremesinghe as sitting PM and called on Sirisena to reconvene parliament; leader of Tamil National Alliance (TNA) R. Sampanthan same day called for speaker to reconvene parliament; leftist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) 29 Oct also rejected suspension of parliament. U.S. 28 Oct, followed by UK, EU and Canada 29 Oct, called for Sirisena to immediately reconvene parliament. In 29 Oct meeting with foreign diplomats, Sirisena defended legality of Wickremesinghe’s sacking, pledged to continue to “strengthen democracy, human rights, media freedom, peace and reconciliation”. Attorney general 31 Oct refused to endorse Wickremesinghe’s sacking. Pro-Rajapaksa govt employees stormed state TV stations 26 Oct and evicted Wickremesinghe-appointed staff; one person shot dead 28 Oct, two injured, by bodyguard of UNP Petroleum Minister Arjuna Ranatunga as crowds of Rajapaksa supporters tried to prevent Ranatunga from entering his office. Tens of thousands joined peaceful UNP-organised rally in Colombo rejecting “illegal” appointment of Rajapaksa as PM, calling for return of parliament. Parliament 10 Oct approved law to establish Office of Reparations to provide relief to victims of civil war, second of govt’s four promised transitional justice mechanisms.
EU 5 Oct notified Cambodia that it would initiate process to withdraw Cambodia’s “Everything But Arms” trade preferences due to deterioration of human rights in kingdom. Without clear improvements, Cambodia set to lose $676mn annually to EU tariffs affecting 40% of exports. Cambodia called move “an extreme injustice”. EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini met with PM Hun Sen 18 Oct on sidelines of Asia-Europe Summit in Brussels, raising EU concerns about rights situation in Cambodia; told reporters she did not hear anything that would avert sanctions.
Security forces responded harshly to peaceful protests in support of the right of self-determination in Papua prompting international criticism, while concerns over risks of new jihadist attacks remained. Govt accused Vanuatu of fuelling tensions late Sept after it voiced support for West Papuan self-determination movement at UN General Assembly and called for UN Human Rights Council to investigate rights abuses in region. UK-based TAPOL and U.S.-based East Timor and Indonesia Action Network reported authorities late Sept arrested over 120 peaceful protestors – including 39 in West Java – who voiced their support for right to self-determination; also said that at least five Papuans were tortured in Sept and one died in police custody. Military early Oct reported one Papuan killed in operation seeking members of West Papua Liberation Army in Puncak Jaya regency, Papua province; local rights activists reported two members of Liberation Army and five civilians including two children killed in land and air operations. Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict released report 18 Oct warning that Islamic State (ISIS)-linked Jamaah Ansharut Daulah, blamed for May Surabaya bombings, is still a threat and could launch attacks in west and central Java. Organisers of movement promoting moderate Islam cancelled mass rally in Yogyakarta late Oct to avoid violence after some of its supporters burned flag of outlawed Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir.
Chair of UN-appointed Fact Finding Mission Marzuki Darusman 24 Oct briefed UN Security Council on Sept final report into rights violations in Rakhine State and other parts of Myanmar, which gave further details to back up its findings of crimes against humanity, war crimes, and possible genocide by Myanmar military, and called for removal of military leadership, restructuring of institution and end to its political role; report also rejected general economic sanctions. Darusman said thousands of Rohingya still fleeing “ongoing genocide”. Myanmar and Bangladesh officials 30 Oct agreed to start repatriation of refugees mid-Nov. EU 5 Oct announced it is considering revoking Myanmar’s access to “Everything But Arms” preferential trade scheme, which can be withdrawn in case of “serious and systematic violation” of human and labour rights; campaign groups criticised move which could seriously affect garment industry employing some 450,000 people, mostly young women from poor rural families, calling instead for expansion of targeted sanctions on individuals including Commander-in-Chief. At UN Human Rights Council late Sept, members approved resolution establishing body to consolidate evidence of crimes against Rohingya into case files linked to specific perpetrators, to pave way for future international prosecutions. Australia 23 Oct imposed sanctions on five senior military officials, aligning with U.S. and EU. Govt and representatives of ten non-State armed groups met in summit in Naypyitaw 15-16 Oct, third anniversary of signing of Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement; no real progress in overcoming main issues deadlocking peace process, including military demands that armed groups accept principle of non-secession before further dialogue on federalism and security sector reform. Conflict in Kachin and Northern Shan states still eased due to monsoon season and summit, although clashes starting to increase in Northern Shan.
Violence and clashes involving New People’s Army (NPA) and Islamic State (ISIS)-linked militants continued, while govt mulled extension of martial law in Mindanao to secure 2019 elections and plebiscite on Bangsamoro Basic Law. Security forces clashed with NPA, armed wing of Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), including in Mindanao, where military reported it had seized control of NPA camp in Surigao del Norte 5 Oct. Military 17 Oct said it had captured five senior NPA leaders at checkpoint in Laguna province, south of Manila, accused of plot to oust Duterte. Alleged NPA attacks included one on road-building project in neighbouring Negros Oriental (centre) 18 Oct; and several deadly attacks on police in various provinces including in Camarines Sur (centre) and Aurora (north of Manila) 16 Oct. Military suggested NPA involvement in 20 Oct killing of nine farmers (including two minors) in Negros Occidental. Military 17 Oct said NPA attempting to incite unrest to push Duterte to declare martial law. Duterte 20 Oct said communist rebels should lay down their arms and would receive benefits including housing in return; communist leader Jose Maria Sison same day said ready to resume peace talks with govt. On one-year anniversary of end of five-month siege of Marawi City by ISIS-linked militants, Bangsamoro activist group reiterated complaints about official rehabilitation of destroyed city and alleged human rights violations by military. Presidential spokesperson 19 Oct said govt may again extend martial law in Mindanao, set to expire 31 Dec. Military continued operations against ISIS-linked Abu Sayyaf in south, including on Jolo island and in Mindanao’s Lanao del Sur, including three marines and seven suspected militants reported killed in clash in Patikul, Sulu 26 Oct. Military 22 Oct reported it had killed alleged key leader of ISIS-linked Ansar Al-Khilafah Philippines (AKP) in Mindanao’s Sarangani province, who they said was involved in 16 Sept explosion in General Santos city. Several killed in clashes between military and ISIS-linked Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters in Mindanao’s Maguindanao province. UN General Assembly 12 Oct re-elected Philippines to another three-year term on UN Human Rights Council, in move govt said vindicated Duterte’s crackdown on drugs.
U.S. VP Mike Pence 4 Oct delivered hawkish speech signalling intensified U.S.-China strategic competition, while diplomacy continued. Pence’s speech included numerous complaints including China’s militarisation of features in South China Sea (SCS). Pence also said U.S. navy would continue to “fly, sail and operate” despite China’s “reckless harassment”, following close encounter between countries’ naval vessels late Sept. China 5 Oct said “unwarranted” and “groundless” accusations harmed its interests and bilateral relations and further criticised U.S. policies 8 Oct during visit of U.S. Sec State Mike Pompeo to Beijing. U.S. Sec Defense James Mattis 16 Oct visited Vietnam for second time in 2018; and on sidelines of 18-20 Oct ASEAN defence minister’s meeting in Singapore agreed with Chinese defence minister Wei Fenghe to make military ties play stabilising role in relations. ASEAN defence ministers 19 Oct formally adopted code and communication protocol to manage aircraft encounters over SCS; China and U.S. agreed in principle to adhere to protocol. Japan conducted multiple unprecedented military drills with UK, U.S. and Philippines at various locations across Indo-Pacific region, while PM Abe discussed Indo-Pacific and SCS cooperation with Australian, French, and Vietnamese counterparts. China and Thailand 20-29 Oct joined Malaysia for joint maritime exercises off coast of Malaysia, and China and ASEAN members held first joint maritime military exercises 22-29 Oct. Chinese President Xi 25 Oct inspected PLA Southern Theatre Command, which covers SCS, and emphasised need to “concentrate preparations for fighting a war”.
Personnel changes, and Malaysian PM Mahathir Mohamad’s late-Oct visit to Bangkok, spurred media speculation about new momentum in moribund peace dialogue between Thailand and Mara Patani, umbrella group of Malay-Muslim separatist fronts (Malaysia serves as dialogue facilitator), however no specific initiatives or date for resuming talks were announced, and violence in deep south continued. Retired General Udomchai Thammasaroraj was appointed head of Thailand’s peace-dialogue delegation, and Lt General Pornsak Poonsawat replaced newly retired Lt General Piyawat Nakwanich as commander of Fourth Army Region. Mara Patani mid-Oct told media that it had been joined by three unspecified Patani-Malay nationalist groups; also said Mara Patani would submit new proposal for dialogue following Thai general election expected before May 2019. Main militant group, Barisan Revolusi Nasional Patani Melayu (BRN), in late Oct media interviews reiterated position that group is willing to engage in dialogue under condition that process is between Bangkok and BRN. Several killed including civilians in militant violence in deep south. Ahead of general election, political activity gathering pace despite junta’s ban on political campaigning. Electoral Commission considering investigating pro-Thaksin Shinawatra Pheu Thai Party for breaching election law, which could result in party’s dissolution. New pro-regime party, Palang Pracharat Party, late Sept announced that three senior executive members are sitting cabinet members; junta said they are not obliged to resign, but many politicians voiced objections to conflict of interest.
Observers of Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) criticised campaign for 7 Oct presidential and parliamentary elections at state and entity levels for deficiencies in legal framework, biased media coverage, focus on fearmongering, as well as inadequate transparency and accountability of campaign finances, while victory of Serb nationalist Milorad Dodik (outgoing president of Republika Srpska (RS) entity) in race for Serb seat on three-member state presidency prompted concerns among Western officials citing his calls for RS secession from Bosnia, alleged ties to Russia and announcement, on winning, that his priority would be “to work above all and only for the interests of Serbs”. Dodik 9 Oct told Russian newspaper he would launch initiative for Bosnia to recognise Ukraine’s annexed Crimean peninsula as part of Russia, and prevent activities implementing Bosnia’s NATO Membership Action Plan. Sefik Dzaferovic from main Bosniak party SDA and ally of outgoing Bosniak president Bakir Izetbegovic won Bosniak presidency seat, and moderate Zeljko Komsic (Democratic Front) won Croat seat, beating incumbent Dragan Covic, leader of main Croat party HDZ. Thousands of Bosnian Croat supporters of defeated Covic gathered in Mostar 11 Oct to protest Komsic’s victory, claiming he won with Bosniak votes. Dodik ally Zeljka Cvijanovic won race for RS presidency, although opposition claimed fraud. In vote for state and Federation entity parliament, largest parties maintained their seats, however ongoing dispute on electoral law means they cannot form govt at entity or state level. Election turnout reportedly 53.36%; anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International alleged abuses during campaign period included “direct threats and attacks, pressure on voters and vote-buying, which in the past had been somehow subtle, [but which] have become fully transparent”.
Tensions grew with Serbia over moves in legislature to transform Kosovo Security Force (KSF) into a national army. Parliament 18 Oct approved three draft laws on defence ministry and KSF, expanding latter’s size and competences by transforming it into an organisation to protect Kosovo’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Kosovo Serb representatives boycotted vote. Earlier, NATO said “any initiatives regarding the mandate of the [KSF] should be fully consulted with all communities in Kosovo and with NATO Allies”. Belgrade said transformation of KSF into a regular army is a “threat to peace” that would make Serbia’s position “extremely difficult”, and said it would talk to NATO-led peacekeeping force in Kosovo. After outgoing U.S. ambassador to UN called for termination of United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), Serbian President Vucic 17 Oct said combination of UNMIK departure and formation of Kosovo army would leave Serbia no choice but to “protect” Kosovo’s Serbs. Amid ongoing division within Pristina govt over President Thaci’s proposal for “border correction” as part of EU-facilitated dialogue with Serbia, Thaci 11 Oct claimed French President Macron expressed his support for his proposal.
Following several days of debate, parliament 19 Oct approved govt proposal to change name of country to North Macedonia, in line with June deal resolving name dispute with Greece, in return for Greece lifting its veto on Macedonia joining NATO and EU. Vote just met required two-thirds majority with 80 out of 120 votes, after eight members of opposition coalition voted “yes” against party line, laying out four conditions for their support including formation of parliamentary committee for proposed national reconciliation process. With approval to start procedure, govt immediately began process to prepare and submit draft constitutional amendments to parliament. NATO, U.S. and EU leaders welcomed vote outcome. Interior minister 22 Oct said police providing additional protection for deputies who approved name change, some of whom received death threats. Appeals court 5 Oct upheld two-year jail sentence for former PM Gruevski for unlawfully influencing officials over illegal purchase of luxury car; Skopje court 8 Oct sentenced former interior minister to six years jail for her role in purchase.
PM Nikol Pashinyan resigned 16 Oct, triggering formal process paving way for snap parliamentary elections, expected to take place 12 Dec if National Assembly is unable to elect new PM in next two sessions, first of which took place 24 Oct. Former Republican Party and two other parliamentary groups, who still form majority of MPs, tried to enact bill 2 Oct to block snap election, prompting several hours of street protests in Yerevan initiated by Pashinyan on social media; after days of consultations, parties mid-Oct reached agreement not to nominate PM candidate. Amid ongoing distrust, Republican Party 22 and 29 Oct refused to support amendments to election code, which could delay parliamentary elections.
Deputy Defence Minister met with Israeli Defence Minister 24 Oct to discuss regional security and military-technical cooperation. State budget for 2019 submitted to parliament, outlines roughly 5% increase in defence-related expenditures, up to $1.8bn.
During 45th round of Geneva International Discussions 9-10 Oct, launched in 2008 as main negotiation forum for Georgian conflicts, UN, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), EU co-chairs and U.S. and Georgian representatives urged all participants to resume Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism (IPRM) meetings (aimed at defusing tensions along boundary line) after participants from South Ossetia walked out of meeting in Sept. Participants from Moscow, Abkhazia and South Ossetia expressed support for joint steps to restart IPRM meetings. Co-chairs acknowledged achievements of discussions over last ten years, emphasising however that “core issues remain to be resolved”, including adoption of a joint statement on non-use of force and situation of IDPs and refugees. In presidential elections 28 Oct, no candidate received more than 50% required to avoid runoff; second round scheduled early Dec between two candidates: independent Salome Zourabishvili, supported by ruling Georgian Dream party, who won 39% of votes in first round, and Grigol Vashadze from opposition United National Movement-led coalition, with some 38%. OSCE observers concluded voters had genuine choice despite an unlevel playing field, and voting generally orderly and transparent.
Both Armenia and Azerbaijan took actions to implement late Sept agreement to establish communication channel which started operating during month, while international partners voiced support, and situation in conflict zone remained calm. Yerevan and Baku both identified representatives within their govts to stay in direct contact for communication channel, intended to support (but not limited to) efforts to prevent incidents on Armenia-Azerbaijan state border and on Line of Contact in NK conflict zone, especially as Armenia prepares for snap parliamentary elections (see Armenia). Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe Minsk Group co-chairs started regional visit in late Oct. U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton visiting region 24-26 Oct met with Azerbaijan and Armenian leaders, reasserting U.S. commitment to peaceful resolution of NK conflict; asked about arms sales to Armenia and Azerbaijan, he noted Russian provision of these had not produced peace but that U.S. should consider provision. Azerbaijani foreign ministry 23 Oct summoned French Ambassador to express discontent regarding recent “illegal” visits of French officials to NK. Azerbaijan, Iran and Turkey adopted statement calling for peaceful resolution of NK conflict “based on the principle of territorial integrity” at meeting in Istanbul 29 Oct; Armenia downplayed importance of statement.
Following controversial 26 Sept deal with Chechnya on demarcation of administrative boundary between regions, month saw political crisis in Ingushetia and increased tensions with neighbouring republic Chechnya. Thousands rallied in front of regional parliament in Ingush capital Magas 4 Oct as lawmakers debated deal; bodyguards of regional leader Ynus-Bek Yevkurov fired into air after protesters threw plastic bottles at him. Govt reported parliament approved deal, although some lawmakers claimed vote was falsified. Protests continued in main square 5-7 Oct, and from 8 Oct in front of state radio and TV, demanding Yevkurov’s resignation and referendum on deal; media reported large numbers of women and elderly among protesters. Leadership claimed deal only exchanges unpopulated agricultural land, however protesters claim it is unfair and detrimental to region and was made without consultation; adding to pressure on Yevkurov, Ingushetia’s constitutional court ruled decision illegal, saying it should be decided by referendum, however Yevkurov refused to accept ruling. Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov said protesters would be “held accountable”, and 19 Oct reportedly visited villager in area concerned. Presidential envoy Alexander Matovnikov and local civil society representatives met 16 Oct, decided to hold session of Ingush Commission on Cooperation with Chechen govt agencies on border dispute; Ingush authorities said meeting took place next day; Russia’s RBC media reported that Kremlin officials acknowledged law had “inconsistencies”. Amnesty International said one of its researchers monitoring protests in Magas was abducted 6 Oct by men claiming to be security officials, who held him hostage for six days, beat him and subjected him to mock execution; Ingushetia interior ministry said it could not verify claims. In Dagestan, security forces reported they killed two suspected militants during counterterrorism operation 13 Oct in Khasavyurt region, where they have been conducting operations since mid-Sept. Military tribunal in Ingushetia 25 Oct upheld murder and torture convictions against seven security personnel including head of counter-terrorism centre, for killing, use of violence and extortion.
European Parliament 4 Oct passed a resolution calling on Belarus to “end all judicial harassment, intimidation, and threats” against journalists and independent media.
Hostilities in eastern conflict zone worsened as back-to-school ceasefire deteriorated, while tensions increased with Russia over Azov Sea and proposed establishment of a self-governing Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Violence rose in east mid-Oct: reported casualties highest among separatist fighters, however several Ukrainian soldiers also killed, and Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) mission reported several civilian deaths, including of minors. OSCE mission reported more convoys appearing to cross Ukraine-Russia border by night 9-12 Oct, 16 Oct and 27 Oct, when the mission’s drone went missing after spotting convoy. Vladislav Surkov, personal adviser to Russian President Putin, reportedly endorsed separatist “elections” on 11 Nov; pledged financial support to separatist entities. Russian parliament 18 Oct adopted resolution warning of “growing military threat from the Kyiv authorities in Donbas”. Ukrainian concerns about Russian activities in Azov Sea persisted; govt 12 Oct published decree on “Immediate measures for the protection of national interests in southern and eastern Ukraine, the Black and Azov Seas and the Kerch Strait”, including steps to demarcate Ukrainian waters, and deploy military and law enforcement divisions to monitor sea borders. European Parliament passed nonbinding resolution 25 Oct reiterating opposition to Russia’s construction of Kerch bridge and burdensome inspection regime for ships entering and exiting Ukraine’s Azov Sea ports; warned of “reinforced” sanctions on Russia “if the conflict in the Azov Sea escalates further”. Kyiv parliament prolonged special status law for separatist-controlled entities until 31 Dec 2019. Orthodox Moscow Patriarchate announced break with Ecumenical Patriarchate following latter’s 11 Oct move to bring Ukrainian clergy previously excommunicated by Moscow Patriarchate into communion, and its intention to grant autocephaly (self-government) to Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Moscow said move could lead to seizure of worship facilities, Russian parliament statement 18 Oct warned of possible attacks on adherents of Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine; in Kyiv, interior minister said police will curtail any illegal attempts to seize worship sites. Diplomatic row with Hungary intensified over latter’s granting of citizenship to Ukrainian nationals in violation of Ukrainian law; Kyiv expelled Hungarian consul 4 Oct; Budapest expelled top Ukrainian diplomat and pledged to continue opposing Kyiv’s EU and NATO integration efforts.
UN Special Envoy Jane Holl Lute 15 Oct submitted report to UN Secretary-General Guterres reportedly stating that “prospects of comprehensive settlement between the communities on the island remain alive”. Came after discussions between Turkish FM Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, Turkish Cypriot “foreign minister” Kudret Özersay and Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades on sidelines of UN General Assembly late Sept on alternative solution proposals to “bi-zonal and bi-communal federation”, reportedly discussing new formats including “confederation”, “loose federation” and “decentralised federation”. UN Security Council 30 Oct welcomed report and Guterres’ decision to continue efforts to resume negotiations. Lute met with Anastasiades and Akinci 31 Oct. Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci 26 Oct agreed to open two new border crossings along buffer zone at Dherynia/Derinya and Lefka/Aplici 12 Nov. Tensions over hydrocarbon explorations continued; Greek Cypriot administration 3 Oct invited international energy companies to bid on exploration licence in Block 7 of its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), prompting harsh criticism from Ankara, which said move violated Turkish Cypriots’ “inalienable rights to natural resources”. ExxonMobil 5 Oct said it was still planning drilling activities in Republic of Cyprus’ EEZ in 2018.
Month saw continued military operations against Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in south-east Turkey and northern Iraq and uptick in crackdown on suspected PKK sympathisers; spike in tensions with Saudi Arabia over Khashoggi killing; and implementation of deal on removal of heavy weapons from Syria’s Idlib province alleviating immediate concerns over refugee influx. Eight soldiers killed 4 Oct in PKK-claimed attack in Batman, triggering wave of detentions of suspected PKK sympathisers, with almost 400 detained by 10 Oct; govt dismissed 559 village guards and suspended 259 neighbourhood heads for alleged PKK links. In crackdown on pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Diyarbakır head arrested on terrorism charges 9 Oct. Ahead of March 2019 municipal elections, President Erdoğan 7 Oct said, “If those involved with terror are elected we will do what is needed and replace them with [state-appointed] trustees”. Turkish military carried out three major cross-border air raids against PKK in northern Iraq; and late Oct reportedly hit People’s Protection Units (YPG) targets located east of Euphrates at Turkey-Syria border. Implementation of Sept deal between Russia and Turkey on demilitarised buffer zone in Syria’s rebel-held Idlib province continued, forestalling mass influx of refugees (see Syria). Turkey, Russia, France and Germany agreed joint communiqué at summit in Istanbul 27 Oct calling for “inclusive, Syrian-led and Syrian-owned political process” and emphasising “need to create conditions throughout the country for the safe and voluntary return of refugees”. Turkish officials expressed dissatisfaction with “U.S. delaying tactic” in implementation of so-called “Manbij roadmap” despite launch of training for joint U.S.-Turkish patrols in Manbij. Tensions with Saudi Arabia spiked as Turkey accused Riyadh of murdering Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at Istanbul consulate 2 Oct, and provided details to press on alleged torture and dismemberment of body (see Saudi Arabia). Tensions with U.S. eased somewhat after Ankara 12 Oct released U.S. Pastor Andrew Brunson, although differences remain over key strategic issues. Relations with EU improved following Ankara’s efforts to mend ties with key EU capitals.
Amid reports of harassment and detention of ethnic Kazakhs in “re-education” camps in China’s Xinjiang province (see China), dozens of Kazakhs 4 Oct presented petition at German Embassy appealing to German Chancellor Merkel for help with release of their relatives. Govt 5 Oct denied asylum request of ethnic Kazakh Chinese woman who fled China and spoke out about “re-education” camps in Xinjiang. Police 27 Sept arrested French journalist Vincent Prado, investigating 2011 deadly crackdown on oil workers’ protest in Zhanaozen (south west); released same day, banned from working in Aktau region.
Supreme Court 3 Oct ruled that legal immunity for former presidents is unconstitutional; move comes as authorities continue to pursue corruption cases against associates of former President Atambayev.
Trial of seventeen Tajiks charged with involvement in July killing of four foreign cyclists started 23 Oct. Amid improved bilateral ties with Uzbekistan, govt 6 Oct announced start of demining work along Tajik-Uzbek border. After President Rahmon’s mid-Sept criticism of Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region leadership, govt early Oct named Yodgor Fayzov new head of oblast.
Amid ongoing reports of economic crisis and food shortages, Russia’s Gazprom announced it would resume purchasing natural gas from Turkmenistan in Jan 2019 after three year gap.
During 23 Oct visit, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross met with President Mirziyoyev and hailed Uzbek govt commitment to democratic reforms, calling for close partnership. Russian President Putin 18-19 Oct visited Tashkent, and together with Mirziyoyev launched construction of nuclear power plant in Navoy region; also discussed military technical cooperation, regional security. Mirziyoyev 8 Oct met French President Macron in Paris during his first official visit to Europe. Amid improved bilateral ties between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, Tajik govt 6 Oct announced start of demining work along Tajik-Uzbek border (see Tajikistan). Mirziyoyev 30 Oct fired VP Zoyyir Mirzayev after film emerged of him humiliating farmers during agricultural inspection trip. Prosecutor general’s office 3 Oct denied reports that late President Karimov’s daughter Gulnara Karimova, who govt in 2017 said had been sentenced to five years jail for tax evasion and other charges, was staying at luxury hotel in Dubai.
Clashes between security forces and Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) dissidents continued, while govt’s continued suspension of peace talks with second guerrilla group National Liberation Army (ELN) prompted fears for escalation of violence. In Yarumal, Antioquia province (north west), govt 2 Oct bombed camp supposedly housing FARC’s 36th Front dissident group commander, alias “Cabuyo”, and killed two dissidents in 10 Oct clash, after group killed three employees of mining company 20 Sept. Army 8 Oct captured high-ranking dissident in Arauca (east). Military reported that 40th Front dissidents 15 Oct killed two soldiers in La Macarena, Meta province (south), while dissidents also attacked army in police barracks in Cauca (south west) 10 Oct. With govt-ELN negotiations still suspended, spate of attacks attributed to ELN during month reinforced fears that talks may collapse completely. Kidnap of five-year old son of mayor 3 Oct in town of El Carmen, Catatumbo (north east), caused outrage, with many believing ELN responsible; child released 9 Oct. Govt continued to demand ELN release remaining hostages (reportedly numbering ten) before talks resume; however full number of kidnapped unknown, eight presumed dead. ELN 18 Oct suspected of carrying out mass killing of at least sixteen people in Bolívar state in Venezuela, seen as sign of guerrillas’ expanding operations. Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia (AGC) – country’s main drug trafficking group – clashed with splinter group Caparrapos in Antioquia department 28 Sept, displacing over 300 people. Political killings of community activists continued, including murder of women's rights activist Maria Caicedo Muñoz, kidnapped 20 Oct by unidentified assailants and found dead 26 Oct in Rio Macay, Cauca. President Duque continued to call for tougher approach to drug trade and more international support for Colombia to deal with influx of Venezuelan refugees (see Venezuela). Duque also ordered deployment of additional 5,000 troops to Catatumbo, on border with Venezuela, to fight drug trafficking and illegal armed groups.
Amid deepening economic and social crisis, ongoing intransigence by President Maduro’s govt and opposition leadership vacuum, EU foreign ministers 15 Oct discussed initiative by Spain, Portugal and Italy to seek negotiated solution to crisis; Spain denied any intention to ease international pressure on Maduro. After meeting, EU foreign policy chief Mogherini said sanctions would be maintained and conditions were not right for dialogue or mediation; EU will instead examine establishing “contact group” to explore possibility of negotiated settlement. Govt 8 Oct announced death “by suicide” of Caracas city councillor and political prisoner Fernando Albán, who had been held at national security police headquarters since returning from UN General Assembly 5 Oct; official explanation of his death widely questioned, with opposition claiming death was result of torture; foreign govts and international bodies called for independent investigation into Albán’s death. Govt had accused Albán of working with exiled opposition leader Julio Borges – whom Albán met at UN – in planning Aug drone attack on President Maduro. UN refugee agency 1 Oct announced 1.9mn Venezuelans had left country since 2015. Chair of U.S. Senate foreign relations committee Bob Corker 8-10 Oct visited Caracas in ‘private initiative’ to hold talks with Maduro and some opposition figures. Colombia’s second guerrilla group National Liberation Army suspected of carrying out mass killing of at least sixteen people in Bolívar state 18 Oct (see Colombia). Russian deputy finance minister 30 Oct met with govt officials in Caracas to discuss economic reforms to tackle financial crisis.
Victory of far-right former army officer Jair Bolsonaro in presidential election 28 Oct raised widespread concerns over his past statements in support of authoritarianism, repression, state violence and economic nationalism; and for political reverberations of his win across region. During campaign dominated by issues of rising violent crime and political corruption, Bolsonaro praised Brazil’s 1964-1985 dictatorship, said he would give police “carte blanche” to kill suspects in anti-crime drive, and threatened “clean up” of political rivals, saying leftist “outlaws will be banished from our homeland”; victory also raised concerns over respect for rights of LGBT people, women and indigenous groups. Bolsonaro 29 Oct pledged to relax gun control and cut govt advertising funds for “lying” media outlets.
Tensions continued over govt’s campaign to expel International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), which has been preparing case and possible charges against President Morales and others for illicit electoral financing. Constitutional Court (CC) 28 Sept rejected three out of eight appeals from govt against its ruling to allow CICIG chief Velásquez to re-enter country; army announced it would abide by CC ruling but govt 3 Oct reiterated its demands for UN to appoint new chief and deputy for CICIG, with Morales refusing to recognise Velásquez. Foreign ministry 16 Oct revoked visas for three CICIG officials and denied renewal to eight; in response, congress members filed appeals to CC. Chief prosecutor for electoral crimes 1 Oct passed case against Morales to congressional committee of inquiry; following committee’s report, congress 16 Oct refused to remove president’s immunity and passed new law reducing punishment for illicit electoral financing 18 Oct. Court 9 Oct sentenced former VP Roxana Baldetti to fifteen years in prison on charges of fraud, influence trafficking and unlawful association, in first of four corruption cases against her following CICIG investigation. President Trump 16 and 22 Oct threatened to suspend funding to region if migrant caravan from Honduras is not stopped (see Honduras). General Directorate for Migration 8 Oct revealed U.S. deportations of Guatemalans in 2018 already at 38,296, compared with 22,241 total in 2017.
Mass “migrant caravan” attempting to reach U.S. created country’s worst crisis since disputed Nov 2017 elections, while late Sept collapse of UN-led talks between President Hernández’s govt and opposition on post-Nov 2017 electoral crisis, and increasing tensions in congress, reduced potential space to resolve crisis. Caravan began as call on social media for low-income Hondurans to travel to U.S. in large groups to avoid dangers of migrant route, prompting some 200 people to depart from city San Pedro Sula (west) 12 Oct; group grew to several thousands as it passed through poor and crime-affected villages. After crossing Guatemala, 5,000-strong group, estimated by NGOs to be 35% children, reached Mexican border 19 Oct, where they clashed with Mexican security forces. 26-year old Honduran migrant was killed 28 Oct by Mexican police. In response, and with more groups expected to join “caravan” movement from neighbouring countries like El Salvador (where new group of 150 people departed 29 Oct), U.S. threatened to cut all bilateral aid to Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, while opposition parties called for Hernández’s resignation and early elections. Response to crisis impeded by ongoing political deadlock and tensions in congress between Liberal Party and ruling National Party following accusations in Sept that latter had hired gang members during elections.
Official homicide figures continued to fall, with police chief 15 Oct reporting 2,657 killings since 1 Jan, 13% reduction on same period 2017, and dramatic increase in drugs seizures since 2015. Former gang truce mediator Raúl Mijango sentenced 12 Oct to thirteen years prison for benefiting from extortion rackets during failed dialogue process. Anti-corruption drive continued with attorney general (AG) 16 Oct issuing arrest warrants for 25 people including former President Funes, a former AG and businessmen for involvement in corruption scheme within AG’s office. U.S. federal judge 3 Oct ordered U.S. administration to temporarily halt its plan to cut Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program after finding insufficient evidence to end TPS for several countries, including El Salvador with 200,000 beneficiaries. U.S. President Trump 16 and 22 Oct threatened to suspend funding to region if migrant caravan from Honduras is not stopped (see Honduras).
Tensions remained high amid continuing protests against President Ortega’s govt and continued arbitrary and secretive trials against opposition activists. Violence against protesters reportedly resulted in several deaths during month; Amnesty International 18 Oct released report alleging govt used “military-grade weapons” in crackdown against protesters. After govt 29 Sept passed new law aimed at making protests illegal, police detained 30 protesters in Telica, Estelí and Managua (west); a dozen arrested 6-7 Oct and another 38 on 14 Oct. Supreme Court 8 Oct forbade journalists access to public hearings. Supreme Court 12 Oct admitted appeal against unconstitutionality of July’s anti-terrorism law, however detainees continue to be accused of terrorism. Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) 3 Oct warned of possible new phase of govt repression targeting independent journalists; at least 38 incidents involving violence against journalists reported since April. Anti-govt coalition Blue and White National Unity (UNAB) launched 4 Oct, composed of civil society, business, student and political movements; 7 Oct held national strike and met with Organization of American States (OAS) Sec Gen Luis Almagro 18 Oct, handing him their proposals to strengthen democracy and justice in Nicaragua. Govt’s international isolation continued; EU 2 Oct called on govt to cease use of force and free imprisoned peaceful protesters, in call reiterated by FMs from South American inter-governmental trade bloc MERCOSUR 15 Oct. After govt rejected OAS working group visit 17 Oct, working group 19 Oct presented second report at extraordinary session of OAS Permanent Council, during which Almagro aired idea of activating Article 20 of OAS Inter-American Democratic Charter which requires Permanent Council take decisions it deems appropriate for “restoration of democracy” in a member state. Govt 26 Oct did not respond to meeting request by IACHR President Margarette May Macaulay. Govt 1 Oct acknowledged crisis has caused $1.18bn damage to economy, with 350,000 jobs believed lost; International Monetary Fund and World Bank predict around 4% reduction in GDP in 2018.
Tens of thousands of Haitians 17 Oct protested in capital Port-au-Prince against govt corruption including alleged misuse of funds from PetroCaribe (alliance giving Caribbean states access to cheap Venezuelan oil), demanding President Moïse’s resignation; police reportedly opened fire and threw tear gas at crowds, killing one and injuring over a dozen. Moïse 22 Oct fired two govt officials and fifteen advisers reportedly linked to corruption. Protesters also angry at mounting financial crisis, health and human rights concerns, with 6 Oct earthquake that killed eighteen people adding to discontent. National Network for the Defense of Human Rights 1 Oct released report condemning country’s poor human rights record.
Amid ongoing uncertainty over incoming govt’s policies for improving public security in line with campaign pledges, President-elect López Obrador (AMLO) 24 Oct outlined much-anticipated security plan, includes hiring of 50,000 new recruits for armed forces and Federal Police, and division of country into 265 regions, in each of which army, navy and police would work under sole command structure – apparently undermining campaign promise to demilitarise public security provision– but under stricter human rights supervision. Specifics of police reform not announced. AMLO also said govt would create truth commission to investigate 2014 disappearance of Ayotzinapa teaching college students. AMLO’s pick for public security secretary Alfonso Durazo 17 Oct said tasks of joint army-police forces would be 70% crime prevention and 30% “coercion”. Govt 8 Oct cancelled another five National Pacification and Reconciliation Forums due to security concerns. Army’s commander-in-chief 8 Oct stated he considered possible legalisation of poppy cultivation and processing for domestic pharmaceutical industry, as suggested by AMLO’s transition team, as potential way to reduce violence. Violence continued across country including clashes between criminal groups involved in drug trade and oil siphoning, targeted killings and femicides; 2018 on track to surpass 2017 as deadliest year for country, with 18,835 homicides registered Jan-Aug, representing 14.9% increase on same period 2017. Journalist Sergio Martínez killed 4 Oct in Tapachula, Chiapas state (south), eleventh journalist killed in 2018. At Guatemalan border in Chiapas, police in riot gear 19 Oct clashed with group of some 5,000 mainly Honduran migrants attempting to reach U.S. (see Honduras). U.S. 29 Oct announced deployment of some 5,000 troops to U.S.-Mexico border to prevent migrants’ entry. Govt 17 Oct said it would deport members of group entering illegally but AMLO same day said he would protect Central American trans-migrants (travelling through Mexico to U.S.) and provide Central American migrants with work visas. In 19 Oct meeting, U.S. Sec State Mike Pompeo and incoming FM Marcelo Ebrard pledged cooperation, including on economic development in Central America to address root causes for migration.
Deadly clashes escalated between Palestinian protesters and Israeli security forces at Gaza-Israel border, while rocket fire from Gaza and Israeli bombing there increased, leaving at least eighteen Palestinians dead. Israel responded with force to Palestinian protests at Gaza border each Friday: Israeli forces shot dead three Palestinians 5 Oct and six 12 Oct. Israel 16 Oct gave Hamas 19 Oct deadline to end protests; Hamas 19 Oct kept smaller protests at greater distance from border. In response to more protests 26 Oct, Israeli forces shot dead five protesters. Israeli air strike 28 Oct killed three Palestinian boys between twelve and fourteen whom Israel claimed were trying to blow up border fence. Rocket fired from Gaza landed in Be’er Sheva in Israel 17 Oct, Hamas and Islamic Jihad denied responsibility; Israel responded with airstrikes on twenty targets in Gaza, killing one Palestinian. Islamic Jihad 26-27 Oct fired some 39 rockets into Israel, in response Israeli air force bombed around 100 targets in Gaza; Islamic Jihad 27 Oct announced ceasefire after talks with Egypt, Israel accused Syria of ordering attack, with Iranian involvement. UN and Egypt continued efforts to hold ceasefire talks between Israel and Hamas; Palestinian Authority (PA) PM Hamdallah 8 Oct refused to meet UN Special Envoy Mladenov, accusing him of having “stepped outside of his role” in trying to secure Hamas-Israel deal; PA continued to demand that Hamas cede control of Gaza before UN and Egypt broker ceasefire. Israeli media 22 Oct reported that as part of Gaza ceasefire deal, Qatar would pay for Gaza’s fuel and pay civil servant salaries for three months; in response, PA discussed possible measures against Gaza, including calling new elections and halting all PA payments to Gaza, including for civil servant salaries, healthcare, fuel and electricity. Palestinians protested in West Bank against new PA law cutting social security benefits. Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Central Council 30 Oct called for PA to end security coordination with Israel and suspend its recognition of Israel until Israel recognises Palestine; PA President Abbas and PLO Executive Council yet to decide on moves. Abbas met Omani leader Sultan Qaboos in Omani capital Muscat 22 Oct. In unexpected visit to Muscat, Israeli PM Netanyahu met Qaboos 26 Oct, first visit of any Israeli leader to country since 1996. Omani FM 27 Oct said Oman is offering ideas to bring Israel and Palestinians together.
After Israeli PM Netanyahu at UN General Assembly late Sept claimed Shiite political and military movement Hizbollah was enhancing missiles at sites near Beirut airport, FM Gebran Bassil 1 Oct took foreign journalists and diplomats to sites to show that no such facilities existed. U.S. Senate 12 Oct passed two bills tightening sanctions on Hizbollah and U.S. Department of Justice 15 Oct designated Hizbollah as one of five top transnational crime threats. Syrian refugees in Lebanon continued to return to Syria, some through govt-run programs at Masnaa, al-Zamarani and Abboudieh border crossings in centre and north, including 500 6 Oct and around 800 15 Oct, and others independently.
Parties implemented Russia-Turkey deal signed in Sept to avert offensive by pro-govt forces on rebel-held Idlib province in north west well enough to keep both sides committed. In partial fulfilment of Turkey’s obligations under deal, Turkey removed some of rebels’ heavy weapons from demilitarised zone by 10 Oct and jihadist groups either withdrew from zone or adopted lower profile by 15 Oct. Jihadist alliance Hei’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) 14 Oct issued statement implicitly consenting to deal’s terms, but refusing to disarm or give up armed struggle. In apparent attempt to spoil agreement, rebel group Wa-Harrid al-Mumineen (And Spur on the Believers) launched mortars at Syrian army base in Ghab Plain, Hama province 13 Oct. Russian President Putin 18 Oct said implementation was incomplete, but expressed satisfaction with Turkish efforts to fulfil commitments. Leaders of Turkey, Russia, Germany and France 27 Oct held summit in Istanbul that welcomed agreement, emphasised need for durable ceasefire, and reiterated commitment to political process. Russia 2 Oct delivered first part of S-300 air defence system to Syria after Syrian anti-aircraft system accidentally downed Russian military aircraft while attempting to hit four Israeli jets in Sept. Syria and Jordan reopened Nassib border crossing and UN, Syria and Israel reopened crossing from Syria into Israeli-occupied Golan Heights near town of Quneitra 15 Oct, both for first time since they were shut in 2015; same day in Damascus, FM Muallem discussed with Iraqi FM “speeding up” reopening of crossings on Syria-Iraq border. Following militant attack on military parade in Iranian city of Ahvaz late Sept, Iranian army 1 Oct carried out ballistic missile and drone strikes against reported Islamic State (ISIS) targets near al-Bukamal in east Syria. UN envoy Staffan de Mistura 17 Oct said he would leave post in Nov for personal reasons after four years in role; UN Sec-Gen Guterres 30 Oct told Security Council he intended to appoint Norwegian diplomat Geir Pedersen.
Following killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul 2 Oct, Bahrain 20 Oct made statement supportive of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Saudi Arabia, UAE and Kuwait 5 Oct signed agreement providing $10bn to Bahrain to support fiscal program aimed at eliminating budget deficit by 2022.
Govt scored legal win against U.S. but latter imposed new sanctions. Govt 3 Oct won case in International Court of Justice (ICJ) against U.S. over humanitarian sanctions; President Rouhani described ruling as “great victory” while U.S. same day accused Iran of abusing ICJ for “political and propaganda purposes” and withdrew from 1955 bilateral treaty upon which Iran built legal case. U.S. 16 Oct announced new sanctions on banking, industrial and other entities reportedly linked to Iranian Basij paramilitary force. Re-imposition of U.S. energy-related sanctions in early Nov could heighten Iran-U.S. tensions. EU late Sept announced that it was setting up Special Purpose Vehicle to support trade with Iran, providing economic benefits for continued Iranian compliance with 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Following militant attack on military parade in Ahvaz late Sept, army 1 Oct carried out ballistic missile and drone strikes against reported Islamic State (ISIS) targets near al-Bukamal in east Syria and, separately, 16 Oct claimed to have killed alleged mastermind of attack in Iraq. Sunni militant group Jaish al-Adl 16 Oct kidnapped fourteen Iranian border guards close to Pakistani border and reportedly took them across border; govt 20 Oct called on Pakistan to help rescue abductees. Financial Action Task Force 19 Oct gave Iran until Feb 2019 to carry out outstanding elements of action plan to counter money laundering and terrorism financing; parliament 7 Oct approved Iran’s accession to UN terrorism financing agreement. Denmark 30 Oct accused Iran of plotting assassination attempt of exiled leader of Iranian separatist group Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahvaz (ASMLA) in Copenhagen in Sept, recalling ambassador from Tehran and calling for EU sanctions.
Breaking deadlock since May legislative elections, parliament 2 Oct elected Kurdish politician Barham Salih as president, who same day appointed Shiite politician Adel Abdul Mahdi as PM and tasked him with forming govt. In second round parliamentary vote for president (by convention a Kurd), Salih, Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) nominee, defeated Fuad Hussein, Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) nominee, with 219 votes to 22, after KDP MPs withdrew in protest; they claimed that largest Kurdish bloc had right to name president. Two competing Shiite alliances – Reform and Construction bloc led by Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and Construction bloc led by Hadi al-Ameri – agreed on Mahdi as compromise candidate for PM. According to constitution, Mahdi has until 1 Nov to form cabinet; parliament 25 Oct approved fourteen of 22 cabinet ministers proposed by Mahdi. Iraqi Kurdistan PM Barzani 17 Oct met with outgoing PM Abadi and PM-designate Mahdi in Baghdad to discuss Erbil-Baghdad issues, including allocation of national budget for Kurdistan and control over disputed territories. Electoral commission 20 Oct issued results of Kurdistan’s Sept parliamentary elections: KDP won most seats with 45 and PUK came second with 21; following over 1,000 allegations of electoral fraud, electoral commission carried out investigation, cancelled results from over 96 polling stations and annulled 120,000 votes. Islamic State (ISIS)-related insecurity continued, mainly in west and north; improvised bomb attack on bus in Baiji, Salah al-Din province 6 Oct, killed one; car bomb 23 Oct killed six in Qayyara, Nineveh province. ISIS claimed responsibility for roadside bomb 30 Oct that killed three Shiite pilgrims in Khanaqin in north east. In far north, Turkey continued operations against Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), claiming airstrikes killed eleven militants 4 Oct and three 18 Oct.