Tracking Conflict Worldwide
Our monthly conflict tracker warns of four conflict risks and two resolution opportunities in January.
The recent battlefield pause in Ethiopia’s year-long war offers prospects to get humanitarian aid into Tigray and engage in peace negotiations.
The Africa Cup of Nations football tournament starting on 9 January could aggravate tensions or present an opportunity for a ceasefire in Cameroon’s Anglophone areas.
Somalia’s months-long electoral crisis escalated after President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed “Farmajo” suspended Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble, raising the risk of renewed violence.
In Sudan, Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok’s resignation leaves the military in full control of the transition.
With reports that over 120,000 Russian troops are stationed within 200km of Ukraine’s border, concerns about a potential Russian invasion continued to grow.
CrisisWatch also highlights deteriorations in six countries and conflict situations in December.
The Republika Srpska National Assembly passed a controversial resolution in a step toward secession, raising tensions in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
In Sri Lanka, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa suspended parliament for one month amid growing frictions within the ruling coalition and deepening economic hardship.
- A series of jihadist attacks targeted Benin for the first time in years.
On a positive note, CrisisWatch highlights five improvements in December. Notably, following months of heightened political tensions, Honduras headed toward a peaceful transfer of power as President Juan Orlando Hernández recognised the victory of Xiomara Castro.
Aside from the 70+ conflict situations we regularly assess, we track notable developments in The Gambia and U.S.-Russia relations.
Military conducted joint counter-insurgency operations with neighbours but violence continued to run high in north, and President Kaboré reshuffled govt and military leadership. Lull in jihadist attacks recorded in Sahel region as military retaliated against al-Qaeda-affiliated Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM) following Inata attack that left over 50 dead in Nov. Burkina Faso and Niger 25 Nov-9 Dec conducted joint offensive along shared border as part of second phase of Taanli operation launched last June, claimed to have killed around 100 jihadist militants; Burkinabé army said artillery strikes 2 and 4 Dec killed 14 militants in Sahel region’s Yagha province. Some 1,200 troops from Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Benin also deployed in border areas as part of Operation Odalgou 4 launched 26 Nov to counter possible spillover of jihadist attacks into Gulf of Guinea. Violence ran high in North region’s Loroum province. Notably, alleged JNIM militants 9 Dec ambushed and killed 14 people including 13 volunteers fighting alongside security forces (VDPs) in Titao town, and suspected jihadists 23 Dec ambushed convoy of tradesmen traveling to Titao under VDP escort, reportedly killing 41 including prominent VDP figure Soumaïla Ganame alias Ladji Yoro. Presumed JNIM-affiliated combatants week of 4-10 Dec attacked four police and gendarmerie stations in Boucle du Mouhoun region (west), destroying three. Amid growing dissatisfaction within army ranks over govt’s management of security crisis, Kaboré 3 Dec appointed new heads for all three military regions and new special forces commander; move comes after appointment late-Nov of young officers to head all three regional commands in gendarmerie. Following protests in recent weeks against govt’s inability to stem widespread jihadist violence, PM Christophe Dabiré and cabinet 8 Dec resigned. Kaboré 10 Dec named former UN official Lassina Zerbo as PM, and 13 Dec appointed new, smaller cabinet of 25 members. National Reconciliation Minister Zéphirin Diabré 28 Dec postponed national reconciliation forum, initially scheduled for 17-23 Jan, to unspecified date, citing opposition’s withdrawal from reconciliation process after Inata attack.
Interim authorities launched national consultations despite widespread contestation; high-level violence persisted in central Mopti region. Authorities 11 Dec started series of consultations on political, institutional and governance reforms at local and regional levels, and 27-30 Dec at national level; many opposition parties and civil society groups refused to join initiative, citing fears junta could use it to extend transition period; Permanent Strategic Framework gathering armed group signatories to 2015 Algiers Peace Agreement 10 Dec also said they would boycott process on account of lack of preliminary consultations. West Africa regional bloc ECOWAS 12 Dec threatened new sanctions in Jan should interim authorities fail to show concrete actions by month’s end to organise elections in Feb. At end of consultations, participants 30 Dec proposed to extend transition for period of “six months to five years”. Junta continued clampdown on critics; notably, authorities 6 Dec arrested opposition party leader Oumar Mariko for allegedly insulting interim PM Choguel Maïga. NGO Human Rights Watch 15 Dec claimed security agents in Sept-Oct 2021 tortured six individuals accused of plotting coup against interim govt. In Mopti region (centre), suspected al-Qaeda-linked Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM)-affiliated Katiba Macina 3 Dec ambushed public bus near Songho village, killing 32 civilians; clashes between Katiba Macina militants and ethnic Dogon militia Dana Ambassagou 7 Dec left ten militiamen dead near Baima village; explosive device next day killed seven UN peacekeepers in Bandiagara area. Civil disobedience movement urging govt to step up efforts against jihadists 7-8 Dec paralysed public services in Mopti’s Bandiagara city. In Gao region (north), unidentified gunmen 3 Dec attacked UN mission (MINUSMA) convoy 100km north east of Bourem town, killing civilian; overnight 5-6 Dec killed seven members of High Council for Azawad Unity in Intahaka village. EU 13 Dec imposed sanctions on Russian private military company Wagner Group for allegedly committing serious human rights abuses in several countries, including torture and extrajudicial executions. Fourteen European countries and Canada 23 Dec jointly condemned alleged deployment of Wagner mercenaries to Mali, accused Russia of supporting it; Bamako next day denied claims.
Security situation remained fragile in south west and authorities sought to stifle growing protest movement against foreign military presence. In Tillabery region (south west), suspected jihadist militants 4 Dec stormed army position near Fantio locality in Tera department, killing at least 12 soldiers; defence forces next day said they had killed “dozens” of militants in fighting. Niger and Burkina Faso 25 Nov-9 Nov conducted joint offensive along shared border as part of second phase of Taanli joint operation launched last June, claimed to have killed around 100 jihadists notably in Torodi department. French air strike 20 Dec reportedly killed leading Islamic State in the Greater Sahara member Soumana Boura north of Tillabery city. Presumed jihadists overnight 22-23 Dec simultaneously attacked border post and bridge near Makalondi village (Torodi department), killing at least seven. Meanwhile, UN refugee agency 3 Dec said violence in Nigeria’s North West had forced 11,500 people to flee into Niger in Nov, with most taking shelter in rural commune of Bangui in Tahoua region (which neighbours Tillabery); influx of refugees could present local authorities with additional challenge. Tensions persisted after protest against French military presence late Nov turned deadly in Tillabery’s Tera department; defence and interior ministers 4 and 11 Dec respectively refused to appear before parliament to answer questions on incident. Authorities 5 and 12 Dec banned two demonstrations against western military presence organised by civil society coalition Tournons la page (TLP); 10 Dec reportedly detained 15 TLP members, most of whom were allegedly taking part in rally in capital Niamey on Human Rights Day. In address to seventh edition of Peace and Security Forum in Senegal’s capital Dakar, President Bazoum 6 Dec urged external partners to increase efforts to stop illicit arms flows originating from Libya, described them as “most important parameter” behind jihadist violence in Sahel, and argued Sahelian countries should be granted exceptional financial resources to resolve security crisis.
Violence continued to run high in Anglophone areas; upcoming Africa Cup of Nations football tournament in January could escalate tensions or offer opportunity for ceasefire. Unrest persisted in Anglophone North West (NW) and South West (SW) regions prompting govt mid-month to reportedly order 100 to 150 new armoured vehicles from European manufacturer. Insurgent Ambazonia Defence Forces (ADF) 5 Dec attacked gendarme post in Alakuma junction and military post in Mbengwi road near Bamenda city (NW) leaving at least ten dead, including losses on both sides; soldiers next day allegedly dragged two wounded separatists from nearby hospital and executed them. ADF combatants 8 Dec attacked army convoy with IED, killing at least five soldiers in Mbengwi road. In apparent retaliation, soldiers later set fire to about 20 houses in town, allegedly burning alive six civilians and shooting dead five others. Separatist fighters 7 Dec kidnapped president of North West House of Chiefs in Bambalang village (NW) demanding release of relatives of separatist leader “General no Pity”. Presumed separatists 13 Dec also threw grenade at trade fair in Beau city (SW), raising concerns that they will seek to disrupt African Cup of Nations football tournament due to start 9 Jan, with games scheduled in Buea and Limbe cities (also SW). Patrice Motsepe, head of Africa Football Confederation, 21 Dec met with President Biya, said tournament would go ahead despite concerns. Anglophone militia 21 Dec attacked police checkpoint in Kumba city (SW), killing at least one policeman and wounding about five others. Meanwhile, in Bamenda, soldiers 22 Dec killed two children in their home; Bamenda residents 27 Dec found remains of four civilians the army had reportedly arrested on 10 Dec in Chomba village near Bamenda. Clashes continued in Far North between Arab Choa herders and local farmers over grazing rights and access to water, leaving 44 people dead and 112 villages burnt, including parts of Kousseri town 5-9 Dec. Jihadists 9 Dec killed two civilians in Kouyape village and 16 Dec ten more in Assigachia village and Mora town, Mayo-Sava division. Meanwhile authorities 14 Dec returned over 900 repentant jihadist insurgents to Nigeria from Mora town.
Central African Republic
Pro-govt militia launched attacks on Fulani in Ouaka prefecture, raising fears of communal violence; EU sanctioned Russian Wagner Group and suspended army training mission. “Anti-balaka” pro-govt militia, backed by national army and Russian paramilitaries, 6-8 Dec attacked Boyo town and surrounding areas, Ouaka province, killing several dozen civilians. Attackers targeted Muslim Fulani in apparent revenge for activities of rebel group Union for Peace in Central African Republic (UPC). Same pro-govt militia 16 Dec reportedly killed five civilians at Zimako village near Ippy, also Ouaka prefecture. Killings followed UPC attack 2 Dec on Kouanga town, also Ouaka prefecture, which reportedly left three injured. UN Mission in CAR, MINUSCA, 19 Dec condemned the violence in Boyo town and highlighted deliberate targeting of Fulani civilians and risk of escalating community tensions. In west, rebels of 3R group 18-19 Dec attacked army post near Mann town, Ouham-Pendé prefecture, reportedly leaving six dead including one soldier and one rebel. Unidentified IED 31 Dec injured three MINUSCA in Bohong locality in north west. EU 13 Dec issued sanctions targeting paramilitary Wagner Group, including for serious human rights abuses and destabilising activities in CAR; 15 Dec announced suspension of EU military training program, citing fears that troops in program may fight alongside Russian contractors. Fighting between rebels and Russian paramilitaries spilled over into Chad for second time this year, follows similar clashes in May: paramilitaries 10-12 Dec clashed with Chadian army in their pursuit of rebels who had crossed border, one Chadian soldier reported missing. Despite incident, CAR-Chad Mixed Commission 20-21 Dec met in Chadian capital N’Djamena, with Chadian govt saying it is willing to consider reopening border closed since 2014. Sudden release end Nov of suspected war criminal Hassan Bouba following his arrest by Special Criminal Court caused diplomatic and domestic ripples: lawyers’ union early Dec went on strike for three days in protest, Bangui-based diplomats and international NGO also condemned suspect’s release. U.S. 19 Dec placed travel and financial sanctions on Ali Darassa, UPC leader, for human rights abuses and threatening CAR’s peace and stability.
Preparations for national dialogue, now set for Feb 2022, made progress including opposition group declaring willingness to meet president and senior exiled figure returning to Chad. In preparation for national dialogue, authorities encouraged rebels and opponents to return to Chad; several key figures agreed to engage in process, including Chadian former diplomat and businessman in exile Abakar Manany, who flew back to capital N’Djamena 11 Dec. Authorities likely to meet main rebel groups in Jan in Qatar’s capital Doha for pre-dialogue ahead of national dialogue due to be held mid-Feb in N’Djamena. Transitional President Mahamat Déby 30 Dec promulgated amnesty laws covering over 300 opponents and rebels. Some Chad-based opposition continued to criticise transitional authorities and oppose current dialogue process: notably, political and civil society coalition opposed to military rule Wakit Tama 10 Dec demanded new transitional arrangements and next day held peaceful protest in N’Djamena; Chad’s Conference of Bishops same day issued statement strongly criticising military junta for retaining full powers during transition. Wakit Tama leadership 24 Dec however announced that they would meet with transitional President Mahamat Déby at his request to discuss transition and dialogue. Mahamat Déby 31 Dec announced series of measures including recruitment of 5,000 young Chadians into public sector, said national dialogue will start on 15 Feb. Meanwhile, apparent tit-for-tat violence continued in capital. Unidentified gunmen night of 2-3 Dec attacked house of General Mahamat Hamouda, commander of military zone in southern Chad, reportedly leaving one dead. Gunmen 8 Dec shot dead army officer Nousradine Khamis Hassaballah, reportedly following property dispute involving relatives of former President Idriss Déby’s wife Hinda Déby; associates of deceased next day attacked house of Ahmat Khazali Acyl, Hinda’s brother and current director of Chad’s National Social Security Fund; observers point to disputes within ruling elite. Authorities subsequently took series of measure to address insecurity, including prohibition of carrying firearms in N’Djamena, except for bodyguards of president and certain officials during working hours.
Amid ongoing accusations against national intelligence and ruling party youth wing of serious human rights abuses, authorities continued to reject UN scrutiny. Members of leading opposition party National Freedom Congress (CNL) suffered persecution throughout month. In separate operations, security forces 1-2 Dec arrested CNL members Olivier Nkurunziza, Manassé Uwimana, Salomon Nduwayo, Manassé Nduwayo and Venant Nahabonimana, all in Ngozi province. CNL party leader Agathon Rwasa 4 Dec decried ongoing arbitary arrests, notably in Ngozi, and impunity of perpetrators. Insecurity persisted in other provinces, amid ongoing allegations of serious abuses at hands of security forces and ruling party youth wing Imbonerakure, including unlawful killings and torture. Notably, suspected Imbonerakure 6 Dec killed Jean Marie Nsabimana in Bubanza province for unknown reasons; after farmers 10 Dec found two unidentified mutilated corpses in Buganda commune, Cibitoke province, local Imbonerakure chased away witnesses and hastily buried bodies; Augustin Matata, who had been arrested in Nov by intelligence officers, 15 Dec died of wounds in hospital in capital Bujumbura, while authorities 17 Dec arrested alleged culprit, intelligence officer Gérard Ndayisenga. Imbonerakure 16 Dec arrested CNL member Innocent Barutwanayo in Matongo commune, Kayanza province; Barutwanayo reportedly died following torture 19 Dec. Foreign Minister Albert Shingiro 9 Dec told diplomats that country would not allow as yet unnamed holder of recently created post of UN Human Rights rapporteur on Burundi into country. Fire 7 Dec broke out at overcrowded prison in capital Gitega killing 38, injuring 69.
Democratic Republic of Congo
Ugandan and Congolese army started joint operations against jihadist group in east, alleged ADF suicide bombing marked first suicide attack killing civilians in country. Ugandan army with Congolese counterparts throughout month attacked Ugandan jihadist Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) in North Kivu (NK) and Ituri provinces. Congolese and Ugandan authorities 10 Dec claimed to have captured four camps, killed 34 ADF terrorists and freed hostages. DRC and Ugandan army 24 Dec announced further artillery and ground operations had led to capture of two main ADF camps in Beni territory; and Congolese military 26 Dec claimed to have killed seven ADF fighters, some of Chadian and Somali nationality. President Tshisekedi 13 Dec defended continued state of siege in east and operations with Uganda, stating Ugandan presence will be “strictly” time-limited. ADF continued deadly attacks throughout month. Notably, ADF 6 Dec fought national army around Masome village leaving seven dead, including two insurgents in Ituri; presumed ADF 8 Dec killed 16 people and kidnapped others in raid on Mangina commune near NK province’s Beni town; ADF 19 Dec clashed with army in Irumu territory, also Ituri, with at least five killed, including insurgents, and 20 Dec attacked villages in Ituri killing at least eight. Presumed ADF suicide bomber 25 Dec killed nine, including himself, in Beni city, NK province, making it first deadly suicide attack in country. Other armed groups in east continued violent attacks: Cooperative for the Development of Congo (CODECO) 8-9 Dec reportedly killed at least 12 civilians near Bunia. Army 28 Dec claimed to have killed 31 CODECO militants in Djugu territory, Ituri province. Ongoing insecurity and kidnappings in east led Chinese embassy 1 Dec to ask all Chinese nationals to leave affected areas. On political front, Tshisekedi 3 Dec removed Albert Yuma from head of national mining company, decision seen as bold move against key ally of former President Joseph Kabila. Court of Appeal 6 Dec ordered release from prison of former Tshisekedi ally Vital Kamerhe on medical grounds; analysts see move as possibly influenced by Tshisekedi preparing alliances for 2023 national elections. Police 20 Dec allegedly fired on demonstrators protesting against insecurity in east, reportedly killing three in North Kivu’s provincial capital Goma; police claimed one officer dead.
In aftermath of Islamic State-claimed bomb blasts, authorities launched operation against jihadist group in DR Congo, and continued search for alleged operatives in Uganda. Ugandan army early Dec entered DRC to conduct joint operations with Congolese army against jihadist Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), who President Yoweri Museveni held responsible for recent bomb blasts on capital Kampala; subsequently said to have broken up ADF camps, and killed and arrested rebel fighters (see DRC entry). Military head of UN mission in DRC 2 Dec visited Kampala to discuss UN support to joint operation in eastern DRC, as UN mission expressed concern over protection of civilians; police operations to find those responsible for bomb blasts also continued throughout month: police 6 Dec announced arrest of alleged key ADF courier Twaha Ssegujja and recovery of bomb-making equipment at store he owned in Kampala outskirts. Political tensions rose in lead-up to local council by-election in Kayunga district; police 14 Dec blocked opposition leader Bobi Wine in his home, preventing him from campaigning, claiming he had not followed proper procedure. Poll 16 Dec went ahead despite arrest of over 80 opposition members; electoral commission 18 Dec declared ruling party candidate winner. Disarmament operations continued in restive Karamoja region, army claimed to have recovered further weapons and arrested owners throughout month. U.S. 7 Dec announced sanctions against head of military intelligence Major General Abel Kandiho for alleged abuses against prisoners under his charge; military decried unilateral sanctions.
Opposition parties formed united front vowing to overthrow President Isaias and Somali opposition denounced Eritrean intelligence’s presence in capital Mogadishu. Eritrean nationalist organisations 18-20 Dec held three-day conference and formed Eritrean United National Front with declared goal of overthrowing Isaias’ regime through “armed resistance”. Somali pro-opposition news outlet Goobjoog News 1 Dec claimed Eritrean intelligence officers were in Mogadishu to help secure Somali President Farmajo’s re-election. Eritrea alongside Somalia 17 Dec voted against UN Human Rights Council resolution to investigate alleged human rights abuses during Tigray conflict in northern Ethiopia; Eritrean troops have long fought alongside Ethiopian troops there, and speculations in recent weeks emerged around training of hundreds of Somali soldiers in Eritrea to fight in northern Ethiopia.
Federal govt halted its offensive against Tigray forces after latter announced retreat; moves could help usher in negotiations to end year-long war. Tigray forces 20 Dec announced complete withdrawal from neighbouring Afar and Amhara regions back into Tigray and called for ceasefire. Federal govt 24 Dec said National Defence Forces would pause at current positions, refraining from advancing further into Tigray. UN Sec-Gen Guterres same day urged parties to “grasp this opportunity” to cease hostilities and ensure provision of “much-needed humanitarian assistance”; U.S. State Dept late month said recent developments offered opportunity for parties to come to negotiating table. Earlier in month, federal govt made major territorial gains, reclaiming all of Amhara: federal govt 1 Dec claimed control of number of towns in North Shewa Zone of Amhara, including Shewa Robit, Molale, Mezezo and Raza; 6 Dec said it had recaptured strategic Amhara towns of Dessie and Kombolcha, as well as Bati, Gerba, Kersa and Degan; 18 Dec claimed full control of Amhara’s North Wollo Zone; and 23 Dec said its forces and Amhara regional forces had gained control of Tigray’s Alamata town and were marching northward to Korem town. NGOs Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International 16 Dec jointly accused pro-govt forces of “mass detentions, killings and forced expulsions of ethnic Tigrayans”. UN Human Rights Council next day voted to establish independent investigation into alleged abuses by all parties to northern Ethiopia conflict since Nov 2020. Meanwhile, in Oromia region, unidentified assailants 1 Dec killed 14 people including traditional elder in Karrayyu district of East Shewa Zone; govt blamed Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) while OLA and some residents accused govt. OLA early Dec claimed to have captured several towns in East and West Shewa Zones, and repelled govt offensives in East and West Wollega Zones. Federal govt early Dec conducted drone and air attacks in East Wollega. Oromia regional forces 27 Dec said they had neutralised 18 suspected OLA rebels in recent security operation in Mieso locality, West Hararghe Zone.
Intercommunal violence continued in north, Al-Shabaab stepped up attacks, and tensions ran high in lead-up to Aug elections. Northern counties recorded persistent intercommunal violence, fuelled partly by drought that has forced herder communities to move in search for water and pasture. Suspected ethnic Gabra gunmen overnight 18-19 Dec stormed ethnic Borana villages in Marsabit, stealing over 1,000 livestock; fighting left 12 killed. Conflict between Degodia and Borana communities over water and pasture 24 Dec reportedly left four dead in Basuke area along Marsabit-Wajir border. In neighbouring Isiolo county, suspected cattle raiders from Degodia clan 22 Dec killed two ethnic Borana herders in Mado Salesa area. Somali-based al-Qaeda-linked group Al-Shabaab stepped up attacks ahead of Christian holiday season. In Mandera county (north east), Al-Shabaab 4 Dec attacked police vehicle in Bambo area, killing two officers and injuring at least another ten; three militants killed 11 Dec in Damasa area when bomb they were setting up exploded; and Al-Shabaab militants 14 Dec injured two police reservists in ambush in Lanqura area. In neighbouring Wajir county, police reservists 13 Dec foiled suspected Al-Shabaab attack on mosque in Wajir town. Suspected Al-Shabaab militant 7 Dec also detonated explosive device, killing himself and two others in Kamloma village, Kisumu county in west, far from border with Somalia. Meanwhile, Orange Democratic Movement leader and President Kenyatta’s preferred candidate Raila Odinga 10 Dec officially launched fifth bid for presidency ahead of Aug elections. Deputy President and presidential hopeful William Ruto 22 Dec branded Odinga as “state project”, also accused govt in recent weeks of using state infrastructure to support Odinga’s bid. Lawmakers 29 Dec brawled in parliament over proposed changes to law governing conduct of political parties and coalition formations.
President Farmajo suspended PM Roble, escalating months-long crisis over delays in ongoing elections and raising risk of renewed violence in capital Mogadishu. Farmajo and Roble’s offices 26 Dec traded accusations of holding up ongoing legislative elections: Farmajo’s office said Roble was “posing a serious threat to the electoral process and overstepping his mandate”; Roble’s office hit back saying president had spent “so much time, energy and finances in frustrating” elections. Farmajo overnight 26-27 Dec suspended Roble’s powers citing allegations of corruption and misappropriation of public funds. Roble 27 Dec accused Farmajo of attempting to “militarily take over” PM’s office and vowed to continue his duties. Assistant Information Minister Abdirahman Yusuf Omar Adala same day labelled president’s decision “indirect coup”. U.S. embassy same day urged both leaders “to take immediate steps to de-escalate tensions” and “avoid violence”. Earlier in month, fighting 21-22 Dec erupted in Puntland state’s port town of Bosasso between special unit Puntland Security Forces (PSF) and region’s regular security forces, leaving at least 14 killed and 63 injured; Puntland’s govt 22 Dec announced ceasefire; clashes followed Puntland President Said Abdullahi Deni’s late Nov dismissal of PSF commander Mohamoud Osman Diyano in likely attempt to assert greater control ahead of Lower House elections in Bosasso. Lower House election process continued to be marred by high level of manipulation, notably by federal member state leaders, including denying candidates right to register, bypassing clan elders and substituting clan delegates, all in order to ensure pre-determined candidates emerge victorious. Political opposition late Nov-early Dec threatened not to recognise results without changes. Only 24 of 275 representatives elected by 24 Dec deadline for completing process. Meanwhile, Al-Shabaab continued to present significant security threat. Group advanced along Beledweyne-Dhusamareb route, briefly taking control of Mataban town 13 Dec and Ceel Dheere town 15 Dec. Mortar attack directed against AU mission AMISOM base in Beledweyne town (Hiran region) 1 Dec killed three children. In Middle Shabelle region, IED 11 Dec targeted MPs and killed elder in regional capital Jowhar, and another roadside bomb targeting AMISOM same day reportedly killed four in Buurane and Mahadey areas.
Fistfight broke out in parliament following govt’s move to register more political parties. After Information Minister Saleban Ali Koore 12 Dec tabled amendment to Political Parties Law allowing registration of new political parties, opposition Waddani and UCID MPs next day exchanged blows with ruling party MPs inside chamber; opposition argued executive may use measure to delay presidential vote scheduled for Nov 2022.
Deadly fighting erupted between VP Machar’s forces and breakaway faction, and between govt forces and NAS insurgency; stalled military integration process caused growing alarm. Clashes between Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army-In Opposition (SPLM/A-IO) forces of VP Riek Machar and breakaway Kitgwang faction 26 Dec reportedly left 50 killed in Magenis area, Upper Nile state. Kitgwang faction 28 Dec claimed control of Amoud and Okuri areas, said Machar’s forces cleared from northern Upper Nile; SPLM/A-IO same day confirmed Kitgwang forces 27 Dec took over Amoud base. After Kiir late Nov promised return to Rome peace talks with armed groups outside of 2018 deal, including Thomas Cirillo’s National Salvation Front (NAS) insurgency in Central and Western Equatoria states, fighting between NAS and govt forces 7 Dec reportedly left seven dead in Central Equatoria’s Lainya county; incident represents most serious flare-up of insurgent violence in area in recent months. NAS next day warned of pending “scorched-earth offensive” by govt forces in Central Equatoria’s Morobo county, said govt plans to clear area of its population to pave way for gold mining. Intercommunal violence persisted. In Eastern Equatoria state, Kenyan Turkana raiders 5 Dec attacked South Sudanese Toposa cattle keepers in Nadapal area in Kapoeta East county, leaving two killed and three injured; local officials reported five people killed 13 Dec during cattle-related attack in Komiri Payam, Budi county. In Lakes state, armed Nuer youth from Panyijar county (Unity State) 1 Dec reportedly attacked and killed three people in Amongpiny area, Rumbek Central county. In Unity state, cattle-related fighting between armed youths from Leer and Mayendit counties 2 Dec killed at least six. In Jonglei state, amid series of cattle raids and abductions attributed to ethnic Murle raiders, armed men 5 Dec reportedly abducted five children in Nyirol county. Both regional and UN monitors expressed growing alarm over stalled implementation of 2018 peace deal, particularly failure to unify ex-warring security forces into national army. Charles Tai Gituai, interim chair of peace monitoring body, 8 Dec warned stalled security process leading to “growing frustrations”. UN Sec-Gen Special Representative Nicholas Haysom 15 Dec also stressed new “headwinds” could threaten peace accord.
Formation of new transitional govt stalled amid power struggle between military and PM Hamdok; latter’s resignation would leave military in full control of transition; intercommunal violence killed scores in Darfur. In search of independence and genuine executive authority, reinstated PM Hamdok 1 Dec replaced most caretaker deputy ministers and around 12 Dec replaced all acting state governors appointed by military since Oct coup; discussions on new govt still ongoing by month’s end as Hamdok battled to form technocratic govt as stipulated in Nov agreement with military. Media reports 21 and 27 Dec alleged Hamdok intending to resign “soon”. Several mass protests against military rule and Nov agreement between Hamdok and military leaders held throughout month in capital Khartoum and other cities met with govt crackdown. Notably, on third anniversary of popular uprising against then-President al-Bashir, hundreds of thousands 19 Dec protested in Khartoum and elsewhere to demand full civilian rule; security forces opened fire to disperse demonstrators, killing at least two and injuring over 300 while UN 21 Dec reported 13 allegations of rape and gang rape by security forces during protest. Renewed crackdown on protests 30 Dec left five killed including four in Omdurman city. U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee 9 Dec adopted Sudan Democracy Act enabling targeted sanctions against individuals undermining democratic transition. Growing instability recorded in West Darfur state. West Darfur Doctors Committee 8-9 Dec said tribal violence had in recent days killed 88 in Krink area, 25 in Jebel Moon area and eight in Sarba locality. UN Refugee Agency 7 Dec said violence in Jebel Moon alone had displaced over 10,000 since 17 Nov, with 2,000 fleeing across border into Chad; 29 Jebel Moon leaders 9 Dec signed non-aggression pact. Gunmen 28-30 Dec looted three World Food Programme (WFP) warehouses in North Darfur state capital El Fasher, killing two people and prompting authorities to impose curfew and WFP to suspend operations. In South Kordofan state, tribal clashes between Hawazma and Kenana herders 1-2 Dec killed at least two in Abu Jubeiha area. On Ethiopian border, troops 1 Dec said they had taken control of Ethiopian settlement in disputed al-Fashaga area after days of clashes.
President Suluhu Hassan accused late President Magufuli-era officials of undermining her leadership, and dialogue initiative failed to appease tensions with opposition. Amid claims of corruption resurgence under her leadership, Hassan 4 Dec accused “clique” in govt of seeking to taint her administration, said current ills inherited from Magufuli’s era. On country’s 60th independence anniversary, main opposition party Chadema 9 Dec made seven demands, including constitutional revision, amendment of electoral laws and release of Chadema chairman Freeman Mbowe. After two-month delay, conference on state of multiparty democracy held 15-17 Dec in capital Dodoma, with President Hassan, political party leaders including opposition Alliance for Change and Transparency’s Zitto Kabwe, and police representatives in attendance; opposition parties Chadema and NCCR-Mageuzi however boycotted event, notably asking for Mbowe’s release first; participants made 80 recommendations, including amending most controversial constitutional articles, reviewing Political Parties Act and Police Force Act. Hassan 16 Dec said she was ready to lift five-year ban on political rallies. Conflict in northern Mozambique continued to spill over border. Notably, Islamist militants 10 Dec reportedly attacked Kiwengulo village, Mtwara region, killing at least four civilians; subsequent clash with military left five militants killed (see Mozambique).
Militants continued to launch attacks in northern Cabo Delgado province, especially in Macomia district, and violence spread into neighbouring Niassa province and Tanzania. Southern African regional bloc SADC’s mission in Mozambique (SAMIM), along with Rwandan and Mozambican troops, continued their offensive against Islamist militants in Cabo Delgado, with several violent incidents recorded in Dec mainly in Macomia district. Notably, shootout between suspected Islamist militants and local pro-govt militia 6 Dec left four militants dead in Nkoé area; suspected militants 15 Dec beheaded pastor in Nova Zambezia village; pro-govt militia 27 Dec ambushed militants in Chiotoio village, killing five and capturing one. SAMIM claimed joint SAMIM and Mozambican forces 19-20 Dec killed 14 militants during operation in Chai area of Macomia; one South African and two Mozambican soldiers killed during operation. Under pressure in Cabo Delgado, militants dispersed westward into neighbouring Niassa province, with local authorities early Dec expressing concern militants could use province as “refuge”. Attacks and clashes in Niassa’s Mecula district reportedly prompted nearly 4,000 people to flee their villages in late Nov and in Dec. Notably, militants 8 Dec killed elderly woman and burnt down 80 homes in Nhati administrative post, Lichinga area, and same day shot and decapitated young man in Chimene area; around 22 Dec reportedly killed several people including special reserve inspector during attack on Naulala village. Islamic State (ISIS) claimed responsibility for several attacks in Niassa and Macomia in Dec in continuation of unprecedented raft of claims made since Nov. Police Chief Bernardino Rafael 12 Dec claimed defence and security forces had killed prominent combatant “Cassimo” in Mecula. Meanwhile, militants launched attacks into Tanzania, reportedly killing at least four civilians in Kiwengulo village in Tanzania’s Mtwara region 10 Dec; subsequent clash with Tanzanian Defence Force resulted in death of five militants (see also Tanzania). Concerns over gender-based violence aggravated by conflict dynamics surfaced: NGO Human Rights Watch 7 Dec said militants had abducted and enslaved over 600 woman and girls since 2018; UN refugee agency 20 Dec stressed conflict had “compounded” multiple forms of abuses including physical violence, abduction, sexual trafficking, and early and forced marriage.
Political tensions ran high as country gears up for 2023 general elections; series of criminal incidents involved security forces members. Violent outbursts marred ruling party Zanu-PF provincial elections – which will determine delegate composition to 2022 elective congress, where President Mnangagwa’s 2023 presidential bid is expected to be endorsed – in Mashonaland West, Mashonaland Central, Manicaland and Midlands provinces. Notably, police 28 Dec fired warning shots following clashes between supporters of Home Affairs Minister Kazeme Kazembe and businessman Tafadzwa Musarara in Centenary town, Mashonaland Central; riot police 29 Dec also intervened in capital Harare to quell violent scuffles between rival Zanu-PF factions over allegations of vote rigging. Meanwhile, suspected Zanu-PF youths 15 Dec stormed meeting of civil society platform Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition in Bulawayo city, assaulting participants and reportedly wounding several others. Infighting persisted within opposition ranks. MDC-T party VP Thokozani Khupe mid-Dec filed urgent chamber application at Bulawayo High Court challenging alleged late-Nov decision by party leadership to recall her from parliament. Reports emerged of involvement of security service personnel in series of armed robberies and deadly shootouts; notably, armed assailants including former and serving members of security forces 6 Dec stormed house of former police Detective Joseph Nemaisa in alleged robbery attempt in Harare; suspected soldier 25 Dec shot dead four people in shopping mall in Kadoma district, Mashonaland West. Mnangagwa 22 Dec threatened shoot-to-kill policy to deal with “upsurge in gun-related crimes”. Meanwhile, High Court in Harare 6 Dec dropped charges of inciting public violence brought against prominent investigative journalist and govt critic Hopewell Chin’ono.
Series of jihadist attacks targeted country for first time in years. Al Qaeda-affiliated Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM) claimed 1 Dec raid on security post in Porga town (Atakora department at border with Burkina Faso) that left two soldiers killed and several others wounded; deadly incident, the first claimed by JNIM in Benin, came less than 48 hours after suspected jihadists attacked army patrol in Keremou area of Alibori department (also north near Burkina Faso), leaving no casualties. Army vehicle 10 Dec struck explosive device likely planted by JNIM militants in Porga, leaving four soldiers wounded.
Political dialogue resumed in bid to foster reconciliation ahead of 2023 local elections, and efforts to stem jihadist violence continued. Govt 16 Dec resumed political dialogue with opposition after President Ouattara in Nov mandated PM Patrick Achi to revive talks following one-year hiatus. Representatives of govt and over 20 opposition parties or political associations discussed make-up of Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) and review of electoral register, among other issues. Representative of former President Gbagbo requested seat at IEC for African People’s Party-Côte d’Ivoire (PPA-CI) and pleaded for release of imprisoned military officials who sided with Gbagbo in 2010-2011 post-election conflict. Abidjan Prosecutor Richard Adou 27 Dec released report of Special Unit to Investigate Violence related to 2020 presidential election; conclusions reportedly hint at possible prosecution of several opposition leaders, including Henri Konan Bédié, who had boycotted vote and called for civil disobedience against President Ouattara’s plans to seek third term; Bédié’s party 29 Dec rejected report and blamed Ouattara’s party for electoral violence. In briefing to Senate on scope of jihadist threat, Defence Minister Téné Birahima Ouattara 6 Dec sought to highlight crisis’s foreign character, claiming combatants operating in country’s north were “Fulanis from neighbouring Burkina Faso”. Govt in recent weeks however stepped up efforts to counter jihadist groups’ attempt to recruit disgruntled locals; notably, Youth Minister Mamadou Touré late Nov announced $3.5mn training and professional integration program to benefit thousands of youths in northern regions; several media reports mid-Dec said project’s budget increased to $14mn.
Opposition contested President Barrow’s re-election after presidential poll proceeded peacefully. Presidential election 4 Dec proceeded peacefully, with high voter turnout of 87%. Three opposition candidates next day rejected partial results that gave incumbent President Barrow early lead; electoral authorities later same day however confirmed Barrow elected for second term with 53% of votes, with runner-up Ousainou Darboe at 27.7%. West Africa regional bloc ECOWAS’s election observation mission 5 Dec appealed to all candidates “to accept the outcome of the election in good faith”. Hundreds or thousands of Darboe supporters 6 Dec gathered in and around capital Banjul to contest Barrow’s re-election; police fired tear gas as crowd started scuffling with Barrow supporters. AU election observation mission same day said poll “conducted in a peaceful and democratic environment” and in line with “national and international standards”; EU 7 Dec welcomed smooth conduct of election, while U.S. same day welcomed “free and fair presidential election”, saying observers noted only “minor procedural irregularities”. Darboe’s United Democratic Party 14 Dec said it had petitioned Supreme Court to nullify results, accused Barrow and his party of vote-buying and other irregularities. Supreme Court 28 Dec dismissed challenge, said petition had not followed proper procedure. Meanwhile, truth and reconciliation commission 24 Dec recommended that special international court be set up to try former President Jammeh – who has lived in exile for five years – for alleged murder, torture and rapes during his 22-year rule.
Transitional govt continued to display firmness toward defunct regime and pursue appeasement policy toward opposition; ECOWAS reiterated request for elections in March. As part of declared anti-corruption effort, ruling junta National Rally and Development Committee (CNRD) 2 Dec created Court for Repression of Economic and Financial Crimes. Justice Minister Fatoumata Yarie Soumah 4 Dec said body does not seek to “settle scores” with deposed President Condé’s govt officials, but mismanagement that tainted Condé’s rule makes them potential targets. Interim President Doumbouya 7 Dec dismissed Central Bank President Louncény Nabé, who had served under Condé for almost a decade. Security forces 11 Dec used tear gas and arrested dozens of Condé’s followers protesting in capital Conakry to call for his release; same day prevented another pro-Condé protest in Kindia prefecture (north east). Meanwhile, former President Sékouba Konaté 18 Dec and former President Moussa Dadis Camara 22 Dec came back from ten-year exile, after CNRD late Nov authorised their return as part of appeasement policy. PM Mohamed Mohamed Béavogui 25 Dec presented interim govt’s program to Doumbouya without specifying transition timetable, while civil society coalition 29 Dec proposed 24-month transition period. Govt 31 Dec authorised Condé to leave country for one month for medical reasons. West Africa regional bloc ECOWAS 12-13 Dec regretted lack of clear electoral roadmap and reiterated demand that Guinea hold elections by March. AU Commission Chair Moussa Faki Mahamat 5 Dec visited Guinea and promised to “accompany the transition” in soft statement contrasting with ECOWAS’s firmness.
Rampant insecurity persisted in North West; herder-farmer violence killed dozens; lull in violence recorded in North East and South East. In North West, armed groups continued killings and kidnappings. In Kaduna state, armed groups 1-18 Dec killed at least 25 people and abducted over 127 in several attacks; 19 Dec launched multiple raids in Giwa area, leaving 38 dead; 22 Dec reportedly abducted over 70 in Chikun area. In Zamfara state, suspected bandits 25-26 Dec attacked communities near state capital Gusau, killing seven and abducting 33. In Niger state, armed group 8 Dec killed between nine and 16 worshippers at mosque in Mashegu area. In Sokoto state, armed men reportedly loyal to prominent bandit Bello Turji 7 Dec burnt down bus in Sabon Birni area, killing at least 30 civilians; gunmen 10-11 Dec killed three and abducted at least 11 including local imam in same area. Youths 14 Dec gathered in federal capital Abuja and most north-western states to protest insecurity. In north-eastern Borno state, security operations kept Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) and Boko Haram attacks at lower level. Military early Dec claimed air and ground operations 5 Dec killed ISWAP commander Abou Sufyan and “scores” of his fighters in Marte area. ISWAP militants 2 Dec abducted 15 including NGO local staff in Damboa area; 10 Dec attacked Civilian Joint Task Force base in Kaga area, killing two. Explosions 23 Dec left five dead in state capital Maiduguri hours before President Buhari’s visit in Borno. Herder-farmer violence continued to run high in several states. Notably, clash between ethnic Tiv farmers and Fulani herders in Gassol area of Taraba state (east) 2 Dec killed about 11 people and prompted others to flee; armed Fulani herders 17-20 Dec attacked Tiv villagers in alleged reprisal attacks in Nasarawa state (centre), reportedly leaving 45 dead. South East recorded lesser violence than in previous months. Soldiers 6 Dec clashed with separatist group Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB)’s armed wing Eastern Security Network, which was allegedly using force to implement lockdown in Oru East area of Imo state to demand release of IPOB leader Nnamdi Kanu.
Former PM Abe issued controversial remarks on Taiwan, sparking Chinese diplomatic protest, while dozens of Chinese vessels entered waters around disputed islands. Defence Minister Nobuo Kishi 27 Dec said he agreed with Chinese counterpart Wei Fenghe on opening up a hotline between two countries’ officials amid tensions over disputed islets in the East China Sea. Former Japanese PM Shinzo Abe 1 Dec said invasion of Taiwan is major threat to Japan’s territory and Taiwan-Japan relations are comparable to U.S.-Japan alliance; China’s Assistant FM Hua Chunying same day called emergency meeting with Japanese ambassador to protest Abe’s “extremely wrong remarks”; Japanese ambassador said Tokyo will not accept Beijing’s “unilateral assertion”. Joint press release following EU-U.S. high-level dialogue on China 2 Dec “expressed strong concern over China’s problematic and unilateral actions in the South and East China Seas”. Japanese govt 17 Dec revealed plans for creating senior diplomatic post focused on maritime issues in East China Sea, namely Taiwan and Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands. Japan Ground Self-Defense Force alongside U.S. 4-17 Dec held largest bilateral training exercise of year in Japan, Resolute Dragon 2021. Japanese PM Kishida 6 Dec said Japan would “examine all the options, including the capability to attack enemy bases … and fundamentally strengthen our defence posture with a sense of speed”. As of 19 Dec, 58 Chinese coast guard vessels had entered into waters surrounding disputed Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands during month. Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning 31 Dec concluded 20-day exercise in East China Sea and western Pacific, reportedly shadowed by Japanese aircraft carrier Izumo during drills.
North Korea began winter with administration closure and commemorated ten-year anniversary of former leader Kim Jong-il’s death amid economic uncertainty. North Korean govt 1 Dec closed administration for winter to finalise state accounts and review progress in key economic sectors. Leader Kim Jong-un same day said country needed to prepare for “very giant struggle” to boost economy in 2022 amid ongoing 22-month border closure due to COVID-19. Workers at Hyesan Youth Copper Mine, among country’s largest industrial enterprises, as of 12 Dec reportedly had not received personal rations or meals since April, indicating impact of extended border closure. North Korea 17 Dec held events to commemorate tenth anniversary of previous leader Kim Jong-il’s death, with main event held in front of mausoleum of Kim and his father, national founder Kim Il-sung, in capital Pyongyang; smaller rallies were held nationwide and public markets closed for day. Seoul authorities 21 Dec said North Korean winter military exercises were reportedly under way, indicating monitoring of drills in tandem with U.S.. Kim Jong-un 23 Dec said North Korea-China relationship had entered “fresh heyday” and noted departure of outgoing Chinese ambassador. U.S. 10 Dec imposed first new sanctions on North Korea under Biden administration, blacklisting Central Public Prosecutor’s Office and Minister of People’s Armed Forces Ri Yong-gil. South Korean President Moon Jae-in, speaking at 13 Dec signing of defence contract with Australia, said South Korea, North Korea, China and U.S. had agreed “in principle” to potential peace treaty to formally end Korean War, that North Korea however was holding up progress by demanding end to U.S. hostilities first; also said South Korea wouldn’t join boycott of Beijing Winter Olympics, highlighting China’s role in resolving nuclear standoff with North Korea. South Korean ruling party presidential candidate Lee Jae-myung 30 Dec called acquisition of nuclear subs “absolutely necessary”, vowed to “convince the United States” to assist on diplomatic and technological fronts.
China and U.S. traded diplomatic barbs over potential forceful reunification, while Chinese aircraft continued incursions into Taiwan’s air defence zone. U.S. Sec State Blinken 3 Dec warned of “terrible consequences” should China attempt to force reunification across Taiwan Strait; U.S. Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin next day said Chinese aerial incursions into Taiwan’s air defence identification zone (ADIZ) looked “like rehearsals”. Chinese foreign ministry 6 Dec said it “strongly deplores” statements and that challenging “one China” policy “will not stop the progress of history”. Taiwanese defence ministry 13 Dec said full Chinese invasion of Taiwan would be extremely difficult to achieve and that Chinese military may use drills as pretence to launch an attack. Chinese foreign ministry 15 Dec voiced opposition to same day arrival of six French legislators in capital Taipei for visit; legislators 17 Dec said France must take bolder action to support Taiwan’s democracy. Chinese aircraft flew into south-western corner of Taiwan’s ADIZ nearly every day during month, totaling 60 aircraft as of 19 Dec; largest incursion comprising 13 Chinese military aircraft occurred on 10 Dec when Nicaragua announced severing of ties with Taiwan and established official diplomatic relations with China. Chinese media 8 Dec reported that Taiwanese hacking group GreenSpot has been launching cyberattacks on mainland since 2007, mainly targeting govt agencies, aerospace and military organisations. Reuters 20 Dec revealed broad Chinese campaign to undermine Taiwan’s military and civilian leadership, said Taiwan had convicted at least 21 Taiwanese officers of espionage in past decade. U.S. and Taiwan 6 Dec agreed to establish stronger tech cooperation, chiefly in semiconductors.
Taliban consolidated their rule across country, launched new offensive in north and faced skirmishes at border with Iran. Taliban’s governing approach of continuing provincial-level policy on some issues, rather than consolidating and centralising all policies, surfaced during month. Notably, social media updates showed group promulgating rules for medical centres and pharmacies in north, banning music in south and issuing price lists to curtail inflating prices for basic commodities in several districts of Kabul province. Taliban 3 Dec issued decree on women’s issues, including consent in marriage and inheritance rights, with no mention however of women’s education or recent closure of women’s schools in parts of country; 26 Dec introduced decree prohibiting women from travelling more than 45 miles unless accompanied by male relative. Taliban sought to appease minority groups, specifically Shia Hazara; notably, govt 25 Dec appointed Abdul Latif Nazari as deputy minister of economy, making him second Hazara to be appointed at deputy ministerial level. Taliban increased operations against remnants of Northern Resistance Front (NRF) in north; Taliban 1 Dec claimed having killed several NRF members in Samangan province (north); 5 Dec raided NRF hideout in Baghlan province (north). Taliban carried out raids in several cities across country, notably in Helmand province (south) 5 Dec, seizing large quantities of munitions. Islamic State Khorasan Province did not carry out large-scale attacks during Dec; group however showed signs its operations are expanding across country, as with ambush 7 Dec targeting provincial police chief in Nuristan province (east), killing multiple Taliban soldiers. Taliban and Iranian forces 1 Dec clashed at border in Afghanistan’s Nimroz province, leaving multiple casualties on both sides, while reports revealed Taliban forces may have entered Iranian territory and captured several Iranian border checkpoints; situation quickly de-escalated through discrete talks between two sides. Relations strained with Pakistan over continued presence of Pakistani Taliban in Afghanistan and isolated incidents over border fencing. Taliban 19 Dec attended Organisation of Islamic Cooperation conference to discuss country’s humanitarian crisis. UN Security Council 22 Dec adopted Resolution 2615 that offers exemption to sanctions regime to allow greater humanitarian support to Afghanistan.
Violent clashes between ruling party factions persisted with fourth phase of local elections, authorities continued to stifle dissent, and U.S. imposed sanctions on security forces. Election-related clashes between rival ruling Awami League (AL) candidates continued in run-up to fourth phase of local election held on 26 Dec: poll violence 7 Dec injured ten in Bogra district; 8 Dec killed one and injured at least 14 in Comilla district; 17 Dec killed candidate and his aide in Brahmanbaria district; 18 Dec killed AL supporter of “rebel” candidate in Pabna district; 26 Dec left 11 wounded in Feni city. Violent clashes over election results on night of 26 Dec saw one person killed in police firing on two rival groups in Thakurgaon district, and one person killed and 50 injured in police firing on similar clashes in Sylhet district. Meanwhile, authorities continued to stifle dissent. Notably, paramilitary Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) 1 Dec arrested AL Mayor of Rajshahi city Abbas Ali for violating Digital Security Act after audio recording surfaced in which he opposed mural of Bangladesh founder Sheikh Mujibur Rehman on Islamic grounds; 9 Dec arrested five persons for allegedly spreading anti-state propaganda and instigating vandalism in capital Dhaka after suspects 25-30 Nov reportedly sent information about law enforcement agencies to foreign media during student protests about road safety. Washington 10 Dec imposed human rights-related sanctions on six former and current RAB officials; FM Momen next day questioned authenticity of U.S. findings, which reported around 600 people killed at hands of security forces in past ten years. BNP’s Sec Gen Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir same day said sanctions were “inevitable consequence” for those responsible of extrajudicial killings and torture. In supposed attempt to pressure Rohingyas to move to flood-prone Bhasan Char island refugee camp, authorities 10 Dec demolished around 1,000 shops of Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar’s camps. In eighth phase of refugee relocations, 555 Rohingyas were moved 18 Dec to island, bringing total number of Rohingyas living in Bhasan Char to around 19,000.
Maoist violence continued, while civilians and army clashed in north east following botched security raid. Maoist violence continued. In Jharkhand state (east), firefight 6 Dec erupted between police and Maoists in West Singhbhum district; police 16 Dec reportedly killed suspected Maoist commander in West Singhbhum district. In Chhattisgarh state (centre), Maoists 13 Dec killed man suspected of being police informer in Sukma district. Security forces 18 Dec killed two female Maoists in Dantewada district. In Odisha state (east), firefight 16 Dec broke out between security forces and Maoists. Army 4 Dec shot and killed six coal mine workers returning home from work in pickup truck – reportedly mistaking them for militants belonging to splintered faction of banned armed group National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Khaplang) – in botched security operation in north-eastern Nagaland state’s Mon district; clashes same day between angry locals and army killed seven civilians and one soldier; soldiers next day killed civilian after protesters attacked army camp, leaving at least two locals missing and feared dead. In newly formed centrally administered union territory of Ladakh, carved out of Jammu and Kashmir after govt abrogated Article 370 in Aug 2019, people and political leaders from across political spectrum 13 Dec observed complete shutdown to demand statehood and greater political autonomy in some tribal areas and states in north east. After one year of protests against controversial farm law on the borders of capital Delhi, farmers 11 Dec began leaving camps as govt withdrew law. Meanwhile, relations with China witnessed no improvement as tensions persisted over disputed unofficial border known as Line of Actual Control. Minister of home affairs 7 Dec informed lower house of parliament that there had been no incident of infiltration on border with China and Bhutan in past three years; 128 incidents however recorded along Pakistan border, 1,787 incidents along Bangladesh border, 25 incidents on Nepal border, 133 on Myanmar border. Govt 19 Dec hosted third meeting of India-Central Asia Dialogue in Delhi with FMs from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan; joint statement emphasised importance of regular consultations to counter terrorism and other regional challenges.
In Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), militants increasingly targeted police while plans to change number of constituencies sparked controversy. In J&K, security operations and militant attacks showed no signs of abating despite coming winter. Security forces 8 Dec killed three militants in Shopian district; 12 Dec killed alleged Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) militant in Awantipora district; next day killed two militants in regional capital Srinagar; 15-16 Dec killed militant in Pulwama district and two in Kulgam district; 19 Dec killed alleged Pakistani Lashkar-e-Tayyaba militant on outskirts of Srinagar. Security forces 29 Dec claimed to have killed six JeM militants in Anantang and Kulgram districts. Gunfight 31 Dec killed three JeM militants and injured four security personnel in Pantha Chowk area. Militants launched various attacks; notably, militants 10 Dec killed two police officers in Bandipora district; 13 Dec killed three police officers and injured 14 more during attack on police bus on outskirts of Srinagar; 22 Dec killed policer officer in Anantang district. Latest incidents reflect police most targeted force during 2021 with official data released mid-Dec noting that half of 40 security personnel killed in J&K this year were police officers; data shows major increase in proportion of police killed compared to previous years – in 2020 just 16 police officers out of 60 security personnel killed that year, reflecting deepening Kashmiri alienation. Meanwhile, delimitation commission, tasked with carving out new constituencies in J&K, 20 Dec proposed increasing number of constituencies by six seats in Jammu and one in Kashmir , which would bring them to a total of 43 and 47 respectively; main local parties, National Conference and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), strongly opposed draft recommendations. PDP leader Mehbooba Mufti 18 Dec said she has “no faith in the fairness of the Commission. The Commission is [ruling party] BJP’s Commission”, adding: “They want to carve out constituencies to suit their political interests”, reflecting broader Kashmiri fears that planned changes aim at making Jammu more powerful. Security situation at Line of Control was relatively calm during month; landmine blast 20 Dec however severely injured border security personnel in Poonch district, Jammu region.
Supreme Court resumed its functions after month-long pause over controversy involving chief justice, while political parties continued preparations for next year’s general elections. Supreme Court 1 Dec resumed hearing cases for first time following 18 justices’ unsuccessful efforts since 25 Oct to pressure Chief Justice Cholendra Shumsher Rana to resign; deal resuming Court’s functions dented Rana’s authority by adopting lottery system to assign cases instead of selecting them at his discretion. Ruling Nepali Congress 10-15 Dec held its general convention; PM Sher Bahadur Deuba 14 Dec re-elected party president in run-off contest after striking last-minute deal with two of other four contestants; Deuba had faced serious threats to his leadership with other candidates previously announcing their intention to oppose him in run-off. Ruling coalition member Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) 26 Dec began its general convention. Former Deputy PM Kamal Thapa 5 Dec suffered shock defeat, losing leadership of pro-monarchy and anti-secular Rastriya Prajatantra Party; Thapa blamed loss on interference of former King Gyanendra Shah, fuelling concerns about efforts to restore Hindu monarchy deposed in 2008.
Ceasefire agreement between govt and Pakistani Taliban ended, while militant, religious and sectarian violence ran high, notably in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). Pakistani Taliban Chief Nur Wali Mehsud 9 Dec refused to extend month long ceasefire, said attacks would resume; TTP accused Islamabad of violating ceasefire, including by not releasing 102 “imprisoned mujahideen” and continuing operations in KP province. Authorities same day said they had released more than 100 Pakistani Taliban prisoners in past weeks. As deal collapsed, violence surged in KP. Notably, Pakistani Taliban claimed attack in Tank district, which killed two police officers 11-12 Dec; unidentified assailants 12 Dec shot and injured police officer guarding polio vaccination team in Lakki Marwat district; bomb blast 17 Dec injured two in Bannu district. Meanwhile, military 18 Dec claimed three Pakistani Taliban militants killed and one soldier injured in KP’s Bajaur and North Waziristan districts. Authorities 31 Dec said two Pakistani Taliban militants killed during raids in Tank and North Waziristan districts; four soldiers also killed during operation. In Kunar province, missile attack on Pakistani Taliban commander Maulvi Faqir Mohammad’s home 16 Dec injured two militants. In Balochistan province, militants 14 Dec killed soldier close to Iranian border; bomb blast 18 Dec killed one in Quetta city; grenade at checkpoint 24 Dec killed two soldiers in Kech district. Also in KP, attacks on polling stations 19 Dec erupted during first phase of local elections, leaving three dead in Karak and Kohat districts. In Sialkot city, Punjab province, hundreds of protesters 3 Dec beat Sri Lankan to death and set his body on fire, accusing him of blasphemy for having reportedly removed Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) religious poster. PM Khan same day decried attack, apologised to Sri Lanka; incident sparked controversy as it erupted shortly after federal cabinet’s Nov decision to revoke TLP ban. Pakistan 19 Dec hosted Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to discuss Afghanistan’s humanitarian situation; OIC member states concluded that they would seek to help UN unfreeze Afghan assets. Afghan Taliban soldiers same day stopped Pakistani military from erecting security fence on disputed border along Nangarhar district; Taliban defence minister reportedly resolved dispute.
President suspended parliament for one month amid growing tensions within ruling coalition, as debt crisis, inflation and looming food shortages led to rising popular discontent. President Rajapaksa 12 Dec prorogued parliament until 18 Jan 2022 without giving clear reasons, triggering claims from opposition suspension was designed to prevent publication of reports by parliamentary corruption oversight committees; move comes after parliament 10 Dec approved govt’s budget with two-thirds majority, despite signs of increasing tensions within ruling coalition. Economic hardship deepened. Fitch Ratings 17 Dec became latest credit ratings agency to downgrade country, citing “increased probability of default’’; agency downgraded govt’s long-term foreign-currency issuer default rating to ‘CC’ from ‘CCC’, lowest tier before default. Inflation hit record level of 11%; vegetable prices continued to rise sharply during month, as key food items, especially imports, proved increasingly hard to find and beyond large numbers of citizens’ income, raising concerns about rising malnutrition. Concerns also persisted over size of upcoming rice harvest and future yields on tea, following six-month ban on import of chemical fertiliser. President Rajapaksa 22 Dec replaced chief civil servant in agriculture ministry, one day after he warned publicly of impending food crisis. Sinhalese prisoners in Badulla 17 Dec attacked four Muslim detainees held on suspicion of links to network behind 2019 Easter bombings. In effort to placate concerns among European states about continued use of Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), govt took series of actions. Following green light from attorney general, Puttalam High Court 15 Dec granted bail to Muslim poet Ahnaf Jazeem, detained under PTA for seven months on spurious reading of one of his poems. Colombo High Court 2 Dec acquitted prominent Muslim politician Azath Salley, who had been detained under the PTA, based on edited copy of speech he gave. Court during month gave bail to ten Tamil youth, arrested in May 2021 for publicly commemorating deaths of Tamils during war in violation of court order. Govt expressed outrage following 3 Dec mob lynching of Sinhalese manager of factory in Pakistani town of Sialkot (see Pakistan), but voiced appreciation for PM Imran Kahn’s promised of swift justice.
Regime violence against civilians continued, triggering protests and international condemnation, while court convicted deposed leaders, including Aung San Suu Kyi. In Yangon city, military vehicle 5 Dec accelerated into demonstrators and bystanders in Kyeemyindaing township, with soldiers firing on fleeing protesters, reportedly killing at least five; residents same day resumed banging pots and pans in protest as soldiers responded by breaking windows, vandalising parked cars and firing slingshots at residents on balconies. In grievous human rights abuse in Sagaing region, security forces 7 Dec implicated in killing and incinerating 11 civilians, including six teenagers, in Done Taw village, Salingyi township; authorities previous day reportedly detained villagers after suspected members of local People’s Defence Force attacked military convoys with IEDs. U.S. described incident as “sickening” while UN human rights office warned of “alarming escalation of grave human rights abuses in Myanmar”. Protesters 10 Dec organised “silent strike” with high participation across country as streets were deserted and businesses shuttered despite regime threats. U.S., U.K. and Canada same day announced further targeted sanctions, including against several chief ministers, directorates of defence industries and procurement, and Myanmar War Veterans’ Organisation. In Kayin State, regime forces 14 Dec raided Karen National Union (KNU)-administered Lay Kay Kaw village, Myawaddy township, arresting some 60 political dissidents, National League for Democracy MP and members of Civil Disobedience Movement. Regime forces next day clashed with KNU, displacing thousands and sparking tensions with neighbouring Thailand after shells landed across border (see Thailand). Military forces 24 Dec killed at least 35 civilians outside Moso village, Kayah State; in response, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell 30 Dec called for “international preventive action…including an arms embargo”. Naypyitaw court 6 Dec sentenced Aung San Suu Kyi and former President Win Myint to four years imprisonment for incitement and violation of COVID-19 rules; regime same day reduced sentences to two years house arrest. UN General Assembly’s Credentials Committee 1 Dec deferred decision on whether to accredit regime’s nominee, maintaining incumbent permanent representative, National Unity Govt-affiliated Kyaw Moe Tun, likely until Sept 2022 General Assembly session.
Violence persisted at low levels in south, while deadly clashes between govt forces and communists continued. In Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao in south, clashes between militants and military forces were rare during month, notwithstanding relative insecurity. In Maguindanao province, Philippine security forces 2 Dec killed son of Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) militant Hassan Indal in Ganta village; killing may suggest change in govt tactics to target top militant leaders instead of large-scale offensives. Unidentified gunmen same day shot off-duty policeman in Kauran village, Ampatuan town. In Sulu province, members of Radullan Sahiron’s faction of Islamic State-linked Abu Sayyaf Group 8 Dec clashed with military forces, killing one soldier and two militants. In Marawi city, rehabilitation efforts continued. Task Force Bangon Marawi (TFBM) 8 Dec said more internally displaced people affected by 2017 siege could start rebuilding houses inside Marawi city’s ground zero by third week of Jan 2022; TFBM head Eduardo del Rosario and Mayor of Marawi Majul Gandamra 8 Dec agreed to expedite release of building permits for some 1,500 applicants. Meanwhile, clashes between armed forces and communist group New People’s Army (NPA) persisted with greater lethality compared to last month: govt security operations or rebel ambushes in Mindanao Island in south, Visayas Islands in centre and Luzon Island in north killed at least 20 combatants and civilians and injured six. Over 150 members of NPA-affiliated organisations 10 Dec surrendered to authorities. Typhoon Rai (Odette) as of 21 Dec left at least 378 dead in Siargao Island, Surigao del Norte province, Mindanao, and parts of Visayas, with authorities warning that without urgent humanitarian assistance, lack of food and water could lead to looting; NPA fighters in Negros Island, Visayas, committed to aid rehabilitation efforts.
South China Sea
China conducted live-fire military drills, U.S. and EU voiced concern over Chinese actions, and South Korea and Australia reaffirmed commitment to international law. Chinese media 7 Dec reported that Chinese military practiced dropping live bombs and laying sea mines on South China Sea (SCS) islands using H-6J strategic bombers. Beijing think-tank South China Sea Strategic Situation Probing Initiative 14 Dec claimed U.S. Air Force sent spy plane on reconnaissance mission along Chinese coast, near locations of Chinese live-fire drills; at least two drills concluded 17 Dec near Hainan Island and in Beibu Gulf between China and Vietnam. Chinese media 19 Dec reported Chinese aircraft carrier set out for combat drills in SCS; 29 Dec reported exercises of amphibious assault ship Hainan in SCS. U.S. Deputy Sec State Wendy Sherman and EU European External Action Service Sec Gen Stefano Sannino 3 Dec said China’s actions in SCS, East China Seas and Taiwan Strait “undermine peace and security in the region”, expressing “strong concern” over China’s “problematic and unilateral actions” in disputed seas in Indo-Pacific that “run counter to the shared values and interests of the United States and the EU”. U.S. Sec State Antony Blinken in 14 Dec visit to Indonesia said U.S. is “determined to ensure freedom of navigation in the South China Sea”. Australian PM Scott Morrison and South Korean President Moon Jae-in 13 Dec adopted joint statement recognising “stability of the Indo-Pacific depends on adherence to international law in the maritime domain, including in the South China Sea”. Indonesian House of Representatives member Muhammad Farhan 1 Dec said China demanded Jakarta stop oil and gas drilling at sea, claiming drills took place in waters claimed by China, and that Beijing protested joint military exercises with U.S. held in Aug.
Small-scale anti-govt protests continued in capital Bangkok, while insecurity persisted in deep south, which saw series of bomb attacks. In capital Bangkok, police 6 Dec arrested some 36 protesters camped in front of Government House, protesting govt’s planned industrial estate development in Songkhla province’s Chana district. Small, silent vigils, dubbed “Stand Against Imprisonment”, continued to be staged outside courts in Bangkok two or three times per week, to demand bail for anti-govt protest leaders. Small group of activists 7 Dec gathered in Bangkok to call for repeal of lèse-majesté law. Anti-govt protest group Taluh Fah next day organised “car mob” to call for release of jailed pro-democracy protest leaders and show solidarity with anti-industrial estate protesters. Larger-scale protest 12 Dec saw demonstrators gather in capital to demand abolition of lèse-majesté law; at main protest site Ratchaprasong Intersection, police scuffled with crowd; although anti-govt protests have decreased significantly in scale and frequency since their 2020 peak, rally demonstrated both intent and capacity to continue. In deep south, in Narathiwat province, Islamic insurgent group Runda Kumpulan Kecil (RKK) 6 Dec exchanged fire with soldiers of 49th Ranger Regiment in forest near Srisakorn district, killing civilian and RKK leader. Vehicle carrying six officers of Budo Mountain National Park Protection Unit same day drove over roadside bomb in Marue Botok subdistrict; no serious injuries reported. Bomb 11 Dec exploded in Rueso district close to two monks and two rangers. Bomb 14 Dec exploded on road in Su-ngai Padi district, damaging six-vehicle convoy carrying rangers, with no casualties reported. In Songkhla province, security forces 8 Dec clashed with RKK militants in Tae Pha district, with no known casualties. In Pattani province, bomb on train tracks 13 Dec damaged train in Khok Pho district, injuring one passenger and two railway staff. At least 1,000 refugees 17 Dec reportedly crossed into Thailand following fighting in Myanmar’s Kayin State; Thai authorities 19 Dec sent over 600 refugees back across border (see Myanmar). Meanwhile, all political parties continued to prepare for 2022 election despite PM Prayut Chan-o-cha denying possibility of early election several times throughout month.
Europe & Central Asia
Bosnia And Herzegovina
Republika Srpska National Assembly passed controversial resolution in step toward secession, raising tensions and provoking international condemnation. Despite warnings from international community and opposition boycotts, 49 of 83 Republika Srpska (RS) National Assembly MPs 10 Dec approved resolution – backed by Bosnian Serb state-level presidency leader Milorad Dodik and RS President Željka Cvijanović – to withdraw from Bosnian army, security services, tax system and judiciary; decision entails transferring powers away from central institutions and leaves six-month period to draft new laws on armed forces, judiciary and tax system. In response, opposition Serb Democratic Party leader Mirko Sarovic described move as “direct threat to peace” that would lead RS “into the spiral of war”. Western govts – namely Germany, UK, U.S., France, Italy – and EU labelled resolution “a further escalatory step” and threatened new sanctions; German FM Annalena Baerbock 13 Dec called for EU to impose sanctions on Dodik, but Dodik showed indifference and said sanctions would lead them to their “true friends”. Bosnian NGO Žene žrtve rata and Institute for Research of Genocide Canada 14 Dec filed charge against Dodik at State Prosecutor’s Office for “undermining the constitutional order and jeopardising the country’s territorial integrity” as well as for mutiny and illegal formation of military forces.
EU and dozens of civil society organisations emphasised importance of continuing Belgrade-Pristina dialogue. Deputy PM Besnik Bislimi 7 Dec alleged Serb’s “parallel structures [inside Kosovo] are now more powerful than before”, hindering progress in Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue; 47 civil society organisations from Kosovo and Serbia 10 Dec jointly demanded resumption of EU-led Belgrade-Pristina dialogue due to “deep concern for the deterioration of the situation on the ground”. EU and Kosovo 7 Dec held fourth meeting of Stabilisation and Association Council, agreeing on “importance of constructive engagement in the EU-facilitated Dialogue to negotiate and achieve a comprehensive legally binding normalisation agreement with Serbia”. Likewise, during EU-Serbia Accession Conference on 14 Dec, EU renewed condition of Serb-Kosovar normalisation for progress in Serbia’s EU accession. After leaders of Serbia, Albania and North Macedonia late Nov met for Open Balkans Initiative, Kosovo FM Donika Gervalla 3 Dec claimed initiative could obstruct Kosovo’s regional integration. Kosovo 9 Dec arrested Serbian citizen at border suspected of war crimes during Kosovo war.
Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders renewed diplomatic engagement, facilitating prisoners release and easing tensions; Turkey and Armenia took steps toward normalisation. In positive sign, govt participated in meetings with Azerbaijani counterparts following late-Nov breakthrough when Russian President Putin, Azerbaijani President Aliyev and Armenian PM Pashinyan agreed that bilateral commission on delimitation and demarcation of state border should be set by Azerbaijan and Armenia. Armenian FM Ararat Mirzoyan 1 Dec and Azerbaijani FM Jeyhun Bayramov 2 Dec met Minsk Group Co-Chairs at Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe Stockholm Ministerial Council. Reportedly with Russian mediation, Azerbaijan 4 Dec returned ten captured Armenian soldiers to Yerevan in return for landmines maps. European Council President Charles Michel 14 Dec hosted discussion with Pashinyan and Aliyev, announcing EU’s readiness to offer technical assistance for border delimitation and demarcation, and praised agreement to restore communication channel between defence ministers, set up rail link and agree on “further tangible steps” ahead of planned launch of negotiations on delimitation and demarcation. Pashinyan and Aliyev 15 Dec informally met at French President Macron’s initiative. Azerbaijan 19 Dec released ten Armenian detainees “with mediation of the European Union”. Armenian soldiers 18 Dec detained two Azerbaijani servicemen after latter crossed into Armenian territory; Armenia 20 Dec returned soldiers. With mediation of Hungary, Azerbaijan 29 Dec handed over to Yerevan five Armenian soldiers detained during 16 Nov border clashes. Aliyev 14 Dec insisted Lachin corridor – which connects Russian peacekeepers stationed in Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia – and Azerbaijan-Nakhichevan corridor should have exactly same legal regime without customs controls; Pashinyan same day countered this would contradict earlier agreements. After Armenia and Azerbaijan in Sept filed cases against each other, International Court of Justice 7 Dec announced provisional decision for both “to refrain from any action” aggravating or extending dispute, to prevent racial hatred, and for Azerbaijan to protect Armenian prisoners and cultural heritage. Turkey and Armenia 13 Dec announced they will mutually appoint special envoys to discuss steps to normalise relations. Armenia 31 Dec lifted ban of Turkish imports in place since Oct 2020.
Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders and FMs renewed diplomatic engagement, facilitating prisoner release and easing tensions. In positive sign of increasing engagement and lowering tensions, govt participated in series of meetings with Azerbaijani counterparts following notable late-Nov breakthrough when Russian President Putin, Azerbaijani President Aliyev and Armenian PM Pashinyan agreed that bilateral commission on delimitation and demarcation of state border should be set by Azerbaijan and Armenia. Armenian FM Ararat Mirzoyan 1 Dec and Azerbaijani FM Jeyhun Bayramov 2 Dec met Minsk Group Co-Chairs at Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe Stockholm Ministerial Council. Reportedly with Russian mediation, Azerbaijan 4 Dec returned ten captured Armenian soldiers to Yerevan in return for landmines maps. European Council President Charles Michel 14 Dec hosted trilateral discussion with Pashinyan and Aliyev, announcing EU’s readiness to offer technical assistance for border delimitation and demarcation, and praised agreement to restore communication channel between defence ministers, set up rail link and agree on “further tangible steps” ahead of planned launch of negotiations on delimitation and demarcation talks. Pashinyan and Aliyev 15 Dec also informally met at initiative of French President Macron. Azerbaijan 19 Dec released ten Armenian detainees “with mediation of the European Union”. Armenian soldiers 18 Dec detained two Azerbaijani servicemen after latter crossed into Armenian territory; Armenia 20 Dec returned soldiers. With mediation of Hungary, Azerbaijan 29 Dec handed over to Yerevan five Armenian soldiers detained during 16 Nov border clashes. Aliyev 14 Dec insisted Lachin corridor – which connects Russian peacekeepers stationed in Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia – and Azerbaijan-Nakhichevan corridor should have “exactly the same” legal regime without customs controls; Pashinyan same day countered this would contradict earlier agreements. After Armenia and Azerbaijan in Sept filed cases against each other, International Court of Justice 7 Dec announced provisional decision for both “to refrain from any action” aggravating or extending dispute, to prevent racial hatred, and for Azerbaijan to protect Armenian prisoners and Armenian cultural heritage. Aliyev 1 Dec appointed Emin Huseynov to new post of Special Representative to Karabakh Economic District, with territory covering regained lands of 2020 war.
Tensions between govt and opposition remained high, while breakaway Abkhazia’s political leadership faced new scandal and violent protest. Detained former President Mikheil Saakashvili 2 Dec attended second hearing on corruption case, which he rejected. Prosecutor 10 Dec began investigation into former Deputy Interior Minister Giorgi Lordkipanidze for allegedly helping Saakashvili’s illegal border crossing. Large-scale protest 21 Dec gathered in capital Tbilisi, and opposition party United National Movement chairman called for “mass hunger strike” until Saakhashvili’s release. Authorities 30 Dec moved Saakashvili from Gori military hospital to prison in Rustavi town. Opposition members 15 Dec held closed-door talks with ruling Georgian Dream party on constitutional amendments as part of EU-brokered April deal; President Zourabichvili 16 Dec hosted members of Georgian Dream and opposition, and called for political reconciliation. Following Oct scandal in breakaway Abkhazia, where former de facto Interior Minister Dmitry Dbar and police clashed with MPs and veterans over independence celebration, de facto President Aslan Bzhania 3 Dec reappointed Dmitry Dbar to head of de facto state security service. House searches of two alleged hosts of Facebook pages “insulting” officials 2-3 Dec resulted in street brawl, with de facto Deputy Tourism Minister Dato Kajaia reportedly firing gunshots several times, injuring one. De facto authorities 3 Dec detained Kajaia and two alleged social media hosts, and dismissed officials, including Kajaia and de facto interior minister. Bzhania 6 Dec appointed former Russian official Valter Butba as new de facto interior minister. After de facto president 20 Dec warned protesters reportedly rallying against pandemic response and energy crisis, demonstrators 21 Dec violently clashed with security forces. De facto president met twice with representatives of opposition 21 Dec to discuss demands; Prosecutor’s Office 23 Dec opened criminal investigation into protesters. Breakaway South Ossetia 1 Dec ratified agreement with Russia on dual citizenship; 16 Western states, including UK, U.S. and Canada, 3 Dec labelled agreement “step toward de facto annexation”. South Ossetia 1, 9 12, 23 and 27 Dec detained ten Georgian citizens for illegally crossing de facto border, and 3, 19 and 24 Dec released six.
Despite deadly incidents along Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) contact line, sides renewed diplomatic engagement, facilitating prisoners release. Insecurity persisted throughout month. Armenia 3 Dec alleged that local from Martuni province lost his way and was killed after Azerbaijani forces forcibly abducted him from neutral zone, labelling killing “gross violation of international humanitarian law”; Azerbaijan defence ministry 3 Dec confirmed civilian’s death, and said ethnic Armenian man had assaulted Azerbaijani soldier who subsequently fired warning shot and “rendered the provocateur harmless”. De facto NK authorities 5 Dec reported one soldier fatally shot; Azerbaijan 7 Dec denied killing Armenian soldier. De facto NK investigative committee 7 Dec alleged Azerbaijan fatally shot Armenian soldier in no-man’s land near Shusha town despite uncertainty over who fired first. Baku 8 Dec reported killing of Azerbaijani soldier in Kalbajar district; Armenian defence ministry 9 Dec reported two Armenian soldiers wounded after Azerbaijani fire in Armenia’s Gegharkunik region. On diplomatic front, meanwhile, there was much progress and diplomatic engagement between both sides during month (see Azerbaijan and Armenia). Notably, European Council President Charles Michel 14 Dec hosted trilateral discussion with Pashinyan and Aliyev, announcing EU’s readiness to offer technical assistance for border delimitation and demarcation, and praising agreement to restore communication channel between defence ministers and set up rail link. Aliyev 14 Dec insisted Lachin corridor – which connects Russian peacekeepers stationed in NK to Armenia – and Azerbaijan-Nakhichevan corridor should have “exactly the same” legal regime without customs controls; Pashinyan same day countered this would contradict earlier agreements.
Repression of dissent continued, notably with dissolution of longstanding human rights group Memorial; authorities reported arresting dozens of “pro-Ukrainian neo-Nazi group” members. Supreme Court 28 Dec ordered liquidation of prominent human rights group Memorial after lawsuit filed by Prosecutor General’s Office alleged systematic violations of law on foreign agents. In joint statement, EU, U.S., Australia, Canada and UK 31 Dec deplored court decision. Police 28 Dec detained former coordinators and employees of opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s local headquarters in several Russian cities. Kislovodsk City Court 15 Dec imposed between seven and a half and nine years imprisonment on leaders of organisations in North Caucasus’s Ingushetia for their role in Oct-Dec 2018 and March 2019 protests against change to administrative boundaries between Ingushetia and Chechnya; those sentenced included leaders of Ingush People Council of Teips, Ingush branch of Russian Red Cross, NGO Choice of Ingushetia, Council of Youth Organizations, association Opora Ingushetia and NGO Memorial. Nenets Autonomous Region court 19 Dec sentenced Yury Zhdanov, father of former director of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, to three years suspended imprisonment; authorities accused leaders of creating extremist community and organising attacks on law enforcement. Meanwhile, Federal Security Service 13 Dec reported detention of what it described as 106 supporters of “Ukrainian neo-Nazi group M.K.U.” in 37 Russian regions, including two suspected of preparing attacks on educational institutions.
Amid continued tensions over Ukraine, U.S. and Russia prepared to begin security talks in January. Russian President Putin 1 Dec proposed negotiations on legally binding guarantees that NATO will not expand eastward. Putin 7 Dec accused NATO in phone call with U.S. President Biden of “making dangerous attempts to gain a foothold on Ukrainian territory and build up its military capabilities” near Russia’s borders; Biden next day proposed NATO-Russia meeting. Head of Russian delegation to Vienna negotiations on military security and arms control Konstantin Gavrilov 21 Dec reiterated Moscow’s determination not to allow NATO infrastructure in Ukraine and Georgia, though plans for such infrastructure not under way at time of writing. NATO Sec Gen Jens Stoltenberg 21 Dec declared openness for “meaningful dialogue”; Russian FM Sergei Lavrov same day indicated U.S.-Russia talks will take place in Jan 2022; EU and U.S. next day agreed “that any discussion about European security will happen in coordination and with participation” of EU. U.S. Assistant Sec State Karen Donfried 23 Dec expected talks to “take place in January”. Biden and Putin 30 Dec held phone call to discuss European security.
Authorities continued crackdown on opposition and independent media while Western countries expanded sanctions. Vyasna Human Rights Centre 1 Dec reported searches and hearings of over dozen activists and journalists; in separate case, authorities same day arrested 11 people for posting “blasphemous and insulting statements in various messengers and social networks”. Interior ministry 3 Dec designated Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s (RFE/RL) Telegram and YouTube channels “extremist”, making subscription punishable; RFE/RL same day rejected “ridiculous label”. Govt 23 Dec added RFE/RL’s Belarus Service to registry of extremist organisations. Court 14 Dec sentenced former presidential candidate and opposition figure Siarhei Tsikhanouski – husband of exiled opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya - to 18 years imprisonment; five other opposition activists and journalists same day received sentences between 14 and 16 years. Tsikhanouskaya same day described sentence as “revenge”; EU and U.S. criticised “unfounded and harsh sentences” and “politically motivated convictions”, respectively. Authorities 30 Dec designated Vyasna Human Rights Centre’s Telegram channel “extremist”. President Lukashenka 27 Dec published draft constitutional changes ahead of Feb referendum. Meanwhile, Poland 1 Dec renewed state of emergency at Belarus border for up to three months. Lukashenka same day repeated “serious” threat of closing Belarus gas route from Russia to EU. U.S., UK, EU and Canada in coordination 2 Dec adopted new sanctions for migration crisis; in response, foreign ministry 7 Dec issued six-month ban of mainly food products from EU, U.S., Canada, UK, Norway and other countries, starting in Jan. Border agency 4 Dec alleged violation of airspace by Ukrainian military helicopter; defence ministry next day summoned Ukrainian military attaché; Kiev 4 Dec denied accusation. Following forced landing of passenger aircraft in Belarus in May and arrest of Belarusian opposition journalist, Polish investigation 9 Dec concluded “there was no bomb threat”, contradicting govt’s claims. UK 9 Dec announced deployment of 140 military engineers to Poland to support “response to the pressures from irregular migration at the Belarus border”. During 12 Dec meeting with Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, EU increased financial support to civil society by “an additional 30 million euros”. Two Russian nuclear-capable bombers 18 Dec participated in joint air patrol at western border.
Amid growing concerns over potential Russian offensive, hostilities continued in Donbas conflict zone despite restoration of July 2020 ceasefire. Fighting and shelling continued along Donbas contact line. Ukrainian military said three of its servicemen were killed in combat during month, while Russian-backed forces reported four fighters killed. Explosion in govt-controlled Krasnohorivka town located at contact line in Donetsk region 1 Dec injured civilian. Civilian 23 Dec sustained shrapnel injuries in non-govt-controlled Oleksandrivka locality near Donetsk. Ukraine and Russia 22 Dec negotiated restoration of July 2020 ceasefire agreement; fighting subsequently persisted, while sides did not agree on opening of civilian crossings. Head of Office of Ukraine’s President Andriy Yermak 21 Dec said Kyiv had shared ten-step plan with Normandy Four countries and U.S. to unblock peace process; Russian media outlet Kommersant 24 Dec published plan, which provided for ceasefire, opening of checkpoints, prisoners’ swap, negotiation of draft laws on special status, amnesty, decentralisation and setting special economic zone. According to 17 Dec U.S. media reports citing U.S. intelligence officials, Russia continued to amass troops near Ukraine. Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council Secretary Oleksiy Danilov 22 Dec said over 120,000 Russian troops are within 200km of Ukrainian border. Russian foreign ministry 17 Dec published proposals to legally guarantee against NATO’s eastward expansion, including ruling out Ukraine’s membership; proposals suggest banning any NATO military deployments on territory of states that were not NATO members in May 1997. Russian President Putin 21 Dec said Russia’s proposals are no ultimatum, but stressed that Russia has nowhere to retreat over Ukraine; while talking about possible invasion, Putin said Moscow’s actions will depend “on unconditional guarantees for Russia’s security”. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov 31 Dec warned West over “aggressive line” in Ukraine crisis, said Moscow may be forced to “eliminate unacceptable threats to our security” (see Russia -U.S.). Russia 25 Dec announced more than 10,000 troops finished month-long drills near Ukraine. President Zelensky 21 Dec said govt seeks clear timeline in 2022 for eventual NATO membership, describing years of waiting as “unacceptable”. State Investigation Bureau 20 Dec charged former President Petro Poroshenko with state treason and financing of terrorism.
Progress on relaunching formal negotiations between Turkish and Greek Cypriots remained stalled, while tensions over sovereignty rights in disputed maritime zones continued. In controversial comments, Republic of Cyprus President Anastasiades 1 Dec said Turkish Cypriots had more in common with Greek Cypriots than with Turkey and that “as long as they depend, and will depend on Turkey, they will suffer the same as the Turkish people”. After assuming his post in early Dec, UN Sec-Gen’s Special Representative and Head of UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus Colin Stewart 10 Dec met separately with Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar and Anastasiades; Tatar and Anastasiades 14 Dec met at UN reception, where Stewart applauded achievements of bicommunal Technical Committees established under UN auspices to facilitate interaction and understanding between island’s two communities. Mitsotakis 7 Dec said Turkey demonstrated “continued intransigence and unacceptable behaviour, both on land and in the maritime zones of Cyprus” and stressed that any settlement in the fenced-off city of Varosha will “condemn any attempt for a mutually acceptable solution” of the Cyprus issue. Meanwhile, maritime tensions continued. Turkey 2 Dec criticised Greek Cypriots’ attempts to issue exploration license in its claimed Exclusive Economic Zone to oil companies ExxonMobil and Qatar Petroleum. Republic of Cyprus Energy Minister Natasa Pilides 10 Dec signed natural gas exploration and production sharing contract with ExxonMobil and Qatar Petroleum, reiterating that Republic of Cyprus is “exercising its sovereign rights according to international law”. “Ministry of Foreign Affairs” of “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” (“TRNC”) same day responded that contract is “clear usurpation of the rights of the Turkish Cypriot people” and “denial of Turkey’s rights in the region”. Turkish VP Fuat Oktay 15 Dec announced govt will respond to actions aimed at harming legitimate rights or interests of both Turkey and Turkish Cypriots. Following 2 Dec arson attack on Grand Mosque in Larnaca city in Republic of Cyprus, “TRNC” leader Tatar immediately condemned attack and Turkish President Erdoğan 6 Dec said attack “will not go unanswered” and those engaging in sabotage of places of worship “will pay a heavy price”.
Amid deepening economic strains, authorities continued military operations against Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and detained dozens of suspected Islamic State (ISIS) supporters. Military operations against the PKK predominantly took place in northern Iraq (see Iraq), while some clashes occurred in country’s south east. Notably, clashes in south-eastern province of Tunceli 3 Dec killed Turkish soldier. Ground operations in south east during month were concentrated in rural areas of Tunceli, Mardin, Şırnak and Hakkari provinces; security forces 29 Dec launched counter-terrorism operation against PKK in south east’s Batman province. Security units continued operations against Islamic State (ISIS) cells and operatives as police during month carried out more than 190 detentions of individuals allegedly linked with ISIS, majority of them foreigners; notably police 9 Dec conducted simultaneous raids in capital Ankara, detaining 22 foreign nationals, and same day detained 11 foreign nationals in Istanbul city; 28 Dec detained 16 people accused of ISIS links. Police 14 Dec also detained nine Iraqi nationals in central Anatolian province of Kırşehir, with many detainees suspected of allegedly planning attacks on New Year’s celebrations. Economy continued to face strains. President Erdoğan 2 Dec appointed new treasury and finance minister, Nureddin Nebati; 8 Dec called on citizens to be patient and trust Turkey’s new economic path, reaffirming commitment to low interest rates, which he said will boost investment, jobs, exports and growth. After hitting record lows in first half of the month, Turkish lira rebounded after Erdoğan’s 20 Dec announcement of new program to protect local deposits against currency fluctuations. Internationally, Turkey and Armenia 13 Dec announced they will mutually appoint special envoys to discuss steps to normalise relations (see Armenia, and Armenia/Turkey). Turkish Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu 13 Dec said Turkey “will act together with Azerbaijan at every step” and 27 Dec confirmed first meeting of special envoys, who will lead dialogue between Yerevan and Ankara, will take place in Russian capital Moscow. Turkey and Greece exchanged barbs over migrant pushbacks in Aegean Sea during month; Athens and Ankara officials also continued harsh rhetoric regarding Aegean dispute, dimming prospects for progress in “exploratory talks” relaunched between two sides in Jan 2021.
Election authorities announced final results of late-Nov elections while opposition leader Omurbek Tekebaev was threatened as his supporters demanded new poll. Following elections held on 28 Nov, Central Election Commission 15 Dec announced that Ata-Jurt Kyrgyzstan party secured 15 seats, Ishenim party 12 seats, and Yntymak party nine seats; Kyrgyz Supreme Court 17 Dec refused to consider claim on electoral fraud, said official deadline for complaints had expired. Unknown assailants 1 Dec attacked Omurbek Tekebaev, leader of opposition party Ata-Meken, in capital Bishkek in what politician later called “the start of political terror”; hundreds of Tekebaev’s supporters and opposition activists had same day gathered at offices of Central Election Commission to demand new poll amid fraud accusations. President Japarov 1 Dec called for investigation into attack and Bishkek city police next day said they had arrested suspect in attack. Authorities 22 Dec said Tajik border guards had opened fire on truck driver near disputed border.
Authorities engaged with Taliban and faced renewed scrutiny over country’s human rights situation. In sign of tentative engagement with Taliban, govt 17 Dec announced it had sent technicians to Afghanistan to help repair airport in Mazar-e Sharif city. Six U.S. senators 6 Dec urged U.S. Biden administration to press Tashkent to embark on reforms related to human rights, noting “Uzbekistan remains among the world’s most repressive countries”. Following inaugural meeting of Strategic Partnership Dialogue, U.S. 13 Dec welcomed President Tokayev’s political reform efforts, including on human rights. NGO Human Rights Watch 9 Dec urged authorities to release Muslim blogger Fozilxoja Orifxojaev, who is facing eight-year prison sentence for “threatening public security over a social-media post”.
Latin America & Caribbean
FARC dissident faction suffered new setback in neighbouring Venezuela, and violence continued notably along Pacific coast. Two senior commanders of Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) dissident faction Segunda Marquetalia, Henry Castellanos (alias Romaña) and Hernán Darío Velásquez (alias El Paisa), killed 5 Dec in Venezuela’s Apure state; local media including Colombian news outlet Caracol in following days said rival FARC dissident 10th Front suspected of carrying out attacks, though details remain unclear; killings strike symbolic blow to Segunda Marquetalia, which last May lost senior commander Jesús Santrich. In Norte de Santander department near Venezuelan border, bomb blasts 14 Dec killed two police officers at airport in Cúcuta city; one suspected suicide bomber also killed. Defence Minister Diego Molano immediately condemned “terrorist” act, said it bore hallmark of FARC dissident groups and National Liberation Army (ELN), though neither claimed responsibility. Also in Norte de Santander, suspected members of 33rd FARC Dissident Front early Dec clashed with other armed groups and 5 Dec reportedly threw grenade at voting station for election of municipal youth council in Tibú municipality, injuring three soldiers and two civilians. Meanwhile, fighting continued along Pacific coast. In Cauca department, FARC dissident faction Carlos Patiño Front 6 Dec announced armed strike in parts of Argelia municipality in attempt to cement territorial control, amid competition with Segunda Marquetalia and ELN for control of drug trafficking routes; 14 Dec lifted strike, but demanded change in military command in area. Indigenous communities from across Cauca 10 Dec marched to Cali, main city of Pacific coast, to protest rising levels of violence and lack of state response. Army 29 Dec said it had found corpses of seven men in rural area of Putumayo department (south), blamed FARC dissidents. Justice Minister Wilson Ruiz 2 Dec announced possible resumption of aerial fumigation of coca crops in Feb 2022; move follows National Environmental Licensing Agency’s approval of govt’s environmental impact plan for spraying, one of several pending conditions set in 2017 by Constitutional Court to restart aerial fumigation. Country’s Registrar 22 Dec released official list of candidates for presidential and congressional elections scheduled to begin 13 March.
Political stalemate persisted as opposition remained in disarray and electoral dispute continued over recent polls in Barinas state. Following Nov win of ruling PSUV party in regional and local elections, protests 2 Dec erupted in Santa Rosalía municipality, Portuguesa state (south west) in response to disputed local election results; opposition supporters decried election fraud and demanded new elections after National Electoral Council (CNE) declared victory for ruling party candidate. Govt 3 Dec reportedly denied visa extension for EU observers, requiring them to leave on 5 Dec instead of 13 Dec as planned. In Barinas (south west), voters 4 Dec denounced Supreme Court’s decision to invalidate election results and retroactively disqualify opposition candidate Freddy Superlano from participating in new elections scheduled for 9 Jan; ruling party 5 Dec named former FM Jorge Arreaza candidate. CNE 22 Dec named six civil organisations as national observers for monitoring electoral transparency. Senior member and foreign affairs chief of opposition leader Juan Guaidó’s interim govt Julio Borges 5 Dec resigned and called for dismantling of interim govt; repeated previous calls for overseas assets currently held in opposition’s name to be transferred to trust, said current management “a scandal” and that they were being used for “personal ends”. Meanwhile, Guaidó-led opposition leadership continued to resist calls for greater transparency, insisted “interim govt” must remain until free and fair presidential elections. U.S. Envoy Roger Carstens 8-11 Dec visited country to meet President Maduro and discuss welfare of detained U.S. nationals, including six jailed oil executives with no apparent breakthrough; Maduro continued to demand release of close collaborator Colombian businessman Alex Saab, recently extradited to U.S. on money-laundering charges. After govt launched legal action against Bank of England to regain $1bn in gold reserves, UK Supreme Court 20 Dec said UK “unequivocally recognised opposition leader Juan Guaidó as president” rather than Maduro and referred case back to commercial court. Head of govt-led National Assembly 22 Dec called for session to discuss modifications to justice system, including reducing number of Supreme Court judges. Opposition-led National Assembly 27 Dec renewed its term and Guaidó’s mandate as “interim president” for one more year.
Following months of heightened political tensions, country headed toward peaceful transfer of power as President Hernández recognised victory of outsider presidential candidate Xiomara Castro. Outgoing President Hernández 1 Dec congratulated left-wing Liberty and Refoundation (LIBRE) party candidate Xiomara Castro on winning 28 Nov presidential election and called for “pacific and democratic transition of power”; Castro, first successful presidential candidate outside two traditional parties, due to become first female president in country’s history after taking office 27 Jan. U.S. VP Kamala Harris 10 Dec congratulated Castro on “historic victory”, expressed willingness “to increase economic opportunities, combat corruption, and deepen the partnership between the U.S. and Honduras”. National Electoral Council (NEC) 20 Dec released final presidential results, declaring Castro winner with 51.12% of votes, 14 points ahead of ruling National Party candidate Nasry Asfura at 36.93%; said turnout reached 68.58%. Meanwhile, controversy emerged over legislative elections also held 28 Nov. Candidates from various parties, particularly from Castro’s running mate Honduras’ Saviour Party, early Dec filed multiple complaints alleging fraud favouring candidates from both National Party and Liberal Party. NEC 7 Dec announced recount of almost 5,000 ballot boxes for legislative and municipal elections following at least 281 appeals; 28 Dec announced final results, with LIBRE winning 50 seats, National Party 44, Liberal Party 22, and Honduras’ Saviour Party ten. U.S. 2 Dec said Honduras, among other countries, was not invited to virtual summit for democracy to be held 9-10 Dec, citing “very disturbing activities” undermining democracy. Violence against politicians, political activists or civil society leaders persisted after 28 Nov votes. Notably, unidentified assailants 5 Dec shot and killed local leader of LIBRE party in Santa Cruz municipality, Lempira department. Armed individuals 8 Dec shot dead justice official in La Unión municipality, Olancho department, and next day killed lawyer in Danlí municipality, El Paraíso department.
Despite maintaining great popularity, President Bukele continued to face protests amid strained relations with U.S. as Washington imposed new sanctions on govt officials. U.S. Treasury Dept 8 Dec sanctioned prison system director and vice minister of justice and public security, Osiris Luna Meza, and chairman of govt body Social Fabric Reconstruction Unit, Carlos Amilcar Marroquin Chica, for corruption, accusing them of negotiating truce with gang leaders on behalf of govt, and granting privileges to gang leaders in exchange for lower violence and political support; also said Luna and his mother Alma Meza responsible for embezzling millions of dollars from prison system and stealing and reselling pandemic relief supplies. U.S. Treasury Dept next day sanctioned Bukele’s chief of cabinet, Carolina Recinos, on accusations of heading “corruption scheme” and authorising “suspicious pandemic-related purchases”. Bukele immediately denounced “absurd daily accusations” and claimed U.S. officials, including former Chargé d’Affaires in El Salvador Jean Manes, sought to halt actions against corrupt Salvadoran officials. Former senior anti-corruption prosecutor German Arriaza 28 Dec accused govt of making deal with gangs in 2019 to reduce murder rates and help ruling party win elections, said Bukele shut down his unit’s probe into pact. Thousands 12 Dec demonstrated in capital San Salvador denouncing authoritarian drift and corruption of govt officials; Bukele same day accused U.S. govt of “fund[ing] communist movements against a democratically elected govt”. Legislative Assembly 15 Dec stripped immunity of former presidential candidate for right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance party (ARENA), Norman Quijano, now member of Central American Parliament (PARLACEN), on accusations of paying gangs to support his presidential campaign in 2014; ARENA deputies immediately condemned move, saying PARLACEN, not legislature, has jurisdiction over case. Legislative Assembly 22 Dec re-elected Rodolfo Delgado to serve for three more years as attorney general; Delgado’s decision last June to end anti-corruption accord with Organization of American States had fed friction with U.S.
Amid ongoing stifling of dissent widely condemned internationally, President Ortega sought rapprochement with China and Russia. After Episcopal Conference in late Nov offered to mediate possible dialogue between govt and opposition, Auxiliary Bishop of Managua, Silvio José Báez (who went into exile in 2019), 5 Dec said “it is impossible to dialogue without re-establishing civil liberties”. Over 35 representatives of opposition and civil society organisations exiled in Costa Rica 7 Dec said conditions for dialogue with Ortega’s “illegitimate” govt not met. Meanwhile, authorities 13-14 Dec shut down 11 NGOs. As Ortega’s govt faced increasing international isolation, delegation comprising sons of Ortega and VP and first lady Rosario Murillo 6 Dec met Russian Deputy FM Sergei Ryabkov in Russia’s capital Moscow to seek to expand bilateral cooperation; Murillo same day asked U.S. and EU to lift sanctions on officials. Govt 9 Dec cut diplomatic ties with Taiwan, said People’s Republic of China “is the only legitimate government” as “Taiwan is an inalienable part of the Chinese territory”. Attorney General’s Office 26 Dec seized Taiwan’s embassy premises and handed them to China. Organization of American States (OAS) 8 Dec approved resolution urging Ortega to release all political prisoners and mandating OAS Sec Gen Luis Almagro to lead diplomatic efforts to convince govt to accept OAS good offices mission; Almagro 17 Dec requested extension of deadline until mid-Jan to report on progress; OAS mission would seek to facilitate implementation of comprehensive electoral reforms, repeal all legislation restricting political participation, and launch inclusive dialogue on new elections. EU Parliament 16 Dec adopted resolution notably calling for EU sanctions on Ortega. U.S. President Biden 21 Dec announced Nicaragua will only receive humanitarian and trade-related aid in 2022.
Amid persistent food insecurity and gang violence, political transition remained fragile. Gang violence persisted as clashes between G9-affiliated Ti Bwa gang and Village de Dieu gang 1 Dec killed five civilians and wounded 12 in Martissant neighbourhood of capital Port-au-Prince. Also in Martissant, unidentified gunmen 24 Dec killed transport union coordinator Guy Polinice and two others, and 29 Dec shot at public buses, killing four and wounding four. Prisoners 31 Dec attempted escape at Croix-des-Bouquets prison, killing ten inmates and injuring four police officers. In small improvement, 400 Mawozo gang 5 Dec released three missionaries abducted 16 Oct, 16 Dec released all remaining hostages; police 9 Dec arrested gang leader Clerny Jonas alias “Ti Jonas”, operating in Jalousie, south of Port-au-Prince, 14 Dec arrested Cathel Jones, alleged leader of G9-linked gang Terre Noire, and 26 Dec arrested gang leader Johnny Charles alias “Gato”. PM Henry 7 Dec announced fuel price hike; protesters 10 Dec took to streets upon its entry into force. Education Minister Nesmy Manigat 23 Dec said insecurity directly impacting nearly 200 schools in Port-au-Prince. Monitoring Office of 30 Aug Montana Accord tasked to support transitional arrangement 12 Dec created National Transitional Council, comprising 52 members from civil society organisations, political parties and independent political groups, set to elect provisional president and PM. International news outlet New York Times same day reported President Moïse had been compiling list of political elites and businesspeople linked to Haitian drug trade in months prior to his July assassination. U.S. Rep Andy Levin 7 Dec called on U.S. to support civil society coalition Commission for a Haitian-led solution to the crisis. Following UN report which said nearly half of Haiti’s population undernourished in 2018-2020, UN humanitarian agency 6 Dec requested $373.5 mn in humanitarian aid for Haiti in 2022. In Cap-Haitien port city, north, a fuel tanker 14 Dec crashed and exploded, killing at least 90 civilians.
Deadly criminal violence continued, while U.S. reinstated Trump-era “Remain in Mexico” migration policy. In Tula City, Hidalgo state (centre), members of local oil theft gang Pueblos Unidos 1 Dec attacked prison and liberated nine inmates including group leader; authorities next day re-apprehended three, arrested ten people suspected of playing role in attack and reportedly put 12 security forces members under investigation. In Chinicuila municipality, Michoacán state (centre), internal displacements continued due to new waves of violence: clashes 7 Dec erupted between members of Jalisco Cartel New Generation (CJNG) and National Guard; CJNG 8 Dec exploded drones on civilians in Chinicuila, Villa Victoria. About half of 4,800 Chinicuila inhabitants fled during month, including mayor and 15 police officers who 10 Dec resigned denouncing lack of federal govt support. In Jalisco state (centre), armed clashes 7 Dec erupted between CJNG and Sinaloa Cartel in Teocaltiche municipality, leaving seven dead. In Cerritos municipality, San Luis Potosí state (also centre), police 8 Dec launched operation against reported members of criminal group, leaving five killed in shootout including one police. Meanwhile, several armed clashes 29-30 Dec killed at least 14 people in Zacatecas state (also centre). U.S. and Mexican officials 2 Dec announced restart of former U.S. President Trump-era “Remain in Mexico” policy which forced tens of thousands of Central American asylum-seekers to wait in Mexico for U.S. courts to hear their immigration cases; after U.S. President Biden issued new rescission memo, federal appeals court 13 Dec upheld order to reinstate policy. In Tuxtla Gutiérrez city, Chiapas state (south), truck packed mainly with Guatemalan migrants being smuggled northward 9 Dec flipped over, leaving at least 55 dead and 105 injured. U.S. and Mexico 14 Dec officially relaunched bilateral security operation with new agreement “Bicentennial Framework for Security, Public Health and Safe Communities” entering into force to replace 2007 Merida Initiative. UN Security Council 22 Dec approved Mexico’s resolution against arms trafficking.
Middle East & North Africa
Violence and unrest ran high in East Jerusalem and West Bank as Palestinian attacks killed two Israelis and Israeli forces killed seven Palestinians. In occupied East Jerusalem, Palestinian 4 Dec stabbed to death Israeli near Damascus Gate; border police subsequently shot dead assailant in what UN human rights office called “apparent extrajudicial execution”. Palestinian girl 8 Dec stabbed Israeli woman in Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood. Meanwhile, following U.S. pressure, state planning committee 6 Dec delayed approval of settlement project in Atarot, East Jerusalem. In West Bank, Israeli forces 6 Dec shot dead 16-year-old Palestinian who allegedly drove car into Jbara military checkpoint, injuring Israeli soldier. Israeli forces 10 Dec shot dead Palestinian during protest against illegal settlements in Beita village; 12 Dec killed Palestinian in Nablus city during clashes following arrest raid. Palestinian gunmen 16 Dec opened fire on Israeli settlers’ car leaving illegal outpost Homesh, killing one Israeli. In response, Israeli settlers launched reprisal attacks throughout West Bank; notably, 25 settlers 17 Dec attacked couple in Qaryut village. Israeli forces 21 Dec shot dead Palestinian allegedly attempting to drive into military checkpoint near Mevo Dotan settlement; next day, killed Palestinian near al-Amari refugee camp in Ramallah who military claimed opened fire on them from passing car. Israeli troops 31 Dec shot dead Palestinian near Ariel settlement. Palestinians 11 Dec held first phase of municipal elections in West Bank; Hamas boycotted vote. UN data 27 Dec revealed 450 settler attacks resulting in Palestinian casualties or property damage in 2021, compared to 358 attacks in 2020. In rare visit to Israel, Palestinian Authority President Abbas 28 Dec met Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz and announced “confidence-building measures”; Hamas condemned talks. Meanwhile, Israel 7 Dec completed construction of ‘iron wall’, including fence, underground wall and radar system surrounding Gaza Strip. Internationally, Israeli FM Lapid 9 Dec visited Egypt for talks with Egyptian President Sisi and FM Sameh Shoukry on consolidating ceasefire with Hamas; PM Bennett 12 Dec began first official visit by Israeli leader to United Arab Emirates. Syrian state media 7, 15, 28 Dec reported Israeli airstrikes on Latakia port (see Syria).
Amid ongoing political paralysis, Central Bank took measure prompting currency devaluation, and France sought to mediate Beirut’s diplomatic spat with Saudi Arabia. Cabinet meetings still on hold with little apparent prospect of resolution. Attempts to reach political deal ended in acrimony: PM Mikati and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri met 20 Dec, but did not succeed in resolving disputed issues – including Hizbollah and its allies demanding removal of Judge Tarik Bitar from investigation into Aug 2020 Beirut port explosion, Free Patriotic Movement party asking modifications to mode of expatriate voting, and issue of reshuffling senior security positions. On economic front, currency fell to record low. Following 3 Dec resignation of Information Minister George Kordahi, whose comments on Saudi-led war in Yemen had caused frictions with Gulf countries, Lebanese lira improved by nearly 10% within less than 24 hours, reaching 22,000 to U.S. dollar. However, in unexpected move Central Bank 9 Dec raised amount of lira that depositors can receive for U.S. dollars from 3,900 to 8,000, triggering fears of inflation that sent lira to record lows at 29,000 to U.S. dollar on 14 Dec; currency stabilised at 27,000 after Central Bank same day announced injection of additional dollars into market. Shooting 12 Dec erupted at funeral procession in Palestinian camp Burj al-Shemali in Tyre city killing three Hamas members; Hamas blamed factions affiliated with Palestinian Authority (PA) while PA rejected allegations. During visit to Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, French President Macron 3-4 Dec sought to restore relations between Riyadh and Beirut; Macron’s attempt to arrange meeting reportedly failed but PM Mikati and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman 4 Dec held telephone call during which they struck agreement on unspecified mechanism for humanitarian cooperation. After Shiite Bahraini opposition group Al-Wefaq 11 Dec held press conference in capital Beirut criticising Bahrain’s human rights record, Minister of Interior Bassam Al-Mawlawi 15 Dec ordered deportation of non-Lebanese members of Al-Wefaq in likely attempt to curry favour with Gulf Cooperation Council. UN Sec-Gen Antonio Guterres 19-21 Dec visited Lebanon on “mission of solidarity”, met religious, civil society and political leaders.
Idlib ceasefire continued to hold, protests erupted against Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in north east, and Islamic State (ISIS) carried out attacks. In Idlib (north west), March 2020 ceasefire held despite violations. U.S.-led coalition 3 Dec reported carrying out airstrike killing alleged al-Qaeda-affiliated leader in al-Mastumah village and injuring six civilians. Russian fighter jets continued airstrikes which 11 Dec killed three civilians and injured 12 in Al-Yacoubian area near Jisr al-Sughour city. Depreciation of Turkish lira in opposition-held areas drove up key commodity prices in Idlib and Turkish-backed areas. In Deir ez-Zor governorate (east), IED targeting bus around 2 Dec killed ten workers near Al-Kharatah oil field; SDF 13 Dec reported carrying out raid backed by U.S.-led coalition near al-Busaira town, killing five suspected ISIS militants. Also in Deir ez-Zor, anti-SDF demonstrations broke out; notably, protesters 6-7 Dec demonstrated against deteriorating living standards in Abu Hammam town and called for release of detainees, reportedly taken during raid. In response to regime “settlement” campaign, SDF threatened to punish anyone signing regime pledges. ISIS continued deadly attacks in east, including 11 Dec reportedly killing seven regime-affiliated militants and soldiers and injuring 17 others in al-Masrab de-sert. In central desert, Russian fighter jets throughout month carried out airstrikes against ISIS targets. In south west, targeted assassinations continued in Daraa gover-norate and reports of regime forces’ build-up surfaced in As-Sweida governorate; local sources reported armed groups clashed with regime forces in As-Sweida city as regime planned to end governorate’s semi-independent status. U.S. and UK confirmed destroying one of two small drones which 14 Dec approached Al-Tanf garrison in south. State media reported that Israeli airstrike 7 Dec struck Latakia port (west) causing fire in container storage area; Israeli missile attacks 15 Dec reportedly targeted Syrian Golan region killing soldier, and 28 Dec hit Latakia port reportedly killing two govt-backed militiamen. Govt and opposition representatives along with Turkish, Russian and Iranian delegations 21-22 Dec met in Kazakhstan’s capital Nur Sultan for 17th round of Astana talks. EU 13 Dec imposed sanctions on Wagner Group, Russian paramilitary group active in Syria on behalf of Assad regime.
Nuclear talks continued in Austria without breakthrough, while Tehran and UN nuclear watchdog struck deal on surveillance at key nuclear site. Seventh round of talks, that began late Nov in Austrian capital Vienna, 3 Dec adjourned as European participants and U.S. asserted that Tehran’s opening bids substantially widened gaps previously narrowed during earlier rounds; E3 (UK, France and Germany) 3 Dec voiced “disappointment and concern” while U.S. 4 Dec accused Iran of walking back its positions. During talks, Iran 1 Dec announced deployment of cascade of IR-6 advanced centrifuges enriching to 20% at its Fordow facility. Negotiators 9 Dec reconvened as seventh round continued, concluding 17 Dec. EU representative Enrique Mora 17 Dec said: “We now have a text that with some minor exceptions is a common ground… But that does not mean by any means that we have an agreement on any text”, while Iran’s lead negotiator same day described “good progress” and U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan assessed talks as “not going well”. Eighth round 27 Dec kicked off with Mora highlighting “sense of urgency in all delegation”. Meanwhile, following weeks of stalled progress, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) 15 Dec announced agreement with Iran’s atomic energy organisation to replace its surveillance cameras at Karaj centrifuge production facility and carry out “other related technical activity” by late Dec, forestalling possibility of censure resolution by IAEA Board of Governors; other safe-guard concerns however remained unresolved. U.S. 7 Dec sanctioned 13 Iranian persons and entities for human rights abuses and 16 Dec announced action against entities for “diverting or attempting to divert U.S. items to Iran’s military programs”. Authorities 4 Dec claimed reports of explosion near Natanz nuclear facility due to missile drill. Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps 24 Dec concluded five-day drill by testing multiple ballistic missiles and drones. Iran 30 Dec launched three re-search devices into space that failed to reach orbit; operation drew criticism from Germany, France and U.S. who said launch was in breach of UN Security Council resolutions. Clashes 1 Dec erupted at border with Afghanistan, leaving multiple casualties on both sides (see Afghanistan).
Islamic State (ISIS) attacks killed dozens, U.S.-led coalition forces formally ended combat mission, and deadlock over govt formation continued following disputed election results. Surge of ISIS attacks on Peshmerga forces along border between Kurdistan region and disputed territories continued early Dec; notably, ISIS 2 Dec killed ten Peshmerga and three civilians in at-tack on Khidir Jija village in Makhmur region; 5 Dec reportedly killed four Peshmer-ga and one civilian in Qara Salem village. ISIS same day took control of Luhaiban village before Iraqi security forces recaptured it next day. ISIS 6 Dec killed four Peshmerga in attack near oilfield between Kirkuk and Makhmur cities. In southern city Basra, rare motorcycle bomb 7 Dec killed four and injured 20; while attack remained unclaimed, Basra governor blamed ISIS. In Diyala governorate, ISIS attack killed three soldiers in Qara Tapa. Ahead of 31 Dec deadline for withdrawal of coalition troops, National Security Advisor Qasim al-Araji 9 Dec announced end of Coalition Forces’ combat mission. Coalition next day announced start of new “advise, assist and enable mission” consisting of 2,500 U.S. troops; pro-Iran paramilitary groups subsequently condemned largely unchanged troop numbers. Two rockets 18 Dec hit Green Zone near U.S. embassy in capital Baghdad. Federal Supreme Court 27 Dec ratified final election results, after rejecting fraud allegations submitted early month by Fateh Alliance leader Hadi al-Ameri, who requested results be annulled. Meanwhile, Shiite parties continued negotiations over govt formation. In Sinjar district, Turkish airstrike targeting vehicle outside Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)-affiliated Sinjar Resistance Units (YBS) headquarters 7 Dec killed local commander Marwan Badal in Khanasour village; protests against Turkish airstrikes 12 Dec set fire to Iraqi army vehicle in Sinuni town. Turkish defence ministry 9 Dec announced death of three soldiers in PKK attack in northern Iraq; Ankara launched retaliatory air attacks reportedly killing PKK-affiliated militants in northern Iraq throughout month. Syrian PKK-affiliated Revolutionary Youth Union members 15 Dec clashed with Iraqi border authorities at Fishkhabour-Semalka border crossing, demanding return of Syrian Kurdish fighters’ bodies killed in Turkish airstrike; clashes prompted closure of border point, sparking fears among humanitarian agencies about access to Syria.
Tit-for-tat cross-border attacks between Huthis and Saudi-led coalition ran high. Saudi-led coalition throughout month intercepted increased number of Huthi drones and ballistic missiles; notably, 6 Dec caught ballistic missile over capital Riyadh; in response, coalition pledged to “strike with an iron fist” and 7 Dec bombed military targets in Yemeni capital Sanaa. Huthis 7 Dec claimed they fired 25 drones and several ballistic missiles across border, including at Saudi Aramco facilities in Jeddah city; 15 Dec announced firing ballistic missiles targeting King Khalid airbase in ‘Asir province and targets in Jizan province; coalition same day confirmed interception of two ballistic missiles targeting Abha city in ‘Asir province, which Saudi Press Agency said caused damage in Ahad Al-Masariyah indus-trial area in Jizan province. Coalition 19, 20, 23 Dec destroyed drones targeting King Abdullah airport in Jizan province, Abha International Airport and Khamis Mushait in ‘Asir province. Alleged Huthi projectile 24 Dec killed two and injured seven in Jizan city while another missile hit Najran city. Saudi-led coalition throughout month carried out near daily airstrikes on targets in Yemen, including on Yemeni capital Sanaa (see Yemen). Meanwhile, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman 6 Dec began tour of Gulf states and 8 Dec met Qatari leader Sheikh Tamim bin Hamed al-Thani in Qatari capital Doha in first visit since 2017-2021 blockade of Qatar.
Govt forces regained some positions from Huthis in southern Hodeida amid ongoing fighting around Marib city, tit-for-tat violence at Saudi border escalated, and protests erupted in south. On Red Sea coast, govt-aligned Joint Resistance Forces reclaimed some areas in southern Hodeida province lost during Nov withdrawal, including most of Hays district and al-Udayn junction, temporarily cutting off Huthi supply lines from Taiz province. Joint Resistance Forces then focused operations on northern Maqbana axis in western Taiz, notably to gain economically strategic Saqim custom point. In Marib governorate, fighting remained focused around al-Balaq mountain range encircling Marib city. In blow to govt forces, clashes with Huthis 13 Dec reportedly killed senior govt military commander. Elsewhere, govt forces achieved minor gains in western Shebwa while fighting in al-Dhale and al-Bayda governorates slowed. Huthis continued cross-border attacks into Saudi Arabia (see Saudi Arabia). Saudi-led coalition responded with airstrikes in Sanaa, Saada, Taiz, Marib and Hodeida governorates; notably, airstrike 3 Dec struck vehicle in Maqbana, Taiz province, killing five civilians and five Huthi fighters; coalition 20 Dec struck targets at Sanaa International Airport. Huthis 21-27 Dec halted humanitarian flights entering capital Sanaa. In south, protests over currency collapse and high food prices early Dec erupted in Aden, Hadramawt, Abyan and Taiz governorates; notably, hundreds 5 Dec protested in Taiz city calling for removal of Taiz governor and PM Abdulmalik Saeed. On political front, tribal members 6 Dec launched sit-in in Nisab district, Shebwa province, calling for removal of govt-aligned governor and protesting economic deterioration; President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi 26 Dec replaced governor with member of parliament aligned with former ruling General People’s Congress party. Economic situation im-proved with Riyal dropping to below 1,000 to U.S. dollar after govt 6 Dec replaced governor and deputy governor of govt-controlled Central Bank. Internationally, UN Envoy Hans Grundberg 13 Dec concluded visit to Oman’s capital Muscat where he met Yemeni and Omani officials, including Huthi chief negotiator Mohammed Ab-dul Salem, while Huthis continued to deny Grundberg entry into Sanaa. Grundberg 14 Dec briefed UN Security Council emphasising dire economic situation and need for negotiations even without ceasefire.
Ruling party narrowly won regional and local elections, and tensions continued to brew with Morocco over Western Sahara. National Election Authority 22 Dec announced final results of 27 Nov local and regional elections, which President Tebboune framed as final step in renewing politics after former President Bouteflika’s ouster in 2019: ruling party, National Liberation Front, arrived in first position but lost absolute majority in most municipal councils it previously controlled; also narrowly dominated regional assemblies elections; independents achieved good results, while support for Islamist parties lessened. Selection of mayors still pending in several municipalities by month’s end, allegedly due to tensions between local politicians and security forces, who had presented their own candidates in municipal elections. For first time since 2014, trade balance positive with $1bn surplus, though inflation continued to rise. Sahel Intelligence publication, which many Algerians consider close to Moroccan intelligence, 14 Dec alleged Algerian Army Chief of Staff Saïd Chengriha asked for Iranian troop support around Sahrawi refugee camps in Tindouf area, near border with Western Sahara; Algeria’s Special Envoy for Western Sahara and Maghreb Amar Belani next day denied allegation. League of Arab States late Dec advised all bodies and organisations under its banner to adopt map of Morocco including Western Sahara in official events, prompting Algiers’ ire. Mauritanian President Ould Ghazouani 27-29 Dec visited Algeria in first Mauritanian state visit to neighbouring country for over ten years; Tebboune and Ould Ghazouani 28 Dec signed several cooperation agreements. In bid to “relaunch relationship” after months of tensions, French FM Jean-Yves Le Drian 8 Dec met with Tebboune in capital Algiers, said Algeria was “essential partner for France”.
Amid repression of critics, rights groups continued to warn about recent series of laws restricting civil liberties; violence remained low in North Sinai. After President Sisi 29 Nov ratified new law giving authorities special powers to curb COVID-19 pandemic, prominent human rights defender Sherif Azer and other civil society activists in following days accused authorities of seeking alternative to state of emergency, which Sisi lifted in Oct, to maintain extraordinary powers. Several prosecutions appeared to be fast-tracked as military courts established under state of emergency continued to oversee previously referred trials. Notably, military court 20 Dec sentenced prominent civil society activist Alaa Abdel Fattah to five years in prison, and human rights lawyer Mohamed el-Baqer and blogger Mohamed “Oxygen” Ibrahim to four years imprisonment, all on charges of “spreading false news”; convictions not subject to appeal before higher court. Low-intensity guerrilla warfare continued in Sinai Peninsula. Notably, mine allegedly planted by Islamic State-affiliated Sinai Province (SP) 4 Dec killed or wounded five soldiers in Maliz area, central Sinai; suspected militants 14 Dec attacked village and killed soldier near Sheikh Zuweid town (North Sinai). Meanwhile, Sinai Tribal Union operating alongside govt forces around 1 Dec reportedly killed two militants engaged in planting dozens of explosive devices in Manjam area (central Sinai); 3 Dec killed another two near Sheikh Zuweid in operation that reportedly thwarted suicide bombing against army and police forces; late Dec launched large-scale offensive against SP in Al-Arjaa area south of Rafah town, killing two militants. Military around 5 Dec reportedly killed senior jihadist leader Mahmoud Akram al-Laham, also known as Abu Duaa, at undisclosed location in Sinai. Meanwhile, FM Sameh Shoukry 12 Dec met with Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) representatives in Saudi Arabia to discuss Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam; GCC officials reportedly expressed support for Egypt’s water security concerns though final statement did not mention issue.
Authorities postponed presidential election in last-minute move as tensions ran high around capital Tripoli. Amid disputes over eligibility of candidates, electoral timetable and scope of future president’s powers, High National Electoral Commission (HNEC) 20-22 Dec postponed first round of presidential election, initially scheduled for 24 Dec, for one month, as House of Representatives (HoR) committee tasked with monitoring election process 22 Dec said it was “impossible” to hold polls as planned. U.S. Ambassador Richard Norland immediately expressed “disappointment”. After British embassy 24 Dec expressed continued support for Govt of National Unity (GNU), said it would “not endorse the establishment of parallel governments or institutions”, HoR Foreign Affairs Committee next day accused UK of “interference”, said only HoR could decide on formation of new govt or continuation of GNU. Elections unlikely to take place in Jan as HoR election committee 27 Dec recommended laying out “new, realistic and applicable roadmap … rather than fixing new dates and repeating the same errors”; HoR next day suspended session on political roadmap. Earlier in month, several controversial presidential candidates cleared to run: Tripoli Appeals Court 1 Dec upheld PM Abdulhamid Dabaiba’s presidential bid; Sebha Appeals Court next day reinstated Saif al-Islam Qadhafi as candidate; Tripoli Appeals Court 6 Dec overturned Zawiya court ruling barring Khalifa Haftar from running. Run-up to tentative polls marred by tensions. HNEC 2 Dec said electoral centres subjected to armed robbery and voter cards theft; militiamen 8 Dec entered HNEC’s Zawiya premises to demand postponement of elections until adoption of new constitution. Forces affiliated with different armed groups 16-21 Dec took up positions in and around Tripoli in possible protest at Presidential Council’s 15 Dec decision to replace Tripoli Military Zone Commander Gen Abdelbasit Marwan with Gen Abdelkader Mansour; Council 21 Dec suspended appointment, while UN mission (UNSMIL) same day said mobilisation “creates tensions and increases the risk of clashes that could spiral into conflict”. Following Nov resignation of UN Envoy Ján Kubiš, UN Sec-Gen António Guterres 6 Dec appointed Stephanie Williams – who served as Acting Special Representative in March 2020-Jan 2021 – as new Special Adviser on Libya.
President Saïed extended suspension of parliament by one year, sparking renewed opposition. Powerful labour union UGTT 4 Dec called for early elections, said Saïed’s “excessive reluctance to announce a roadmap” since July power grab posing threat to “democratic gains”. Diplomatic mission heads of G7 countries and EU 10 Dec jointly called for “swift return to functioning democratic institutions” and respect of “fundamental freedoms”. Saïed 13 Dec extended state of exception and suspension of parliament for one year, and announced timeline for transition: electronic public consultation on constitutional and political reforms to begin 1 Jan; national committee to sum up proposals and submit project for revision of 2014 constitution by 22 March; constitutional referendum to take place 25 July, and legislative elections 17 Dec. Almost all political forces expressed opposition. UGTT next day hit back by claiming Saïed had asked union to accept austerity plan that includes 10% pay cut and subsequent five-year salary freeze for civil servants, and end to state subsidies for basic items; also threatened strikes in coming weeks. Islamist-inspired An-Nahda party president and Parliament Speaker Rached Ghannouchi 16 Dec rejected “unconstitutional and illegal” extension of parliament freeze, reiterated call for “immediate cancellation of exceptional measures”. On anniversary of 2010-2011 uprising that toppled then-President Ben Ali, around 200 pro- and 2,000 anti-Saïed demonstrators 17 Dec held separate protests in capital Tunis; no security incidents reported. Meanwhile, An-Nahda activist 9 Dec self-immolated inside party’s headquarters in Tunis, killing himself and causing fire that seriously wounded two others. Court in Tunis 22 Dec sentenced in absentia former President Marzouki to four years in prison on charges of “undermining the external security of the state”; Marzouki in Oct had pressed France, where he lives, to oppose Saïed’s rule. An-Nahda 31 Dec said plainclothes security officers had same day captured party’s deputy president and former justice minister Noureddine Bhiri in Tunis and taken him to undisclosed destination, condemned “dangerous precedent”.
Polisario Front independence movement hardened stance against UN-led negotiations, further widening gap with Morocco. In letter to UN Sec-Gen Guterres made public 7 Dec, Polisario leader Brahim Ghali said movement would not participate in any UN-led peace process on Western Sahara, citing UN silence on Morocco’s “policy of terror against Sahrawi civilians in the occupied areas of Western Sahara”; move comes after Polisario late Nov-early Dec withdrew from roundtable negotiations hosted by Switzerland, a format preferred by Morocco that includes Algeria and Mauritania, said it would only accept AU-led bilateral talks. Meanwhile, repression against Sahrawi activists inside Morocco-controlled Western Sahara intensified. In run-up to 11 Dec Morocco-Algeria football match, Rabat imposed curfew and closed cafés and restaurants in Laayoune and other Western Sahara cities. After Algeria’s victory, spontaneous celebrations erupted in Laayoune with Sahrawi activists shouting pro-independence and anti-Moroccan slogans; Moroccan security forces reportedly arrested and beat several individuals.