Tracking Conflict Worldwide
Outlook for This Month May 2020
Conflict Risk Alerts
Trends for Last Month April 2020
The latest edition of Crisis Group’s monthly conflict tracker highlights deteriorations in April in twelve countries and conflict situations. In South Sudan, political leaders’ failure to agree on local power-sharing jeopardised the unity government, while a truce with holdout rebel groups in the south broke down. Militant attacks and counter-insurgency operations inside Jammu and Kashmir sharply intensified, and hate speech falsely accusing Muslims in India of propagating COVID-19 fuelled intercommunal attacks. In Myanmar, deadly fighting between the Arakan Army and the military continued at a high tempo in Rakhine and Shan States. A sudden spike in the number of homicides in El Salvador reversed months of improving security.
Looking ahead to May, we warn of worsening situations in four countries. A deadly escalation looms in Burundi as the country heads to the polls on 20 May amid ongoing repression of the opposition and a surge in clashes between supporters and opponents of the ruling party. Sri Lanka could face an unprecedented constitutional crisis unless the president recalls parliament by 2 June. In Libya, April’s unprecedented levels of violence around Tripoli and in western Libya could further escalate. In Yemen, after weeks of rising tensions between secessionists and government forces, violence could flare up again in the south, unless progress toward a nationwide ceasefire is made.
Amid continued jihadist violence in north and east, fighting flared between competing jihadist groups and security forces faced allegations of extrajudicial killings. Jihadist attacks in north continued to spread southward in border areas between Sahel, North, and Centre-North regions, and westward in Boucle du Mouhoun region. Suspected jihadists 1 April attacked Toéni military base, Sourou province in Boucle du Mouhoun region, reportedly killing soldier; fifteen jihadists also killed. Also in Toéni area, military vehicle 3 April detonated explosive device, three soldiers killed. Suspected militants of jihadist Group to Support Islam and Muslims (JNIM) 9-10 April killed at least nineteen soldiers in Solle area, Loroum province in North region. In East region, suspected jihadists 4 April killed police officer near Kantchari, Tapoa province, 20 April abducted another in southern Kompienga province near Benin. Security forces continued counter-insurgency operations, reportedly killing at least 36 suspected Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) militants in Sahel region in April. Violence flared mid-April between Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) and JNIM after latter called on its militants to fend off ISWAP; clashes between militants 14, 16, 20 and 30 April in Soum province, Sahel region reportedly left at least 100 dead. Security forces faced allegations of summary executions of civilians. NGO Human Rights Watch 20 April said security forces 9 April allegedly killed 31 ethnic Fulani civilians during counter-insurgency operation near Djibo town, Sahel region; govt same day announced investigation. Govt 2 April said it would unblock $650mn to mitigate social, economic, and health impact of COVID-19 pandemic.
Infighting between jihadist groups broke out in centre early month, while jihadist and intercommunal violence continued in several regions. Competing jihadist groups Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) and Katiba Macina clashed early April in Mopti and Ségou regions in centre allegedly over latter’s willingness to engage in dialogue with govt, reportedly leaving over 100 mainly ISGS militants dead. Suspected Katiba Macina militants 2-3 April freed eight main opposition party Union for the Republic and Democracy staff kidnapped late-March alongside party leader Soumaïla Cissé in Timbuktu region in north; Cissé remained captive. In Gao region in north, jihadist Group to Support Islam and Muslims (JNIM) 6 April attacked Bamba military base, killing at least 25 soldiers; twelve militants also killed. In Kayes region in west, suspected jihadists 6 April killed custom officer in Sebekoro town and gendarme in Sanankoro locality, raising concerns jihadist violence could spread westward. Intercommunal violence persisted in Mopti region in centre. Notably, suspected Fulani gunmen 21 April killed at least twelve people in several villages near Bandiagara city. In second round of legislative elections held 19 April, ruling party Rally for Mali came first, winning 51 of 147 seats in parliament. Suspected jihadists prevented vote or forced villagers to boycott vote in several localities in north, centre, east. Media 12 April reported security forces arrested at least six people late March-early April on charges of “attempting to destabilise democratic institutions”, sparking rumours of coup attempt. UN mission (MINUSMA) 30 April said security forces carried out more than 100 extrajudicial killings 1 Jan-31 March.
Security forces stepped up counter-insurgency operations in south east and west amid continued jihadist violence; and govt measures to contain COVID-19 outbreak sparked social unrest in urban areas. In Diffa region in south east near Nigeria, security forces in cooperation with regional force MNJTF 2 April launched offensive to dislodge Boko Haram (BH) militants from islands of Lake Chad; number of casualties unknown. In Tillabéry region in west near Mali and Burkina Faso, security forces 2 April reportedly killed 63 Islamist militants in clashes near Tamalaoulaou village; four soldiers also killed. Suspected jihadists 5 April attacked gendarmerie in Banibangou, leaving two gendarmes and two jihadists dead. Govt 23 April denied reports by media and local officials alleging security forces had executed some 100 civilians in Ayorou district, also Tillabéry, 27 March-2 April; same day announced investigation. Amid COVID-19 pandemic, electoral commission 2 April suspended voter registration in Niamey region, sparking concerns pandemic could affect timeframe of presidential and legislative elections planned for Dec. Parliament 11 April extended state of public health emergency by three months until July. Police 17-19 April fired tear gas to disperse hundreds of protesters demonstrating in capital Niamey and second largest city Maradi against COVID-19 curfew and ban on religious gatherings; at least 100 arrested. Govt 22 April relaxed curfew in Niamey. Public prosecutor 7 April said he would open investigation after defence ministry audit late-Feb revealed large-scale embezzlement of public funds involving figures close to President Issoufou. UN mission in Mali (MINUSMA) 30 April said Nigerien security forces 1 Jan-31 March carried out over 30 extrajudicial killings in Mali.
Amid ongoing harassment of opposition supporters, violent clashes between security forces and ruling party CNDD-FDD’s youth wing, and main opposition party National Congress for Freedom (CNL), raised risk of escalation around general elections still planned for 20 May despite COVID-19 pandemic. Civil society mid-April condemned wave of arbitrary arrests of CNL members in several provinces since early April. CNL supporters and Imbonerakure, youth wing of CNDD-FDD, 8 April clashed in northern Kayanza province, one Imbonerakure killed; police next day arrested up to 30 CNL supporters there. Unidentified assailants 11 April killed local CNDD-FDD secretary in Kiremba commune, northern Ngozi province; authorities next day arrested ten party members on suspicion of involvement in attack. Clashes between CNDD-FDD and CNL supporters 19 April left six injured including CNDD-FDD regional secretary in Kirundo province in north. Police 28 April arrested CNL parliamentary election candidate for southern Makamba province over suspected involvement in previous day attack on Imbonerakure in Ngozi province. After first VP Gaston Sindimwo 7 April confirmed general elections planned for 20 May would go ahead despite COVID-19 pandemic, govt 15 April cancelled participation of diaspora in elections, citing insufficient capacity of electoral commission to organise voting abroad amid crisis. Campaign started 27 April. During raid in Bururi province in south, police 15 April reportedly killed three people, including former army officer Pascal Ninganza (alias Kaburimbo), suspected of having provided military training to demonstrators during 2015 anti-govt protests; civil society condemned extra-judicial killings. Military and Imbonerakure crossed into neighbouring DR Congo’s South Kivu province late March-early April to allegedly combat Burundian rebel groups in Mulenge locality. Congolese military 3 April detained three Burundian nationals suspected of stealing weapons in South Kivu province. Govt forces 26-27 April reportedly clashed with Burundian rebel group RED-TABARA in South Kivu’s Uvira territory; rebels claimed five govt soldiers killed.
Violence continued in Anglophone regions and Boko Haram (BH) launched deadly attacks in Far North. After govt 3 April announced reconstruction plan for Anglophone North West and South West regions, separatists immediately rejected project and reportedly attacked public buildings, infrastructure workers and govt forces; military said subsequent fighting in both regions left thirteen separatists killed by mid-April. In North West region, govt forces 3, 14-15, and 26 April reportedly killed seven civilians suspected of supporting separatists; clashes between military and separatists 9-12 April left six dead including two civilians in Bui area. In South West, govt forces 22 April reportedly killed three separatists and three civilians in Muanbong village. Report by independent investigation commission 22 April confirmed govt forces responsibility in killing of 23 civilians in north-western Ngarbuh village mid-Feb. Constitutional Council 7 April announced ruling Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement had won all thirteen seats in 22 March parliamentary election rerun in eleven constituencies in Anglophone regions. In Far North, attacks by BH militants continued, killing at least sixteen civilians and two soldiers 5-11 April in Mayo Sava, Mayo-Tsanaga, and Logone-Et-Chari departments. Notably, suspected BH double suicide attack 5 April killed ten civilians in Amchide locality. Military 20 April killed three BH militants and captured three others in Amchide locality; 24 April killed militant in Sandawadjiri village. Tensions increased between govt and main opposition party Movement for the Renaissance of Cameroon (MRC) amid COVID-19 crisis. After govt late March created national solidarity fund to finance response to COVID-19, MRC leader Maurice Kamto 3 April launched own fundraising initiative; govt 7 April declared initiative illegal, but MRC reportedly pursued fundraising. Following disappearance of President Biya from public sight since 11 March, Kamto 15 April called on National Assembly speaker to seize Constitutional Court and declare power vacancy; Biya next day made public appearance in capital Yaoundé. Biya 15 April announced prisoner release to limit spread of COVID-19 in prisons.
Central African Republic
Renewed fighting broke up in north east after seven armed groups suspended participation in govt and Feb 2019 peace agreement implementation mechanisms. President Touadéra 16 April met Ali Darassa, leader of armed group Union for Peace in the Central African Republic (UPC), and PM Firmin Ngrébada 25 April met Abdoulaye Hissène, leader of armed group Popular Front for the Central African Renaissance (FPRC), in capital Bangui in alleged attempt to explore ways to achieve peace in north east and centre before presidential election scheduled for Dec; however, in joint statement, seven armed groups, including UPC and FPRC, 25 April said they were suspending participation in govt and Feb 2019 peace agreement implementation mechanisms, accusing govt of failing to abide by its commitments. Violence thereafter flared in north east. Armed group Patriotic Rally for the Renewal of Central Africa (RPRC) and allied armed group Movement of Central African Liberators for Justice (MLCJ) 29-30 April clashed with FPRC in Bamingui-Bangoran prefecture’s capital Ndélé, at least 37 reportedly killed, mainly civilians. Earlier in month, ethnic Gula RPRC 6 April attacked ethnic Runga factions of FPRC in Ndélé; death toll unknown, but reportedly low casualties. UN Security Council 20 April imposed sanctions on Martin Koumtamadji (alias Abdoulaye Miskine), leader of armed group Democratic Front of the Central African People, including asset freeze and travel ban, accusing him of recruiting fighters in violation of Feb 2019 peace agreement. In north-western Ouham-Pendé prefecture, angry mob 9 April destroyed base of UN peacekeeping mission (MINUSCA) in Béboura village, injuring two peacekeepers, following death of civilian in road accident involving MINUSCA vehicle. In Bangui, authorities 3 April arrested six individuals including two military officers on suspicion of planning jailbreak of soldiers detained since late March for alleged coup plot. National Assembly President and VP 16 April proposed constitutional amendments to enable extension of President Touadéra and MPs’ terms in case of postponement of Dec election due to COVID-19; political opposition and civil society rejected proposals.
Military conducted large-scale operation against Boko Haram (BH) factions in Lake Chad province in west and broader Lake Chad Basin; over forty BH militants reportedly captured during operation died of suspected poisoning while in detention in capital N’Djamena, triggering outcry from civil society groups. Following BH attack that killed around 100 soldiers late March on Bohoma peninsula, Lake Chad province in west, govt 9 April said eight-day counter-insurgency operation killed over 1,000 militants; 52 soldiers also died in operation. In capital N’Djamena prison, 44 suspected BH members reportedly captured during operation were found dead 16 April; chief prosecutor 18 April announced investigation and said men appeared to have died of poisoning; civil society denounced mistreatment of prisoners, saying they were deprived of food and water for days; govt denied allegation. Meanwhile BH attacks persisted in Lake Chad province. BH faction Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) 18 April reportedly killed two soldiers and captured one other during attack in Litri area; ISWAP 25 April published video reportedly showing execution of captured soldier. President Déby 9 April announced end of Chadian participation in military operations abroad; however foreign ministry 12 April said Chadian forces would continue assisting UN peacekeeping mission in Mali and regional taskforces targeting jihadist groups. In south west, herder-farmer clashes left at least one dead 18 April in Mayo-Kebbi East province; dispute over ownership of mosque left one dead 28 April in Hadjer-Lamis Centre province. Senegalese authorities 6 April granted former Chadian President Habré 60-day home detention due to risk of COVID-19 spread in prisons; Habré detained in Dakar since Extraordinary African Chambers sentenced him to life imprisonment in 2016 for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Déby 15 April pledged $1.5bn to aid people and businesses amid COVID-19 crisis. National Assembly 28 April voted to abolish death penalty, which was still authorised for terrorist crimes.
Democratic Republic of Congo
Armed group Cooperative for Development of Congo (CODECO) early-April stepped up deadly attacks in north-eastern Ituri province, threatening provincial capital, before military launched counter-offensive; tit-for-tat violence left at least 169 dead throughout month. In Ituri, CODECO militants early April gained control of several localities in Djugu, Mahagi and Irumu territories, getting close to provincial capital Bunia. Notably, CODECO attacks in Djugu 10-13 April killed at least 69 civilians and sixteen security forces personnel. Military 17 April said it had recaptured fourteen localities from CODECO control in operations 8-17 April in Djugu and Mahagi territories. Clashes between govt forces and CODECO continued in several territories in Ituri late month, reportedly killing at least 40 militants, six security forces personnel and 38 civilians 19-28 April. Violence also continued in other areas. In North Kivu province, armed group Allied Democratic Forces 6 and 13 April killed eight civilians in Beni territory; unidentified assailants 24 April killed thirteen park rangers and five civilians in attack in Virunga national park; after park authorities accused rebel group Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda of involvement, Rwandan rebels 27 April denied involvement and blamed Rwandan govt forces for attack. In Tanganyika province, Twa militiamen 8 April killed seven civilians in Nyunzu territory. In Kongo Central province, clashes between members of separatist religious cult Bundu Dia Kongo and authorities 13-24 April left at least 33 dead, including civilians; police 24 April arrested cult leader in capital Kinshasa. After former President Kabila allies within ruling coalition challenged constitutional legality of COVID-19 state of emergency declared by President Tshisekedi 24 March without parliamentary approval, Constitutional Court 13 April backed measure. Authorities 8 April arrested Tshisekedi’s chief of staff and president of Union for the Congolese Nation (UCN) party Vital Kamerhe on embezzlement charges, prompting protests in following days by UCN supporters in cities of Bukavu and Goma in east.
Pressure increased on govt over alleged military presence in neighbouring DR Congo (DRC); security forces faced allegations of abuses amid COVID-19 lockdown. Local authorities and civil society in eastern DRC’s North Kivu province 15 April condemned alleged rise in presence of Rwandan military forces there. President Kagame 27 April denied presence of govt forces in DRC and claimed instead that Burundian military were operating in DRC’s South Kivu province. Armed group Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda (FDLR) 27 April denied allegations of involvement in 24 April attack in Virunga national park in DRC’s North Kivu Province which left eighteen dead including thirteen park rangers; rebels accused Rwandan govt forces of attack. Military 4 April detained five soldiers suspected of physical and sexual violence against civilians while enforcing COVID-19 lockdown – in place since 22 March – in capital Kigali’s Nyarutarama district. NGO Human Rights Watch 24 April accused security forces of having “arbitrarily arrested scores of people”, including journalists, for allegedly violating lockdown.
UN special rapporteur on human rights in Eritrea and NGO Amnesty International early April called for release of prisoners from overcrowded prisons amid COVID-19 pandemic. Govt 8 April extended nationwide lockdown imposed late March for three more weeks.
Ethnic violence broke out in north west, armed groups continued to launch attacks against civilians in Oromia region and govt declared nationwide state of emergency amid COVID-19 pandemic. In Benishangul-Gumuz region in north west, armed group 3 April launched attack, reportedly ethnically motivated, on Gilgel Beles town leaving at least eight dead. In western Oromia, suspected members of armed opposition faction Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) 9 April killed three civilians in Genji town. After COVID-19 pandemic late March prompted electoral board to delay general elections planned for Aug, opposition parties Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) and Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC) 2 April said postponement offers opportunity to address “mistakes that have been threatening to derail Ethiopia’s transition to democracy”. Political party Tigray People’s Liberation Front late April said elections should proceed as planned. In response to COVID-19, govt 8 April declared five-month nationwide state of emergency, including ban on gatherings of more than four people. COVID-19 restrictions sparked isolated incidents: in capital Addis Ababa, police mid-to-late April arrested some 50 individuals for violating state of emergency, including at least one opposition leader; four individuals mid-April reportedly beat to death man, who urged them to adhere to social distancing, in Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples’ region. Amid stalemate in negotiations with Egypt and Sudan on filling and operation of Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on Blue Nile River, PM Abiy 1 April said dam would be filled during rainy season (June-Sept). In meeting in Sudan’s capital Khartoum 10 April, army chief of staff, Sudanese counterpart and head of Sovereign Council Abdel-Fattah Burhan reportedly agreed to coordinate border security operations following spate of criminal violence and clashes between militias on border between Amhara region and Sudan’s Al-Qadarif state.
Al-Shabaab attacks on security forces persisted in north east, police continued to brutally enforce COVID-19 restrictions and tensions increased in ruling party between factions of President Kenyatta and Deputy President Ruto. Al-Shabaab remained active: in Wajir county in north east, Al-Shabaab militants 13 April attacked police reservists on patrol in Khrof Arar leaving six reservists and four militants dead; in Kilifi and Mombasa counties in south, police 24-25 April killed two suspected Al-Shabaab militants. Tensions between Kenya and Somalia persisted in border areas in north east. Notably, in Mandera town, stray bullets and rocket 22 April struck building amid fighting between Somali federal forces and Somalia’s Jubaland state forces near Somalia’s Bula Hawa town, Gedo region. Police continued to brutally enforce COVID-19 curfew killing at least fourteen across country 27 March-30 April. In capital Nairobi, thousands 10 April attempted to force their way into premises where food was being distributed, stampede left two dead. Govt next day banned uncoordinated food distributions. Govt agency Office of the Registrar of Political Parties (ORPP) 6 April announced intention of ruling Jubilee Party to replace members of party’s governing body, National Management Committee (NMC). Deputy party leader William Ruto, also deputy president, 10 April called proposed changes to NMC “illegal and fraudulent”, denounced move as attempt by Raphael Tuju, party’s sec gen and ally of Kenyatta, to hijack party’s leadership. ORPP 17 April called halt to process of replacing NMC members after receiving 350 petitions from party members, including 146 from elected officials, and urged Tuju to use internal party dispute resolution mechanisms to resolve issue.
Inter-clan violence erupted in south and centre leaving more than 100 dead; Al-Shabaab attacks continued against security forces and civilians in rural areas and capital Mogadishu, and against officials in Puntland state in north; and amid ongoing tensions with federal govt, president of federal member state Jubaland consolidated his position. Inter-clan violence late March-early April killed more than 100 in Lower Shabelle, Lower Juba, Bay (all south) and Galguduud (centre) regions. Notably, rival clans 2 April reportedly clashed over land dispute in Kismayo area, Lower Juba, leaving at least twenty dead; days later, clan in town of Wanlaweyn, Lower Shabelle, reportedly launched revenge attack against rival clan, leaving over twenty dead. In south, Al-Shabaab militants launched several attacks on civilians and security forces, including Ethiopian contingent of African Union mission (AMISOM), in Gedo, Lower Shabelle, Middle Shabelle, Lower Juba, and Bay regions; violence left at least eleven soldiers and eleven civilians dead throughout month. In Mogadishu, Al-Shabaab militants killed at least three soldiers and six civilians in several attacks, including 26 April mortar attack at UN compound which struck nearby house killing four civilians. In Puntland in north, Al-Shabaab militants 5-10 April killed two local officials in Mudug region’s capital Galkayo. U.S. airstrikes in several regions 2-10 April killed 32 Al-Shabaab insurgents including senior leader Yusuf Jiis. Ethiopian army 13 April said it had killed at least seventeen Al-Shabaab militants in airstrikes in Jubaland state’s Gedo region. Also in Gedo, fighting 22 April broke out between federal govt forces and Jubaland forces near Bula Hawa town, number of casualties unknown. Jubaland state President Madobe 23 April signed reconciliation agreement with opposition leaders who had contested his re-election in Aug 2019; late April said he was willing to reconcile with federal govt which continues to reject his re-election. Police 24 April shot and killed two civilians reportedly violating COVID-19 curfew in Mogadishu, prompting hundreds to demonstrate in following hours and day.
Inter-clan violence broke out in contested Sanaag region in east and in Awdal region in west, and President Bihi said govt was ready to resume talks with Somalia federal govt. In Sanaag region, deadly skirmishes 11 April broke out between two clan militias over land dispute in Waqdariya area, death toll unknown; two clan militias 19 April also clashed over access to land in Fadhigaab area leaving two dead. To stem violence in Sanaag, military 26 April launched operation to disarm clans, while Bihi late April dispatched delegation led by interior minister to reconcile warring clans. In Awdal region, fighting 13 April broke out between two clan militias over plot of land in outskirts of regional capital Borama, number of casualties unknown. Bihi 9 April said govt was willing to consider resumption of talks – last held in 2015 – with Somalia over Somaliland’s claim to sovereignty which Mogadishu does not recognise. Amid COVID-19 crisis, Bihi 1 April ordered release of 574 prisoners.
Negotiations between President Kiir and former rebel leader turned VP Riek Machar over local power-sharing stalled, raising concerns over stability of unity govt, while ceasefire with holdout rebel groups in south broke down; intercommunal violence persisted. In meeting in capital Juba 13 April, Kiir and Machar’s Sudan People’s Liberation Army-In Opposition (SPLA-IO) failed to reach compromise over appointment of state governors; Machar maintained peace deal entitles SPLA-IO to nominate three governors, while Kiir said only two; Machar 15 April turned down Kiir’s proposal to appoint caretaker governors. Several SPLA-IO members 16 April defected to Kiir, blaming Machar for turning movement into “family dynasty”. Implementation of transitional security arrangements remained stalled after committee overseeing unification of armed groups into single army late-March suspended process to prevent spread of COVID-19. Negotiations between unity govt and opposition coalition, South Sudan Opposition Movements Alliance (SSOMA), which refused to be part of Sept 2018 deal, remained suspended as govt failed to appoint new delegates. Truce brokered in Jan between govt and non-signatory armed groups broke down in Central Equatoria region in south after SSOMA rebel group National Salvation Front (NAS) 9 April attacked Machar’s SPLA-IO forces in Kirinya, Yei River County; number of casualties unknown. SPLA-IO and Kiir-aligned South Sudan People’s Defense Forces reportedly clashed with NAS in Yei, Morobo and Kajo Keji counties 26 April, number of casualties unknown. Intercommunal violence continued in several areas, killing at least 65 throughout month. In Abyei region, disputed between South Sudan and Sudan, ethnic Dinka and nomadic Misseriya herders clashed 9-11 April, leaving at least six killed; Sudan and South Sudan 30 April agreed to cooperate to end violence there. Amid COVID-19 pandemic, govt 21 April ordered release of 1,400 inmates to reduce prison overcrowding and extended partial lockdown until further notice.
Peace talks between transitional govt and rebel groups continued despite new delay and authorities redoubled efforts to hasten reforms. Govt and rebel coalition Sudanese Revolutionary Front (SRF) failed to meet self-imposed 9 April deadline to reach comprehensive peace deal, agreed to extend talks until 9 May. Govt and Malik Agar, leader of faction of rebel group Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N), 19 April entered negotiations over wealth-sharing in Blue Nile and South Kordofan states; 21 April agreed peace agreement would also apply to West Kordofan state. Abdelaziz al-Hilu, leader of another SPLM-N faction, 1 April extended ceasefire in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states until 30 May, citing COVID-19 crisis and need to give peace talks a chance. Govt, Sovereign Council, and Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC) 6 April formed committee to hasten transitional reforms, 12 April pledged to appoint Transitional Legislative Council and economic emergency committee by mid-May, and civilian governors by 18 April. SRF 14 April reiterated its demand that governors be nominated after peace deal is reached, prompting Hamdok to postpone appointments 18 April; SRF same day said it would back appointments provided it takes part in nomination process. After army 30 March reportedly deployed troops on border between Al-Qadarif state and Ethiopia’s Amhara region following spate of criminal violence and clashes between militias, senior state officials 10 April met with Ethiopian counterparts in capital Khartoum, reportedly agreed to coordinate border security and monitoring operations. Amid COVID-19 outbreak, authorities 7 April postponed former President Bashir’s trial. Dozens of supporters of Bashir, members of Islamist group Unified Popular Movement 9 and 16 April demonstrated against govt in Khartoum despite COVID-19 ban on public gatherings. Govt 18 April imposed three-week lockdown in Khartoum state to prevent spread of virus. UN 28 April said deployment of new police units to disputed Abyei region as part of UN peacekeeping mission (UNISFA) faced “serious delays” due to COVID-19.
President Magufuli continued to resist opposition calls to adopt measures to curb spread of COVID-19. Magufuli 22 April ruled out lockdown of economic capital Dar es Salaam. Opposition figure Zitto Kabwe 23 April warned against giving false hopes after Magufuli 16 April called for three days of prayer to quell “satanic” virus. Main opposition party Chadema’s leader Freeman Mbowe 29 April urged govt to take action against COVID-19, saying Magufuli was in “state of denial”. Parliament speaker 29 April suspended parliamentary sessions after two MPs died of suspected COVID-19 infection.
President Museveni 14 April extended COVID-19-related lockdown by 21 days until 5 May. Police 20 April arrested prominent journalist Samson Kasumba for allegedly making seditious statements, released him next day on police bond.
Political crisis escalated as PM Thabane, facing mounting domestic and regional pressure to resign, briefly deployed military in capital Maseru. Constitutional Court 17 April reversed Thabane’s three-month suspension of parliament, which he imposed in March after main opposition party Democratic Congress filed parliamentary motion of no confidence against him over suspected involvement in murder of ex-wife. Thabane next day temporarily deployed military onto streets of Maseru. South Africa 19 April dispatched mediation delegation on behalf of regional bloc South African Development Community to help resolve crisis. In joint statement, govt, political parties and South African mediators 20 April announced immediate exit of Thabane, ensuring his “dignified, graceful and secure retirement”; few days later, Thabane reportedly rejected move, saying he would not be told when to leave office. After Parliament reconvened 20 April, Senate 28 April passed constitutional amendment curbing PM’s power to dissolve Parliament and call for new elections. Ruling party All Basotho Convention 29 April gave Thabane until 3 May to step down or face no-confidence vote. Thabane 21 April extended COVID-19 lockdown until 5 May.
High Court blocked COVID-19 lockdown citing economic damage on poorest, and Supreme Court of Appeal struck down electoral commission’s request to postpone presidential election rerun planned for July. Govt 14 April said it would impose 21-day nationwide lockdown starting 18 April to prevent spread of COVID-19, prompting thousands of informal workers to protest against projected loss of income in city of Mzuzu in north and economic capital Blantyre 16-17 April. High Court 17 April blocked implementation of lockdown for seven days, after NGO Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) filed appeal citing concerns over lack of economic support for vulnerable communities; High Court 28 April extended order barring lockdown until govt implements socio-economic protections. President Mutharika same day announced emergency cash transfer program for small businesses and about 1mn people starting early May. Ahead of presidential election rerun planned for July, electoral commission (MEC) 4 April launched voter registration process. Govt 7 April urged MEC to suspend process due to COVID-19, prompting MEC chairperson Jane Ansah to request extension for holding election; Supreme Court of Appeal 16 April rejected request. MEC 14 April suspended registration in Blantyre after suspected members of youth wing of ruling party Democratic Progressive Party same day allegedly attacked registrants and MEC staff. Supreme Court of Appeal 15 April began hearing President Mutharika’s appeal against Constitutional Court’s 3 Feb ruling which ordered rerun of last year’s presidential election within 150 days.
Jihadist violence continued to spread in far north, while govt and former rebel group, now opposition party Renamo, agreed to resume demobilisation of Renamo troops, and armed dissident faction of Renamo continued attacks in centre. Attacks by suspected jihadists continued unabated in several districts of Cabo Delgado province in far north. Notably, Islamist militants 8 April killed 52 civilians in Xitaxi village, Muidumbe district. Security forces 7 April drove back militants in Muidumbe town, killing 39, and 10 April repelled jihadist attack on Quirimba island, leaving 59 militants dead; five civilians also killed in fighting and twenty schoolchildren reportedly kidnapped. Suspected jihadists 17 April killed six civilians in Machova Koka village, Macomia district, and 22 April beheaded four others in Imbada village, Meluco district. Govt 15 April denied militants controlled any areas of Cabo Delgado province; 23 April said for first time insurgency was “external aggression” by Islamic State (ISIS). President Nyusi and Ossufo Momade, leader of former rebel group, now opposition party Renamo, 16 April agreed demobilisation and disarmament of Renamo forces should resume. Renamo 23 April accused security forces of killing fourteen civilians in Cabo Delgado’s Palma district and near Ibo Island in three incidents mid-April; notably, security forces 12 April allegedly killed up to twelve civilians travelling by boat from Pemba to Ibo Island. Renamo dissident faction, which calls itself Renamo Military Junta, continued attacks against civilians in centre. Following Jan threat that faction would target businesses unless govt denied that Momade represented party, group’s leader Mariano Nhongo 7 April claimed previous day attack on camp of Chinese-owned timber company which left one worker dead in Matarara camp, Manica province.
Civil society challenged govt’s handling of COVID-19 crisis in court. High Court in capital Harare 14 April ordered govt to provide protective equipment for medical personnel handling COVID-19 patients, after doctors’ association early April filed complaint arguing state was putting them at risk; same day ruled security forces must respect human rights while enforcing COVID-19 lockdown, after lawyers’ association early April filed urgent petition over alleged abuses by security forces; 20 April ordered police to stop harassing journalists covering lockdown following petition by journalist and NGO. President Mnangagwa 19 April extended nationwide COVID-19 lockdown by two weeks. After Supreme Court late-March declared Nelson Chamisa’s leadership of main opposition party Movement for Democratic Change illegitimate and directed party’s former Deputy President Thokozani Khupe to organise new leadership elections within three months, Chamisa’s camp early April rejected ruling and denounced alleged attempt by govt to usurp party.
COVID-19 restrictions sparked tensions between security forces and citizens and pandemic disrupted preparations of presidential election planned for Oct. Angry mob 5 April destroyed coronavirus testing centre in economic capital Abidjan’s Yopougon neighbourhood, citing risk of contamination; police arrested twelve individuals. President Ouattara 8 April ordered release of 2,004 prisoners to prevent COVID-19 spread in penitentiaries. Military authorities 14 April arrested four military personnel including colonel for allegedly beating and extorting money from residents while enforcing COVID-19 curfew in Guéhiebly area in west. Ahead of presidential election due 31 Oct, govt mid-April suspended revision of electoral list originally scheduled to take place 18 April-2 May; Ouattara 8 April launched controversial revision of electoral code by ordinance, citing restrictions on parliamentary meetings due to COVID-19. African Court on Human and People’s Rights 22 April ordered temporary suspension of arrest warrant issued in Dec 2019 for former Assembly Speaker and potential presidential candidate Guillaume Soro over alleged coup attempt and embezzlement of public funds; govt 29 April pulled out of court, accusing it of undermining country’s sovereignty. Meanwhile, Abidjan’s criminal court 28 April sentenced Soro in absentia to twenty years in prison for corruption.
Opposition and civil society accused President Condé of exploiting COVID-19 crisis to silence opposition and tighten his grip on power following highly contested constitutional referendum and legislative elections in March. National Front for the Defence of the Constitution (FNDC), coalition of opposition parties and civil society groups opposed to constitutional referendum, 7 April denounced wave of arrests of political opponents since govt late March announced COVID-19 state of emergency. Notably, authorities 4 April reportedly detained three militants from main opposition party Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea (UFDG) in Koundara area in north west; security forces 5 April reportedly arrested UFDG supporter in capital Conakry. FNDC 7 April threatened to resume anti-govt protests despite its earlier commitment to observe truce amid COVID-19 crisis. FNDC 29 April called on International Criminal Court to open investigation into alleged crimes against humanity by govt in recent months. Electoral commission 1 April announced ruling party Rally for the Guinean People had won 79 out of 114 seats in National Assembly in March legislative elections. After Constitutional Court 3 April said 89.76% voted in favour of constitution changes in March referendum, Condé 6 April promulgated new constitution, which opposition fears could allow him to run for third term. Condé same day announced €340mn emergency plan to mitigate economic impact of COVID-19 crisis amid mounting discontent; notably, taxi drivers late March-early April went on strike in Conakry after govt limited to three number of passengers per taxi. Condé 13 April announced extension of COVID-19 state of emergency until 15 May.
Umaro Sissoco Embaló, whom electoral commission declared winner of late 2019 presidential election, consolidated power amid COVID-19 pandemic and despite persisting controversy about election results. Supreme Court’s de facto president 2 April rejected some judges’ call to examine leading party in Parliament African Party for the Independence of Guinea (PAIGC)’s latest appeal against results of Dec 2019 presidential runoff vote, saying court would sit only when COVID-19 related state of emergency is lifted. Embaló’s govt stepped up pressure on some members of previous PAIGC-dominated govt. Notably, former Minister of Justice and Human Rights Ruth Monteiro 1-2 April said authorities prevented her twice from leaving country in March and distributed list with names of former ministers to airport and border posts to prevent them from leaving country; authorities 3 April denied existence of travel ban. Public Prosecutor’s office 8 April summoned Monteiro to hearing on charge of refusing to return vehicles to authorities, compelled her to appear regularly before authorities to confirm identity and continued residence in country. Bissau Regional Court 2 April sentenced twelve individuals to fourteen to sixteen years in prison for having smuggled nearly two tons of cocaine into country in Sept 2019. Embaló’s govt 6 April apologised for “excessive police actions” after human rights groups condemned alleged abuses by security forces while enforcing COVID-19 restrictions, including beatings and extortions; Embaló 12 April extended state of emergency for another fourteen days. Regional body ECOWAS 22 April recognised Embaló as president. Embaló and two PAIGC officials reportedly met 29 April in Bissau in bid to resolve crisis.
Military stepped up operations against Boko Haram (BH) in north east, bandit-related violence continued in north west, communal violence flared in Middle Belt, and enforcement of COVID-19 measures fuelled abuses. In north east, military in coordination with regional force MNJTF ramped up operations to dislodge BH factions from islands of Lake Chad and parts of Borno and Yobe states, reportedly killing hundreds since late March. Notably, army reportedly killed 105 Islamic State West Africa Province fighters on outskirts of Yobe state’s Buni Gari village 18 April. Bandit-related violence continued in north west with at least 120 civilians killed in month in Sokoto, Zamfara, Niger, Kaduna and Katsina states. In Zamfara state, military 12 April intercepted caravan of bandits in Dansadau forest killing ten and rescuing eighteen captives; 20 April killed 21 bandits, lost four soldiers in Zurmi area; 24 April killed 89 bandits in same area. Herder-farmer violence continued in Middle Belt, including unidentified gunmen 1-14 April killing at least nineteen villagers in Bassa area of Plateau state, and clashes between Shomo and Jole ethnic groups leaving at least 25 dead in Taraba state 14 April. President Buhari 13 April extended COVID-19 lockdown in capital Abuja, largest city Lagos, and south-western Ogun state for another two weeks; 27 April extended lockdown for another week; most state governors took similar measures. Federal govt’s rights protection agency, National Human Rights Commission, 15 April said it had received “105 complaints of human rights violations perpetuated by security forces” while enforcing COVID-19 lockdown including at least eighteen extra-judicial killings 30 March-13 April.
Security forces 21 April detained opposition leader and runner-up in Feb presidential election Agbéyomé Kodjo after he challenged results of vote and declared himself country’s legitimate president. Authorities 24 April released Kodjo under judicial supervision after reportedly charging him with inciting public disorder, disseminating fake news and threatening national security.
Tensions persisted amid continued Chinese military exercises. Japanese Ministry of Defence reported Chinese naval flotilla including Liaoning aircraft carrier 11 April passed through Miyako Strait in East China Sea, before sailing on past eastern and southern coasts of Taiwan to carry out drills; also reported flotilla returned to East China Sea through Miyako Strait 28 April (see Taiwan Strait). Tokyo 9 April announced Japanese air force scrambled jets to intercept Chinese military aircraft 675 times 1 April 2019- 31 March 2020, 5.8% increase compared to previous year.
While speculation about health of DPRK leader Kim Jong-un increased, North Korea carried out further weapons tests and military exercises in continued demonstration of hard-line position, and South Korea’s ruling party won landslide general election. Concerns and speculation about Kim’s well-being arose as he remained out of public eye for over two weeks; meanwhile, Seoul and Beijing rejected reports Kim is critically ill. Pyongyang 9 April held artillery exercises overseen by DPRK leader Kim and 14 April tested possible cruise missiles and fighter jet-launched air-to-ground missiles; moves reportedly aimed at demonstrating regime strength domestically despite widely suspected COVID-19 outbreak. Chairman of U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff 14 April downplayed tests, saying they were not “particularly provocative or threatening to us”. Commander of U.S. forces in Korea 2 April said Pyongyang’s claim of having no COVID-19 cases was “impossible”, and that DPRK’s March weapons tests had “increased tension”. U.S. govt 15 April issued threat advisory warning about Pyongyang’s “malicious cyber activities”, saying it poses “significant threat to the integrity and stability of the international financial system”, said DPRK uses cyber-attacks “to generate revenue for its weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs”. UN panel on sanctions 17 April released report claiming North Korea sharply increased trade in coal and oil products in 2019 with help of Chinese shipping industry in defiance of sanctions, but report removed from UN website same day. In South Korean general elections 15 April, incumbent-President Moon’s Democratic Party and allies won landslide victory securing 180 seats (increase of 57) of 300 available in National Assembly; despite COVID-19 fears, turnout over 66%, highest in eighteen years. U.S.-South Korea tensions continued over agreement for sharing cost of maintaining 28,500 U.S. troops on Korean peninsula; Reuters 10 April reported U.S. President Trump rejected Seoul’s offer of increased payment of at least 13% compared to previous accord.
Tensions remained high amid series of tit-for-tat Chinese-American military manoeuvres close to Taiwan, and govt’s relations remained strained with World Health Organization (WHO) and lack of membership in face of COVID-19 concerns. Chinese aircrafts – J-11 fighters, H-6 bomber, and KJ-500 surveillance aircraft – 10 April conducted drills near south of Taiwan and flew through Bashi Channel, body of water separating Taiwan from Philippines; later that day U.S. reconnaissance aircraft flew over area, while U.S. warship sailed through Taiwan Strait. U.S. reconnaissance aircraft 11-12 April flew over waters south of Taiwan. Defence Ministry reported Chinese naval flotilla including Liaoning aircraft carrier 12 April passed eastern and southern coasts of Taiwan to carry out drills, having passed through Miyako Strait in East China Sea previous day (see China/Japan); Taiwanese navy scrambled ships to monitor situation. Amid continued tensions over Beijing’s apparent blocking of Taipei from accessing information from WHO as it is not a member, organisation’s chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, a former Ethiopian health and Foreign Minister, 8 April said he had received personal abuse and death threats that originated from Taiwan, alleging foreign ministry “didn’t disassociate themselves [from the abuse]”; foreign ministry next day released statement expressing “profound regret and strong protest regarding the false accusations”.
Amid ongoing domestic political crisis, violence in the north, north east and central provinces bordering Kabul continued at high levels. Clashes between Afghan forces and the Taliban in Balkh (north) and Takhar (north east) provinces 19 April killed over 25 security forces, while Taliban early April recaptured Yamgan district in Badakhshan Province (north east). Govt offensive advanced in Khamab district, Jawzjan province (north). In many other areas, Afghan forces remained in defensive posture, notably in Maidan Wardak province (centre) where small-scale Taliban attacks continued and focused on blocking govt access to Kabul-Ghazni highway. Levels of violence dropped in south due to labour-intensive cultivation of poppy harvest and in west due to seasonal flooding, and outbreak of COVID-19 in Herat province. Taliban yet to announce traditional spring offensive, often broadcast late-April; lack of announcement suspected to be part of non-public terms of Feb U.S.-Taliban agreement. Intra-Afghan negotiations remained stalled; Taliban and govt made limited progress on prisoner release, with totals yet to reach 5000 Taliban members and 1000 govt officials as stipulated in Feb agreement as pre-condition for intra-Afghan talks. U.S. military action such as airstrikes and night raids reportedly continued to decrease in volume. Intelligence service 4 April announced arrest of emir of Islamic State-Khorasan Province and other top members, though details of operations inconsistent. Following govt measures to contain COVID-19 spread, including restriction of intra-provincial travel, lockdown of urban centres and public health measures, unemployment rose and remittance wages fell, with scarcity of food and other basic commodities driving up market prices dramatically. Domestic political crisis continued following President Ghani and main opponent Abdullah Abdullah March standoff over establishment of new government; both sides yet to reach comprise despite reports of progress toward a deal that would see Abdullah play leadership role in peace process and preside over consultative council of political figures.
Govt reportedly used COVID-19 crisis to silence critics, while security operations against alleged members of banned militant groups continued. Awami League govt accused of using COVID-19 to crackdown on dissenting voices following PM Hasina’s 31 March warning against spreading COVID-19-related rumours and NGO Human Rights Watch same day alleging govt “silencing those who express concern over the govt’s handling of the epidemic” using controversial Digital Security Act. Media director of Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) 9 April said paramilitary force had established “Cyber News Verification Centre”, arresting ten and investigating 50 others for spreading “misinformation and rumours” about coronavirus. Workers in export-orientated garment industry continued to flout COVID-19 lockdown, imposed 26 March, holding mass protest rallies countrywide, including in Chittagong 18 April, and demanding wages following closure of factories, hundreds of which re-opened by end-April; hundreds continued protests throughout month including in Rangpur, Kurigram, Satkhira and Jessore demanding food and other assistance. Amid concern over potential COVID-19 spread in Rohingya refugee camps, Hasina 7 April ordered restriction of entry to camps in Cox’s Bazar district for all except govt officials and authorised personnel, with govt next day imposing restrictions on all but emergency services and prohibiting entry of foreigners. Bangladesh Coast Guard 15 April rescued 400 Rohingya refugees after their boat blocked from landing in Malaysia due to COVID-19 restrictions; dozens died and many of those rescued close to death said NGO Médecins Sans Frontières; incident raised fears of a repeat of 2015 Rohingya maritime migration crisis. By end of month, several other boats still at sea, also prevented from landing in Malaysia and blocked by Bangladesh re-entering its waters. As part of anti-militancy efforts, police 2 April claimed to have killed member of banned Sarbahara party during gunfight in Naogaon district; RAB 27 April detained two members of Jamaat-ul Mujahideen Bangladesh in Sylhet District. Police 7 April arrested former army captain Abdul Majed, sentenced to death in 1998 for killing Bangladesh’s founder Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 1975, in capital Dhaka; govt 12 April hanged Majed following President Hamid 8 April rejection of his appeal for clemency.
Hate speech falsely accusing Muslims of propagating COVID-19 went unabated, fuelling intercommunal attacks, while clashes between security forces and Maoists persisted. Muslims widely accused on social media and some local media of intentionally spreading COVID-19 through “corona jihad” after govt officials determined large number of country’s cases linked to March gathering organised by Islamic organisation Tablighi Jamaat in capital Delhi. Although event took place prior to lockdown, senior member of ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and minister of minority affairs, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, 2 April accused Tablighi Jamaat of “Talibani crime”; others called for leaders to be hanged or shot. Organisation of Islamic scholars, Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind, 6 April petitioned Supreme Court to call halt to fake news and media reports demonising Muslims over event, but Supreme Court 13 April said it would “not gag the press”; independent lawyers 23 April filed new petition. Despite some 400 Indian scientists 9 April refuting claims that Tablighi Jamaat was chiefly responsible for COVID-19 spreading, attacks on Muslims, boycott of their businesses and Muslim ban from some neighbourhoods persisted; attacks also reported against Muslim volunteers distributing food, including some by police and local BJP members. After Kuwait govt, United Arab Emirates Princess and Arab intelligentsia objected to online hate speech, Organisation of Islamic Cooperation 19 April condemned “Islamophobic campaign in India”, called on govt to take steps to counter growing Islamophobia and protect Muslims. U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom 28 April classified India among countries “of particular concern” in its annual report. In Chhattisgarh state (centre), security operation 16 April killed Maoist in border area between Dantewada and Bijapur districts; villagers same day discovered body of policeman reportedly killed by Maoists. Clashes between Maoists and security forces 17-29 April left four Maoists and one civilian dead in Sukma, Bijapur and Narayanpur districts. In Jharkhand state (east), three Maoists 4 April died in clashes with security forces in West Singhbhum district; Maoists 19 April shot dead civilian suspected of being police informer in West Singhbhum. In Maharashtra state (west), Maoists 8 April shot dead former police officer suspected of being informer in Gadchiroli district.
Militant attacks and counter-insurgency operations inside Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) sharply intensified, while clashes across Line of Control (LoC, dividing Pakistan and Indian-administered Kashmir) continued. Militant related-violence spiked in J&K: in Anantang district, militants 2 April killed local resident and same day killed paramilitary officer; paramilitary forces said they had killed four alleged Hizbul Mujahideen militants in Kulgram district 4 April; next day, army claimed five suspected militants, who infiltrated across LoC, killed in clash in Kupwara district, which reportedly also killed five soldiers; police 8 April reported govt forces killed militant in clash in Baramulla district; following day, security forces killed alleged Jaish-e-Mohammed militant in Sopore town; police official 17 April said govt forces killed four militants in two separate clashes in Kishtwar and Shopian districts; security forces 26 April killed four alleged militants in Ashtal village, Kulgram. Cross-LoC fire between India and Pakistan continued amid increased hostile rhetoric on both sides. Following new set of domicile rules for J&K issued by Indian govt 1 April, easing rules for securing permanent residence, including for students, civil and military personnel and their children, Pakistani PM Khan next day tweeted law was attempt to “illegally alter the demography” of Kashmir “in violation of all international laws & treaties”; Indian external affairs ministry 4 April responded Islamabad would best serve J&K by “ending cross-border terrorism and desisting from its campaign of violence and false propaganda”. Pakistani army 9 April said it shot down Indian surveillance drone, though India denied ownership; India army 10 April reported Pakistani cross-LoC firing killed three civilians; Pakistani military said Indian firing seriously injured six civilians 11 April and killed young child 13 April; senior Indian commander 13 April alleged Pakistani army attempted to infiltrate COVID-19 infected people into Kashmir Valley, accusations Pakistan branded as “baseless”. Indian army chief 17 April accused Islamabad of “fomenting trouble” and “exporting terror” into Kashmir during pandemic; same day, Pakistani foreign ministry rejected allegations as “irresponsible” and “spurious”.
Leadership disputes escalated within ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP), threatening stability of PM KP Oli’s govt and drawing further attention to sluggish handling of COVID-19 pandemic. NCP Co-Chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal and senior leader Madhav Kumar Nepal, among others, demanded Oli’s resignation as PM and party chair for ignoring views of other party members in relation to Oli’s controversial legal move to issue two ordinances 20 April aimed at easing the threshold for registration of new political parties and appointments to Constitutional Council. Ordinances widely criticised for politically exploiting COVID-19 pandemic during which parliament is suspended, and for neglecting dissenting members of Oli’s own cabinet; ordinances eventually repealed 24 April by President Bidya Devi Bhandari. NCP govt’s stifling of dissent was in focus again with 22 April arrest of former bureaucrat Bhim Upadhyaya, a vocal critic of NCP govt, for allegedly posting misinformation about COVID-19 pandemic and accused of defaming Oli and his cabinet members on social media; 13 other people charged under similar cybercrime offences over online posts related to COVID-19 during lockdown. World Food Programme 18 April warned of looming food insecurity due to significant reductions in harvest of wheat and other winter crops; govt seeking up to $860mn in new donor funding to cover healthcare costs. Govt’s continued refusal to re-admit Nepali citizens into country received widespread criticism with Supreme Court 17 April issuing interim order directing govt to rescue high-risk Nepali migrant workers stranded abroad following 22 March ban on incoming international flights; over 20,000 Nepali citizens in India remain unable to return due to border closure and thousands others stuck in lockdown in Gulf countries. Govt 26 April extended nationwide lockdown until 7 May.
Militant violence continued while govt focused on responding to COVID-19 and its relations with Afghanistan. Amid COVID-19 lockdown announced 24 March, military 3 April echoed PM Khan’s concerns that prolonged restrictions would adversely affect poor people, saying country could not afford “indefinite lockdown”. President Arif Alvi 8 April reached agreement with clerics to reopen mosques for congregational prayers. Khan 15 April relaxed restrictions, allowing some industries, businesses and shops to reopen; opposition parties Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and Pakistan Peoples Party, criticising govt’s decisions, called for stringent lockdown. Govt 2 April revealed Financial Action Task Force granted govt additional five months to implement anti-terrorism financing measures due to postponement of June review of country’s performance due to COVID-19. Sindh High Court 2 April overturned July 2002 conviction and death sentence for Ahmad Omar Sheikh for Jan 2002 kidnap and murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl in Karachi, acquitting three others and reducing Sheikh’s sentence to seven years served for kidnapping; hours after verdict, all four detained after Sindh govt ordered arrests under public safety law that allows three month detentions; same day, top U.S. official for South Asia called judgement “affront to victims of terrorism” and welcomed appeal; 22 April Sindh govt challenged verdict in Supreme Court. Internationally, foreign ministry 1 April welcomed Afghan govt’s announcement of negotiating team for Taliban dialogue, calling on all parties to “pursue reduction of violence”. However tensions rose after Kabul 11 April rejected Islamabad’s 9 April demand to hand over Islamic State-Khorasan Province chief, a Pakistani citizen who Afghan intelligence arrested 4 April; FM Qureshi 20 April stressed, in telephone call with acting Afghan FM Atmar, importance of “existing bilateral mechanisms” such as Afghanistan-Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity whose working groups include one on security and intelligence cooperation. Militant violence continued, particularly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province; in North Waziristan tribal district, soldier killed during 13 April operation against Pakistani Taliban; next day, militants killed soldier during gunfight; militant attack 20 April killed one soldier and injured three. Sindh police 19 April arrested four alleged terrorists affiliated with al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent in Karachi.
Amid COVID-19 fears, govt measures sparked concerns over intensification of crackdown on dissent, growing anti-Muslim hate speech left unchecked, and looming constitutional crisis should parliament not reconvene before 2 June deadline. Facing pressure from govt for elections, Election Commission 20 April announced 20 June as new date of postponed parliamentary elections, despite constitution requiring parliament to sit by 2 June. President Rajapaksa refused calls to reconvene old parliament even after 27 April collective opposition promise to support govt policies to contain COVID-19 and despite 30 April expiration of govt borrowing authority. Muslims widely accused of spreading COVID-19 on social and traditional media; govt yet to challenge false accusations and hate-speech, accused of assisting biased reporting by pro-govt TV. Govt 11 April made cremation – in contravention of Islamic burial practices – compulsory for all COVID-19-related deaths despite objections from Muslim leaders and 8 April letter from four UN Special Rapporteurs calling on President Rajapaksa to follow World Health Organization guidelines. Amid fears of intensification of crackdown on dissent, Inspector General of Police (IGP) 1 April warned media institutions of legal action against those spreading “false” or “malicious” COVID-19-related messages, including criticism of govt officials; Human Rights Commission 25 April in letter to IGP criticised lack of legal grounds and discriminatory impact of arrests under new policies. Arrests of govt critics and opposition supporters continued: police 9 April arrested Muslim writer and govt critic Ramzy Razeek apparently following complaints about a 2 April Facebook post that called for “intellectual jihad” against anti-Muslim policies and hate campaigning; 13 April arrested opposition United National Party politician Ranjan Ramanayake for obstructing police duties while distributing COVID-19 relief supplies, Ramanayake 20 April released on bail; 14-15 April arrested brother of opposition All Ceylon Makkal Congress party leader, Rishad Bathiudeen, and prominent Muslim lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullah, for alleged involvement in 2019 Easter bombings.
Citing COVID-19 outbreak, National Assembly in which PM Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party holds all 125 seats 10 April unanimously passed state of emergency law, which allows govt to put in place broad range of measures in times of war or pandemics, including restrictions on people’s movement, communications, and distribution of information, with penalties of up to ten years imprisonment. Constitutional Council 27 April approved law, despite public criticism that it could be used to restrict civil and political freedoms. NGO Human Rights Watch 29 April reported that authorities “are using the Covid-19 pandemic to carry out arbitrary arrests of opposition supporters and govt critics”, said that police had arrested at least 30 people for allegedly spreading false information and other offenses between Jan and April, including one third linked to now-dissolved opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party.
Amid COVID-19 pandemic, surge of attacks by Islamic militant group Mujahidin Indonesia Timur (MIT) prompted reprisals from security forces in Central Sulawesi, while security operations continued in Papua in response to March deadly attack on PT Freeport gold mine office. Security forces launched reprisals against suspected members of separatist armed group, West Papua Liberation Army, who had claimed responsibility for March deadly attack in Timika, Papua province. Military 9 April reportedly raided house in Mimika regency, killing two suspected insurgents; next day killed another suspect in Tembagapura mining district. Separatist political umbrella, Free Papua Movement, 11 April proposed ceasefire to govt to allow both sides to focus on efforts to contain spread of COVID-19, but govt failed to respond. Security forces 13 April shot and killed two men near PT Freeport gold Grasberg mine; local rights activists claimed men were misidentified as insurgents, military said 15 April it would investigate incident. Also in Papua, a clash between military and police officers 12 April left three policemen dead in Mamberamo district. Series of deadly attacks involving MIT erupted in Central Sulawesi province, allegedly reflecting group’s attempt to take advantage of COVID-19 crisis: MIT militants early April kidnapped and beheaded farmer suspected of being informer; police on around 10 April shot and killed 20-year old, suspected to be MIT supporter despite reports contradicting claim, in Tobe village; 15 April police killed two suspected MIT militants after they attacked police officer in Poso city; MIT militants 19 April kidnapped and killed farmer in Kilo village; security forces 25 April shot and killed senior MIT member also in Kilo. Across country, police continued to arrest suspected members of Islamic State (ISIS)-linked Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD), including 13 April arrests of four suspected JAD members in Southeast Sulawesi province, reportedly plotting attacks, and 10 April of another three JAD suspects in Java island. In North Sulawesi province, prison riot broke out 11 April, allegedly triggered by COVID-19 related measures and fears among detainees.
Fighting between Arakan Army (AA) and military continued at high tempo, leaving dozens dead, while authorities allowed mass release of prisoners, and issued orders to prevent and punish acts of genocide. In Chin State, military 7 April clashed with AA near Nanchaungwa village, Paletwa township, launching airstrikes which left seven civilians dead. UN 17 April said near-daily military air strikes and shelling had killed at least 32 civilians in Rakhine and Chin States since 23 March; Malaysia-based organisation, Arakan Information Center, said total of 45 civilians killed in first half of April in Rakhine and Chin. Amid efforts to expand territorial reach, AA 3 April launched attack on military base in Gwa township, in far south of Rakhine State. Brotherhood Alliance – coalition of armed groups AA, Ta’ang National Liberation Army and Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army – 1 April extended unilateral ceasefire (which never applied in Rakhine State) until 30 April, referencing COVID-19 concerns; military same day said ceasefire “unrealistic”, questioned good faith of armed groups. World Health Organization vehicle transporting COVID-19 test samples 20 April was struck with small-arms fire in Minbya township, Rakhine State; UN driver next day died of injuries; military and AA blamed each other. Outgoing UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar Yanghee Lee 29 April said military’s conduct in Rakhine and Chin “may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity”. Amid fears of COVID-19 in overcrowded prisons, President Win Myint 17 April announced country’s largest ever prisoner amnesty, releasing some 25.000, more than a quarter of total prison population; very few political prisoners included. Ahead of 23 May deadline to submit report to International Court of Justice, Myint 8 April ordered officials to abide by Genocide Convention and to preserve any evidence of genocide. From 8 April, hundreds of detained Rohingya who faced court cases for travelling within country without permission released from prison and returned to displacement camps in Rakhine. Meanwhile, Bangladesh Coast Guard 15 April rescued 400 Rohingya refugees after their boat blocked from landing in Malaysia due to COVID-19 restrictions. Incident raised fears of a repeat of 2015 Rohingya maritime migration crisis (see also Bangladesh).
Despite March ceasefire declaration between govt and communist insurgency, counter-insurgency operations against communist rebels continued in Mindanao, Visayas and Luzon; meanwhile, clashes between Islamic State (ISIS)-linked Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) militants and military persisted in south. Following end of agreed ceasefire, govt security forces 16 April announced continuation of combat operations against communist rebels, while NPA extended ceasefire until 30 April to “prioritize the fight against the pandemic”; govt 17 April accused rebels of 17 ceasefire violations, and NPA 13 April accused military of at least 13. President Duterte 27 April cancelled peace talks with communist rebels; 24 April threatened to impose martial law if rebels disrupt channelling of aid. In Maguindanao province, clashes between clans continued, including in Pagalungan, Talitay and Datu Saudi-Ampatuan municipalities, leaving six civilians injured and 200 families displaced. Clash between ASG militants and military 17 April left 11 soldiers dead and 14 wounded in Sulu province; six ASG members 23 April killed in clash with military in Patikul town in Sulu, eight soldiers wounded. By 28 April, five Indonesian hostages still with ASG.
South China Sea
Tensions mounted between China and Vietnam following incident near Paracel Islands, and in response to Chinese decision to create new administrative units near area. Chinese vessel 2 April hit Vietnamese fishing boat, which sank near Paracel Islands, with no casualties; Vietnamese FM 4 April lodged official protest with China, stating Chinese vessel “violated Vietnam’s sovereignty over the Hoang Sa archipelago”; U.S. State Department 6 April called on China “to stop exploiting the distraction or vulnerability of other states to expand its unlawful claims in the South China Sea”; Radio Free Asia reported Chinese Coast Guard 3 and 8 April deployed two ships to monitor China-Philippines contested islands. Chinese vessel 14 April accompanied by China Coast Guard ship was reportedly spotted 158 km off Vietnam’s coast, within its exclusive economic zone; Vietnam FM next day announced following closely China’s activity, and Chinese foreign ministry said same day that ship was “conducting normal activities in waters administered by China”. Chinese vessel reportedly entered Malaysian waters 16 April, apparently following exploration vessel from Malaysia’s state oil company Petronas; U.S. State Department 18 April called on China to refrain from “provocative and destabilizing activity”; three U.S. warships and Australian frigate 22 April held joint exercise near same area. Chinese state media reported “major administrative move” when Chinese Ministry of Civil Affairs 18 April announced creation of two new subdivisions of Sansha city on Hainan Island: Xisha district, controlling Paracel Islands and surrounding waters, and Nansha district, governing Spratly Islands and surrounding waters; Vietnam 19 April submitted formal protest against new Chinese units. Philippine Foreign Secretary 22 April tweeted that Manila issued two protests with China’s embassy over new districts and “pointing of a radar gun at a Philippine Navy ship in PH waters”; U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo same day said U.S. “strongly opposes China’s bullying”. Chinese military 28 April accused U.S. warship of intruding “without permission” into Chinese territory waters near Paracel Islands, and that China had set in action procedure to track, identify and expel U.S. ship; U.S. Navy 29 April asserted rights under international law to use sea.
In response to COVID-19, main southern insurgent group Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) announced unilateral ceasefire, halting attacks in deep south, while govt continued security operations. BRN 3 April announced unilateral, open-ended cessation of “all activities” to allow healthcare agencies and other organisations to work unimpeded, move resulted in no evident insurgent attacks throughout April; govt had not reciprocated by end of month. Security forces 30 April killed three BRN militants in raid in Nong Chik, Pattani; one police officer wounded in gun battle. BRN posted video 30 April decrying continued Thai govt security operations. In face of COVID-19, govt 12-15 April cancelled Thai new year (Songkran) holiday; tens of thousands of newly unemployed people had however already left Bangkok following closure of malls, restaurants, and other business from 22 March. By mid-April, some seven million Thais were unemployed, Thai Chamber of Commerce said number could reach ten million in next two months. Govt 8 April announced program to provide relief payments of 5,000 baht ($153) per month to unemployed and others experiencing hardship, for three months; govt swiftly received 26mn applications, far outstripping the nine million envisioned. Hundreds whose claims were denied 14 April gathered at Finance Ministry, hurling angry insults at officials. PM Prayuth caused further anger when 15 April he announced that there were only funds for one month, next day he retracted statement, apologised for “miscommunicating”. Cabinet 28 April approved extension of state of emergency until 31 May.
Europe & Central Asia
Bosnia And Herzegovina
Following declaration of state of disaster in Republika Srpska (RS) entity in March due to COVID-19 outbreak, RS President Željka Cvijanović 7 April announced controversial measures including ban on actions that cause panic or disorder, and fines for individuals or companies that spread fake news through media or social networks. NGO Transparency International 8 April called on RS to withdraw decree, stating that according to RS Constitution president “cannot suspend the right to freedom of opinion and expression”. International Monetary Fund (IMF) 20 April approved $361mn in emergency assistance to govt in response to COVID-19 outbreak; payment made despite reports that FM and three other Bosniak ministers had not approved request to borrow IMF funds.
Following collapse of coalition govt in March, President Thaçi 1 April consulted party leaders on formation of new unity govt. Thaçi 19 April announced need for further steps to form new govt, as outgoing PM Kurti’s Vetëvendosje party called for new elections as soon as possible. Isa Mustafa, leader of former coalition partner Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), 14 April said party stood ready to form new governing coalition with smaller parties as soon as it receives official mandate from president; Thaçi 23 April gave LDK mandate to form new govt; LDK same day nominated former Deputy PM Avdullah Hoti as its candidate for PM. Thaçi 30 April formally nominated Hoti as PM; thirty Vetëvendosje party legislators filed legal complaint with Constitutional Court to challenge nomination, claiming Vetëvendosje is only party permitted to form new govt. Kurti 20 April accused U.S. envoy Richard Grenell of being “directly involved” in collapse of his coalition govt. Kurti 1 April confirmed decision to lift 100% tariffs on import of Serbian goods until 15 June; in response to announcement, Director of Serbia’s office for Kosovo Marko Djurić same day said that Kurti “did not abolish fees” and he rather conditionally suspended taxes. Outgoing Health Minister Arben Vitia 13 April announced intensification of COVID-19 prevention measures until 4 May, introducing stricter curfew; LDK condemned new measures as continuation of “legal and constitutional violations”. Despite ongoing bilateral tensions, Serbia 17 April delivered over 1,000 COVID-19 test kits to Kosovo as sign of “solidarity”.
Former president Serzh Sargsyan 16 April testified in closed hearing at parliamentary commission investigating April 2016 deadly escalation in Nagorno-Karabakh (NK); commission, proposed by PM Pashinyan in May 2019 and subsequently established by National Assembly, had previously called on former and current senior and mid-level officials and military representatives from Armenia and de facto NK.
International organisations and human rights groups condemned govt’s alleged crackdown on opposition and critics under pretext of COVID-19 public health emergency; authorities sentenced at least ten activists to up to 30 days detention on charges related to breaking lockdown rules or disobeying police orders. President Aliyev 14 April called opposition “enemies of people” and “traitors”; leader of Popular Front Party opposition party Ali Kerimli next day said govt had blocked his internet access and mobile communications services.
Concerns continued over vulnerability of breakaway regions in face of COVID-19 outbreak. South Ossetia continued to refuse offers of support from international organisations, including World Health Organization (WHO); since mid-March de facto leadership maintained long-standing requirement that WHO specialists enter region from Russia, not Georgia, despite Russian and Georgian border restrictions rendering it near impossible. South Ossetia de facto leadership and Russia mid-April resumed borderisation activity along line of separation with territory controlled by Tbilisi, drawing condemnation from Tbilisi, Co-Chairs of Geneva International Discussions and Georgia’s foreign partners. In breakaway region Abkhazia, local leadership stepped up international engagement, receiving support from Russia and international organisations including UN Development Programme and WHO.
Former PM Arayk Harutyunyan 14 April won second round of de facto presidential elections in entity; his opponent, current FM Masis Mayilian, called on supporters to abstain from vote to contain spread of COVID-19; turnout lower by nearly 30 per cent in comparison to first round on 31 March. Armenian NGOs serving as election observers in NK capital Stepanakert reported voting violations, but Armenian leadership praised results. Armenian PM Pashinyan faced unprecedented criticism among his supporters who claimed Harutyunyan could turn NK into safe haven for former Armenian officials facing corruption charges, while Mayilian supporters said Pashinyan had “betrayed the revolution”, due to possible increased influence of former political elite. Harutyunyan 1 April proposed cooperation with all politicians and political parties in de facto entity, saying “I am ready to cooperate with any [political] force except for Azerbaijan”, also pledged support for Pashinyan’s policy and development plans in NK. Armenian and Azerbaijani FMs and Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group co-chairs 21 April held online conference; parties agreed to postpone implementation of previously agreed humanitarian measures citing COVID-19 crisis. Russian FM Sergei Lavrov 21 April advocated phased approach in NK peace process, starting with return of territories adjacent to NK to Azerbaijan’s direct control and resumption of transport and economic links between Armenia, Azerbaijan and Turkey; Armenian FM denied Lavrov’s claim that plan was discussed in April 2019 and called for more clarity on NK final status; Azerbaijan accused Armenia of disrupting negotiation process.
In North Caucasus, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov 5 April closed administrative border with rest of Russia, while reports emerged of police beatings of people violating self-isolation rules within Chechnya; PM Mikhail Mishustin 6 April said closing regional borders was unacceptable, prompting public argument with Kadyrov. In Vladikavkaz, capital of North Caucasus republic North Ossetia, at least 1,500 people joined violent protest against lockdown measures; protestors demanded resignation of regional head Vyacheslav Bitarov and appointment of interim regional govt headed by opposition politician Vitaly Kaloyev; police dispersed rally with teargas and arrested 69 people, of whom thirteen 21 April sentenced to prison. Vote on proposed constitutional changes previously planned for 22 April remained on hold.
Following settlement of dispute over price of Russian oil supplies in March, Russian oil company Transneft 6 April resumed crude oil supplies to Belarusian refineries, ending freeze that began 1 Jan. President Lukashenko 13 April asserted “no one would die of coronavirus in our country”, stating that govt had found “combinations of drugs to save people” and refuting Health Ministry’s figures showing that virus had already killed 29 people.
Despite hopes of ceasefire amid COVID-19 outbreak, deadly fighting in Donbas continued, while sides made limited progress toward political resolution to conflict. In conflict zone, fighting near standard hotspots along central part of contact line – near Donetsk, Debaltseve, Horlivka, and Mariupol cities – killed five govt soldiers and eleven Russian-backed fighters throughout month according to official and unofficial data; Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) reported four civilians injured and one killed. OSCE monitors reported consistent denials of access by authorities to so-called People’s Republics. Kyiv and de facto authorities 16 April swapped prisoners in “Easter exchange”; Kyiv received twenty prisoners for releasing fourteen separatist fighters. At 22 April meeting of Trilateral Contact Group (TCG), sides reportedly agreed to establish new working group – with representatives of border guard and customs services of Russia and Ukraine and OSCE mediators – to discuss compromise formulas for resumption of govt control of eastern border with Russia. Govt 6 April tightened COVID-19 restrictions, prohibiting outside meetings of more than two people and introducing large fines and prison terms for offenders; opposition members and human rights activists criticised measures. President Zelenskyy 13 April signed law allowing govt agencies to access and exchange citizens’ personal data without consent until end of lockdown, which govt 23 April extended until 11 May, as death toll in govt-controlled areas passed 260 end-April. In separatist-held areas, following closure of checkpoints for civilians in March, govt and Russia-backed forces allowed delivery of humanitarian aid; de facto authorities by 29 April announced total 229 cases and four deaths. Representatives of Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France 30 April held virtual Normandy Four meeting, noting lack of progress on de-escalation measures agreed at 9 Dec summit; Moscow reiterated demands for Ukraine to negotiate terms of breakaway areas’ return to Kyiv’s jurisdiction directly with de facto leaders; Kyiv expressed readiness for dialogue with the areas’ residents, but not Russian-backed authorities.
No progress was marked on UN efforts to relaunch reunification talks, while tensions between Turkey, Greece, and Republic of Cyprus on gas drilling in eastern Mediterranean continued. Turkish FM Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu 14 April said Greece had rejected President Erdoğan’s proposal for high-level dialogue mechanism to discuss fair distribution of revenues from energy in eastern Mediterranean, maritime delimitation disagreements, and resolution of Cyprus dispute. Amid rapid fall in oil prices, Cypriot energy minister 13 April confirmed U.S. company Exxon Mobil decision to postpone planned drilling in Block 10 of Republic of Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone until Sept 2021; other oil companies could follow suit.
Northern Ireland (UK)
National Union of Journalists 8 April condemned threats of violence toward journalist from Irish News by suspected dissident Republicans. Police 19 April launched investigations into two separate paramilitary-style attacks in east Belfast and Coleraine in which two men were hospitalised.
Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) intensified attacks in south east while Turkish military targeted PKK within Turkey and in northern Iraq. PKK launched attacks on state-contracted workers in Nusaybin city 3 April, Kulp district 8 April, and Silopi city 14 April. Turkish military continued small-scale ground operations against PKK in rural areas of south east and carried out two air raids on PKK in northern Iraq, including airstrikes 15 April destroyed PKK base south of Qandil and armed drone attack same day targeted the Makhmur camp south west of Erbil. Within Turkey, prosecution on terrorism-related charges continued of eight pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) mayors who govt dismissed in March. In north east Syria, Turkish military targeted Kurdish-led People’s Protection Units (YPG) militants; YPG-attributed car bomb attack in Afrin on 28 April killed at least 42 civilians (see Syria). In Syria’s Idlib province, rebels continued to oppose fragile March Moscow-Ankara ceasefire agreement; Turkish security forces 13 April dispersed sit-in protests, apparently organised by jihadist coalition Hei’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), aimed at halting joint Turkish-Russian patrols. In response, HTS briefly abducted Turkey-backed rebel fighters. Nonetheless, Russia and Turkey 28 April conducted sixth joint patrol in area. As conflict in Libya continued to escalate, Turkey stepped up military support to Tripoli-based Government of National Accord; Turkish F16 fighter jets 18 April carried out first ever military exercise over Misrata (see Libya). Detentions of Islamic State (ISIS) suspects decreased, with only twelve individuals with suspected ISIS links detained during month, including six foreigners. Concerns grew over potential impact of COVID-19 on vulnerable Syrian refugee population in Turkey, as well as strain on economy.
Head of Almaty-based human rights foundation 8 April said govt is “doing everything to muzzle activists to prevent their criticism of the govt’s anti-coronavirus measures”; police 7 April reportedly detained activist in Oral city, court early April sentenced activist in Zhambyl region to up to 28 days’ imprisonment, and court 18 April sentenced activist in capital Almaty to two months in prison in relation to lockdown measures. In response to increasing economic pressure due to COVID-19 and fall in global oil prices, govt 15 April paid out compensation for lost income to more than 2.7m people.
Govt 14 April extended state of emergency imposed in response to COVID-19 in major cities and several districts until 30 April; earlier, President Jeenbekov 1 April dismissed Deputy PM and health minister over COVID-19 response. Amid economic strain, govt 14 April reported President Jeenbekov asked Chinese President Xi Jinping for debt relief.
Upper legislative chamber 17 April elected Rustam Emomali, son of President Rahmon, as their chair, second-highest govt office; move comes as country prepares for presidential elections scheduled for 2020. State media 9 April reported Supreme Court’s decision to block independent news website Akhbor on grounds it allegedly offered platform to “terrorists and extremists”. Court 16 April sentenced journalist Daler Sharifov to one year in prison following late Jan arrest on charges of inciting ethnic and religious discord. Russian govt 3 April said over half a million Tajik labour migrants were stranded in Russia following COVID-19-related border closures; President Putin 18 April signed decree temporarily lifting requirements for migrants to renew work permits and permitting workers to stay in Russia without extending residency registration. World Health Organization’s local representative in capital Dushanbe 1 April confirmed all COVID-19 tests conducted in Tajikistan were negative but 22 April said it was impossible to confirm absence of COVID-19, citing restricted diagnostic and treatment capacity; Tajik authorities 30 April confirmed country had fifteen registered cases; late April temporarily closed schools, banned mass-attendance events and suspended exports of grain.
Amid longstanding reports of food shortages, dozens of women held protest near Mary city 3 April; officials reportedly distributed bags of flour in effort to calm protesters. In official speech, President Berdymukhammedov same day referred to COVID-19 for first time publicly; urged cabinet to adopt action to alleviate its impact on economy and criticised several senior officials for mismanagement of food shortage situation. Central Bank 1 April banned withdrawal of cash in foreign currencies in response to concerns over falling global price of natural gas, while authorities in Darganata district (east) early April further reduced limits on daily cash withdrawals. Govt continued to claim it had not registered any COVID-19 cases and throughout month hosted mass public events. Media watchdog NGO Reporters Without Borders mid-April ranked Turkmenistan joint bottom in the world (with North Korea) in its annual review of press freedom.
UN Human Rights Committee report findings published 2 April expressed concern over reports of civil and political rights violations, including prison officials and law enforcement torture and abuse of detainees, and detention of journalists and activists on politically-motivated charges; first review of country’s human rights record since President Mirziyoyev took office in 2016. Mirziyoyev in public address 3 April said his govt’s heavy-handed approach in response to COVID-19 was necessary to prevent its rapid spread; law enforcement registered 2,200 rule violations by early April. Labour Minister 15 April asked global human rights coalition Cotton Campaign to end campaign for international boycott of Uzbek cotton and textiles in place since 2006, citing country’s progress in eliminating forced labour and “unprecedented dual threat” on public health and economy due to COVID-19; Cotton Campaign 16 April however rejected request saying it was too early to lift boycott.
Latin America & Caribbean
Govt increasingly relied on security forces to enforce COVID-19 quarantine and political tensions continued between interim govt and Movement toward Socialism (MAS) party of former President Morales. Defence Minister Luis Fernando López 4 April announced wider use of military to control compliance with COVID-19 quarantine; Interim President Áñez 14 April extended quarantine until 30 April. After Áñez closed all borders in March in attempt to curb spread of virus, thousands of Bolivians remained stranded in border towns in Chile awaiting authorisation to enter Bolivia; military 8 April fired tear gas to repel at least 300 people trying to cross border near Chilean border village of Colchane. As police tried to return to their post in Chapare province (after having left area in late-2019 following confrontation with coca growers in aftermath of Morales’ resignation), residents in Shinahota town 16 April violently expelled them; interim govt next day accused Morales of masterminding attacks. Attorney General 15 April ordered preventive detention of MAS figure Faustino Yucra for alleged terrorism and sedition. Electoral tribunal 25 April asked Congress to choose date between 28 June and 27 September for general elections rerun.
Amid continued armed groups’ violence, National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrillas announced it will not extend one-month COVID-19 ceasefire. After ELN 1 April began unilateral ceasefire as “humanitarian gesture” amid COVID-19, govt’s High Commissioner for Peace Miguel Ceballos immediately called ceasefire insufficient, said ELN should “extend [its] terms indefinitely” and release hostages as pre-conditions to any ELN-govt talks; in statement, ELN 27 April said it will not extend ceasefire into May, citing govt’s failure to reciprocate with good-will gesture. Despite ceasefire, ELN throughout month clashed with other armed groups in Chocó (west) and Cauca (south west) provinces. Notably, violence between Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia (AGC, one of country’s main drug trafficking groups) and ELN led to displacement in Chocó, including early-April clashes causing 37 indigenous families to flee Guayabal town. Clashes between Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) dissident group Columna Mobil Carlos Patiño, ELN and army in Argelia and Tambo municipalities, Cauca, killed at least eight 14 April. Govt 10 April announced capture of FARC dissident group member reportedly responsible for several murders of social leaders in Putumayo province (south). Amid govt’s efforts to eradicate coca cultivation across country, allegedly including restarting of aerial spraying to destroy crops, coca cultivators and armed forces 22 April reportedly clashed in Putumayo and Norte de Santander (north east) provinces. Isolated protests erupted over govt’s handling of COVID-19 crisis. In capital Bogotá and second-largest city Medellín, protesters from mid-April demonstrated almost daily against movement restriction, delays in distribution of food aid, and alleged corruption in management of aid; attempts at looting food were reported in Medellín 14-15 April.
Amid COVID-19 crisis, protests and looting erupted over lack of food and fuel, several journalists critical of govt response arrested, and U.S. pressure on President Maduro to force him to leave office continued. Maduro 11 April extended countrywide COVID-19 lockdown for further 30 days. Security forces throughout month reportedly detained several medical personnel and journalists who questioned govt’s claim it had “contained” spread of virus, charging some with “spreading hate”. Notably, press association 18 April reported seven arbitrary arrests of journalists 1-15 April. Isolated protests and lootings erupted in several areas, especially in east, over lack of food and fuel amid COVID-19 pandemic and collapse of oil industry; notably, man was reportedly shot dead 23 April during looting in Upata town. Opposition leader Juan Guaidó 21 April denied media report of secret exploratory talks between his and Maduro’s allies. Lack of clarity persisted over whether parliamentary elections, due this year, could take place in light of COVID-19 crisis; Maduro mid-April said he was unsure if vote would proceed. Despite FM Jorge Arreaza’s 31 March rejection of U.S. offer to lift sanctions in exchange for political transition – whereby Maduro and Guaidó would step aside and executive power be held by “Council of State”, nominated by govt and opposition, until presidential election – govt in subsequent days reportedly showed willingness to consider proposal. Following March indictment of Maduro and others on drugs-related charges, U.S. continued to escalate pressure on govt. U.S. 1 April said that its forthcoming, large-scale anti-drugs operation in southern Caribbean, which will double its naval presence in region, will also serve declared aim of cutting off resources to Maduro govt; govt immediately accused Washington of “slander and threats”. UN Security Council (UNSC) 22 April debated Venezuela at virtual “closed door” session, for first time in a year, at request of Russia, which criticised U.S. policy; UNSC met again 28 April to discuss humanitarian crisis in country.
Govt continued to take strong security measures to address COVID-19, while deportation flights from U.S. sparked tensions. Govt repeatedly extended COVID-19 state of emergency and related curfew imposed late March; 19 April relaxed internal travel restrictions, introduced 4 April, for all but four departments. Mayors and social leaders 3 April said money transfers to poorest, put in place by govt late-March in context of COVID-19, often end up in hands of wealthier households due to flawed data gathering. Govt 5 April subcontracted delivery of 3mn masks to company run by former colleague of President Giammattei’s wife, raising concerns over corruption; Giammattei 20 April dismissed two health vice-ministers and six other officials for alleged wrongdoing in purchase of medical equipment. Fearing social unrest, authorities as of 2 April reportedly trained 200 policemen to break up protests; police 22 March-17 April reportedly arrested more than 10,000 people for allegedly violating COVID-19 curfew. Deportation flights from U.S. sparked controversy; after health minister 14 April said deportations from U.S. contributed to COVID-19 spread in country, govt 16 April announced pause in flights. Residents fearing contagion in city of Quetzaltenango (west) 15 April staged protest against confinement centre hosting 80 Guatemalans deported from Mexico, throwing stones at them and threatening to set centre on fire. U.S. Sec State Pompeo 13 April said migratory flow from Central America dropped by 76% since May 2019 and announced restoral of some aid – cut in 2019 – to help country further tackle migration.
Amid protests over food shortages, govt faced allegations of corruption in management of COVID-19 crisis. Govt late March and early April took steps to alleviate economic hardship caused by COVID-19, and President Hernández 12 April declared production of food national priority, but measures failed to prevent protests over lack of food, particularly in capital Tegucigalpa and northern department of Cortés with near-daily demonstrations and roadblocks. Reports of misuse of funds to tackle virus emerged, including 13 April allegation by businessman that govt inflated prices of protective equipment in attempt to embezzle funds. In report released 27 April, govt agency National Anticorruption Council identified $2.3mn overpricing in govt purchase of face masks. Criminal groups remained active despite reduction of extortion opportunities due to COVID-19 restrictions; in Tegucigalpa, police 7 April arrested two Barrio 18 members who had reportedly stolen ambulance to smuggle drugs into capital and 10 April arrested two MS-13 members allegedly trafficking narcotics disguised as engineers. Sentencing of President Hernández’s brother, found guilty in U.S. of drug smuggling in Oct, was delayed until 29 June; U.S. prosecutors 30 April charged former national police chief Juan Carlos Bonilla Valladares with trafficking drugs into U.S. and related weapons offenses, claiming Bonilla worked on behalf of president Hernández and his brother. U.S. and Mexico continued to deport migrants to Honduras despite COVID-19 pandemic; U.S. Sec State Pompeo 13 April said migratory flow from Central America dropped by 76% since May 2019 and announced restoral of some aid – cut in 2019 – to help country further tackle migration.
President Bukele defied Supreme Court’s rulings deeming some measures taken amid COVID-19 pandemic unconstitutional, opening institutional crisis, and sudden spike in homicides late-April after months of improvement in security situation prompted govt to reverse prison policy. Bukele early April authorised security forces to toughen measures against those defying COVID-19 quarantine, including detaining and transferring them to containment centres. Supreme Court 8 April ruled detention of citizens for breaching quarantine unconstitutional and 15 April ordered Bukele to comply with decision; Bukele immediately said he would not abide by rulings, opening institutional crisis. Legislative Assembly (LA) 16 April approved extension of state of emergency until 1 May. Inter American Press Association 15 April expressed concern over alleged increase in violations of press freedom in context of COVID-19, while NGO Human Rights Watch same day denounced holding of 4,236 people in 87 containment centres and said Bukele “encouraged excessive use of force”. After months of low homicide rates, police reported 23 homicides in one day 24 April, allegedly highest daily toll since Bukele took office last June; violence continued 25-27 April with another 54 homicides. In response, Bukele 24 April imposed total lockdown in jails housing gang members, arguing orders to kill came from imprisoned gang leaders; 26 April ordered members of different gangs be mixed in same cell, reversing long-standing prison policy, and offered legal support to security officials involved in killing of gang members. Amid continued focus on migration, U.S. Sec State Pompeo 13 April said migratory flow from Central America dropped by 76% since May 2019 and announced restoral of some aid – cut in 2019 – to help country further tackle migration.
Govt faced mounting international and domestic pressure to take action against COVID-19, and continued to harass opposition. After business associations 1 April called for cross-party action to tackle virus, head of National Assembly Gustavo Porras next day ruled out possibility of taking strong confinement measures. International agency Pan American Health Organization 7 April expressed concern over govt’s handling of crisis, citing “inadequate” prevention and control. In televised speech 15 April, President Ortega reiterated lockdown would prompt economic collapse. Opposition movements repeatedly called on population to self-quarantine; joint opposition platform National Coalition 19 April condemned govt’s “lack of willingness” to address emergency. Govt repression of opposition continued unabated. Notably, police 19 April reportedly detained at least three people in town of Moyogalpa in south who were peacefully commemorating anniversary of 2018 uprising, prompting residents to capture police officer; next day, police allegedly raided community, freed officer and arrested two other people; police denied sequence of events. After govt 8 April announced release of 1,700 prisoners ahead of Easter celebrations, NGO Amnesty International 16 April called on govt to also release “those detained solely for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly”.
Political standoff that arose from 2 March general elections persisted as electoral commission (GECOM) failed to finalise modalities of national recount process. After country’s Supreme Court late March authorised national recount of votes, Court of Appeal 5 April ruled GECOM rather than regional bloc Caribbean Community (CARICOM) must supervise process. GECOM 29 April said electoral recount would start when CARICOM electoral observer team arrives in capital Georgetown in coming days.
Opposition challenged govt’s handling of COVID-19 crisis, citing criminal groups’ interference in distribution of aid. After govt late March announced cash transfers to large families, distribution of food kits and bonuses for healthcare workers and police amid fears COVID-19 could worsen dire humanitarian situation, opposition denounced govt’s management of aid distribution. Opposition leader André Michel 3 April said police delivered food kits under supervision of local gang leader in Delmas commune near capital Port-au-Prince. Opposition platform Democratic and Popular Sector 7 April said release of emergency funds did not follow proper procedure, and called for audit and investigation by High Court of Auditors. President Moïse 19 April extended state of health emergency until 20 May. Govt attempts to enforce COVID-19 lockdown and curfew met resistance. Notably, police clashed with bus drivers while trying to prevent public transport from operating between Les Cayes and Port-au-Prince 10 April; no casualties reported. Amid ongoing insecurity, including late March abduction of hospital director, defence minister 9 April announced soldiers would secure medical convoys. Deportation of Haitian nationals from U.S. continued despite risk of contagion; 68 Haitians flown home 7 April and 129 others 30 April.
Criminal violence remained high while govt’s soft response to COVID-19 crisis continued to spark controversy. Following highest monthly number of homicides on record in March with 2,585 cases, violence and armed clashes continued at high levels, notably in centre. In series of murders in Guanajuato state (centre) 10 April, unidentified assailants killed at least thirteen people in León and Salamanca cities. In neighbouring Michoacán state, suspected members of criminal group Jalisco Cartel New Generation 26 April killed 21 alleged combatants of rival group Los Viagras in Aguililla city. Several violent incidents also took place in north. Notably, state police clashed with criminal group in Nuevo Laredo city, Tamaulipas state 2 April, number of casualties unknown; and shootout between Sinaloa Cartel and Juárez Cartel in Chihuahua state killed nineteen suspected gang members 4 April. Targeted killings of journalists and civil society activists continued. Journalist Víctor Álvarez, who disappeared 2 April after having received threats from criminal group, was found dead 8 April in Acapulco city, Guerrero (south); same day, unknown assailants shot dead environmental activist and mining opponent Adán Vez Lira in Actopan city, Veracruz state (Gulf Coast in east). Several state governors throughout month criticised govt’s reliance on voluntary measures to curb spread of COVID-19 – including 16 April extension of social isolation recommendations until late-May – and refusal to pursue large stimulus package to mitigate economic impact of pandemic. Sonora state (north) governor 13 April and Michoacán and Jalisco states (both centre) governors 20 April implemented mandatory state-wide lockdowns. Organised crime appeared set on capitalising on crisis to increase penetration into local communities and boost recruitment; various criminal groups 4 April began posting online videos and images of handout of aid packages in Tamaulipas, Veracruz, Michoacán and Jalisco states.
Middle East & North Africa
Israeli govt tensions with both Palestinian Authority (PA) and Hamas persisted amid COVID-19 outbreak, while PM Netanyahu and opposition leader forged power-sharing deal as step toward breaking political deadlock. In West Bank, Israeli authorities early April announced temporary suspension of demolition of Palestinian homes in Area C. PA 3 April called on Palestinians working in Israel to return to Palestinian territories following rising COVID-19 cases recorded among workers, and asked Israeli govt to release political prisoners, citing inadequate health care; Israeli forces 14 April shut down testing clinic in Silwan, East Jerusalem, citing clinic’s cooperation with PA. Israeli security forces 22 April killed Palestinian after he stabbed Israeli police officer at checkpoint near Jewish settlement Ma’ale Adumin in West Bank. After cutting funding in 2017, U.S. mid-April pledged $5mn support for East Jerusalem hospitals to help curb COVID-19. In Gaza, after authorities 21 March recorded first two COVID-19 cases, Hamas and PA in April said they hold Israel fully responsible for outbreak in Gaza Strip given its thirteen-year-long blockade; Israel’s Defence Minister Naftali Bennett 3 April said Israel would allow World Health Organization to deliver medical supplies to Gaza Strip if Hamas releases four Israeli prisoners. PM Netanyahu of Likud and Blue and White opposition leader Benny Gantz 20 April signed agreement to form unity govt with rotating 18-month premierships; Israeli non-profits have appealed to Supreme Court against several components in agreement, notably one allowing Netanyahu to act as PM despite outstanding indictments; Likud indicated that if Supreme Court would accept any of the appeals, Israel would hold fourth election. Coalition agreement text also endorses West Bank annexation, providing there is “full U.S. consent”; Arab League 30 April condemned West Bank annexation plans as “new war crime”.
Dire economic conditions continued to worsen amid COVID-19 outbreak despite govt efforts to soften impact; anti-govt protests mid-April resumed in Tripoli city and capital Beirut. Govt 1 April announced emergency support of 400,000 Lira for particularly hard-hit families; Central Bank next day instructed banks to pay out small depositors at rate near real value of Lebanese Lira, raising concerns about further devaluation of currency; Lebanese Lira continued to depreciate throughout month, 27 April reaching 4,200 to the dollar on black market. Leaked govt economic reform proposal early April sparked controversy over plans to use large deposits to cover banking losses. Meanwhile, Hizbollah announced plan to rely on 20,000 volunteers, 4,500 doctors and nurses, and 32 health centres across country to help counter COVID-19 spread. Reports 22 April of first COVID-19 case in al-Jalil Palestinian refugee camp, which hosts 9,400 people, in Bekaa Valley raised fear of wider spread among vulnerable population. Govt 9 April extended nationwide state of emergency until 26 April, thereafter announced five-phase plan to end lockdown with 27 April opening of some businesses. Six months after mass rallies first erupted over corruption and economic hardship, several hundred anti-govt protesters 17 April returned to streets in Tripoli in defiance of lockdown to demonstrate against soaring food prices leading to death of one protester on 27 April. Protesters 21 April drove around Beirut in cars to express discontent with political leadership; protestors 24-28 April launched wave of firebomb attacks on banks in Sidon, Tyre and Tripoli reportedly in response to currency deterioration.
Islamic State (ISIS) launched one of its deadliest attacks in Homs governorate since Dec 2019, leaving eighteen govt forces killed, while Turkey and Russia enforced March ceasefire in Idlib. ISIS militants 9 April attacked govt military positions in desert town of Al-Sukhna in Homs region formerly held by jihadist group; eighteen govt forces and eleven ISIS militants killed. Pro-govt fighters with Russian air support reportedly attempted to halt militants’ advance after attackers captured parts of town. In north west Idlib province, Turkey and Russia 15 April attempted fourth joint patrol along M4 highway in effort to uphold 5 March ceasefire after three previous patrols since 15 March were fully or partially obstructed by local protesters; Russia and Turkey conducted fifth and sixth joint patrols in area on 25 April and 28 April, respectively. Unclaimed truck bomb attack in northern town of Afrin 28 April killed at least 40 civilians; Turkey same day blamed Kurdish-led People’s Protection Forces (YPG), which 28 April denied carrying out attack. Meanwhile, Turkey continued military reinforcements in Idlib. Syrian authorities maintained or extended measures to slow COVID-19 spread in govt-controlled areas, including stay at home order, daily curfew and suspension of schools, universities and Friday prayers. In north east, first reported COVID-19 case 17 April raised fears of possible wider outbreak in region amid limited medical equipment. Govt 20 April said it intercepted Israeli missiles over Palmyra in Homs; govt 27 April said Israel conducted airstrikes on military airfield near capital Damascus.
Elevated tensions with the U.S. continued in Iraq and the Gulf, while govt remained in breach of 2015 nuclear deal although it did not intensify nuclear-related activities during month. President Trump 1 April tweeted that Iran and proxies plan to attack U.S troops or assets in Iraq, warning “Iran will pay a very heavy price”. Iranian naval forces 14 April boarded Hong Kong-flagged tanker in Sea of Oman and briefly detained vessel in Iranian waters. U.S. military next day said eleven Iranian ships “repeatedly conducted dangerous and harassing approaches” toward six U.S. vessels in international waters; Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) 19 April dismissed claims, accused U.S. forces of “illegal, unprofessional, dangerous and adventurist” manoeuvres. Trump 22 April tweeted that he has instructed U.S. navy to “destroy any and all Iranian gunboats that harass our ships”. IRGC 22 April launched military satellite Noor; U.S. 25 April urged extension of UN embargo and sanctions against missile program. U.S. 26 April extended by 30 days Iraq sanction waiver for Iranian electricity imports. Govt continued nuclear-related activities at same tempo as in March, and International Atomic Energy Agency continued inspections of nuclear facilities. Chief of Atomic Energy Organization of Iran 5 April announced intention to install new centrifuges at Natanz fuel enrichment plant. During 20 April meeting with Syrian President Assad in Damascus, FM Zarif criticised U.S. for maintaining sanctions on Iran and Syria throughout COVID-19 crisis. Govt continued to await official response from International Monetary Fund for March request for $5bn emergency loan to tackle COVID-19; U.S. Sec State Pompeo 14 April said Iran should not receive financial assistance “which will be used to fund its proxy wars”. President Rouhani 5 April announced gradual lifting of COVID-19 lockdown restrictions; 19 April extended furlough for prisoners temporarily released in March to 20 May.
Amid ongoing open hostility between U.S. and Iran-backed militias, President Salih appointed new PM designate in attempt to resolve political paralysis, while Islamic State (ISIS) stepped up attacks on civilians and security forces. U.S. President Trump 1 April accused Iran or proxies of planning “sneak attack” on U.S. forces in Iraq; Iranian FM Zarif next day denied accusations. Iran-backed militia Kataib Hizbollah early April warned U.S. against striking group, demanded full withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq. Unknown perpetrators 6 April fired rockets near U.S. company Halliburton in south causing no casualties. U.S. 10 April offered $10mn reward for information on Muhammad Kawtharani, senior Hizbollah military commander overseeing Iran-backed militias in Iraq. Nine pro-Iranian militias 4 April jointly announced efforts to confront U.S. in Iraq. U.S. Sec State Pompeo 7 April announced U.S.-Iraq “strategic dialogue” in June. Efforts to form govt continued: PM designate Adnan al-Zurfi 8 April withdrew nomination due to lack of support from Shiite parties, especially pro-Iranian Fateh coalition; President Salih 9 April appointed intelligence director Mustafa al-Kadhimi as PM designate. Leader of Fateh coalition Hadi al-Amiri attended Kadhimi’s nomination ceremony in sign of support but Kataib Hizbollah 10 April condemned nomination, accusing al-Kadhimi of involvement in U.S. killing of Iran’s Quds Force chief Qassem Soleimani and deputy chief of Shiite militia coalition Popular Mobilisation Units (PMU) Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis in Jan. Following 5 April killing of activist Anwar Jassem Mhawwas in Nasiriyah in Dhi Qar province, violent clashes ensued between security forces and protesters, which left two dead. Clashes between ISIS and security forces increased throughout month in Kirkuk, Erbil, Nineveh, Diyala and Salah al-Din provinces, with group planting IEDs targeting civilians and security forces; in retaliation, security forces 13 April killed 20 ISIS fighters in Kirkuk. Suspected ISIS suicide attack 28 April targeted Iraqi intelligence directorate in Kirkuk; Iraqi officials said at least three security personnel wounded.
Amid COVID-19 outbreak, Riyadh announced and then extended unilateral ceasefire to end hostilities with Huthis in Yemen, and reached agreement to resolve oil price war with Russia. Saudi Arabia 8 April announced unilateral two-week freeze in military operations in Yemen in response to UN appeal to end hostilities amid COVID-19 outbreak; Huthis next day dismissed announcement as ploy, demanded Saudi Arabia end siege on Yemen and lift its blockade of airspace, land borders and ports in Huthi-held areas. In Yemen’s south, Riyadh 1 April expanded deployment of elite forces in Aden amid rising tensions between pro-govt forces and STC; STC 25 April announced self-administration, raising concerns over collapse of Riyadh Agreement. State media 19 April confirmed arrest of at least three senior Saudi officials for involvement in corruption scheme related to COVID-19 outbreak. Saudi Arabia 12 April reached agreement with OPEC, Russia and other oil-producing countries to reduce global oil production by 9.7mn barrels a day after oil price war with Russia broke out early March.
Secessionist Southern Transitional Council (STC) announced autonomous self-administration in south Yemen after weeks of rising tensions with govt forces, increasing likelihood of renewed violence in south and placing Nov 2019 Riyadh Agreement, and efforts to broker a nationwide political settlement to end the war, in peril. Meanwhile, fighting between pro-govt forces and Huthis intensified in north despite Saudi Arabia’s announcement of military freeze and extension, raising prospect of continued escalation in May unless parties agree to nationwide ceasefire. Saudi Arabia 24 April extended two-week ceasefire announced 8 April in response to UN appeal to end hostilities amid COVID-19 pandemic. Huthis next day dismissed Saudi “ceasefire” announcement as sham, demanded Riyadh lift its blockade of airspace, land borders and ports in Huthi-held areas; President Hadi opposed demands. UN envoy Martin Griffiths 16 April told UN Security Council that agreement between warring parties on nationwide ceasefire, humanitarian measures and resumption of talks would be finalised in “immediate future”, raising hopes for comprehensive cessation of hostilities. Progress however limited by end of month; amid ongoing Saudi airstrikes throughout month despite ceasefire declaration, fighting between Huthis and govt forces persisted in al-Jawf, Marib and al-Bayda. Meanwhile, after flash floods in Aden city, STC 25 April announced autonomous self-administrationin south, prompting condemnation from govt and calls from Riyadh, Washington and UN for implementation of Riyadh Agreement. Previously, STC mid-April accused govt forces of preparing military offensive in Aden city, sparking concerns over collapse of Riyadh Agreement; Mahram al-Qubati, prominent commander in Hadi’s Presidential Guards, early April reportedly announced plan to “liberate” Aden while Saudi Arabia increased deployment of elite forces in Aden. Power struggle within govt late March also broke out: PM Saeed 27 March suspended Saleh al-Jabwani, transport minister and outspoken critic of Riyadh Agreement and Saudi Arabia; although President Hadi reportedly rejected PM Saeed’s decision, al-Jabwani shortly after resigned. Authorities 29 April reported total of five COVID-19 cases in south, raising fears of outbreak across country where local population already in midst of major humanitarian crisis; senior UN officials 21 April estimated seventeen million people face acute food insecurity.
United Arab Emirates
Amid COVID-19 pandemic, United Arab Emirates (UAE) helped dispatch aid to several countries, including Iran. As part of efforts to combat COVID-19, UAE throughout month helped channel aid to several countries, including Pakistan, Indonesia and Botswana; humanitarian gestures followed late-March telephone call between Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed and Syrian President al-Assad, which had marked first contact between Arab leader and al-Assad since start of Syria’s civil war in 2011, and during which UAE had offered to dispatch aid to support Syria’s efforts to combat COVID-19 pandemic. After UAE helped channel aid to Iran in March, Iran FM Seyed Abbas Mousavi 6 April responded that COVID-19 response had brought “more reason and logic” to bilateral relationship. Govt 12 April reached agreement with Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and other oil-producing countries to reduce global oil production by 9.7mn barrels a day after oil price war between Saudi-Arabia and Russia broke out early March. To slow spread of COVID-19, govt 17 April announced extension of 24-hour curfew in Dubai city, repatriation of thousands of foreign workers back to home countries and warned that it will review labour ties with countries refusing to take back citizens; Govt 22 April said UAE and Pakistan deepened cooperation over repatriation of Pakistani citizens.
Amid fears of COVID-19 spread, authorities took steps potentially restricting rights and space of opposition movement, including through law criminalising dissemination of false information. Following halt to opposition protests due to COVID-19 fears, judiciary 9 April blocked online media websites Maghreb Emergent and Radio M that cover anti-govt protest movement; authorities 19 April blocked Interlignes website. Council of ministers 19 April adopted new law criminalising dissemination of false information; lower and upper houses of parliament 22-23 April ratified new law, fuelling fears that imprecise wording in law could be used to target peaceful critics. Meanwhile, military intelligence Central Directorate of Army Security (DCSA) 13 April arrested General Wassini Bouazza, head of civil intelligence Central Directorate of Internal Security (DCSI, formerly DRS), on charges of “high treason, illicit enrichment and influence peddling”. Media 17 April reported DCSA also arrested central communications manager General Abdelkader Lachkhem and former DCSA director General Othmane “Kamel” Belmiloud; Defence Ministry 18 April however denied arrests. Presidency 18 April extended all COVID-19 lockdown measures until 14 May.
Attempts to mediate talks over Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam stalled, crackdown on dissent continued, and fears of jihadist attacks on Coptic community resurfaced. Security forces 14 April killed seven suspected jihadist militants in al-Amirya district in capital Cairo, citing alleged plot to attack Coptic communities over Easter. Cairo judicial authorities 18 April charged former legislator Zyad Elelaimy and twelve others for collaborating with outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, spreading false news and undermining trust in state institutions. Govt 12 April arrested chairman of Daily News Egypt Mostafa Sakr after newspaper published story about central bank manipulation of exchange rate. Due to economic impact of COVID-19, finance minister 9 April said country had lost total $8.5bn in foreign investment over previous three months. President al-Sisi 16 April pardoned hundreds of detainees; he made no link to concerns about COVID-19 in prisons. In ongoing dispute over Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, Sudanese water minister Yasser Abbas 7 April said his govt would not mediate talks between Egypt and Ethiopia; Egypt intelligence head Abbas Kamel and water minister Mohammed Abdul Motti 9 April met Sudan’s Sovereign Council head Abdel Fattah al-Burhan in Khartoum.
Despite renewed international calls for ceasefire amid COVID-19 pandemic, fighting around capital Tripoli and in western Libya reached unprecedented levels of violence, with a strong likelihood of continued escalation in May; meanwhile financial pressures mounted. The battle for Tripoli reached one-year anniversary in early April as fighting intensified between Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s Arab-Libyan Armed Forces (ALAF) and forces allied to Tripoli-based Govt of National Accord (GNA). ALAF forces early April continued missile strikes on southern Tripoli residential areas, causing civilian casualties, including 6 April targeted al-Hadba hospital equipped for COVID-19 patients. Tripoli residents week of 6 April suffered electricity shortages and cuts in water supply as pro-Haftar tribesmen in central Libya shut down water pumping station linked to Tripoli’s reservoirs. Turkey throughout month increased military support to GNA, partly enabling it to score significant victories across western Libya: GNA forces 14 April captured central coastal towns Sabratha and Sorman, under control of pro-Haftar tribesmen since 2018; GNA forces 18 April surrounded Tarhuna, ALAF stronghold in western Libya and base of operations for war on Tripoli. Meanwhile, GNA and ALAF forces throughout month continued confrontation near Sirte, central Libya, with heavy casualties reported on both sides, and GNA 12 April downed ALAF-operated, Russian-made attack helicopter. Turkish fighter jets 18 April conducted first ever military exercises over Misrata. Haftar 27 April declared that he accepted the people’s “mandate” to scrap 2015 UN-mediated Libyan Political Agreement and empower ALAF General Command to take control of country’s governing institutions; proposal divided supporters, adversaries called it a coup. Financial pressures increased in absence of oil revenues; ALAF-backed tribes continued blockade of oil production and export sites in place since mid-Jan, causing $4.5bn revenue shortfall. Increased dependence on foreign currency reserves led to tension between PM Serraj and Central Bank Governor Sadiq Al-Kabir; Central Bank 8 April adopted stringent measures on credit letters that paralysed food imports, increased both prices and black market requests for hard currency.
Following two-week dispute between Speaker of Parliament Rached Ghannouchi, President Saïed and PM Fakhfakh, parliament 4 April approved govt request for emergency powers to contain spread of COVID-19 and mitigate economic impact. Interior Ministry 4 April announced soldiers and national guard forces in Kasserine governate killed two members of Islamic State (ISIS) affiliate, Jund al Khilafa. Interior Ministry 16 April announced it foiled alleged plot to spread COVID-19 among security forces; two men arrested in Kebili governate, including suspected member of militant group.
UN Security Council 9 April adopted resolution on Western Sahara peace process following closed-door meeting, reiterating previous resolutions’ commitment to negotiations. Prior to meeting, Polisario Front independence movement requested Security Council address absence of UN special envoy for Western Sahara; post vacant since Horst Köhler resigned in May 2019. Polisario’s UN representative Sidi Mohamed Omar 18 April said UN process is in “total paralysis”.